Texas Self Storage Association has served its self-storage industry members since 1986.  Headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, TSSA is the leading expert in self storage in the state of Texas.  Whether you're an owner, operator, manager or employee,  TSSA's blog will provide you with the latest tips, advice and knowledge for running your self-storage business. 

5 Mistakes Self-Storage Marketers Are Making and One Who Gets It Right

by Colin Sibley, Angles, Inc.

August 27, 2020

According to SEMRush.com, big advertisers in the self-storage industry spend $300,000-$900,000 each on Google AdWords per month, with much of the spending coming from aggregators like SpareFoot.com and SelfStorage.com who markup leads and sell them to the actual storage companies.  

Small advertisers are then faced with a choice: give up control and pay a 2x markup (Google plus the aggregator) or take control and find overlooked and unexploited market opportunities. In other words, look for the mistakes other people are making…and don’t make them!  Then, look for the companies that are doing things right and try to be a little better.

For the purposes of this article, we used an incognito browser in Los Angeles on both a desktop computer and an iPhone.  We used “self storage los angeles” as our keyword phrase because “self storage” and “self storage near me” produced results in Southeast Kansas which doesn’t have the population density to return enough sample advertising. At the time of this writing, the companies listed are neither clients nor competitors of clients. 

Mistake #1: Using Title Case

Position 1 (Desktop): SoCal Self Storage

SoCal is doing a number of things really well here. For starters, they are clearly identifying themselves as locals by saying “Los Angeles” in the headline, the display URL, and in the description under the Moving Truck sitelink, as well as having a local 310 phone number. They avoid the arms race of hyping discounts and they require a phone call to find out about specials. Their offer of a free move-in truck is smart, but could be better incorporated. But painfully, they use hard-to-read Title Case in the headlines and descriptions.  “Take Advantage Of Our Moving Trucks Today” is much harder to read than “Take advantage of our moving trucks today”. 

Mistake #2: Failing To Be Local

Position 3 (Desktop) and Position 1 (Mobile): Extra Space Storage

Extra Space is 180° from SoCal Self Storage in terms of localization and from StorQuest (below) in branding.  While the headlines clearly keying off the “Los Angeles” search term or geo-targeting  (twice in the desktop version!)  literally nothing else in the ad references L.A. The 866 phone number and the 1,600+ locations are dead giveaways that Extra Space is a national chain and the focus of the ad is the uninspiring 15% savings.

Mistake #3: Overreliance On The Same Offers

Position 4 (Desktop) and Position 2 (Mobile): Public Storage
Position 5 (Desktop): Life Storage

Remove the names and change the phone numbers and Public Storage, Extra Space, and Life Storage (below) are nearly identical, down to the same 15% discount and first month free. Is this how high school teachers feel when three students turn in the same term papers?

Despite having the same free/15% offer as Public Storage and Extra Space, Life Storage does make an effort to stand out by including ratings and sitelinks. Cleverly, they use “Storage Units Near Me” which is a popular search term.

Mistake #4: Mindless Repetition

Position 6 (Desktop): CubeSmart

In addition to being one of the worst offenders when it comes to using Title Case, CubeSmart stands out for mindlessly repeating the same phrases.  “CubeSmart® Self Storage | Los Angeles Self Storage”, “Reserve Online! Reserve a Storage Unit Online…”, and “Wide Selection…Wide Variety” are clearly indicators that they have nothing else to say.

Mistake #5: Overreliance On Technology

Position 7 (Desktop) and Position 5 (Mobile): Storage Etc.

Google has tools that will randomly combine copy to form new ads and then test the variations against each other.  It sounds great in theory, but this appears to be a failure of that technology.  Both of Storage Etc.’s ads have the same redundant phrasing about storage solutions that accommodate renter needs, but they list them in the opposite sequence. 


And A Really Good Ad…

Position 2 (Desktop) and Position 4 (Mobile): StorQuest

StorQuest has the most interesting ads of the cohort because they follow strong branding guidelines. Unlike others, they’re actually interesting to read and benefit-driven, avoiding laundry lists of features and the dreaded Title Case. They do use a local phone number, list great reviews, and have a simple $1 offer which they set up elegantly.

Colin Sibley is the Director of Self Storage Consulting at Angles, Inc. Sibley is a MBA Marketing professional with 15+ years of experience building partnerships and managing brand campaigns in the digital media, gaming, sports, television, and entertainment industries.


Read More Blog Posts » 

5 Mistakes Self-Storage Marketers Are Making

Marketing Alphabet Soup

by Jennifer Jones, JKJ Marketing


When it comes to marketing, it can sometimes feel as if you are throwing money into a black hole with no idea what any of it means, where it’s going or what kind of return you’re going to get. So here is the quick and dirty of what all of those acronyms mean and how it affects your business.


  • Search engine optimization is the key to ranking in search. There are many strategies out there as to how to raise your rank and what is realistic. It boils down to the specific need for each facility, but this must be a long-term strategy as it takes time to move this needle and there are a lot of moving parts and types of optimizations that can help a website with SEO. The different types of SEO are local SEO, on-page optimization, off-page optimization and technical SEO; all of these are important for a successful SEO campaign, and depending on your website, you may need to focus on one more than others.

