100% Money Back Marketing - Self Storage Referral Programs

September 1, 2023

hand holding a gift card, self storage referral marketing
8 min

[This article was updated in 2023]

All self storage marketing costs something. Maybe it’s time, maybe it’s energy, but more often than not, it costs money.

And the worst part is, you’re spending all that money with no guarantee that you’ll get it back in the form of rentals!

There is one marketing tactic that only costs money if you actually rent a unit, though - referrals.

Referrals are one of the most cost-effective self storage marketing tactics because you only have to pay for the marketing when you get the rental.

Many referral programs only pay out when the new tenant pays for the first three months, or after a certain time period has passed. This means you’re not handing out referral checks and then having the renter move out after a month, losing your money.

If you set up your self storage referral program right, it’ll give you a way to reach out into the community without lifting a finger. Plus, you get to adjust the amount of money the referral is worth! That means you can lower the payout if you’ve got plenty of demand, or increase it as you need more rentals.

What is a Self Storage Referral Program?

A referral program is when your facility offers a reward of some sort when a new tenant says someone specific told them they should come rent with you.

This serves multiple purposes. First, it gets you rentals you may not have gotten otherwise.

Second, and more importantly, it improves your reputation in a way other marketing can’t do!

Referrals from friends and family are the most credible form of advertising among consumers.

5 ways ebook

People don’t care what you think about your business, but they definitely care what the people they trust think. If you provide a good customer experience, your tenants will be recommending you anyways - the referral bonus just gives them one more reason to make sure that anyone they know who needs storage comes to you!

This may seem like you’re throwing money away - but according to the 2023 SSA Demand Study, the average self storage tenant stays for longer than 7 months. If you pay out $50 (or even $100) per referral, you’re still coming out way ahead. 

If you know the lifetime value of a storage rental, you can compare that to the cost you’re spending acquiring it. Count your referral money as part of your marketing budget, and you’ll quickly see that this is one of the best ways to get your name out there!

Here are seven steps to adding referrals to your storage business.

1. Offer a monetary reward for a successful referral

This can be a check, cash, or a gift card, whatever you find easiest. If you’re not sure, default to a check, so the referrer can spend it on whatever they need, rather than being limited by a gift card.

On the other hand, everybody loves an Amazon Gift Card. Amazon (or Target, or Walmart) makes a great gift card choice if you want to go that way because they carry a huge range of products.

Amazon lets you send a gift card through a text message, which makes the process quick and easy - however, you can’t get quality pictures of your referral getting their money!

Download our Self Storage Marketing Playbook eBook here for free.

If you want to make use of self storage social media, you’ll want pictures of happy tenants getting their referral money, so the text message method won’t work as well. You know those giant novelty checks you see on TV? This is your chance!

You don’t have to do that, of course, and the main thing is getting referrals - which a text message Amazon gift card works great for.

$50 is a good starting point. You want the referral reward to be worth enough that people will take action for it, but not worth so much that you don’t make a profit off the rental.

Whatever number you start with, be prepared to stick with it for a while. If you print out flyers or brochures or business cards with that amount on it, people will expect you to honor that number, even if you’ve changed it on your website.

Of course, you can say “sorry, it changed, the new number is X,” but that’s creating a bad customer experience, even if it’s totally fair. You’ve got to manage your customers’ expectations, even if you’re not legally bound to what you put out six months ago.

2. Reward Both the Referrer and the New Tenant

This step gives your potential referrer some ammunition when they go out talking about your facility.

“Yeah, they’re great! And if you list me as your referral, we’ll both get X!

The potential new customer may just think their friend is referring you for the money - so offering them the same deal, or a discount on a storage unit, will give them a good reason to check your facility out anyways.

If you’ve got value pricing at your facility, you can also offer upgrades in lieu of a gift card, but this is tricky because your new tenant may not know the value of your amenities.

Part of creating a good customer experience is ensuring all of your tenants feel like you’ve treated them right. Giving them a good deal on a rental is a great way to do this.

People want to feel like they’ve saved money, so if your new tenant moves in with a discount price and assurances from a friend that you’re going to treat them well?

That’s a perfect start.

Download our Self Storage Marketing Playbook eBook here for free.

3. Offer a Free Month of Rent

If you don’t want to spend $50 to acquire a new tenant, consider offering a free month of rent to anyone who refers a tenant.

