When you’re thinking about how you’re going to compete with the new national chain or real estate investment trust (REIT) brand that just opened down the road, consider what your small business has to offer that they don’t have.

Maybe it’s your friendly, live on-site facility manager who walks the property with her black and white speckled Great Dane every morning and night.

Maybe it’s your green energy facility with solar-powered technology and the annual Arbor Day tree-planting event your business hosts in conjunction with the local nursery.

Maybe it’s your legacy as a family business that opened its doors thirty years ago and put half of the town’s high schoolers through college by giving them a summer job.

You probably have a lot more to offer than you think. But what if you’re a new build with no community reputation? You can still compete with the big boys - all you have to do is find your niche, be consistent, and execute the plan. In this blog post, we’ll cover the five ways that mom and pop shops stand out from national storage chains with technology, smart marketing, and good old-fashioned customer service.

  1. Harness the power of local search

  2. Turn customer service up to ten

  3. Boost renter trust with next-gen technology

  4. Show your creativity with video marketing

  5. Get hyperlocal with smart PR

Jump ahead to a find out more about any one of these topics, or read the full blog post to get a ton of new ideas for how to market your small storage brand in your community and create a strong brand presence that can go toe-to-toe with big chains any day of the week.

Harness the power of local search

If your small business is already ranking #1 in organic search results for relevant queries like “self storage near Smallville” or “RV storage in Smallville,” then congrats! - you’re killing it at online marketing. If you’re not even close, that’s okay - you can still turn things around. If your town has a national storage chain in it, or a lot of other storage brands competing for customers, you might just need a little help from local search.

So what’s the difference between local search and organic search? Organic searches are the top unpaid results for a query. For example, let’s track where JOCO Self Storage shows up in the examples below:

Organic search result for “self storage in Lenexa, KS.”

Organic search results for self storage in Lenexa, KS.

In addition to organic search results, local search results show up in a map-focused view. They may or may not list the same businesses in the same order.

Local search result for “self storage in Lenexa, KS.”

Local search results for self storage in Lenexa, KS.

As you can see in the above local search result, Security Self Storage is in the second and third spot, whereas in organic search they were knocked out of the top three by U-Haul. So what’s the difference?

Manage your maps and local business listings.

Local search results pull from local business listings. For example, if you’re on Google search, the listing will pull from a Google My Business listing that has a Maps location and good reviews. This means it’s incredibly important that your business has an accurate business address on search engines like Google and Bing - if your address throws an error or is inconsistent with the address listed on your website, you’ll struggle to get in top local search results. (Need to update your listing? Learn how here.) By keeping your Google My Business listing accurate in conjunction with Google Maps, you can improve your local search ranking and outrank larger brands with outdated business information.

Read all of your online reviews and post genuine, kind responses.

Another huge ranking factor for local listings are your business’s online reviews. There is a major human element to local search, so what tenants are saying about your business in online reviews matters a lot. In fact, users can often filter local search results by star rating to only see five or four star rated businesses.

Local search result for “best restaurants near Olathe” filtered to show only 4.0 star ratings.

A screenshot of a Google search for best restaurants near Olathe.

The top three local results for best restaurants near Olathe.

The good news: If your storage facility and the large chain down the road are fighting for business, this is where you can really gain some ground. It’s easier for your small business to turn up the charm, ask tenants to leave reviews, and fix your star rating than it is for a national brand who churns customers.

If you’re ready to get working on improving your online reviews, check out some of our tips on how to get more Google reviews for your small storage business, and learn how to properly respond to negative reviews to show potential renters that you care and you’re committed to excellence. Customer reviews are so important to small storage businesses that we’ve literally written dozens of blog posts about the topic. Get a shortlist of our top ten best customer review articles and get to work improving your facility’s online reputation.

Do local link building.

Another way to get to the top of local search results is with local link building. Link building essentially means getting a relevant hyperlink to your website from another credible website. Thus, local link building means the same, but from a credible website that is in the same community or neighborhood as your storage business. This could be anything from a link to your website on a nearby college’s resources page, a mention in a newspaper article, a local charity’s sponsorships page, or your town’s chamber of commerce website. Hyperlinks to your site from local, reputable website with high authority pass some of that authority down to you, helping your website rank better in local search results.

So how do you get local links? First, make sure all local websites that already mention your business are linking to your website. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call or a short email to say thank you and ask for a link. To create more local link building opportunities, you’ll need to do a little smart PR. Local link building is a give and take - in order to get a hyperlink from a local, relevant website with a lot of authority, your storage business is going to have to do something newsworthy or charitable, like sponsoring a local little league team. Check out our tips below for how to get involved in the community and build local links while doing so.