  •  Local SEO: When a potential customer searches for “self storage near me,” you want to make sure your location pops up at the top of the local map, and this is where local SEO comes into play. Local SEO consists of making sure Google knows about your business, services and location through Google My Business so it can connect you to potential customers in your area.

  • On-page optimization: Having a good website with correct page names, image alt text, keyword research, updating your content (a keyword-based blog helps with this), not having duplicate content and overall schema is key to improving your ranking. Remember that not all keywords are created equal. You need to know which ones will be effective for your business.

  • Off-page optimization: Getting backlinks from websites that are relevant to your business is the core of off-page optimization and one of the most vital parts of SEO since this is how Google knows if a website is relevant. The key to this is the relevance of the website to your business and industry as well as the way they are linking to you (“follow” or “nofollow”). There are many different strategies for getting backlinks to your website and many of these involve creating content.

  • Technical optimization: Technical optimization consists of having clean code on your website and making sure it is setup correctly so Google can understand the code, determine what you are serving to your visitors, and understand how it all links together. This includes header structure, proper redirect implementations, internal linking, schema and canonicalizations, among many other things.


If your facility is new to the area or your SEO is not where it needs to be, PPC (pay per click) campaigns can help your business get in front of people who are searching for self storage. You set a budget, monitor the campaign and optimize as you get data. PPC isn’t something you can just set and forget; you need to monitor your campaigns to make sure you are reaching the right people and keep optimizing so your cost per lead can decrease as you make changes. One of the most important parts for PPC success is correctly setting up conversion tracking, which seems complicated for people who aren’t very tech savvy.


There are many different social media platforms: LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat are the main channels. Knowing your audience and knowing these platforms is critical to success here. If your community is primarily older, Snapchat is probably not your best bet for reaching them. However, if your facility is in a college town, it might be the perfect place. Depending on your goals for social media, you may simply want to focus on brand awareness to get more “likes” or “followers.” You may want to measure engagement with your audience or you may want your audience to end up at your website.


Whatever your goal, you want to make sure that what you are spending your time on is netting what you want out of it (return on investment). Paying attention to what you want, what you’re actually getting, what is working (and what isn’t) is important to measuring your effectiveness. Whether it comes to SEO, PPC, SM or ROI, you still want to focus on the big five: revenue, cost, efficiency, differentiation and customer satisfaction.


Read More Blog Posts » 

Marketing Alphabet Soup: SEO, PPC, SM

Creating a Knockout Website

Creating a Robust Website Means Asking Tough Questions

by Kevin Romo-Leon


The perfect website does not exist. Designs voted as pretty don't cut it and optimized SEO is quickly losing momentum. A marketing professional cannot personally declare a great website. Nor can the expert promise specific results. As frustrating as these (learned) truths may seem, your website remains your most powerful marketing tool.  

Website opportunities are a responsibility. Take initiative to ask questions, and a lot of them! Your best first question, "How will this make me money?" Don't settle for indirect responses. If it doesn't make sense, demand a better answer. 

Marketing is about connecting the customer to your product (nothing different from what you're used to). With the help of a web developer, the digital world can accelerate these connections. Your site's final product mirrors your leadership. Ask questions that match your business goals. To support your authority, we've crafted the following strategy. 


Any question you ask falls within two categories:

1.  Easy to answer
2.  Hard to answer

A quick Google search for, "What questions should I ask my web developer?" produces a healthy set of results. Common lists include cost, timeline, hosting location, management access and design features all important discussion topics. Although relevant to website production, these suggestions don't tell you how to gain more customers. Easy-to-answer questions often reflect their limited impact on sales revenue.

Questions that are hard to answer expand your product's potential. These questions push creative limits, challenge strong beliefs and set higher standards. Because of their nature to make us think really, really hard, the best solutions are rarely achieved.

The ego gives up before patience and persistence can fully pay off. The truth is left unrevealed and we settle for answers that sound good.

Tough questions require a willingness to explore the unknown. These learning curves don't have to be extensive, but they must be purposeful. One step back, two steps forward. Learn more about the decisions you have to make. It's not necessary to attain expert status (that's why we hire resources) but knowing enough to approve (with confidence) well-suited ideas is worth the results at stake. 


Embrace the questions "How are you making me money?" and "This thing that you are building, how much money will it make me?"

We've been taught to judge value based on resumes, references and explanations of skill sets. Past experiences help move the hiring process along but are not reliable for leveraging current business goals. A worthy professional can easily relate their work to the bottom line. Success is best packaged with honesty and accountability with no hard feelings attached. Your business relies on cash flow, which relies on valuable work, which relies on professionals who care about making


Practice patience. The questions most people give up on are the same ones which will yield a higher return on investment.

So ask your web developer the hard questions.

  • Why do users respond to this design?
  • How does this process connect the product to the consumer?
  • Does this function convert traffic into paying customers?

Also important to consider are actions that unintentionally ‘waste' resources. The developer's creative mind can quickly deviate from adding perceived value to your website. Be aware of ‘cool' ideas that lose relevance.

When intentions are disconnected, simply remind your expert of your business goals. Ask these questions to ensure the quality of your investment:

  • What does this do?
  • Why is it important?

