Many of today’s self-storage investors think that any product they put out there will be winner. They think that no matter how they treat the customer, they’ll come back or keep paying. But this is bad thinking and is already proven to be wrong in many markets with declining occupancy and rents. So what do customers really want? In this episode of the Self-Storage University podcast we’re going to discuss what storage users demand for their money, and how they are the ultimate boss at the end of the day – the difference between success and failure.
Episode 6: A Reminder On What Customers Really Want Transcript
The customer is king, we all know that. This is Frank Rolfe, the Self Storage University Podcast. But the question is, if the customer truly is king, if they're wearing the crown, what do they really want? What can I do to make my kingly customer infinitely happy? Because I know what great things that will do for my business. Well, the first thing that I think most customers really want is they want a clean, safe, and organized environment. That's what we all want, right? So if we're going to go and store something, if we're going to trust placing our goods, paid for with our own hard earned money, we want the feeling of security, that they'll be there when we go back to retrieve them. And we also want to believe that the facility is clean and well organized because it's well managed, right?
When we're making our decision to store something of value, we want a good natural vibe that we've done the right thing, and all of us would naturally think any place that's well maintained and well-organized, well lit with a nice fence and a good location, that that's the kind of professional place we want to store their goods. I think we would all agree with that.
The next thing I think that the customer wants, is they want a good value but that does not mean the lowest cost. Let's go over that for a moment because a lot of people lose track of this. People in America, when they go out and make a decision on buying, let's just say, they're coming to the exit on the freeway and there's three hotels there. There's the Tiki Motor Lodge for $19.00 a night, and then there's the Holiday Inn Express for $99.00 a night, and then there's a Hyatt Regency for $299.00 a night. Some people would choose the Hyatt Regency, but most everyone would choose at least the Holiday Inn Express. Nobody wants to go to the Tiki Motor Court. But why? That seems wrong based on a lot of what a lot of American consumer behavior experts, "Oh no, they want to go to the Tiki Motor Lodge because it's only $19.00."
But you see, often the lowest cost is not the best value. In that example, the Tiki Motor Lodge might be filthy, it might be dangerous, we don't know what could happen there. So the average consumer isn't going to even put that on their level of possibility. So we're not really after the lowest cost. Let's go ahead and chalk that up to the malarkey that people obviously would know who are in business. What they want is they want a great value. They don't mind paying up if they're getting something that's worthy of paying up. Now, if there were two Tiki Motor Lodges right beside each other, one was $19.00 and one was $75.00, then, if they're identical, people might go for the $19.00 because they figure, "If I'm going to catch a disease and be shot through the wall of the motel, I guess it doesn't matter which one I'm at." But in most cases, people always want to go for the thing they find to be the better value. I think that's true of all of us.
Another thing that all customers want, is they want constant affirmation of their buying decision. We all need this. We need to be constantly stroked, reminded that what we did was the right thing to do. Now, how do we give customers this constant affirmation? Well, by continuing to make sure that that facility is clean and safe and organized, that's one good way. But also, by perhaps giving them little additional touches as you go. Maybe send them the occasional letter thanking them for their business. Maybe putting a sign at the entry as you drive out that says, "Thank you for choosing to store your merchandise at our facility." Little things mean a lot. And definitely when you give people that constant sense of affirmation, they then think, "Oh, I made a good decision in storing my things here." And therefore, will never think about moving them, because they'll all the time be believing that there was no choice better than what they made.
Another item that all customers want is they want respect. Now, what does respect mean? Rodney Dangerfield used to all the time do that stand up comedy routine about, he can't get no respect. But what does respect mean for self storage consumer? Well, I see it basically normally playing out in a couple of key ways. One, is on collections. Let's say that person did not send in their rent like they're supposed to. You have two schools. Some people will then jump all over that person, threatening them. "If you don't pay me, I am going to auction off your goods." But another way to deal would be a more friendly manner. To have your manager call up the customer, say, "Excuse me, we just noticed you hadn't sent in your rent yet this month, I was just calling to check in and see when you might get that out to us." What does that do to the customer? It sends a note to them that you respect them, you respect their business.
