Lawsuits over self storage developments aren’t new, but lately, they’re getting extra heated. Recently a large group of homeowners sued the Omaha City Council and Planning Board over a new self storage development that was approved near a group of upscale homes and horse properties. They circulated a petition around the neighborhood, which garnished 291 angry signatures of community members who agreed that the storage facility “would be unsightly, hurt their property values, cause light and noise pollution, and attract crime.” Not exactly a warm welcome. What ever happened to bringing over a freshly-baked pie to welcome your new neighbor to the block?
So what kind of storage property were they proposing? The unwelcomed storage facility was actually a three-story, climate controlled building plus five traditional storage buildings with drive-up access, as well as landscaping and large trees - not that unlike a new office building or high school.
People are sick of self storage - that much is obvious. Or maybe they’re just disgusted by their own consumerism. Either way, new self storage businesses opening down the block aren’t exactly being welcomed with open arms.
Despite the community’s intense pushback, the city won and development of the storage facility forged onward. City planning members advocated that self storage businesses can indeed fit upscale neighborhoods, and were even quoted telling a concerned citizen, “you can also store Ferraris, horse feed and saddles there. It’s not only plastic folding chairs from Walmart.”
Fights over proposals to build self storage facilities have become common in recent years across the country, especially in saturated metro areas, and op-ed articles like this one that says self storage facilities are “the new mattress stores” show up on my timeline all the time. No matter how much we need storage, it seems like no one wants to see it on their drive to work.
There is yet another self storage facility opening in my 'hood.— Margaret Hobbs (@amargarethobbs) October 11, 2018
That will make three within <4kms of my home.
It appears we have become a society of hoarders 😖
Why do we need so much #stuff ?
Time to dump the junk!
Stop #conspicuousconsumption#ThursdayThoughts pic.twitter.com/82KAddQMUY
People are sick of self storage - that much is obvious. Or maybe they’re just disgusted by their own consumerism. Either way, new self storage businesses opening down the block aren’t exactly being welcomed with open arms. So how can storage owners continue to build and expand their businesses without angering the community and their future customers in the process?
It’s part of urban and suburban planning. But just like no one wants to live next to a wastewater treatment plant, no one wants a self storage facility built in their backyard. The fuss is mostly hot air - in fact, I live less than half a mile from a U-Haul Storage with climate controlled units and truck rentals, and there are three others (two small, traditional storage properties and a recently converted climate controlled CubeSmart storage facility) within two miles from me. Contrary to the Omaha homeowners’ concerns, my neighborhood has very little crime - kids walk to school and ride their bikes around the neighborhood before supper and many of my neighbors leave their windows open at night. While it’s not exactly Mayberry, I can honestly say I didn’t notice the storage properties before I started working in self storage technology, and they’ve had no negative effect on my home’s value or the safety of my neighborhood.
As much as I can advocate for self storage owners, I can’t be at every town hall meeting across the country (and even if I could, I definitely wouldn’t want to be). The demand for self storage is still very high, but as popular as they are, storage facilities are just plain unliked by the community. So how can storage owners convince the neighborhood they’re not the big bad wolf? It’s completely possible to get the public to like you again, even love you, after facing a nasty battle in development. Start with these three things and mix in a few quirky marketing tricks to win back the community’s favor.
I have no doubt that the disputed Omaha facility will quickly change the community’s negative perception of self storage. Why? Because it sounds like the property is going to look really nice, and its neighbors are going to be pleasantly surprised that it’s not the eyesore they expected. If you’re building or renovating your facility and facing a lot of negative pushback, you can fight the “concrete jungle” stigma by building a class A property. What separates a Class A property from the rest? According to the Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), Class A facilities have these ten key elements:
Location. Class A facilities are in close proximity to desirable locations, such as public parks with food trucks, downtown business centers, local landmarks, and new developments.
Age. Class A facilities are new developments, or old facilities that have been upgraded so that they do not show their age.
Amenities. Class A facilities have many amenities, which can range from standard (like wifi or free parking) to superior (like a fitness center or rooftop garden).
Style. Class A facilities show superior, modern aesthetic design, both on the exterior and interior.
Systems. Class A facilities offer state of the art security, elevators, lighting, HVAC and safety systems.
Finishes. Class A facilities have quality standard finishes that are appropriate for the design and style of the building.
Functionality. Class A facilities have exceptional accessibility for tenants (like wide driveways and easily accessible bathrooms) and are superior in both form and function.
Price. Class A facilities are (rightfully) priced at the top of the market and exhibit a strong market presence.
Employees. Going along with price, Class A facilities provide competitive pay and a high quality work life environment for their employees.
Ownership and management. Class A facilities maintain an excellent reputation for both building quality and facility management behind their brand name.
You can (and should!) make your new self storage build look eye-pleasing to the public. Your curb appeal is a huge marketing tool for your business, and paying extra attention to details like window or atrium design, fence style, creative lighting options, landscaping, and driveways and parking lots can make passersby turn their heads. By designing your new self storage property to resemble an upscale office building, you’ll quickly quiet the naysayers that were worried about your business being an eyesore in the neighborhood. With nice grass, trees, landscaping, and fencing, you’ll have the community saying, “I can’t believe that’s a self storage building!”