Their answers should be an interpretation of how to gain one more customer. If not, the effort will be a better fit elsewhere.


The decision process starts before meeting with your web developer. It begins with you and a focused energy. Your laptop, a notebook and even a cup of coffee are invited, but anyone who will try to sell their ideas is strictly prohibited. This time to yourself is sacred. It is a time of reflection on what really matters to your business. Ask questions that clarify your entire web- site strategy (going forward):

  • Why is my facility the best in the area?
  • Why would the consumer choose my competitor?
  • Why will they call me?
  • Why will they reserve a unit?
  • Why don't they move in?

Now that objectives are clear, an effective action plan can be brainstormed. This is where you trust

another professional's technical skills. A meeting with your web developer extends the decision process by finding a balance in workflow. Sharing business emotions, understanding logistics and planning for scalability are rarely straightforward conversations. Lead by asking them questions that assume the growth of your facility:

  • How can my design and marketing teams collaborate with you?
  • What user conversions are the highest priority?
  • What wins can we celebrate?

Hard questions require adjusted expectations. Be prepared for ideas to be challenged and don't anticipate perfect answers.  It's all part of the process. A mutual respect for professional abilities will achieve higher levels of work.  Practice patience. The questions most people give up on are the same ones which will yield a higher return on investment.

Better website interactions reward the effort of establishing a partnership that shares a common vision.  After the completion of all agreed web projects, a shared responsibility exists. Questions you and your developer should be able to answer:

  • Which website feature is converting the most customers?
  • What can improve the user experience?
  • What data can help make smarter marketing decisions?


Working with your web developer is a revolving process.  It has no definitive stopping point. Making progress relies on continual self-reflection, discussion and analysis—all of which you control.


Mostly because of distractions and everyday stresses, we opt to avoid questions that complicate things.

However, marketing opportunities are too important for a passive attitude. Questions for your web developer are worth thorough explanation. As a favor to your website investment, do not be impressed by their immediate responses.

  • Quick answers DO NOT prove credibility.
  • Short answers DO NOT save time.
  • Familiar answers DO NOT satisfy concerns.

Submitting to answers that sound good is very tempting. Out of the need to make decisions and move the day along, not every answer can be critically addressed.  But when something doesn't quite resonate, explore further by asking different sets of questions. Everyone has it wrong—there really is such a thing as a ‘bad' question.  It's the one you fail to ask.


My favorite question is, "Why?" "Why this way?" "Why not that way?" "Why is this happening?" "Why does it matter?" "Why is it relevant?" Curiosity is the world of opportunity. The moment we stop asking "why" will be obvious. The websites we design will look boring, bounce rates will surge and web reservations will be negatively affected. These digital marketing fears keep our specialists asking, "Why?!"


You and/or your web team should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is the data telling us?
  • What can we learn from these numbers?
  • What actions can be better measured?

The emotional labor of answering these questions is a small investment. Although it creates a short delay in work production, expanding our comfort zone is insightful. We discover untapped potential and find a new appreciation for our work.  We begin to see how minor adjustments impact the marketing ecosystem as a whole. A website's true power is revealed with even harder questions:

  • What can we integrate?
  • What can we automate?
  • Where can we spend more to make more?

Responding with, "I don't know," is perfectly acceptable. For us, it's an honest response that is highly respected. The right answer must prove its validity over time. With this awareness, we make better use of our day mapping the lessons we’ve learned. We prepare ourselves for big changes in technology and consumer behavior. We build for growth.

Online marketing promotions or web-only pricing strategies are not sustainable business decisions. More responsibly, build a website consumers actually care about. Create a product that has an emotional effect. Customize every detail to satisfy their digital shopping habits.

Start by declaring what your business stands for and find a developer who shares those principles. Together, as marketing partners, figure out the best way to connect the consumer with your product. Asking the hard questions sets a new project standard. A great website is born when your web developer takes the initiative to ask, "What is a customer worth to you?"


Creating a Knockout Website

5 Tips for Facebook Success

by Holly Fiorello


We don’t have a choice on whether or not we do social and mobile, the choice is how well we do it. If you look around everyone is on their mobile phones, most likely checking their emails, scrolling through Facebook, reading trending hashtags on Twitter or adding a video to their SnapChat story. Mobile drives more than 50 percent of E-commerce traffic, and I see that number grow month over month. Marketing 101 - Be where your audience is. They are on social media.

In fact, there are more people on Facebook than there are in any population in any country. Yes, Facebook has more active users than there are people living in China. That is crazy! Social media levels the playing field. A one store brand has just as much ability to be a rockstar as one of the REITs in terms of community engagement and driving leads. No, self storage is not the sexiest business, but that doesn’t mean we have to be duds online. Stay with me here, and let’s go through my top “5 Tips for Facebook Success.”

  1. What’s your Goal?
  2. Measure and Adjust
  3. Plan and Use Time Saving Tools
  4. Listen and Engage with your Community
  5. Use Advertising


What’s your Goal?

Determine what your social media goal is. If we take a step back, and look at our self storage overall marketing goals, we can all agree on one thing; we want more quality leads so we can have more tenants and more revenue. In order to convert our traffic into leads, whether in the form of phone calls, email reservations, or online rentals, we’ll need a well optimized website with a landing page that makes it easy and attractive to commit. Once we have our website set up to convert leads we can set up our social media goals. Begin with the end action in mind, and work backwards from the optimal customer experience vantage point.

