What can we learn from U-Haul in handling the COVID-19 crisis?

Key takeovers on how U-Haul's adapting to the COVID crisis

U Haul self storage illustration

The first half of 2020 has been a tumultuous period to say the least, with the world rocked by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Flights have been canceled, holiday plans disrupted, and undoubtedly your business has been disrupted. In these extraordinary times, university students have been particularly affected, with US colleges such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Cornell University all asking students to vacate on-campus housing as early as March. As a result, students were left scrambling to pack their things, and also find a place to store their boxes. With the struggle growing ever larger, U-Haul extended a gesture of goodwill, letting college students with valid student ID a free 30 days of storage, with no other purchases necessary.

On their website back in March, U-Haul President John Taylor said that "We don’t know how every student is affected. But we know they are affected.” Taylor stressed the need for companies like U-Haul to help, saying that “more and more universities are giving instructions to leave campus and go home. We have the expertise and network to help, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.” While U-Haul has previously only extended their free 30 day service to communities struggling in the aftermath of a natural disaster, this is the first time that U-Haul has made this offer “company-wide” with students all over the US eligible for free storage at U-Haul locations.

Adapting to a changing environment

The example of U-Haul shows that storage companies have to change and adapt to the constantly evolving environment, even accommodating to a global health crisis. Following in U-Haul’s footsteps were many smaller self storage companies, all expressing their desire to support those in need. But offering free storage might not be enough in the age of COVID, and the crisis has forced storage companies all over the world to tackle the issue of cleanliness and sanitation. As a result, U-Haul, as well as countless other self storage businesses have moved to offer a contactless service, that will serve to alleviate concerns of virus spread among customers.

Identify trends and be the first to adopt changes

The question then turns to how storage businesses can adapt to the current situation, and what lessons they can learn from U-Haul and other large storage companies. U-Haul acted quickly in offering their free storage for students, ensuring that they were one of the first to act and help those in need. Consequently, they were awarded deserved publicity from outlets like CNN, NBC, and smaller local media outlets. It’s extremely valuable for all companies, from large businesses like U-Haul to smaller-scale startups, to spot trends and identify the direction the economic environment is going, as to take advantage of these opportunities while also helping the community around them.

Recognise existing weaknesses and adjust quickly

One other major lesson we can learn from U-Haul is that they recognised the changing world and also spotted weaknesses in their existing business model that wouldn’t be compatible with where the crisis was headed. Introducing contactless storage options ensured that potential customers weren’t deterred by a health and safety threat. They also made very clear their increased sanitation procedures and enforcing of social distancing regulations. With a quick pivot in their operations and a fast public relations response, U-Haul was able to maintain most of their client base, and also attract new ones who weren’t seeing other storage companies offer this service yet.

Use technology that makes everything simpler

Adapting your business to suit the constantly changing business environment is not always easy if you can’t count on the level of resources a company like U-Haul has, but there are still valuable lessons to be learnt. Aside from looking at your physical operations and customer interactions, look also at how technology can help you offer a more seamless and contactless service. Ensuring you can automatically handle move-ins and payments from within your website is a great start. Storeganise includes a rebranded customer portal right out of the box allowing your clients to book and pay for their units from any device. Schedule a demo if you’d like to learn more.

Related Article: Predicting the New Normal of Self Storage

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