Evaluate Your Self-Storage Business with Secret Shops

As with every industry, self-storage is seeing constant evolution.  You can’t rely on outdated strategies to keep up with your competitors.  We live in an era where knowledge and resources are literally at our fingertips, but some information is better acquired first hand.  Using secret shops, also referred to as mystery shops, can inform you of the level of service offered by your staff as compared to the level of service offered by your competitors.  

Let’s start with a sample of questions/observations that should help you assess the level of service and professionalism in both your organization and those of your competitors.

    • How long does it take for team to greet an in-store customer?
    • Is the team member friendly and approachable?
    • Is the team member dressed appropriately?
    • Does the team member attempt to sell add-ons such as larger units, locks, climate-controlled units as opposed to regular units, and/or moving and packing supplies?
    • Does the team member use professional sales strategies?
    • How is your self storage facility curb appeal? Is it clean, attractive, and free of clutter?
    • How knowledgeable is the team member about competitive advantages like amenities, storage tips, unit sizes, and other important questions?

Secret Shop Your Own Facilities

You first need to look in your own backyard so to speak.  Think about problems that need solutions and proceed from that point.  Conduct an in-house secret shop by an individual who is unknown to your staff.  Have this person shop in person as well as on the phone, creating audio recordings of the calls.  If your company records conversations, compare these recordings with previously recorded calls. Your secret shopper can go as far as renting a unit and assessing each step of the process.

If you have to review a negative response with a manager, always use a cordial, approachable tone.  Many employees are unaware of the shortcomings in their customer service skills. Suggest using the results as a learning experience that will better prepare them for future opportunities.

Secret Shop Your Competitor’s Facilities

Now that you’ve evaluated your own facilities, secret shop your competitors using the same metrics and make a comparison.  You can use a manager that is unfamiliar to your competitors, or you can find an experienced mystery shopper on Craigslist or check out a website like Simply Hired.  If this is your first venture into the world of mystery shopping, look for someone with experience.  You can post the job on the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website and browse through applicants. If you want to outsource the entire secret shop process, you may also consider hiring a company that specializes is conducting secret shops for self-storage and other industries.

The following list of suggestions will help you plan a secret shop at your facility as well as those of your competitors.

  • Create a believable backstory.  Keep the story uncomplicated.  A good example would be, “I’m moving to town next month, and I need a place to store my things until I find a house.”  This is a common situation and shouldn’t arouse any suspicion.
  • Never use common industry terms.  An experienced manager will easily pick up on industry jargon like “unit mix,” “occupancy percentage,” or “lease up.” and realize that this is not a legitimate customer.
  • Shop with several unit sizes in mind.  Start with shopping the units that have the lowest occupancy at your facility.  You should be able to uncover the factors that are the reasons for this problem.
  • Get a tour.  Touring a  competitor’s property is an easy, effective method of evaluating a facility’s condition, amenities, and occupancy rates.  Touring your own facility will give the shopper the opportunity to evaluate the way your team presents your property to the customer.
  • Leave a valid name and phone number.  The secret shopper should leave a legitimate name and phone number to determine if and when follow up is implemented.

By performing mystery shops regularly, on both your own and your competitor’s facilities, you’ll begin to see trends emerge.  The important issue is how you react to them. You need to utilize a customized reporting program that provides detailed insight and analysis of data that you receive from these shops so that you can make informed decisions and formulate an action plan.  

If your overall goal is growth, whether in occupancy or revenue, then having a mystery shopping program is vital.