There’s more to the self-storage industry than meets the eye.
It’s an industry of contrasts. Equal parts retail and real estate, it’s both hyper-local and regionally dispersed, and simultaneously immediate and long-term.
It’s also an industry that’s changing. In the age of the sharing economy and always-on digital experiences, storage providers need to evolve to meet the market – and National Storage is one business that’s leading by example.
Having grown its assets to more than $1 billion since 2013 with over 110 storage centres and close to 40,000 residential and commercial customers, National Storage is a company on a growth trajectory.
Leading its marketing and corporate activities is Makala Ffrench Castelli, a marketer with a decade of strategic experience across property, finance and corporate affairs.
In this article, Makala shares her insider’s perspective on digital and the transformative role it’s playing in National Storage’s ongoing expansion.
In terms of marketing and customer experience, what unique challenges do you and your industry face?
Storage is a fairly unique product to market, in that it’s needs-based, it’s often a grudge-buy and the target market is so broad.
The industry hasn’t succeeded in marketing the benefits of self-storage over the past 40 years and as a result, product awareness is still low.
Product awareness, brand awareness and differentiation are the biggest challenges facing National Storage and the industry more broadly today. We’re tackling this challenge from many angles – some traditional above-the-line activities including sports sponsorships, plenty of local area marketing and then of course the digital and performance side.
How exactly is National Storage digitally transforming?
We’re driving digital change right across our business – from streamlining processes in operations, to in-centre and online customer experience, and we’re also changing the way we work at a corporate level.
It would be fair to say all areas of our business are undergoing some degree of digital transformation at the moment, which is really exciting.
How quickly are things changing, and who’s driving the change?
In terms of working towards our goals, we move as fast as possible but the challenge is to get the brief and scope right so we implement the right solution, not just the first one we see.
There are so many wonderful technologies, partners and providers out there, it’s easy to find solutions but it’s important to ensure they’re the best fit for the business now, and scalable for future growth. My role is to ensure we’re making the right choices at the right time.
We’re also fortunate to have a number of Senior Executive sponsors who are embracing innovation and technology. I play a part in driving digital change, but a lot of it also comes down to having buy-in from other stakeholders.
What does digital transformation mean to how you perform your day-to-day role?
Digital transformation is such a large part of my role at present – and the pace of change means I’m always looking ahead.
I challenge myself to look outside our industry for inspiration and learnings to apply, at both a strategy and execution level. Technological integration and customer experience aren’t unique to self-storage, so I try not to limit myself to only looking at our industry peers for inspiration.
Day-to-day, the way we work is changing to be much more retail-focused and project-oriented, with technology there as an enabler to help us be more efficient.
When projects are moving at speed, communication is key so we’re always looking for ways tech can help us communicate more effectively – anything from the software we use across our network to working out how to integrate all our platforms and systems across different business units.
What did your digital capabilities look like when you first joined National Storage, and how have they improved?
The marketing and customer systems at National Storage were fairly traditional when I started. On average we acquire a new storage centre every few weeks, so we needed systems and processes that were scalable and built for growth.
We’ve done a lot of foundation work in the past couple of years as we work towards best practice and being future-proof.
Now we’ve got a solid platform, it’s time for us to build out more complex systems, processes and campaigns – we’re particularly excited about advances in marketing automation, attribution and personalisation.
In what areas have you seen particular success so far?
We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on our website and digital marketing platforms, which has been a big factor in our continued growth and success to date. iProspect have played an important role in building out our SEO and SEM strategies, and we have an industry-leading content marketing strategy in play.
We’ve also applied technology successfully in operations and revenue management, with sophisticated and dynamic pricing modelling.
Altogether we’re now more equipped to be both proactive and reactive, and we have the capability to monitor performance at any level of detail – local, national, per channel or per product.
That said, I think the single biggest initiative is one that is in progress now, around redefining our customer experience and move-in process. It’s challenging and exciting, and you’ll have to check back in six months to see how it has progressed!