Facebook has a very rich advertising platform. Whether your goal is brand awareness, more likes, more visibility, engagement, or funneling traffic back to your website, Facebook has many tools to assist. Do you want them to like your page? Call, submit a contact form, or complete a reservation or a rental on your website?

Although many facilities are looking to grow their Facebook followers by “likes” that is really just a “glamour” metric. If we stay true to our goal of getting more leads to our well optimized website, we are going to focus on funneling traffic to raise our lead count. We can accomplish this by incorporating call to actions on our cover photo to funnel traffic, making sure the website is listed in the “about” section, and creating a post with a high-quality image, engaging content asking for action and a website url.


Measure and Adjust – business.facebook.com

That which we measure - grows. There are two types of social media managers out there. Those who post based on a hunch and those who post based on using Facebook insights and business analytics. Facebook insights will help you understand what posts perform the best with your target audience. Do posts with videos perform better than posts with photos? What time of the day do you receive the most impressions and engagement? You can learn all this and more using Facebook insights.

If our goal is to drive traffic to our website, Facebook insights will show us how many people clicked on our ads.You can use another free tool, Google Analytics, to  learn if the goal was completed and whether you can attribute it to your Facebook marketing strategy.


Plan and Use Time-Saving Tools

There are many tools out there to help you save time and be more efficient with your campaigns. My personal favorite is a scheduling tool that goes by the name of “Hootsuite.” Hootsuite allows you to devise a content plan and bulk upload your statuses to be auto posted on the date and time designated. Look at a calendar and pay attention to holidays, and seasonal items that correlate with storage as well as community events. Starting out, post two to three times a week. That’s 12 status updates in a month. It would take you less than a half hour to create your calendar after you get the hang of it.

Another great feature that Hootsuite has is “Hootlet.” Hootlet is a Google Chrome extension that allows you to curate posts from your browser without having to open up Hootsuite.com. If I am on the Texas Self Storage Association’s website and I want to share the agenda for the TSSA Conference, I can click on Hootlet in the corner of my browser and it will add the post to my queue. I can update the content of the message, and Hootlet will automatically shorten the URL for me.

If you are not already plugged into your community and community events, then Google Alerts will be your new best friend for finding content. Visit google.com/alerts and create alerts for your town, community, storage, etc. Now you will receive a daily email from new websites, blog posts, and events that were added to the web the day before. You can create a folder in your inbox for all of these daily alerts and when it is time again to create your content calendar for Hootsuite you have a folder rich with sharable content that your audience will be engaged with.

Listen and Engage with your Community

It’s not enough to auto post status updates and keep our fingers crossed that something good will happen. We are creating a community and in order to stay relevant we must engage with it. When someone comments on the post, respond. Pay attention to what the community is sharing. Find local influencers who also have a social media presence. Interact with them. Share their content. A great example of this is finding a realtor, and sharing their updates, liking their updates and commenting on their posts. In the social media world, any kind of engagement is social currency. As marketers, we are more likely to support other marketers who support us. By spending just a little bit of time every week, our reach begins to grow.

Use Advertising

Facebook, by far, has the absolute best advertising platform that is currently out there. They know their audience inside and out. Think about all the mundane things that Facebook knows about you. What foods you like, songs you listen to, videos you watch, words you use, how old you are, where you live, where you visit, who your friends are, who your mom is, what she likes, when you get a new job, etc. Facebook has even come out and said that they can predict when you will break up, divorce and move. How incredibly powerful is that?

Not only are they able to predict life transitional moments that are important to self-storage marketing, they can replicate your demographics. Facebook now has the ability for you to upload your customer email list and Facebook will search for those users on their platform, find them, and create an audience with similar attributes. Facebook is targeting your demographics for you, so you can have a higher conversion rate. That means a much lower ad spend with better quality leads. Take a little bit of time to set this up right, and receive a rich, high-quality lead source. Spend less money and get a bigger reward.



Facebook is an incredibly powerful platform that has the potential to drive more traffic and leads than you have units available. With just an hour a week you can run an effective social media program for your self-storage facility. We are, perhaps, the most connected generation in history and Facebook gives us the opportunity to be a part of that.

Holly Fiorello is the Director of Business Development for FindLocalStorage.com and Founder of Growth Guide Marketing. Holly specializes in digital marketing and social media for self storage.



5 Tips for Facebook Success


Getting it Right, from SEO, Technology to LED Lighting

by Jennifer Jones, Managing Editor of Self-Storage News

One of the key things that helps people find you when they need you is marketing. There’s digital marketing, social media marketing, grassroots marketing and traditional marketing. The REITs are increasing their digital marketing budget by around 25 percent this year to dominate online searches.

So how on earth can you compete with their scale and budget?

