The storage industry is not immune to lulls in customer traffic, typically during the fall and winter. But self-storage owners and operators can do their part to ensure a more constant flow of business across all four seasons.
While the normal reaction to a seasonal slowdown may be to pull back on marketing and advertising and just brace for the bottom-line effects of the “low season,” Al Gardes, director of operations at Elmwood Self Storage & Wine Cellar near New Orleans, LA, said the slower months are the best time to ramp up marketing efforts.
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Gardes said his facility uses off-peak months to host promotional events such as on-site customer appreciation happy hours and an annual garage sale where customers can rent space for the day to create a huge community event. He points out that it’s important to collect business cards during these events and to follow up with attendees.
Gardes also offers discounts during the off-months to boost revenue.
“During the slower times, it’s even more important to keep your name out in the community,” he said. “Sure, we can sit here and just not do anything, knowing that there is always going to be a slow season. But if you don’t do anything about it, that’s just going to be the way it is.”
While Gardes acknowledges that these events don’t always translate into immediate business, they still are important to long-term branding. He said special events can help facilities stand out from their competitors, as many facilities don’t even bother hosting them.
“As an industry, we just don’t do a lot of this,” Gardes said. “But this is an industry with a lot of mom-and-pops, and those businesses have got to create their own name, branding and foot traffic—all through their own efforts. You have to be planting seeds all year long.”
Self-storage consultant Bob Copper said the slow season can take a bigger toll in certain regions where it simply becomes too cold to move items in and out of storage units.
“Storage is such a need-driven business, and there is not much you can do to change that,” he said. “What you can do, however, is continue your marketing efforts year-round. You want to have your bait out there so you can get a larger share of the business that is there. When there is less activity, it’s even more important to market yourself so you are getting some share of that activity.”
Copper points out that there can be an upside to the down times. Owners and operators should take advantage of the slowdown to take care of housekeeping items such as cleaning out storage units and tidying up the grounds, he said.
Tron Jordheim, marketing director for Columbia, MO-based operator StorageMart, also said the “low season” is a good time to tackle construction and renovation projects.
Furthermore, Jordheim stressed the importance of employee training as part of day-to-day operations during the “low season.”
In addition to more formal training, Copper suggests staging “practice” scenarios for employees so they’ll be prepared to handle any customer situation that might arise during “high season.”
“You can’t wait until you’re busy to take care of back-office stuff,” he said. “Use the time to shake the rust off, gear up and get things into shape. You have to make the most of that time. There is always something to be done.”