We've all missed bills. I mean, there's not an American who's ever hit every bill on time. Sometimes the bill will get lost in the mail. Sometimes the check you mail in gets lost in the mail. Sometimes the vendor forgets to even give you the invoice. But it's the way people treat you in those cases. I guarantee you, if you go to people and you approach them in a respectful manner, other than a threatening manner, you will have far, far higher collections and far, far higher respect by your own customers. And any other issue that arises, it's all about how you approach it. A lot of society today is based on spin it to win it. So if you want the customer to feel good about you as their vendor, where they store their things, then you need to treat them at all times with respect. Make them feel like that you're important to them. And that basically, you will bend over backwards to make them happy, because don't forget, the customer is in fact, the king, and you would never want to get the King mad at you.
Finally, and this is very, very important I think for anyone, looking at buying a self storage facility or operating one is, you've got to do not what is just convenient for you, but what is important for the consumer. Many times, people get buttonholed in the little sections where all they care about is themselves as the owner of the facility. They're full, the rents are good and so they think, "You know what? I don't need these customers. I could replace them anytime I want." Often they'll think, "Well, you know what? I should put up those Christmas decorations in the office, but I'm not going to do it this year. It's kind of a pain in the rear." That's all just me, me, me. Never caring, never thinking about the customer and their concerns or desires. All they care about is just their own selfish interests. And where does that get you in the end? Nowhere very good, that's for sure.
If all you care about is you as the owner and nothing to do with the customer, at some point in the movie, the customer is going to get back at you. Maybe they open that new storage facility across the street or down the road or somewhere nearby in the market, and those customers will never forget the fact that it was always just about you, never about them. And you'll notice they slowly have started moving their stuff out, canceling their leases. The next thing you know, you run your ads and still no one comes in, because they've told all their friends and neighbors, you're a terrible place to store your stuff because you don't care about them. You only care about yourself. And when you finally realized that, "Uh oh, I made a terrible error here. I should have cared about my customer from the beginning," it's too late. Your business is already ruined by bad social media reviews and very negative customers and want nothing more to do with you.
It's very, very hard to cure it when you've done that to yourself. And the way you did it was, you never thought enough about the customer. Again, the customer is the king. The customer is your boss. "The customer," Sam Walton said, "is the only one out there who can tell who will and will not get paid, all the way at the top," all the way up to Sam Walton. It's that simple customer, that little person who went into Walmart who bought that thing or the light bulb or the CD, whatever the case may be, that consumer had the ability to fire Sam Walton to shut the entire Walmart enterprise down. They didn't of course, but they did other competitors of Walmart.
Look at Kmart. Where is it today compared to where it used to be? That's where Walmart got the name. Walmart is they copied Kart. However, they serviced the customer and gave them what they wanted, while Kmart didn't Kmart, all they thought about was them. What was convenient for them, profitable for them, the stores became, overtime, filthy. They didn't have enough consumers or workers in the aisles to help people. And over time, basically people stopped shopping there and the rest is history. You see those abandoned Kmart stores all over America when you drive around.
So it's always very important that all of us in the self-storage industry acknowledge at all times that what customers really want is a clean, safe, and organized environment. A good value, not the lowest cost, a good value. Constant affirmation of their decision so that they know they did do the right thing and that they don't have to think about moving their stuff, because where they have it is the best it can be. Dealing with them always in terms of respect on any issue good or bad, collections, particularly, there's no reason to ever approach a customer in a negative manner.
And finally, to always, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, be thinking not what's convenient for you, not what's profitable for you, but what does the customer truly want. When you treat customers right, you'll always hit your budgets, you'll always have the revenue you desired, you'll always get good social media reviews. Everyone will love you, the banks will love you, future buyers will love you, the appraiser will love you. There's so much love it's like Woodstock back in the '60s. But only, only if you follow the path of what the customers really want. This is Frank Rolfe, the Self Storage University Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this and we're back again soon.