SEO (search engine optimization) is incredibly important when someone Googles a term like “self storage near me” and gets a search return with ads (at the top of the page), location results with maps (next) and organic search returns. Improving SEO is a long-term strategy; gains do not happen overnight and it takes consistent effort. However, if you do it correctly, you can make significant gains in moving your facility to first page results instead of being hidden on the third or 10th page in a digital ghostland.  As an example, Tiger Self Storage in Porter, Texas moved up to the No. 3 and No. 4 spots on page one from page two on Google for two top search terms using a combination of SEO and PPC, so it can be done with the right strategy and tactics depending on your market. This was accomplished by a new faster website that was optimized for SEO, relevant and optimized content and backlinks in a few short months.

PPC (pay-per-click) is a form of internet marketing, the most common of which is search engine advertising, which you may have heard of as Google AdWords. For example, if someone types in “storage facility near me” and you bid on that keyword, then your ad may show up on their Google search. It’s referred to as “pay-per-click” because each time someone clicks on that ad, you are charged a fee (the amount depends on how competitive that search term is and how relevant and targeted your ad campaign is). Ads chosen by Google are chosen based on the amount of the keyword bid and the advertiser's quality score which is determined by how relevant your site is to the search term, your click-through rate and the quality of your landing pages. When you are working on SEO, which is a slow process, PPC is a great way to get quicker results. In effect, you are buying visibility.

Mike Gately says, “Every facility has a website, hosted by a third-party website marketing company. We believe SEO is very important. We evaluate results monthly and track the number of website visits and eventual leases we get to determine the return on our investment.

“We use tracker numbers on our website and for most advertising to be able to identify the number of calls from any source. The tracker number forwards the caller to your facility, keeping track of each call.

“We use PPC for most properties, especially new facilities in lease-up. We adjust the PPC depending on results and the recommendations of our website provider.

“For new facilities, we invest in prominent LED signs with the capability of changing messages/ graphics. For all facilities, we invest in the largest signage allowed by local code, including banners to promote specials. We schedule our managers to do off-site marketing about two hours per week, targeting area apartment managers, retirement communities, competitors (to promote cross referrals) and major area employers.

“In late spring or early summer, we will send out a postcard mailer for properties in lease-up. Most of our marketing is year-round to keep consistency.”

Monty Rainey says, “Keep it local and know who your customer is. Ninety percent of your customer base either lives or works within a 3-mile radius. Don’t waste time and money marketing to people who live far outside that radius. Limit your promotional giveaways to items people will use over and over and not end up in a junk drawer somewhere, never to be seen again.” This would include items like stainless steel water bottles, magnetic grocery list pads, letter openers and staple removers, and of course the standard items, such as ink pens and keychains.

Katie Cowen says, “We focus a lot of effort online, but we focus just as much effort on the facility itself. All of the online marketing in the world won’t help a run-down or trashy-looking facility succeed. We consider maintaining the curb appeal of our facilities as a key item in our marketing program. Depending on the area, we may also do local marketing in the form of print ads, billboards or local sponsorships.”

Sarah Cole says, “You can’t just pick one marketing avenue, you need to do a little of everything to stay visible. We aren't an industry that people are shopping for daily, like a restaurant or grocery store. However, if you keep a visible presence in your community, when they need storage, they'll remember you and come to your facility.

“Therefore, we do online (Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+), grassroots (flyers, tote bags, mugs, pens) and take them to different businesses, and we host charity events (pet adoptions, car washes, BBQs).”

At the end of the day, you have to know what you want to accomplish with your marketing. Tie your marketing with your overall business objectives and set realistic goals to be successful. Digital marketing with re-targeting ads, website analytics and more can help lead people down a buyer’s journey to your facility. One of the keys with any marketing strategy is knowing your audience (potential customer pool) and developing a marketing strategy that is targeted to them.

Getting it Right

Know Your Competition

You May Be Your #1 Competitor

by Donald Jones


One evening in January, there was a meeting in one of our Central Texas communities. The residents came in numbers to share their concerns regarding a new self-storage development being considered through the city’s planning and zoning committee.  During the course of two hours it became evident the public knew nothing about the industry or the strides the industry has made to be more appealing to their community.  Everything they said related to what they had seen in the past and the term “not in my backyard” became the mantra as they attempted to move the development elsewhere.

There is no way we can blame the residents of this community for not really knowing why a developer would want to enter the market because they are not informed. However, how often do we ask our employees to give us fairly simple information as it relates to their home market and they do not have an answer? The developers who are coming into local markets know the competition very well and the reason new developers are coming is because they firmly believe they can offer a better product and better service.

But, is it true?


As we evaluate our own properties, how do we match up against the competitors in a given market? Who is responsible for gathering specific information, and who is responsible for managing the information when it is obtained?  While these answers are generally determined by owners or management company staff, frequently the task is filtered down to the staff at the specific location.

For years, the industry asked property staff to do competition studies that are essentially an exercise in price shopping. Yet, is price really the true measure of the competition? Upon replacing a management company recently, I had an opportunity to interview the two remaining employees regarding their jobs. I asked both a very simple question, “Who is your #1 competitor?” Both answered the question exactly the same, both were wrong, and they were replaced.

This was not a power move for the property, it was necessary because the employees didn’t have a clue that they themselves are their #1 competition. They came to believe that no matter what they did, they could not overcome the prices of their competitor. They were so consumed with the pricing they had been tracking for years (which is much lower than their own), that they believed they could not compete. They were in fact beat, but not by their competition. They were beaten by themselves for not knowing the facts.

