Feature, Operations, Sales & Marketing, V4I6

The Lure of Unmanned Lots

Tuscarora Structures’ unmanned lot is part of a larger site, so security isn’t necessary.

Matt Glick wears several hats at Pennsylvania-based Tuscarora Structures. As owner, sales manager, and marketing head of his family-owned and -operated rent-to-own (RTO) business, he is involved in all aspects of the entity established in 1991. 

With three retail and one wholesale lot in Maryland, New York state, and Pennsylvania, Glick is one busy guy. However, when the opportunity to rent land to house an unmanned shed lot 20 minutes from the company’s main location arose in early 2018, he didn’t hesitate.

“It was a good opportunity at a reasonable cost,” he says.

Although the lot is relatively small at 50 by 300 feet, Glick decided the investment was worth the risk. 

The site is located right off a main road, meaning it offers a fantastic benefit: visibility. Fortunately for Glick, that’s not the only perk of the lot. His company’s section is part of a larger site, so staffers overseeing that business are around during the day. 

Their presence is the main reason Glick doesn’t do much to secure the four to five sheds he stores on the unmanned lot. 

“The sheds are unlocked and brochures are inside,” he says. He takes no other security measures to protect his inventory. That includes not maintaining insurance on the sheds because it would be prohibitively expensive, he says.

The sheds housed on his unmanned lot are display models, offered so potential customers can get an idea of what is available to them. 

“If a customer sees something they like, we build one like that for them,” says Glick. 

Glick and his company are not getting rich off the unstaffed lot, but he wasn’t expecting that. He is happy to have earned “a few direct visits (to our showroom) due to” the unmanned lot, he says. Since that lot is just a 20-minute drive from company headquarters, a customer who sees something of interest at the unmanned lot can access the main location easily.

Although the lot isn’t garnering much additional business, Glick still thinks it is a great investment for his company to have made. 

“In this instance, the cost to rent the lot is so low, it is an excellent ROI,” he says.  

Come spring, the company will change the inventory housed on the unmanned lot so potential customers will get new options to consider, he adds.

Glick’s advice to other RTO dealers considering an unmanned lot? 

“It is a form of advertising, so if you get low rent and visibility, it could be worthwhile. But, if you’re spending $500 to $600 in rent a month without sales, it may not be worth it,” he says.

JDM Structures says unmanned lot success depends on location and availability of salespeople.

Meanwhile, one Ohio RTO dealer has invested much more into unmanned lots. Eli Miller, sales manager at JDM Structures Ltd., says the company maintains three manned and three unmanned lots in the state. 

According to Miller, the main reason the company operates the trio of unmanned lots echoes Glick’s strategy: exposure. Whereas Glick’s company does not advertise its unstaffed lot, Miller’s promotes its unmanned spaces on its website and on street signs. Just like Tuscarora Structures places detailed brochures in the sheds on its unmanned lot, JDM Structures does, too. 

At any one time, the company’s unmanned lots hold 10 to 15 sheds for potential customers to visit. 

Unlike Glick’s company, Miller’s employs a couple of security measures to minimize the worst aspect of an unmanned lot. Miller confirms that vandalism is the company’s primary concern, so security cameras trained on the various sheds are deployed. He or other company employees also stop by the lots several times a week to check on their condition.

Is the investment in unmanned lots worthwhile for JDM Structures? 

“It all depends on the location and how soon a sales person is available when receiving a call from a customer,” he says.His advice for would-be proprietors of unmanned lots? Be certain such a use of land is permitted by zoning laws in the area.

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