By designing your new self storage property to resemble an upscale office building, you’ll quickly quiet the naysayers that were worried about your business being an eyesore in the neighborhood.
Since Class A facilities also offer the latest in technology, they’re less likely to have the break-ins and crime issues that the community is worried about. If you can find the wiggle room in your budget, take extra steps to ensure security is up-to-par during construction and leading up to your grand opening. Make your security one of your most marketable features by making videos that showcase your high-tech cameras and monitoring system and doing interviews with local news outlets as a self storage expert about how tenants can protect their stuff from break-ins. Your goal should be to set the standard of how you’re going to run an ultra-secure storage business and make it well known throughout the community that you’re uber safe.
Next on your list to market yourself to the community is building trust. After your neighbors have decided your property isn’t so hideous after all, now it’s time to prove your usefulness to the community by offering a crazy amount of value to your tenants. This doesn’t mean that you can’t charge premium rates - your goal isn’t to be the cheapest self storage facility on the block, right? You can create tons of value for the community by simply running a smart business. Make everything incredibly easy for your customers, whether they’re a a traditional tenant, renting a parking space or moving truck, or just utilizing your retail store’s boxes and packing supplies.
Provide a crazy amount of value for your customers and win back the community’s trust with smart business practices, like easy online tools, simple contracts and agreements, no “gotcha” deals or hidden fees, professional staff, sparkling clean units, clear communication, and fantastic security.
One of the best ways to add value and make things easier for your customers is with an easy-to-use website. The customer experience now starts online, and you can make that experience as simple as shopping on Amazon by having a website that allows them to rent a unit or reserve a space, make payments, contact a manager or chat with someone for help, or purchase retail items. Your website offers a ton of bang for your buck when it comes to customer experience, and it also offers the highest marketing ROI for your self storage facility. Get a professionally designed storage marketing website (with a team who knows something about self storage SEO) and you’ll make it easy to use for your future customers. They’ll immediately have more trust in your business if you have a well thought-out, professional online presence.
Creating a great reputation for your storage facility isn’t rocket science - you just have to run a smart business. You can provide a crazy amount of value for your customers and win back the community’s trust with common sense business practices, like offering easy online tools, creating simple contracts and agreements, avoiding “gotcha” deals, hiring professional staff, keeping units sparkling clean, always providing clear communication, and making security a top priority. With fair and consistent business practices and a commitment to excellent customer service, you’ll develop a great rapport with the community. Be sure to watch your online reviews and make it a point to strive for a better star rating online in every customer interaction. That way, you’ll build trust by word of mouth and through online referrals.
The best way to bring your storage business in harmony with the rest of the community is by giving something back to the community. Giving is arguably the best part of being a small business owner - it creates an amazing opportunity to connect with your future customers, get sought-after local links that boost your website’s search ranking, and make a difference by supporting causes that you care about. As the old saying goes, you’ll attract more flies with honey.
Giving is not just a PR move - although you’ll often see local news sources picking up the charitable acts of storage businesses in the wake of natural disasters or community-wide struggles. A great example of this is U-Haul - every single time there is a major hurricane, flood, tornado, you name it, the local U-Haul will make the news by offering free units to those affected or displaced by the tragedy. They do a great job at stepping up to help the community in these situations and making the most of their square footage. Plus, it’s a great marketing tool for their business. Everybody wins.
Giving back to the community creates opportunities to connect with your future customers, gain sought-after local links that boost your website’s search ranking, and make a difference in your neighborhood by supporting causes you care about.
So what’s the best way to start getting involved in the community giving? It doesn’t always have to be something big to make a big impact. Start with a small project or sponsorship and start thinking of giving traditions you can practice year over year, such as:
Sponsor a little league team
Hold a food drive
Host a mobile mammography screening unit in your parking lot
Sponsor a fundraising 5K walk/run
Host a haunted house where proceeds go to a local charity
Donate storage space to the local charity of your choice
Partner with another business to host or sponsor a local charity event
Host an animal adoption event at your facility
Sponsor the girl scouts
Get involved in local schools’ giving opportunities
Host a blood drive in your parking lot
Hold a winter coat drive
Donate Christmas gifts to underprivileged children
Match your customers’ donations to a local cause you support
Partner with a local winery to hold a wine tasting for charity
Sponsor a bowl-a-thon or dance-a-thon
There are unlimited ways your storage business can get involved and build good will with the community. Get together with your team and figure out what local charities or causes you care about most and make a plan that you can stick to year after year. Pretty soon you’ll become a staple in the community, and local 4-H groups, clubs, and charities will be reaching out to you to see if you’re interested in getting involved. No matter how sick of self storage your neighbors may be, there will be no denying that your business is helping residents of the area and a great addition to the community.
Thanks for reading! If you like this blog post, you may also like: Competing with the REIT next door: How small storage businesses can thrive in today’s market, The mammoth summer season: How to optimize your revenue during the Black Friday of self storage, and Manage your storage investment like you give a damn.