We have executed competition analysis in more than 30 states for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is to gather accurate data that allows us to make good decisions. Without solid information it is difficult to make good business decisions. When we do these studies, pricing only occupies one small portion of the information gathered. All other details about a property are critical. And when left unmeasured, the gauge used to measure one’s position in the market can become skewed.


Consider using some of these categories when obtaining information and see if it makes a difference in the quality of your analysis: property information, marketing sources, rates by product type, hours of operation and access, amenities, facility rating, construction and special notes.

Property information does not just include an address, but how customers communicate with the property and who they communicate with. During a recent visit to a property, I asked the manager for pricing. His reply, “Our rates are online.” My retort, “Would you like me to leave and check the rates online?” Initially baffled by the statement, he took note. When you shop the competition, how does the manager respond during the visit? Friendly and inviting, or put off and dismissive? Clean and in uniform, or sloppy and unkempt?  Are they instructive and reassuring in teaching a potential tenant about self storage, or presumptive that the visitor knows the business already?

Marketing sources are widespread in the industry. There are many vendors who offer tools to assist in lease-up, rate management, software, etc. When properties are researched, are competitors using the same search engine aggregator? What variability exists between competitive websites—are some sites more powerful than others? When researching pins on mapping programs is the information accurate? When considering who has the best Internet presence, what conclusions can you draw? How a property markets itself will affect their potential draw.  How does the subject property compare?

Rates by product type are an extremely important metric.  In the example earlier about the employees who were released, their competitor was a Class C facility with no climate control, while the employees were managing a Class A facility with four different product types. When obtaining rates, gather information that is relevant. If a facility does not offer parking, there is no need to obtain pricing for that product type. Get the rates that matter most for the decisions you are trying to make.

Also, consider the ever-increasing amount of admin fees and insurance requirements placed upon tenants. Are these done categorically through institutional players, or are these locally- owned properties that have some level of flexibility? Will the competition require tenants to purchase locks on site or can they bring their own? What specials are being offered and are they necessary in the market or the subject property?

Hours and access can vary with every property. During some studies in a specific market, we learned that every storage property offered gate access only until 7 p.m. The reason was their fear of theft after 7 p.m. Instead of the market working on security improvements, they reduced customer access and convenience. When evaluating properties, are they accessible both via human communication as well as physical access?

Amenities are the aspects of a self-storage facility that will appease the tenants with an effort to make their rental experience more convenient and more secure. This list could include items such as: resident managers, kiosks, electronic gate access, enhanced lighting, storage carts, online payment options, cylinder lock security, elevators, insurance, truck rentals or moving supplies. Staff can inquire about other specific items like multi-unit discounts, or 24-hour access for special occasions. Understanding the amenities offered by the competition will allow one to understand more clearly what changes might be required, or it may just be a matter of simply being aware.

Facility rating is a subjective item but it includes things that are intangible. What is the appearance of the competitor? What is the ingress/egress?  Are signs crisp and clean, or lackluster and tattered?  Is the location highly visible, or on a back road with low visibility? How was the management? Attentive and helpful or barely helpful? Is the office fresh, clean and roomy, or is it cramped with the management lifestyle (food, pets, etc…) and the corresponding sights and smells?

Construction is a way to determine age of a facility and the true comparative value to other self-storage facilities in a trade zone: steel construction vs. block construction; heavy outside swing doors vs. light gauge roll up doors; concrete drives vs. gravel paving; quality lighting vs. limited lighting; and fencing that appears secure vs. fencing that can easily be breached.

Special notes represent things that weren’t specifically asked for but need to be noted. This could include various specials being offered. This might include a comment about new construction or how the mystery shopper felt during the visit. Would he/she have rented on the spot because of the great experience, or were they in a rush to move to the next facility?

When assignments are given to monitor the competition, it needs to be understood that rates have value, but they are only a small part of the overall competitive value. There have been many instances where a self-storage competitor is within a mile or two of a subject property, but they have ZERO competitive influence because the shopped property was just flat pathetic and the experience was miserable. If only rates are obtained, one might get a $50 price for a 10 x 10 non-climate storage unit compared to the $85 price that a quality property is charging. An uninformed owner might consider reducing rates.

There is a practice between various institutional players to obtain rates on a monthly basis, or in some cases, on a weekly basis. After having shopped storage facilities for 23 years, I’ve learned that rates just don’t move that much for the majority of the industry. Performing a quality rate analysis on a quarterly basis is more than sufficient and performing a quality competition analysis, including property visits on a bi-annual basis, is reasonable. However, always consider seasonal influences (e.g. rates increasing prior to summer).

After all data is gathered, then there is real value in sitting down with staff, district managers and owners to discuss what to do with that data. How will a facility be managed in the future? What plan can be written for the next six months to train the onsite management to improve the quality of the facility and to improve the customer experience? What items are tangible and can be seen and felt by future tenants?


When all is said and done, there is a phrase that rings true with every storage property: “Rent what you have, not what you wish you had.”

If a property only has non-climate storage, then embrace it and make it the best non-climate property in the market. If a property only has small units available to rent, then enhance the marketing on those small units. If the property only has a unit with a swing door and the latch is very difficult to close, then fix it and make the experience better for future tenants.