Turn customer service up to ten

If you want your brand to be known for superior customer service, now is the time to really crank it up - in fact, it’s time to launch a customer service campaign for your business. Use your human assets to be the best at customer service around. Your call center team, facility managers, or part-time employees are going to have to kick ass at customer service all day long for you to stand out from the big guns.

But it doesn’t end there. You have to show online users your customer service skills before they’re going to give you a chance to prove it in-person. Here’s what you need to show your reputation for great service online:

1. Online reviews touting your amazing customer service.

So you say you have great customer service? Prove it. The endorsements of your happy renters is the social proof of your commitment to being the best for your tenants. Your storage facility needs dozens of five-star reviews that speak to your helpful team and great customer experiences. Check out some of our review-boosting tips to get more online reviews touting your amazing customer service and highlighting times when your team went out of their way to help a tenant.

2. Photos and videos of friendly storage managers on your website.

If Julie is going to be meeting the new renter at the facility to show them around, have a picture of Julie on your website. Better yet: have a link to a Youtube video where Julie gives a tour of your storage property to users online. By having these tools at your customers’ fingertips online, your customer service skills will shine through and make things easy for a new renter.

3. Self-service tools online that make it easy to rent from you.

Customer service starts with your website. If your website is hard to use, doesn’t let tenants pay online, or makes it hard for new renters to rent a unit or reserve a space, then your high-quality customer service is not transferring online. Revamp your website to make it more user-friendly and start providing the same level of customer service to your online visitors as you do to real-life visitors at your storage facility.

Boost renter trust with next-gen technology

Many of today’s renters have trendy security cameras like Nest or Ring monitoring their home, and they’d surely be unimpressed if they found out the storage facility they were thinking about using was rocking security cameras from the 1980s.

In order to build trust with tech-savvy renters and stand out as a top facility, you have to have modern technology tools that provide peace of mind and online conveniences to the renter. If you’re looking for an example of a great business model that shows how having a high-tech facility can help you stand out from nationwide chains, look no further than 10 Federal Storage. Whether you’re planning on launching a fully automated facility or you’re just planning on using the best tech out there for your security monitoring, access control, and website tools, you can learn how to make your storage business stand out from the crowd with these tips:

Have a mobile responsive website

It all starts online. When users search for storage online from their smartphone, they’re looking for a self storage business that is close by, has a website that is easy to use on their mobile device, and has amenities that they care about in their price range. It’s a tall order for your website. Not only does it have to look pretty - it also has to rank well in search and be actionable for users. Lucky for you, we literally wrote the book on self storage website design. Check it out to find out what your storage website needs to succeed in a mobile world.

Offer streamlined services like online move-ins and e-sign

It doesn’t get much easier (or more convenient) than being able to rent a storage unit from your smartphone. By offering online move-ins and electronic lease signature (e-sign) through text or email, you’re allowing prospective renters to serve themselves and complete actions on your site, no matter what time of day they’re browsing for storage or what their schedule is. Couple that with 24-hour access and tenants can rent a unit, get a gate code, and move in whenever they want, on their own time, making your facility ultra-convenient compared to national chain brands.

Implement high-tech, tenant-focused security

Tenants want peace of mind that their stuff is safe, especially when they’re storing niche items like an expensive RV, a classic car, or a carefully curated wine collection. If you’re storing at a national chain, it’s not hard to find news of break-ins or drug busts at various locations of the brand nationwide, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that your stuff is secure.

This is an opportunity for your small business to capitalize on security using high-tech tools like cloud access control that can send notifications to the tenant whenever their gate code is used, smart storage units that can detect the presence of a burglar via infrared technology, solar technology that powers backup generators in the event of a power outage at your facility, or security cameras that push notifications to managers when unauthorized people are on-site.

By having premium security features, your facility is able to better protect renters’ belongings and charge a premium rate for the service. You’ll stand out from the chain stores and have the coolest tech on the block.

Show your creativity with video marketing

People have short attention spans, and no matter how much you write about how nice your storage units are, people are going to zone out after about 15 seconds.

Video can help you stand out from the competition and build relationships with your leads. You’ll be able to tell a powerful story and create a strong connection with your audience in 60 seconds or less. Even better? It’s completely free for you - all you need is a smartphone and an internet connection.

So how do you make a great self storage marketing video? Check out this blog post for inspiration, and follow these tips to make your video share-worthy:

  • Be down-to-earth. No fancy editing or commercial-style advertising is required here. Simply talk to your users like they’re a friend, and give them a tour just like you would in real life.