Depending on your rates and the style of unit you offer, this may be an even more appealing deal for your current clients - but it does exclude referrers that don’t rent with you.

Still, this can be a great way to get referrals that doesn't involve writing checks or buying gift cards. 

Try to gauge how much your customers would value this sort of deal. It’s probably worth more than the gift card would be, but may not be as exciting as getting $50 to shop with.

A free month of rent might be a better offer for the new tenant - getting a storage unit for free is exciting when you thought you’d be out a chunk of change!

You can also offer discounted rates (50% off the first three months!) for the new tenant as part of the referral.

4. Get Local Businesses Involved

However, if you’re only offering discounted or free rent, you’re limited as to who can refer you - which goes against the goal of adding a self storage referral program.

You want as many people as possible to be referring you - and if that sounds like a way to spend a whole lot of money on referrals, remember that you can only pay out referrals for empty units.

If someone offered you the chance to get fill up your facility at $50 a unit, you’d take it, right? The average renter will stay for over half a year, so you’re going to make that money back fast.

Getting local businesses involved in your referral plan can help you do that. We recommend opening up your referrals to anyone - not just current tenants. 

That means the coffee shop down the street, the hardware store, and the clinic will all have a reason to say “oh, you know who you should call?” when a customer mentions needing some space.

We also recommend leaving some business cards, flyers, or brochures that have your information and referral details on them at nearby small businesses. 

Don’t go too far abroad though - you’re most likely to get renters from within 20-30 minutes of your facility. Any further and you’re wasting your time because very few people are going to drive that far out of their way to store.

5 ways ebook

5. Promote Referrals on Social Media

Your referral program doesn’t help unless people know about it! This is one of the few ways we recommend self storage operators use social media

When you pay out for a referrer, take a picture and share it to social media. Try to get everybody smiling, happy to be doing business - and reiterate what the deal is, and who is eligible for it.

This can help get your deal out into the open, and anyone who sees it, has a friend in need of storage, and wants a $50 Amazon gift card can go out and get you a new renter!

6. Ensure Customers Know About the Referral Program

If you have a referral program, be sure your staff, your facility, and your website are advertising it. 

Get some signs made to post around the facility (though remember, whatever number you choose to offer is going to stick around for a while). Put together some emails for your tenant list. Consider some flyers or brochures. Post on social media.

Some of our operators go around to the businesses near them and leave behind some cards that tell about the referral program - along with an invitation for whomever you meet behind to counter to participate.

You can also be more vigorous in marketing your referrals if you’re finding demand slowing down. Then you can do the reverse if you’re getting full - though if you’re facility is getting full, consider upping your rates!

Learn more about self storage rate management here!

7. Include a Referral Link or Form on Your Website

Referring someone shouldn’t ever be a headache for your customers. If it ends up being a hassle, they might do it once but never again.

The easiest way to let them refer someone is by including a link or form on your self storage website

Be sure you get the contact information for both the referrer and the referee. 

Download our Self Storage Marketing Playbook eBook here for free.

You may also want to set out some ground rules to ensure you’re not just writing checks without getting your money back. Don’t give out anything until your new tenant has paid for the first month’s rent - or if you give them a free month, until they’ve paid for their first full month.

You could also make the rules that the tenant has to stay for three months before the referral bonus is activated.

Whatever you do, make sure that you’re very clear about the rules! Tenants will expect you to honor the deal they think you’ve made, regardless of what the fine print says.


A self storage referral program can be your most cost-effective marketing tool.

If you make a good offer, make sure people know about it, and you treat your customers well, you’ll have a group of storage evangelists out there telling their friends and neighbors about your facility.

That’s the kind of goodwill that no amount of advertising can buy. Your potential customer won’t take ads at face value - but if her sister says “yeah, it was clean, safe, and the manager was super helpful!” she’ll believe that.

Of course, if your customers don’t think you treat them well or that you offer a good value, they’re not going to recommend your business enthusiastically. Make sure you’re providing a good customer experience before you lean into a referral program.

Happy customers are your best asset! They continue to rent with you, they refer you to new customers, and they’re likely to choose you again in the future.

A referral program supercharges the marketing benefit of your happy customers - and, if you do it well, can make those happy customers even happier!

Is your facility doing something different to garner referrals? Let us know in the comments!

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