Search-by-amenity, geo-relevant sorting, and a fresh, friendly look help consumers find the most suitable self storage units near them, while intelligent web marketing tools keep facility owners geared to fill their spaces
Kansas City, KS – January 20, 2010 – After a successful run of its Beta website through Q4 2009, StorageFront (http://www.storagefront.com/) goes live February 1st with its new self storage search engine and web marketing service. By cushioning the official launch three months, the independent website is able to incorporate findings from user feedback, call recordings, traffic statistics and lead conversions to offer a streamlined search engine for storage renters – complete with simplified user interface, advanced search, and geo-relevant results – and robust web marketing tools for facility owners.
Usability test results were very positive, with both renters and owners stating that the site is clean, accessible and informative. Respondents showed particularly positive reactions to the frank yet cartoony "Web 2.0” look.
"It's refreshing to land on a local-search site and not be bombarded by ads or unrelated businesses,” said Michael Glover, a resident of the Dallas area who reserved storage space via StorageFront. "I just wanted to get in, find the features I needed, and get out. StorageFront had all the information I was looking for, with none of the usual web directory clutter. I would recommend this site to anyone wants to find storage space.”
Storage facility owners who participated as product testers said that StorageFront appears to be a better and less expensive online marketing solution than competing solutions such as storage directories, marketing agencies, and yellow pages (print and online). Vendors who tested the site's display-advertising system also experienced click-through success, which can be attributed to StorageFront's sparing placement of ads in two hotspots per web page (left column and footer).
Unique visitor traffic to the website has climbed steadily at a rate of 290% month over month since the October Beta launch. The company credits the climb to intricate search engine optimization techniques (a complicated process that can take well over a year to fully index), plus a targeted Google AdWords pay-per-click campaign executed in the Texas test-market.
"I am nothing short of impressed with StorageFront's command of the technology, the tools available on the site, and the high personal level of service the company provides,” said Robert Francis, owner of three Plantation Self Storage locations and outgoing chairman of the national Self Storage Association (SSA). As an active user, Mr. Francis rented six storage units in the typically slow month of December via StorageFront's Beta website, and averaged 4.3 unique visitors to his sites per day.
Following February's launch, StorageFront will continue to progress its offerings in an effort to maximize the renter's search experience as well as to enhance the storage owner's visibility online—currently a learning curve for business owners in an industry that has long relied on traditional phone book and billboard advertising. StorageFront enhancements already slated for Q1 2010 include an advanced space-calculation widget that helps renters accurately select a suitable storage unit size and a Spanish-language search engine for the burgeoning Hispanic self storage niche.
StorageFront's positioning targets two distinct audiences in the self storage industry: residential and commercial consumers who need more space, and owners and managers of U.S. self storage facilities.
For Consumers: A Renter-friendly Search Engine
"The U.S. is one of the most consumer-driven countries in the world, but where to put it all? As Americans, we like our space almost as much as we like our stuff,” mused Marc Smith, StorageFront's Director of Business Development. "StorageFront is set to shine a new light on the self storage option. As the whole industry evolves from commodity space into specialty service, we're gearing up accordingly with a premium, precise search experience. Whether the consumer is moving, deploying, or just cleaning house, StorageFront puts mini storage front-and-center.”
Like web-based yellow pages, StorageFront specializes in local-area business search online. However, the company is sharply focused on the self storage industry specifically, enabling it to assemble tools and information that are uniquely relevant to the self storage shopper. For example, because renters most often choose facilities by location (typically within a two- to three-mile radius of home), directory features like geo-relevant results and visual mapping are essential to their nationwide search. Additional renter concerns include safety, accessibility and security, as well as business specialties like climate control and wine storage. StorageFront enables users to narrow their search by amenity.
StorageFront differs from other industry search engines in that it is much more than a database; the website provides depth and accuracy of content throughout, thanks in large part to the company's proactive sales and service team. Enhancements have been made to refine the relevancy of returned search results and improve the interactivity of maps. As a result, users can search by zip code, with fewer clicks and more flexibility.
What's more, StorageFront largely levels the playing field between facilities. Whether a storage business is comprised of one facility or a large national chain, the search engine shows everything that fits the renter's criteria, sorted by proximity. StorageFront currently lists over 40,000 locations—more than three quarters of the U.S. market. The complete storage facility directory can be viewed at http://www.storagefront.com/state-listing.
To reinforce the search engine as a self storage resource, StorageFront has kicked off a growing library of tools, tips and checklists. Well-researched topics range from antique wood furniture storage to RV winterization.
The front end of the website was designed to be extremely approachable and easy-to-use. Months of research revealed that although strong branding may be important to a market-specific search engine, affable feel and usability are essential. Thus StorageFront sidestepped the utilitarian look that is typical of industry directories for a friendlier, renter-centric feel. The site assimilates today's "standards and best practices” in web design to suit an audience that is largely female, lightly web savvy, and often relocating. Other design considerations included slower connection speeds, consumers with poor eyesight, and conservative commercial audiences.
