Profit leaks

For most independent storage owners, new customer rentals are handled manually by store managers during office hours.  Their process to drive new tenant revenue is dependable, straight-forward, and uncomplicated.  Typically the strategy only requires one manager to cover all the bases (telephone calls, website inquiries, and foot traffic).

When new customers call in by phone; managers are trained to first drive callers to the facility for an appointment, and facility tour.  When new customers visit the company’s website; information pages are strategically designed to advise new customers to call the facility manager for unit pricing, and availability.

Regardless of where the call originates, managers stay consistent with the strategy to drive appointments.  In the end, all new sales prospects are funneled to the property, with the manager protecting home plate.

This is because the strategy requires a face-to-face appointment to begin the rental process, assign a unit, and execute the signing of the lease.  The effectiveness of this long-established strategy has been proven to work.  On average, U.S. storage managers are converting 80% of their appointments into new tenants.

Is it Really Working? 

“While this may sound like a positive statistic, there is still more to measure before we consider a conversion process to be successful,” said Brad North.  Brad North, President of Advantage Business Consulting, specializes in sales, marketing and operational training to the self-storage industry.

“We have to first take into account how many sales calls were taken during any given time.  Then we would like to compare that number, with how many appointments actually showed up.  In the end we would want to measure a manager’s “appointment conversion rate” as well.  When it comes to statistics, knowing how to measure, and interpret results is as important as knowing what to measure,” added North.

And never was there a better proving ground for storage related sales data than at Advantage.  By maximizing your sales program to create more customer appointments, store managers have become even more successful with training from Advantage.

“There are also many little leaks that will constantly drain your profits.  Due to a number of logical reasons, managers are only able to answer a fraction of your incoming calls.  For storage operators who do the math, there is also a logical reason for concern,” North concluded.

Leaks That Drain Profit Margins

There’s a profit leak in most every storage businesses. In some, that leak is a larger hole that is often overlooked. Owners can analyze, costs, profits, and examine all the operational line items.  Still, most owners always miss the leak.  Meanwhile, sales profits are lost every single day.

Where’s the hole?

As an industry, storage managers are missing 60% of the calls that roll into their facility.  If you have one phone in the office of your facility, but lock up the office when showing units, cleaning a unit, or going to the bank; calls could go unanswered for long stretches.  If a manager is on another line, or you close the store for a full day, or half-day each week… even calls will be missed.

With much at stake and little reason to gamble, operators are taking action to reduce missed opportunities.

Origins of the Call Center

The call center concept was first implemented decades ago by the public owned storage giants as a strategy to corner the market, and better compete for business.  This strategy was devised to route all incoming property calls to a centralized call center.  Over decades, their investment in staffing, technology, and building a remote office has become a vital business asset.  And the call center effect on profit margins has been substantial.

By design, the REITs call center agents represent the first line of a facility call.  They qualify leads, gather all customer data, promote specials, and then drive customer appointments or reservations to the property.   This allows store managers to focus on operational duties, marketing, customer service, and following up with leads, or closing sales.

Best Kept Secrets – Winning the Storage Wars

According to The Self Storage Playbook (Winning the Storage Wars), the REITs have a huge advantage over independent owners due to their call centers.  Authors at Chilton Capital Management say this is because REITs have hundreds of agents behind the scenes that support their store managers to ensure that every single call is answered.  The report claims that 45% of all sales leads, appointments, and reservations are converted into rentals.

On average, the typical storage property (without a call center) is only converting 25% of their sales calls, and 40% of the facility calls go unanswered.

The Business of Missed Calls

Today, thousands of independent owners have also adopted the practice of using call centers that are managed by self storage vendors.  This trend blossomed during the recent economic recession, and the solution has been proven help independent owners to better compete for rentals in their respective marketplaces.

The best call centers are equipped with technology that is programmed to know everything about a facility (your location, your tenants, payments due, available units, pricing, policies and more).  This technology allows the call center agents to process rentals, reservations, and existing tenant payments in real-time 24-7 by phone.

Robert A. Chiti, President and CEO at OpenTech Alliance, Inc. said, “It is a big decision to let a third party get between you and your customers.  While facility managers are always the best bet in servicing tenants, or sealing the deal on rental calls, there is still a big need for back-up.  Custom call centers have been proven to make a significant impact on the financial performance of each and every self storage operation.”

Understanding the Value of Call Centers

Call centers can be used to handle all incoming phone calls, allowing the manager to focus on operational duties, servicing tenants, following leads, and closing face-to-face appointments.  Alternatively, call centers can also be used to only accept phone calls that would otherwise be missed, and rolled over into voice mail.

Regardless, using a call center is a solution to ensure that every phone call to the self-storage property is answered professionally, whether the call comes in when the manager is on another call, with tenant, away from the office, or if the call comes in after hours, when the office is closed.

Plain and Simple

A call center is the alternative to missing 40% of your calls.  Being available when the phone rings, and always in position to immediately do business with a customer is how call centers have earned their merit.

“There is no on-off switch for today’s buyers.  They don’t like to be on hold, and they don’t leave messages.  Even a sympathetic promise by the manager to call the customer back shortly can be interpreted as a disappointment,” added Chiti.

The Call Center Effect

Industry journalist, Alex Hassel, recently published an article in The Storage Industry News that underscores the financial gain that stems from investing in a call center solution.  CALL CENTER HELPS IREM SCORE 44% SELF STORAGE CONVERSION RATE:  At an average cost of $1,600 per rental, the call center at OpenTech was estimated to drive $1.6 million in incremental revenue for IREM (click here for article).

Conclusion

A cold civil war still brews between the public storage giants and the independent storage owners.  While rental conversion rates are important, the real issue is, if you miss the call, the chance of converting it to a rental is ZERO.

Custom call centers provide the back­up necessary to capture every in­coming call, a better solution to compete for business, and the means necessary to drive more new tenants.  Those self-storage facilities left to rely solely on their on-site managers to handle telephone calls, reservations, and new rentals by themselves during regular office hours will see less impact in their business—especially in terms of income.