Devon Self Storage Facility Exterior.

2020 Storage Vision

June 29, 2020 | by Raheem Amer

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During a crisis, leaders tend to hyper focus on managing the threat and neglect long-range thinking. Vision is critical both for evaluating short-term decisions and for creating a better future. The coronavirus pandemic has been a major disruption to the economy. Some will dwarf the effects of the 2008 recession, with fallout rivaling even that of the Great Depression.

The ability to survive any crisis begins with a vision for what is possible. That is true no matter how great the crisis. If the vision is compelling enough, people will apply their best thinking and efforts to figure it out, regardless of the obstacles and opposition.

You may remember the movie Apollo 13. The spacecraft was damaged early in the flight. Running low on oxygen and battery power, the three-member flight crew huddled together awaiting instructions. Meanwhile, NASA’s ground crew, led by veteran flight director Gene Kranz, scrambled for solutions. Tension mounted as the hours ticked by.

As the spaceship neared the critical moment of re-entry, a senior leader remarked, “This could be the worst disaster NASA has ever seen.” At that moment, Gene Kranz, said, “With all due respect, Sir, I believe this will be our finest hour.”

That is visionary leadership. It was that vision of a positive outcome that enabled Kranz and his team to achieve success. First, they envisioned the destination, a safe landing. “Failure is not an option,” Kranz said. Then they improvised, adapted, and created their way to it.

To survive this crisis, let alone thrive in the future, you need a clear, inspiring vision for what comes next. Here is why: If ever there was a time we needed positive change, it’s now. The surging economy that we rode into this crisis (Devon ended March up +30% on YOY rentals) has been badly damaged. Some industries are closed temporarily, and many businesses will not survive. That is our new reality.

But that is not the total future. The pandemic will eventually come under control. When that happens, we’ll need thriving businesses, jobs, goods, and services – just as people always have. The businesses that thrive in those days will be led by those who looked ahead to envision a better reality.

With Devon Self Storage we developed a three-pronged approach to the COVID-19 crisis:

1. Maintain the Right Perspective:

Have a clear, honest, empathetic, and simple approach to communication as the crisis evolves. Remember that in any communication plan, it matters less that you communicated something and more that your audience understood it. The emphasis should be on what your listeners take in, especially in a situation that is volatile and unpredictable. The 10x10x10 rule applies here: Say something 10 times in 10 different ways for people to retain 10% of your message. You’re probably not communicating enough unless you feel like you’re blue in the face repeating the priorities and areas to focus on, as things continue to change and morph.

2. Focus on Innovation:

The storage industry was already shifting and relying heavily on technology. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this shift. With sites shutting down and walk in traffic dropping 60-70% across the nation, owners need to focus on a robust website that can drive traffic to your facility. At Devon we have done the following:

Website: Earlier this year we upgraded to a more robust website that provides online rentals with fast loading speeds on both desktop and mobile. As customer behavior changed, Devon was able to keep up with our rental traffic when many other owner/operators, including the large publicly traded REIT’s struggled. Devon’s new website is intuitive, customer centric and focused on conversions from inquiries to rentals. It gives our customers answers, drives them to the call to action buttons, and real time pricing.

Devon also spent time and energy in updating all our Google My Pages with links, photos, Q&A, On-Page optimization and reviews. This helped Devon end March up +30% on YOY rentals.

Voice Over Internet Phone System: With offices closed due to social distancing. A VOIP system gives operators the advantage of taking calls anywhere on the property or off-site. It helps increase employee mobility as calls can ring on the office desk or on a cellphone. The calls can be forwarded to another site one mile away or 1,000 miles away. You can rest assure that none of your customers calls will go unanswered. The VOIP system can also give your staff other communication functionalities such as team messaging, collaboration, and even video conferencing.

Devon launched the Ring Central feature at all our sites back in early 2019 and we are benefitting from this decision during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our managers haven’t missed a beat on building rapport with customers and our Regional Directors continue to train and perform site audits utilizing the video conferencing features.

Online Rental: Devon rolled out G5 Uber leasing earlier this year. This new feature changes the game for consumers, making it easier than ever to rent a storage unit online. In this new world of social distancing any storage operator that can’t rent a unit online is working at a huge disadvantage. Since COVID-19, Devon has seen an increase of 300% in direct online rentals.

3. Social Media to Grow:

No matter what business you’re in, advertising is the heartbeat and social media drives the brand awareness. With COVID-19 we have seen an increase of over 80% in social media engagement. Everyone is locked at home and spending time on their computers and phones. Devon has taken advantage of this by focusing more of our advertising dollars on social media vs. trying to outbid REIT’s on Google Pay Per Click.

Facebook: Devon is focused on posting the right content, while investing in Facebook ads that improve our organic reach. We are also targeting look alike audiences and remarketing customers that leave in the middle of a rental/reservation. We are seeing great Cost Per Click efficiencies and better conversions than with Google.

Instagram: Mastering the “Art of Hashtags” is one of the most effective ways to increase visibility to your posts. You need to know which hashtags to use as well as how to use them strategically. Devon is focused on attracting the right audience that will engage with our brand.

It would be foolish to ignore the current reality. It’s also unwise to fixate on it. Leaders look for what’s possible. They imagine what could come next. They picture a better tomorrow, then find a way to get there. That’s how we make progress.

It’s often said that hope is not a strategy, and it’s true. To make any progress, you need a vision, followed by a concrete plan. Wishing won’t get you there. Doomsday thinking and scarcity mindset are paralyzing. You cannot lead into the future if you’re bound by negative thinking.

Yes, take the threat seriously. Deal with it, mitigate it, be prepared. But a leader cannot afford to become reactionary. Fear won’t stop a pandemic. And fear won’t save your business. You need a vision for what comes next.

When there is uncertainty, people look for leaders. That’s true of nations, communities, and families. And it’s true of your business. Everyone wants a way out of this mess, and they’ll follow the person who can identify and convey it.

Wherever you are leading right now, people are looking to you for direction. No matter what the current reality may be, they innately believe that something better is possible. Now is the time to lead with vision.

The Apollo 13 capsule did indeed return to earth safely. Decades later, Jim Lovell, the captain of the flight crew, was Gene Kranz’s legendary remark. Lovell said simply, “And it was our finest hour.”

Will 2020 be the worst disaster your business has ever seen? Or will it be your finest hour? For Devon Self Storage, we have a management team that has been forward thinking and zigged when everyone zagged. We believe we are poised and ready to take on all challenges 2020 has to offer.

Grand Rapids Conversion

The Grand Rapids conversion project is underway. Despite all the obstacles faced from the COVID-19 outbreak, our construction team has been pursuing through the virus. The interior components of the units are being framed up, new lighting and electrical is going up throughout the property, and elevator shafts are being installed to provide access to a mezzanine floor. The layout is taking in considerations from the standpoint of operations, customers, and investors to build the ideal facility. We are excited for the continued progress.

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