A Self-Storage REIT Touts Tech Prowess, Managers Champion the Human Element
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
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Posted on: 10/03/2012



 

Tony Jones***A guest installment by Self-Storage Talk Community Manager Tony Jones

An interesting interview with Extra Space Storage President Spencer Kirk recently raised a few eyebrows in these parts. In the Q&A, Kirk touted technology as being instrumental in the self-storage company's growth, even during the recession. In fact, he said it was a difference-maker in separating healthy self-storage operations from those that continue to struggle.

"Technology is the enabler that is driving the results of well-performing operators and is the bane of other operators who have yet to harness its benefits. The Internet was often hyped up as ‘the great equalizer,’ but we've found that it's proven to be ‘the great divider,’” Kirk told The Sreet.

That’s a lofty statement that may sound like a shot across the bow of smaller self-storage operations, but as the second largest self-storage real estate investment trust (REIT) in the United States, Extra Space has invested heavily in a technology infrastructure it can effectively leverage across a portfolio covering about 900 facilities (including 200 managed) in 34 states.

From the word go, Kirk believed technology could be a game-changer for Extra Space. Investing in high-tech talent has helped the company grow from a broom-closet server room with one computer to a cloud-based platform Kirk says rivals leading high-tech and retail brands. He credits the company’s operational infrastructure and technological investment for helping the company acquire 55 properties in 2011 and another 60 this year.

But how does this apply to the typical self-storage operator? Many in the industry say operators should look to the REITs and emulate their strategies on a smaller scale. I was curious to gauge reaction to Kirk’s comments from managers in the trenches, so I started a thread on Self-Storage Talk (SST) asking if they thought his assessment of technology was accurate. I also asked for input on the three most critical technological implementations self-storage operators must use to effectively compete in today's market.

The result? While there is acknowledgement that Internet presence, call centers, kiosks and other tech tools are playing a key role in today’s operations, managers and other industry professionals firmly believe in the power of in-person customer service, curb appeal and effective move-in promotions. The thought is that while technology may improve internal efficiencies and help drive prospects to your door, it’s the facility’s physical presence and the value of service and human interaction that are the cornerstone of customer acquisition and retention.

“There is never going to be a replacement for the men and women behind the counter. They are the ones that create an environment of trust and confidence when folks are, many times, at difficult times in their lives,” noted SST member MisterJim444. “People still and always will make the biggest difference in our industry, and the level of customer service provided is ultimately the difference.”

The point is well taken, but I don’t want the conversation to end there. Technology will continue to evolve, and industry reliance is likely to only increase as more and more emphasis shifts from new developments to operational effectiveness. Think of it in other terms ... For example, in what ways can technology enhance the important hallmarks of the onsite customer experience?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, or join the ongoing conversation by logging into or joining Self-Storage Talk today.