The manager of a given property should be committed to the objective of leasing up the property and their mind set should be geared accordingly. Rather than having a three-page list of storage units on the desk, they should be prepared with a very short list of five to eight storage units that are absolutely perfect for a prospective tenant. If they concentrate on renting one or two of those in a given day, they will do so.

Understanding the competition is a tool that is used to make better business decisions. The assignments to gather information should be specific. We need to understand the differences in the properties and the effectiveness of their onsite personnel. Onsite managers need to see how their counterparts are treating prospective tenants and begin to apply best practices.

Prospective tenants do not have brand loyalty when it comes to renting storage. They make decisions based on personal experience and by feeling comfortable with the management and the processes of a given storage facility. Make business decisions and hire personnel prospective tenants will appreciate.


Our very last point, there is one thing that YOUR facility has that NO other self-storage facility has in your market: YOU. When all is said and done, YOU are the difference, so make the difference.

Donald Jones established his consulting service in 2004 concentrating on property management, feasibility studies, acquisitions and development. With 24 years experience, he is a top 100 operator five years in a row.

Know Your Competition

Word  of Mouth: The Best Marketing You Will Never Pay For

If you provide not only a meaningful service but also a remarkable experience, you’ll create fans, and they’ll do your advertising for you.

by Matthew Painter

Sitting at your desk on a quiet Tuesday morning, a car pulls into the parking lot in front of your business. The front door opens and in walks a pleasant young person with a smile on their face and a bundle of magazines (or newspapers) under their arm. You smile your best smile but inside your mood sinks because instead of signing up a new customer you’re reluctantly looking at advertising rates. Queue the sad music sound effect.

What if I told you the very best advertising isn’t $1,500 a month or $500 a month? It’s free. But before we get into the details, consider the case of the most valuable company in the world: Apple.

Apple has, quite literally, the deepest marketing budget anyone could ever hope for. But their ads are remarkably few and far between. Think about how you first learned about the iPad, iPod or iPhone. Was it a black and white news- paper ad? Perhaps you saw it on the back page of the phonebook or on TV.

Likely your first Apple “ad” was a friend raving about their new Apple device, telling you how awesome it was and how it changed their life. That word-of-mouth recommendation is incredibly powerful, and it is why you see relatively few advertisements for Apple products relative to their marketing capability.

I am a big fan of word-of-mouth marketing. It is free, powerful, and the process of generating word of mouth makes the job of promoting your business a lot of fun. Why? Because you must be genuinely remarkable to earn it.

“Well, that sounds great but I’m no Apple Computer!” Correct. And I appreciate that the self-storage industry isn’t as glamorous as the MacBook I’m typing on. But being remarkable isn’t necessarily about your product or service. Often, it’s about the customer’s experience and that’s where you could create powerful, free word-of-mouth marketing.

The key word here is “create.” One of the big misconceptions about word of mouth is that it is a wonderful-yet-random phenomenon; a shooting star that we appreciate and soon forget. And if that’s your approach then you will soon find yourself talking to that ad salesman! The good news is that word of mouth is not random. You can create it and here’s how:

Who are your best customers? Who, if given the tools and opportunity, would chat up your business to their friends and coworkers? These are your talkers and you need to treat them with care.

People like to talk, and your talkers will market your business for you, but you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do that. Do you have good business cards? Are you accessible both physically and online? Do you have great promotional items people want to give to their friends? Be creative! But the idea is to make it easy for your talkers to spread the message.

If your market is anything like the Austin area, there are self-storage locations all over the place. What makes you different? Fundamentally, you offer a place for people to keep their stuff. But don’t get hung up on the simplicity of that service. Rather, focus on what value you can add to be remarkable. How? Here’s a quick example: My dad has a storage unit and when we go over there I often forget to bring gloves. I hate it because we’re always moving something heavy. If there were loaner gloves at the front gate (or in the office) that would make my day and I would tell my friends.  Simple? Yes. Cheap? Yes. Remarkable? Absolutely!

We would be remiss to not mention social media. Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram will likely become a logical component to your word-of-mouth strategy should you choose to implement it (and I highly recommend you do). But resist the urge to just post photos and monthly specials. Instead, focus on adding value. Consider linking to articles about cutting clutter and organizing. Talk about how parking in the garage (because their stuff is at your facility) is great on a cold morning. Social media is a dynamic (and free) platform—have fun with it!

My favorite cartoonist is a guy from Marfa, Texas, named Hugh MacLeod. He penned a piece that reads, “Advertising is the cost of being BORING.” And he’s right. If you provide not only a meaningful service but also a remarkable experience, you’ll create fans, and they’ll do your advertising for you. And that makes running your business a lot more fun.

Word of Mouth Marketing

How to Beat Google at Its Own Game

By James Appleton, MiniCo Insurance Agency

Google consistently moves the goalpost on us all and it’s hard to stay ahead of the game. We’ll briefly delve into some recent changes and what you can do to improve your local presence.

How has Local SEO changed in the last couple of years?