  • Show unit sizes. It’s tough to explain how big a storage unit is - it’s way easier to just show it! Be sure to have a friend hold the video camera so that you can walk into a unit and give users some perspective.

  • Show your curb appeal. Make sure you start with what your facility looks like from the road. This way when tenants come to find your facility, they’ll easily recognize it and know how to navigate to the unit they rented.

  • Find great lighting. My favorite light to shoot photos or videos in is overcast. Wait for a cloudy day to shoot your video, or get to the facility early in the morning to catch the “magic hour” of soft light.

  • Annotate your video. Take the video of your facility, then dub your commentary over it while editing it using your phone or computer’s video editing software. That way, you’ll be able to speak clearly and concisely while showcasing your facility.

There are so many fun things that you can do with video, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to show your storage facility’s best side with just your smartphone and free video hosting on Youtube. When leads come to your website, they’ll be able to get a virtual tour of the facility, see how clean and secure it is, and feel more comfortable renting a unit online sight unseen. Your videos will help build trust and establish yourself as an authority in self storage, without paying for expensive advertising. Win, win, win.

Get hyperlocal with smart PR

As soon as your new business breaks ground, start working to build a positive reputation in your community with smart public relations (PR) moves. The bad news: there are no shortcuts to building a great reputation in your community. The good news: anyone can do it - even you! As long as you and your team have a positive attitude and a genuine desire to help others in your community, you can make smart PR moves that give back to your neighbors and bring in new tenants year over year.

Build relationships with local businesses.

It’s a great idea to form relationships with businesses related to the four Ds of storage (death, divorce, downsizing, and dislocation) like realtors, moving companies, home builders, attorneys, and funeral homes. But you can do so much more than create relationships with ancillary service providers.

Don’t be shy about partnering with beloved businesses in your area. Just like getting a website link on a reputable website will help drive traffic to your small business website, working with a reputable, beloved small business in your community will help build trust with consumers and bring in new renters who didn’t know about you. Reach out to a local business that you know and love to see if they’d be willing to run a special with you and do some co-marketing. This could be a coffee shop, bicycle repair shop, burger or ice cream joint, or even an auto repair shop (especially relevant if you’re a RV and boat storage facility).

Partner with your local business of choice to run a special together for a month, co-host a charity event, or offer coupons in exchange for purchases or storage unit rentals. Pretty soon people who frequent your neighborhood pizza shack will be getting coupons for your storage facility, and you’ll be the first place they think of when they’re needing a safe place to store their stuff.

Sponsor community-building events, teams, and youth programs.

In the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey, you’ll often see PR-savvy storage brands stepping up to offer free storage unit rentals to those affected by the disaster. This is a perfect example of well-timed, community-centered PR. Your neighbors won’t soon forget your kindness in the wake of the disaster, and giving back is the quickest way for your storage business to become a staple in your community.

You don’t have to suffer through a natural disaster to do something like this - you just have to look for the right opportunity in your community. Look for opportunities to sponsor little league teams, 5k events, girl scout troops, banquets and luncheons, talent shows, homeless shelter feeds, black tie nights, golf tournaments, community parades, National Night Out events, or other happenings in your area. Don’t be afraid to take it directly to those in need and help (for example, by offering free storage to a couple who lost their home in a fire or donating storage space to the local police department).

When sponsoring a charitable group, team, or event, you’ll usually get a link to your website on their website (more local link building!), a shout out at the event, or even your logo on the team jerseys. It’s a fantastic marketing opportunity for your business, and it helps your community out, too.

Host charitable events.

One thing charities consistently need is space - whether that is a meeting space, storage space, a large indoor space, or an outdoor practice space. Put your money where your mouth is, and take your community-building a step further by hosting an event on site.

The ideas for this are literally endless, and it all depends on the style and layout of your facility and your brand’s personality. Maybe your facility has a has a big, unused green space where a soccer team could practice, or large indoor warehouse that is perfect for a haunted house around Halloween. You can really let your personality shine by supporting the causes you care about most. Host a mobile mammography screening in your parking lot, hold a canned food drive in your office, throw a pet adoptathon by partnering with the local pet rescue, or offer to host a charitable festival in your parking lot with carnival games, bounce houses, live music, and family fun.

While hosting a charitable event takes a lot more work on your part, it’s a great way to become a staple in your community and bring in new renters year over year. You’ll gain valuable local links, community recognition, and start a fun tradition that the whole town will enjoy.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this blog post, you may also like: Interview: Talking smart storage units, Tesla, internet of things tech, Mission: Impossible, and the Uberisation of self storage with Janus International Group, Self storage design gets sexy in 2017, and Selling & marketing to the self storage consumer: How to get the biggest bang for your buck.