A 4-Step Guide to Attracting the College Student Market
Amy Daniels |September 04, 2015
If you’re a storage operator, there’s a good chance you’re coming out of the busiest time of the year and sales are beginning to slow down. If your facility is located near a university, this trend is probably even more profound. The students who rented with you over the summer have recently gone back to school, likely taking their stored belongings with them.
The declining business this time of year spreads across the entire storage industry, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Particularly if your facility is located in a college town, early fall can be the perfect time to get a strategy in place for the university breaks coming up in November and December. Follow this step-by-step guide to do just that and to polish your student marketing efforts before business picks up again next spring.
1. Evaluate your services
Take some time to look at the features your facility provides. If you haven’t previously evaluated your services through the lens of what matters to college renters, you could be missing some extremely easy ways to gear your services more toward students.
Below are some amenities college students are more likely to care about:
Extended access hours. College is a strange time where the regular 9-to-5 schedule is almost completely irrelevant. There are late nights, early mornings, midday naps, and tons of study time that can take place at any hour. If you offer extended or 24-hour access, students won’t need to keep track of your access hours or rush out between classes, making your company a more appealing storage solution.
Low rates/student discounts. With tuition, books, meal plans, and social activities, college students usually don’t have a large amount of disposable income. Even if they desperately need more space, they’d probably rather leave belongings behind at home than rent a storage unit that’s out of their budget. If you don’t already, consider providing student discounts (even 10% to 15% can be helpful). If you’re known for being a low cost provider, are you advertising that point where college students can see it?
Short-term lease options. College students are on the go, often driving to and from mom and dad’s throughout the year, scoping out study abroad options, and thinking about where they’ll work (and where they’ll move) upon graduation. Because of these factors, students are less likely to be drawn to long-term renting options. If you provide month-to-month leases to your college market, your services become more appealing, especially to students who only need storage during breaks from the school year.
Smaller unit sizes. While business owners, independent contractors, and families will be more interested in your larger units, college students often don’t need much more space than what a 10’x10’ rental provides. They’re not as likely to store furniture, so their belongings usually come packed away in boxes and take up less space. Do you have many smaller units? Do you offer a wide variety of smaller options? Smaller spaces mean lower rent, which is another reason they’re a great option for the college market.
Helpful technology. Similar to extended access hours, your college student market is likely to want ‘round-the-clock service. If a student were to pull up to your facility after the office closes, could he get help through a call center or self-service station? Can a busy college student log onto your website (from her computer or mobile device) and pay her bill, reserve a unit, and manage her account? One of the most important factors to the younger market is technology and it’s a major factor they consider before choosing where to do business.
Many of these features are pretty easy to tweak. Once you have some or all of them in place, you have a compelling reason for college students to rent with you, which can now appear in your storage marketing efforts and on your website.
2. Optimize your website for students
Speaking of your website, your online presence is the perfect place to share the news about your student-specific services. In addition to providing a website that’s functional and visually appealing (establishing a sense of trust in this tech-savvy generation), consider the following ideas:
A student storage page. Add a page to your website that’s targeted at college students. Even if you highlight those features listed above throughout your website, having a student-specific page will help your website rank higher for college storage searches. Optimize your title tag with something like “Storage Units near [university]” and include driving directions from the local college to your storage facility.
A specials/discounts page. Whether you choose to offer an overview of all your specials or you’d like a page specifically about your student discounts, be sure to highlight these lower rates on your site. Let college students know explicitly that renting a unit with you is an affordable endeavor.
Reference students on your FAQ page. This idea is a great way to rank your website higher when college students search for storage facilities. Pages with frequently asked questions are increasingly valuable in general, and adding information geared toward students can reap benefits for those searches.
Site-wide heading targeted at students. If you can alter the heading on your self storage website design, consider writing one that’s welcoming to students as you begin marketing toward them. It can be something simple like, “Perfect for students from [university].” The main idea is that a college student, upon landing on your page, will feel like they’re in the right place.
A resource page for students. Consider what other kinds of resources could be helpful to college students. If your town’s university has a high enrollment rate for out-of-state students, what sorts of information should they know about their new city? What moving companies, packing supplies, or organization techniques do you recommend to college renters? Perhaps you could add a page to your site that outlines these points and links to other helpful resources.
Again, when you have the right website in place, implementing these changes is fairly easy to do. Best of all, they’re free! Making these small tweaks will make your website extremely welcoming to a college student looking for storage. Plus, they make your website more relevant (and thus more likely to be linked to by other student-related sites).
3. Get listed on university resource pages
Now that you’ve made your site a relevant resource for local college students, you’ve got a good foundation for getting it listed on university resource pages. The benefits of this approach are two-fold: You’ll get your business’ name in front of local college students and you’ll get an .edu link to your site (absolutely one of the most valuable links you can get).
Spend the month of September getting your services and website messaging in order. Then, toward the end of the month and into October, shift your focus toward partnering with local universities.
