Self Storage: Evaluate Your Organization and that of Your Competition with Secret Shopping

As with every industry, self-storage sees constant evolution. You can’t rely on outdated strategies to keep up with your competitors. Industry knowledge and resources are literally at your 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. 

If you’re not sure how to proceed with a mystery shop, find a full-service marketing company to help you. After identifying your requirements, experienced shoppers will impersonate prospective customers and complete surveys and inspections for each specified area. They will clearly explain the process and facilitate a mystery shop for your organization.

If your marketing company doesn’t provide secret shopping services, you can post the job on the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website and browse through applicants. 



Secret Shopping: What Am I Looking For?

You’re going to want answers to these questions.

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


Secret Shopping Your Own and Your Competitor’s Facilities

Before secret shopping your competitors, you need to look in your own backyard. 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 appraising each step of the process.

Once you’ve evaluated your own facilities, your marketing company can arrange to secret shop your competitors using the same metrics and then make a comparison. 


Your Secret Shop has to be Carefully Planned

The following suggestions will help you plan a credible secret shopping experience. 

  •  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 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 staff 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. 

If your secret shop reveals that you do have to review a negative situation with a self storage facility manager, always use a cordial, approachable tone. Many employees are unaware of the shortcomings in their customer service skills. Suggest training and using the results as a learning experience that will better prepare him or her for future opportunities.



By performing mystery shops regularly, on both your own and your competitor’s facilities, you’ll begin to see trends emerge. The important thing is how you react to them. Your marketing company should use a customizable reporting program that provides detailed insight and analysis of data that is derived from these mystery shops. This enables you to make informed decisions and work with your team to create actionable improvement plans.