It is a common misconception in our fragmented industry that brand isn’t important. Clients typically look for third-party managers who can provide them with scale and advanced platforms like web marketing and revenue management. But while managers can offer these advantages, we still encounter potential clients that would like to retain the brand they’ve been operating under.
The advantages of putting a third-party brand on your facility go far beyond aesthetics. Here are the biggest ways you’ll benefit using a brand.
Brand Recognition and Reputation
Of the top five expectations that potential storage customers have for a storage facility, you’ll probably guess location and price are the most important. You are right about location, but not about price. Security and reputation are more important. Pricing has become tremendously transparent on the web today, and comparative shopping is the norm. With that transparency comes the ability to compare reputation – reviews of storage facilities are easily found on Google, Yelp, and the company’s websites themselves. Customers are now thinking more about reputation to satisfy the concerns they have for trusting a storage facility with their belongings.
A brand-new facility will lack reviews and reputation, but it can lean on the manager’s reputation. It’s a slow process to build that reputation – tallying up reviews from new customers takes time, and it will take months to build critical mass.
Likewise, a stabilized property can lean on the manager’s brand even if it previously enjoyed a solid reputation. There is more breadth to the reputation for a brand like ours, which has expanded out to reputation monitors where brands are compared like Trustpilot, and dispute arbitrators like the Better Business Bureau. It takes many years and many customers to earn ratings that are comparatively meaningful.
A Community of Customers
One of the overlooked advantages of a manager’s brand is access to a vast customer base. The storage customer is transient, with moving being the number one reason for their need of storage. Of our returning customers, nine percent have stored at a different Life Storage location in the past – they’ve moved and they are reconsidering a brand that has served them well.
Likewise, as we add new facilities, we often see our customers transfer to them. Location was the number one interest of the customer, right? All other things equal, it’s easier for a customer to choose a new store near their home or apartment if they’ve used that company before and were happy with their experience.
Customers also benefit from conveniences like making rental payments at different stores or using a nearby store’s rental truck. Customers can think of every store as an extension of the others when it benefits them. With that also comes benefits for your facility – your facility’s customers will have access to moving trucks (if applicable), and customers from other locations will come to your facility to make rental payments.
Third-party clients benefit greatly from this approach because of operational consistency as well. It’s important that customers experience the same quality of service across all third-party managed facilities, regardless of whether the property is owned or managed by the third-party.
Marketing platforms are a top reason why private operators seek third-party management. But many advantages of a marketing platform won’t apply without leveraging the manager’s brand.
Consider Google and Bing Ads, where most of your ad spending will apply. A brand with more facilities can easily broaden campaigns and fund them more aggressively to drive other brands out of the ad space. But what if the search is branded (“Company Name near me”)? Third-parties have to invest ad dollars to make sure other brands aren’t the only result in your brand’s ad space and dilute the effective investment of your ad dollars.
Many of the factors that Google uses in its algorithm for ranking storage facility listings in maps are within the control of a single facility operator – getting good reviews, making sure your data is fully completed, good photos, etc. However, some are not – the authority and reputation of the website listed for the facility in the map is one of the most important factors, and this discrepancy between the brand in the listing and the brand associated with the website acts like a demerit, lowering the listing’s ability to rank well.
With brand recognition and reputation so clearly important to storage customers, we consider it vitally important to bring exposure to our brand in a way that gives future customers early recognition and affinity for our brand. About 12% of our advertising is spent on brand marketing, typically made through sponsorship placements in the communities we do business.
The placements range in size and visibility:
- Small. Typically, these are little league sponsorships, high school sponsorships, and visible placements in local festivals and events. They might not get a large number of eyeballs, but they establish our brand as a sponsor of the communities around our stores.
- Unusual. Don’t be surprised if you see our VW Bus Taxi drive by in Pensacola or our Pedicab peddle past in Arlington. In fact, that’s why we do it. Chances are, you will be surprised to see it, and more importantly… remember it.
- Strategic. You won’t see us do any Super Bowl ads, but you will see some very large, very visible placements. For example, if you watch a Carolina Hurricanes game this year, you’ll see our logo behind in the corner ice. Why Carolina? The televised home games for Carolina’s opponents overlap more Life Storage markets than any other team.
The last major advantage you earn with a manager’s brand is purchasing scale. Many scale advantages don’t depend on brand – maintenance, trash removal, landscaping – these services come at a discount thanks to the managers in-place contracts. However, some purchasing benefits will depend on the brand itself.
Our costs for buying signage, merchandise, associate apparel and promotional material can be 30% higher (or more) when purchasing with less volume for a different brand. Most of the savings comes from the ability to buy larger quantities and leverage an inventory to fulfill orders. The savings are particularly evident when buying products from overseas, where minimum quantities are needed to make the order.
To counter the costs of stocking inventory, smaller operators may turn to web-to-print ordering systems, where products are branded as they are ordered. Naturally, costs will be higher on a per-piece basis, but it is typically a good way to avoid purchasing unneeded stock. When evaluating web-to-print systems, consider the fees for set up or maintenance which amount to additional per-piece costs.
Branded supplies may not seem like a significant expense, but costs do add up over time. Most every branded product your store will use is a consumable, requiring annual investment to replenish.
When thinking of the benefits that third-party managers offer client storage facilities, it’s surprising how often the benefit of the brand itself is overlooked. For us, this is a fresh topic – in 2017, we rebranded our company and it took a great deal of effort and investment to accomplish. Luckily, for our clients, there doesn’t have to be effort or investment. Their facilities get the full value of the brand from day one.