Before the Internet invaded our world, the Yellow Pages were the king of self-storage advertising. Big operators spent thousands of dollars on full-page ads, and small operators felt the need to get in on the Yellow Pages action as well.
Add in other traditional advertising vehicles, such as radio, TV and newspaper, and that’s historically how storage operators reached customers. Now, with social media on the scene, is traditional media worth the price? Consensus among some experts is that a combination of the two tactics might be the answer.
You’re not going to find REITs or people of knowledge spending any money on the Yellow Pages. It has zero ROI.
— Self-storage consultant Marc Goodin
“When you say the words ‘traditional media’ to self-storage people, most of them are going to automatically think Yellow Pages,” said Anne Ballard, president of marketing, training and developmental services at Atlanta, GA-based Universal Storage Group, a self-storage operator.
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“We know that last year 0.7 percent—not even a full percentage point of our business—came from the Yellow Pages,” Ballard said. “We have officially buried and had the funeral for the Yellow Pages. All we get now is a line listing.”
That’s a significant drop from a decade ago, when 10 percent of Universal Storage Group’s business came from the Yellow Pages.
In the red with Yellow Pages?
However, not all operators are giving up on the phone book. According to a 2015 Self-Storage Almanac survey, 36 percent of operators still are advertising in the Yellow Pages.
Ballard isn’t surprised.
“It’s probably the older locations who say, ‘That’s how we’ve always done it so that’s how I’m going to continue to do it,’” she said. “But the only thing they need to do to prove to themselves that’s the wrong decision is solicit every customer at move-in. By asking those few questions at move-in, we proved that Yellow Page leases are the most expensive leases you can buy.”
Ballard said an average operator probably is spending $20,000 a year on Yellow Pages advertising and might gain seven leases, so that’s $2,857 per lease. (That’s based on an average lease value of $1,000).
She said the Yellow Pages along with direct mail and newspaper ads, particularly in big metro areas, have “gone by the wayside. Their cost is so prohibitive compared to the results.”
Picky about paper
Self-storage consultant Marc Goodin agrees. He’s president of Storage Authority Franchising and owner of two self-storage facilities.
“You’re not going to find REITs or people of knowledge spending any money on the Yellow Pages. It has zero ROI,” Goodin said. “We’ve thrown out the Yellow Pages, because people simply look up the phone number on the website.”
Goodin also spends little money on newspaper ads unless he gets it for “virtually nothing and the rate of return makes sense.” For example, a small newspaper ad might cost $300 to $400 to run each day. He can run that ad three times and needs just one renter to roughly break even, with his average renter worth $1,000.
“Whatever advertising I do—if I spend $1,000 and get one renter—I broke even,” Goodin said. “I don’t mind breaking even, because some people heard or saw that advertisement who didn’t rent, but eventually they heard enough advertising where our name is in their mind when they need to rent.”
On the air
Goodin always is looking for promotional deals. He aired a radio promotion last year that said “Happy Holidays from Caraquet Self-Storage” about 80 times for $100.
“That was worth it,” Goodin said. “They said it so much in that four-day period that people went, ‘Wow, these guys are doing OK. They got their name on the radio.”
As for TV commercials, Goodin said they’re just too expensive. “If you own 50 to 500 properties and are a REIT, it might make sense as you’re advertising to the world,” he said.
Hitting the streets
Regarding direct mail, Ballard isn’t a big fan. “The only way I’ve gotten good response is to take your target list and mail them the same identical piece three times spaced seven to 10 days, and you might get a 1 to 3 percent response,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
What does make sense to Ballard is feet-on-the-ground marketing, with her managers hitting the pavement. “They have to meet every local business, go to every community meeting and invite people to the store for special events,” she said. “Those things are tried and true.”
Ballard said 30 percent of Universal Storage Group’s business comes from repeats, referrals, events and marketing; 39 percent from drive-bys; and 23 percent from the Internet.
Armed with flyers, Goodin’s managers visit local businesses 10 a.m.-noon every Monday. “We close the office for two hours once a week. That’s how important it is for our managers to visit and get our flyers on business’ counters,” he said. “That has tremendous ROI.”
Shift in strategy
Andrea Carnes, vice president of operations for The Lock Up Self Storage in Northfield, IL, said advertising and marketing have changed dramatically from the Yellow Pages days.
“Chicago is one of the most expensive Yellow Pages markets,” she said. “When I started in the early 2000s, we had six states and about 20 facilities, so we were spending $800,000 or $900,000 a year on Yellow Page ads.”
Today, her facilities simply pay for a Yellow Pages line ad in most markets and also use Yellowbook.com.
Carnes said that before Google took off, The Lock Up introduced new locations through mailings, radio spots and newspaper ads. Now, the operator sends email blasts and postcard mailings; it costs $10,000 to $15,000 for 40,000 postcards.
Marinda Carr, corporate administrator at Edina, MN-based storage operator Mayflower Properties, said her company primarily does web, Twitter and Facebook advertising and also relies on word of mouth and drive-bys. But Mayflower still uses some traditional advertising like Valpak coupon packets.
Carr also believes in marketing to nearby businesses.
“We have little tri-fold flyers and business cards, and have our managers go out to local businesses,” she said. “That’s a huge part of our success, because if you’re able to get a business account, nine times out of 10 they’re a forever customer unless they go out of business or move.”