To ensure that renters search StorageFront first, the company will continue to employ advanced search engine optimization and marketing. Complementary marketing, networking and promotional techniques will further boost exposure. By focusing marketing dollars on the renter more than the owner, StorageFront will draw more qualified shopper traffic to the owner and thus become the industry's leading search directory and web marketing resource.
For Storage Owners: More Manageable Marketing
"With StorageFront.com, we believe we have set the bar for online marketing in the self storage industry,” said Rich Cray, President of StorageFront. "On the front end, the website appears singly resourceful and inviting to the prospective renter, thanks to our first-rate search, smart tools and helpful reference materials. But on the admin side, the interface is actually a self storage owner's dream—especially if he/she isn't well versed in the complexities and costs of online marketing. StorageFront covers the applied web marketing gamut – from informative website layouts to search engine optimization to call tracking and trending – at an extremely competitive price. But most importantly: it generates rentals.”
Subscription packages on StorageFront range from $0.00/month for a "Basic” listing to $69.95/month for a "Priority Track” marketing suite, per facility. Optional premium services (such as Google AdWords management or virtual tours) are bid by project. "Competing services can run many hundreds of dollars, with premium services easily putting owners into the thousand-dollars-per-month column,” added Mr. Cray. "We suspect that's the main reason our Beta testers responded so positively to our offerings: StorageFront can pay for itself with just one rental.”
The Basic ($0.00) package includes a directory listing and a web page with address, phone, map, and driving directions. Owners can opt to "verify” a listing by confirming accuracy by phone. They can also tag their state and national association affiliations for added credibility. "We consider the zero-dollar price tag a ‘community service' to both owners and renters, as it assures a comprehensive list of stores in a given area,” Mr. Cray said.
Priority ($29.95) and Priority Track ($69.95) suites provide owners with a toolchest of aesthetic and functional enhancements over the free package. For one, the listings rank higher in the directory and show more detail (logo, tagline, map marker, and up to ten amenities that feed the advanced search function). For another, subscribers' websites are packed with particulars like property photos, unit sizes, descriptions, and hours of operation. Moreover, the page layout is strategically arranged to capture the lead, down to the prominent coupon in the top fold. Prospective renters can inquire, reserve, get directions, print or share with one click.
For the owner, setup appears easy; no design or coding experience is necessary to get custom page(s) up and running. The owner selects a design template that suits his brand, uploads a logo, and fills in the blanks. For owners of multiple locations, a "super admin” area supports control over many sites, including employee permission settings. Once the site is up, StorageFront drives local search engine optimization and pay-per-click.
The key selling point of the Priority Track suite appears to be the vast amount of information it puts at the fingertips of business owners. Most notably, a unique phone number is assigned which not only times calls but also records them. A facility owner can log in from anywhere and listen to entire sales calls on his PC or iPhone.
Web page data like unique-visitor traffic and call-to-action buttons are also tracked, then charted graphically in a marketing statistics dashboard. Owners can even opt to be notified via email the moment a new web lead or call comes in, which many Beta testers found useful for training managers to convert prospects to renter occupants.
A product chart comparing Basic, Priority and Priority Track is at http://www.storagefront.com/owner-benefits.
StorageFront runs entirely on open-source software in "the Internet cloud,” thus requiring no expensive infrastructure or software installation/updates by the storage owner. The database is powered by a proprietary programming language used to build data models with formal methods; the interface is powered by a specialized framework for building fast and secure websites. To prevent data loss and to protect sensitive information from hackers, StorageFront is protected 24/7 on a PCI-compliant dedicated server in a tier IV data center, backed up hourly. The restoration process is tested weekly.
From StorageFront's perspective, February's official website launch is just the beginning. "We'll continue to improve our tools and user interface based on the needs of both renters and facility owners,” concluded Mr. Cray. Plans currently include integration of application programming interfaces (APIs) to bridge the gap between marketing and operations, as well as a "how-to” resource library tailored to the self storage marketplace.
"Storage owners have become a hot target for marketing businesses, both because the self storage industry is becoming saturated – forcing facilities to compete harder for renters – and because the industry fares relatively well through economic slumps. But with so many different voices plugging ‘Google this' and ‘Tweet that,' it can be difficult for owners to decipher what really works for storage these days,” advised Carrie Royce, VP Marketing for StorageFront. "That's why it is our pride and singular purpose at StorageFront to fully understand this marketplace and the web's increasing role in it. As experts of both self storage marketing and online innovation, we endeavor to help owners better navigate their opportunities and penetrate the web—affordably.”
StorageFront (http://www.storagefront.com/) launched in 2009 as an independent online marketing resource for the self storage industry—which now numbers over 50,000 facilities nationwide and continues to appeal to the American population. A bilingual search engine and marketing portal, StorageFront serves both storage owners and renters with an advanced, dynamic directory that currently comprises U.S. storage facilities. StorageFront is based in Kansas City, Kansas, and employs several specialists in development, sales and marketing disciplines.
Rich Cray, President
Direct Line 913-469-0997
Carrie Royce, VP Marketing
Direct Line 785-393-7370