Connecting with Local Businesses - Self Storage Referral Marketing

March 26, 2024

Man receiving a goodie bag
6 min

Maybe you can’t compete with the REITs on marketing budget, tech, hiring, or how tall your facility is, but you can connect with your community and leverage that to succeed!


But what does that actually mean? How do independent operators “leverage the community” to compete with nationwide companies?

We talked to Stacie Maxwell of Universal Storage Group to see how she trains her managers to make connections in the community that can lead directly to more rentals!

Generic advice - connect with your community - is easy to come by. Specific self storage marketing advice, especially specific advice that works, is a lot harder to find.

Luckily, Stacie was happy to share the specifics of how she uses local businesses and a strong referral program to bring in rentals.

Build a Referral Program

If you don’t have a self storage referrals program, that’s the first thing you need to do. 

Operators will sometimes hesitate to implement a referral program because there are circumstances where it feels like you’re throwing money away.

For example, someone comes in to rent a unit, sees your “refer a friend” sign, and says “Oh, yeah, my wife referred me.” Then you’re out $50 for a rental you probably would have gotten anyway, right?

Yes, that’s probably true. You may end up shelling out $50 for rentals unnecessarily.

But consider how much you pay for a rental with other forms of marketing.

On SpareFoot, for example, you’ll pay 3x the value of a month’s rent to secure a lead - not even a rental. For your larger units, that could be $600-$900 per new rental!

With Google Ads, you’re likely to spend significantly more than $50 to get a rental too. 

Check out our SpareFoot vs Google Ads article for a more in-depth look at the comparative value of the two. 

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Think of your other marketing avenues. Is there anywhere you can reliably get rentals for less than $100? 

If the answer is no, then you can afford to pay that $50 referral fee twice per rental before it stops being the most cost-effective way to get new renters.

Referral programs are incredibly valuable because you only pay the referral fee when you get a rental. Even in a situation where maybe you didn’t need the referral to get the rental, you’re still only paying for out when someone rents a unit.

Referral marketing works well because you are offering significant value to the people you’re working with. 

The referral bonus is attractive to people you’ve never met. Instead of trying to make friends with a handshake and a smile, you’re giving everyone you run into a solid reason to remember your business and to want to work with you.

Simple self storage referral program:

  • $50 per referred renter!
  • Don’t need to be a current tenant to refer
  • Paid after 3 months of a rental
  • Branded items (that won’t just get tossed!). Think cups, pens, etc.
  • Business cards or referral cards

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Local Business Outreach

Ok, now that you’ve got a killer referral program in place, you’re ready to start making those community connections!

The process is pretty simple - just go talk to local businesses! 

This should be simple, friendly, and fast. Remember that they’re going to be busy as well, and you’re trying to make a good impression, which you won’t do if you are stopping them from doing business.

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Stop by, introduce yourself, drop off a little goodie bag, and highlight your referral program, then move on!

Stacie has each store manager talk to ten different local businesses a week. That might sound like a big commitment, but she only allocates 2 hours to visiting all 10! 

Your goal is to inform them about your business and your referral process, and to create a positive impression of both. 

Pug Pro Tip: Offer to do a business card exchange at your facility! If they’re got business cards or other marketing materials, find room on your counter for them. 

Take a gift of some sort with you. Stacie recommended getting a branded 16oz stadium cup, filling it with candy, pens, and other small gifts, and then wrap it in a branded bag with a shiny little ribbon to seal it. 

Other operators have suggested taking a box of donuts, or some coffee - if you can get those from a small local business, that’s great too! Chat with them a bit while you’re making a sizable purchase, and leave behind some branded merch and some info about your referral program.

Of course, all of this increases the cost of your referral program, but every marketing dollar you spend is an investment in future income. 

If you’re uncertain about how effective this will be, start small, but make sure you bring something the other business is likely to value. 

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Food is always good.

Planning Your Marketing Day

Stacie suggests having one day a week be Marketing Day. Scheduling it regularly can make these visits a habit, which will help ensure they don’t fall to the bottom of the priority list.

The first thing you need to do is make a list of businesses in your market area that you want to visit. 

Depending on how rural your community is, the actual distances will change, but start with a 5-10 mile radius around your facility. If you have lots of tenants coming from certain areas outside that range, include those areas.

The goal here is to find businesses that serve your tenants. Remember that self storage tenants typically come from the immediate area around your facility, so don’t waste your marketing efforts trying to cover the whole city.

Stay on top of the self storage industry with our monthly virtual workshops!

Divide your marketing area into Zones. You’ve got a business to run, so you can’t hit up every business in your town in one day. Break your area into 4 zones, and each marketing day can be spent covering one type of business in one zone.

Once you’ve got your marketing zones, pick all the businesses of a certain type within each zone. We’re segmenting down further here because you need to have a good message crafted for the customers of each business type, and to keep you from spending all day going business to business.

Here are some business types you may want to add to your list:

  • Real estate agents
  • Apartment managers
  • Moving companies
  • Doctors’ offices
  • Attorney’s offices

And these are just examples - almost any customer-facing business is a good opportunity for this marketing push, but these five should be prioritized.

Stacie recommends doing 10 visits on marketing day once a week, for a total of 40 business visits a month. Again, if you can make it a habit (say, every Thursday morning), you’ll be much more likely to keep it going.

And this type of marketing needs to be done regularly to have a significant impact on your rentals. 

Local Business Outreach Checklist

Ok, you’ve got your referral program in place, and you’ve got a list of businesses you’d like to connect with, and you’ve set aside some time to do it!

  1. Create your flyer
  2. Build a goodie bag
  3. Plan your route
  4. Put all the flyers/bags/etc in your car
  5. Put a sign on the door that you won’t open until 11 the next day
  6. Don’t go into the office that morning
  7. Start marketing at 9 am, before the target businesses are busy
  8. Get their business card
  9. Take notes on what you talked about (so you can revisit it next time!)
  10. Add new contacts to your software

Remember, all of this should take less than 10 minutes per business! Too much longer than that (unless you really hit it off with them) and you’re hurting both businesses. 

Use your judgment in these situations. If their storefront is full of paying customers, come back later! Or just drop off your gift, give a thumbs up, and move on to the next.

Your goal with this whole thing is to create positive relationships with local businesses. Help them out - first with tasty snacks (or cups or whatever else), then by referring your customers to them, handing out their business cards to renters who need whatever your new friend provides, etc.

Once you’ve built that relationship, they’ll think of you whenever a patient, customer, or even a friend needs somewhere to store their stuff.

The potential benefit of this sort of marketing is huge compared to what it costs you.

Looking to learn more? Check these out!

At StoragePug, we build self storage websites that make it easy for new customers to find you and easy for them to rent from you.

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