To get listed, you’ll need to:
Find the right point of contact. As with any link building efforts, half the battle is finding the right person to reach out to. Before you send out your email to a mass list, check the university’s website and hone in on 1-3 people who seem most likely to have the authority (and interest) to help you out. This information may be available on the resource page itself but it may require a bit of digging around the site, too.
Check policies on dorm living. In order to make your pitch the most appealing it can be, do a bit of research on that university’s campus living situation. Do they require students to vacate the dorms by a certain time before breaks? Are their housing options exclusively dorms, or do they offer campus apartments as well? Are there certain items prohibited in the dorms that are okay to store at your property? These are good questions to answer.
Frame your request and make your case. Anytime you’re trying to build links, you have to strike a balance between what you want and what you have to offer. Asking to be listed on a resource page simply because you want to is probably not in the college’s best interest. However, if you know that they don’t have any storage facilities listed, their dorm rooms are particularly full, you dug up any helpful information about their policies, and/or your facility offers the services discussed above as being the most appealing to students, then you have a stronger case to prove that students would actually benefit from a link to your website. Remember that having an attractive and functional self storage website design will affect your success here.
Follow up and persevere without harassing. By reaching out in the fall, your point of contact may be coming out of a busy time as the college students moved onto campus. However, they could still be quite busy as the school year kicks into full swing. After you’ve reached out, wait a few days to a week and send a kind follow-up email to make sure they’ve seen your request. To avoid bombarding them, draw the limit at one follow-up per contact.
University links are notoriously difficult to get. Local colleges are most interested in providing what they think are the most helpful resources for their students. If you’ve done everything you can to make your facility appealing, you’ve framed your story in the right light, and the university still denies your request, don’t give up! Try asking what you can do differently in the future, give it a try again before the summer months, and, in the meantime, try some self storage marketing tactics to get your name out there.
4. Market the right message at the right time
Once November rolls around and students begin to make plans for the week of Thanksgiving and the longer holiday break, hopefully you have perfected your services, tweaked your website, and added a link to your site on the university’s website.
Whether or not that’s the case, it’s time to step up your marketing efforts so that your facility is the first one college students think of when they need more space. Maybe one or more of the following will be a good fit for your brand:
Offering scholarships. What college student doesn’t love saving money on school? If you can afford to, consider offering a scholarship (even if it’s small) for the following semester. Added perk: This tactic could get your site listed on the scholarship section of the university’s website.
Providing internships. Could your facility use photography, marketing, or business services? If there’s an aspect of your business that needs an expert’s eye but can’t afford a professional’s price, consider enlisting the help of local college students who are just a few years away from being professionals.
Attending university events. Getting involved in campus activities is a simple — and often fun — way to make yourself more visible to college students. One obvious kind of event to attend with flyers and business cards is campus sporting events. You could even buy ad space at these events.
Partnering with successful businesses. If your request to list your facility website on the university’s resource page doesn’t work, one sneaky tactic you could try is this: Look at the businesses that are listed on that page. Are any of them someone you could partner with? What they’re doing is working, so having them on your side (and getting a link from their site to yours) could be more effective than you’d think.
Providing moving supplies before break. Before the break rolls around, students are probably cramming in assignments and tests and not thinking much about how they’ll get their belongings to and from home. Ask the university if you can donate packing supplies to students as the break approaches, then make sure your company’s information is attached, front and center for college students.
Browsing university forums. Your local university may have a forum for parents and/or students. If not, there’s likely one for that university somewhere on the internet. Add your facility’s information and website in your signature. As you get more involved on these forums, avoid sales language and stick to providing legitimately helpful advice.
Helping parents cope with the transition. While some students are ready to break free from their parents’ house, some parents really struggle with this time in their kids’ lives. Similar to the forum approach, search for online resources for parents and engage in the conversation.
Posting flyers around campus and town. This strategy is pretty typical, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work. Create professional-grade flyers and post them in university offices, dorm room lounges, and hangouts around the university (with permission, of course!)
Targeting Facebook ads. Hopefully you’ve been keeping up with your social media efforts throughout the year. If that’s the case, consider buying ad space on Facebook. These ads are usually pretty affordable, and more importantly, you can target them at an extremely specific audience.
Assisting study abroad students. Get in contact with the study abroad department at the local university and see what you can do to provide your facility’s information to students who are about to leave the country for weeks (or months) at a time.
You can choose a couple of these ideas and hit them hard or spread out your efforts and try to get the biggest reach possible. It’ll depend on your time, your budget, and your interest in these various strategies.
Take into account the things you know about your community and the habits you’ve observed of the college students in town, choosing tactics that you anticipate to be most effective for that market.
Experiment, learn, tweak, repeat
After you’ve given these tips a try and make it through the Thanksgiving and holiday breaks (and have hopefully attracted college renters during these times), you’ll have a few months before the next busy season starts at the end of spring/beginning of summer.
So, what worked? What did you enjoy? Get feedback from the college students you do attract so that you can learn why they chose to rent with you, how they heard about your facility, and what they enjoyed (or think could be improved) about their experience.
Take what you’ve learned and make tweaks to your efforts next spring. Continue this process over time and you may just find that your facility becomes a go-to storage hub for college students in the area.