Google has now effectively anchored what are called Local Packs at the top of most every SERP (Search Engine Results Page) it thinks may have local intent. What this ultimately means is more opportunity to show in local results than ever before as Google AI (artificial intelligence) refines its ability to interpret the searcher’s intent. Given that we are a local, sub-market driven business, SEO emphasis on local triggers and keywords is far more lucrative than attempting to rank for an entire market. In other words, stay true to your local, small business roots and you’ll fair better than trying to dominate outside your trade radius.

Google My Business has introduced a variety of services that can also increase local visibility, like Posts, Product Posts, Videos, Q&A, Messages, etc. All of these afford businesses more ways to connect with consumers and differentiate themselves from the competition. You have more options to connect than ever, but it’s easy to get lost in the weeds.

Mobile and Voice Search are making their presence known as well, but evidence to date is that it has not yet begun to affect Local SEO.

How Do I Compete with No Budget Against Yelp and Aggregators?

The good news is that Google appears to want to show more truly local businesses, brick and mortar presence, in each part of a Local SERP, which means less opportunity for big directories like Yelp and other aggregators. There will always be some directories in these SERPs, but smart local businesses with small budgets can indeed compete. To boil it all down: once you have your basic website, a Google My Business Page, and your local citations in place, it ultimately becomes a game of content, links, and reviews, with an emphasis on reviews. Get them, respond thoughtfully to them, and get more.

What Are the Top 7 Things I Can Do?

NAP:  First, every page on your website should contain highly visible and consistent contact information for your business, including your NAP (business’s name, address, and phone number). Google looks to see if you are making it easy for users to get in touch with you at any point in the funnel. These NAP Citations should be present in the header, and/or marked up in the schema (or coding) so that it is easy for Google and Users to find. NAP consistency is key, both within your website and beyond. Claim as many local directory listings you can. Use the exact same formatting for the Business Name, Address, and Phone Number. Inconsistency, like spelling out Road vs. Rd, can have a negative impact.

GEO/Location Specific Title Tags and Content: Second, include location specific keywords in your Page Title Tags that both Google and Users would recognize and associate with your market. Keep the Title Tags to under 60 characters and include the sub-market name and zip code. Nearly two thirds of smartphone users are more likely to buy from stores that customize information to their location. So, ensuring that your content is geo-specific is extremely important.

Get Reviews: Third, the more reviews, the better. Don’t shy away from negative reviews either. Use them as an opportunity to show future tenants your excellent customer service. Obviously use caution when speaking in a public forum; it’s best to take some conversations offline. If you have suspicious review activity, start by flagging the review. It may take several tries to get it removed but keep at it. Pro Tip: DM (Direct Message) Google My Business via Twitter and they will respond. Ironically, it’s one of the only ways I’ve found to actually speak directly to Google. But, don’t be afraid of some legitimate public criticism. Treat it as an opportunity to showcase how you care. It will often sway them to amend their rating.

Do NOT try and drown out negative reviews with spammy positive ones. This WILL backfire.

Flag false reviews and flag them often.

If unable to get them removed, respond professionally saying that you do not have them in your tenant records and ask that they contact you to resolve the issue. You will likely hear crickets, but you’ve strategically called the review into question and downgraded its importance to a real, potential tenant.

Take Advantage of FREE Options: Fourth, register with as many local directories as possible to sprinkle your NAP data across the web. You can use a very affordable service like Moz Local to achieve this for you. Don’t ignore Bing and Yahoo. Though they represent a fraction of search traffic, they are another listing you can’t afford to ignore. Ask for relevant links from vendors or even tenants who have a website or businesses. Relevant inbound links will always give you a boost while irrelevant, or spammy links have long since been proven to have quite a negative effect.

Voice Search: Fifth, while voice search is still in its infancy, it is apparent that our search patterns are changing. People who have been using abbreviated written searches are now engaging in more of a conversational type search through Siri, Google, and Alexa. One might type “Weather Forecast” but ask Siri “is it going to rain this afternoon?” You can clearly see the potential disparity in the keywords, both aiming essentially for the same information. This goes to the core of good content. Don’t court search engines with broken, keywords stuffed speech; focus on long-tail, question-based natural language and the rest should fall in line.

Poor Quality/Unhelpful Content: Sixth, think of your website and its interaction with a user as sort of a Q&A session. They formulate their question in the form of a search and your website should, theoretically, respond with a relevant answer. Seven out of 10 customers visit a business or make a purchase based on information they find in search results. If they’ve somehow found you, make sure to address their concern/question immediately or risk losing the sale. No one cares about the ownership of the facility or your personal story; your website is there to fulfill the needs of the user. If they can’t see that immediately, because you are telling them what you think they want to hear vs. what they need to hear, you will lose every time.

Use Structured Data/Schemas: Seventh and finally, you will likely need web designer assistance to implement this, but Structured Data is one of the only vehicles afforded to us to speak directly to Google through the code. To see if you have structured data in place, use Google’s tool: https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/u/0/ . If not, a great tool to help generate compliant structured data can be found here: https://technicalseo.com/seo-tools/schema-markup-generator/

James Appleton is Director of Sales, Special Risk, for MiniCo Insurance Agency, overseeing customer storage insurance and collectibles programs.

Originally published here under the name “Local Search: How to Score when Google Keeps Moving the Goalpost” 

How to Beat Google at Its Own Game