Today's Self-Storage Software Technology: New Features Streamline Operation, Increase Revenue and Improve the User Experience
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
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Posted on: 06/08/2012



 

By Hayden Harrison

Technology is always changing, and more people are becoming glued to their computers and mobile devices to keep up with the world and perform daily task. Things people once did in person, such as renting a self-storage unit, are now conveniently accessible online or through a mobile app. A self-storage facility's management software can help keep operators in step with technological advances, allowing the business to run smoothly and leaving customers happy with their experience.

When searching for the right self-storage management software, keep some important factors in mind: Software needs to be quick, easy to use and straightforward for employee training. Of course, operators need to consider the upfront costs, but they also need to think about long-term expenses such as equipment and upgrades.

Compatibility with a facility’s existing security and other technology components, such as a kiosk, is also critical. When looking for software, operators need to ensure all the facility’s technology will function seamlessly.

Self-storage software manufacturers are in tune with today’s technology trends and are incorporating them into their products. Updating their software frequently, vendors are adding features to streamline operation, increase revenue and improve the user experience. This year's highlights include mobile tools, online payments and reservations, revenue management, marketing tracking, and cloud-based services.

Mobile Tools

As smartphones and mobile devices become increasingly popular, people often assume "there's an app for that," or wonder why there isn't one. Realizing this, some software companies are adding apps to their products. For example, self-storage managers can use an app to conduct facility walk-throughs and check unit locks. They can also make notes on site maintenance, mark units for scheduled move-outs, and create online reservations and inquiries.

Centershift Inc., a company that provides two Web-based products, is planning to expand its platform to mobile devices, tablets and other non-desktop devices to extend "functionality for users into more convenient forms," says John Bilton, vice president of business development and marketing.

In late 2011, SMD Software Inc., provider of SiteLink management software, released the latest version of its mobile-reporting module, which allows users to view real-time software reports via the Web on any computer or mobile device. The module allows self-storage operators to look over reports by facility or as consolidated documents. It runs on all Internet-ready devices including desktop computers, smartphones and tablets.

Online Payments and Reservations

Self-storage customers want to do business from wherever, whenever. Software that allows renters to make payments and reservations online gives them the ability to do so at any time, even after hours.

“The online payment is popular for probably the same reason ‘pay at the pump’ has caught on—convenience!” says David Essman, director of marketing for Sentinel Systems Corp., a provider of self-storage management software and security systems. These two features are popular and now available from several software vendors, including Sentinel Systems and Empower Software Technologies. Empower will soon provide customers with a new facility-management system that runs as a standalone or Web-based program.

The prevalence of online marketing is one reason more software companies are moving toward Web-based products. “[Operators] made the transition [from] depending heavily on Yellow Page ads and print media for their self-storage property advertising to marketing their properties via their own company website,” says Alison Kiesa, sales and marketing director of Syrasoft Management Software LLC.

After getting online, the next step for self-storage operators was to accept payments and reservations via the Web. Existing customers can view their balance and pay bills from any Internet location with Syrasoft software. Other vendors provide similar capabilities. Reservations can be made by current tenants, so the unit will be ready when they arrive at the site.

Last year, Sentinel Systems added more payment options, including the ability to affix a transaction fee to its online-payments module. The new features also include greater credit card encryption to protect customers and tenants, Essman says.

Revenue Management and Marketing Tracking

When it comes to managing any company, keeping track of revenue and marketing is critical. One way to accomplish this is through financial and operational reporting. This feature is one of the most popular attributes of SMD Software’s product, according to chief operating officer Markus Hecker. “[Its] easy-to-use revenue-management modules lets owners drive up rates gradually in any geographic region,” he says.

The popular rate-management feature for Space Control Inc.’s management software allows prices to be automatically raised for vacant units according to availability, and routinely raises existing renters on the manager's schedule, says company president Ramona Taylor.

Improving marketing techniques is important for branding purposes. Understanding this, the majority of software vendors have built-in components to track marketing. "Promotions, credits and discount controls are very important to self-storage operators," Bilton says. This is why one of Centershift's most popular features is its "Automated Rate Changes and Revenue Management." It allows the operator to grant future discounts, and track discounts including when they were give and the circumstances of the discount.

In the last year, Quikstor Security & Software, a company that offers both standalone and Web-based software, added a "Revenue Optimization Center" to give facilities the ability to create specials and discounts to boost revenue. “It allows facilities to build and customize an infinite combination of specials and discount plans,” says Tony Gardner, vice president. “The Report Center is a consolidated area to preview, schedule and learn about each report available in QuikStor Express. Integrated mail service, call center and more online aggregator partnerships continue to provide operators with the services they need.”

The Cloud

Having everything you need to provide the best service to your tenants across different mediums is convenient for self-storage managers, which is one reason cloud computing is becoming more popular. Cloud is a way of connecting all programs, data and storage resources through the Internet, allowing the program to be opened from any computer with Internet access.

This computing doesn’t require users to purchase hardware or software, and no training is needed, according to Mike Harley, president and chief operating officer of Smart Storage Concepts, a company that provides Web-based reservations solutions. The company's cloud-based "Software as a Service" is completely browser-based, allowing access to bookings, customer information, and reports from any Internet-capable computer. It’s compatible with most popular online payment systems, Harley says. Cloud can benefit self-storage businesses because it is "affordable, scalable, easy to implement [and is] leading-edge technology."

Space Control, a designer of software for 24 years, is moving its features to cloud. Before, this technology was not possible to make Web-based software that was user-friendly enough to meet operators’ standards, Taylor says. Newer technology is now available that was designed especially for cloud development.

Features to look for in the future include birds-eye-view graphical maps, automated e-mail follow-ups after customer inquiries, and a black-list tenant record that can be accessed by any store. Other software vendors are looking to add features where managers can link or de-link customers who have multiple units. Plus, more companies plan to add options for mobile devices, including pay functions, text messaging and expanding signature-capture payment options.

As technology continues to change, so will self-storage software—for customers and operators. Most software companies update their programs multiple times a year to keep pace with new technology.

“Over the past 25 years, our clients have been the driving force behind the development of our software,” Gardner says. “We are always reaching out to our customers to learn how the software can improve their operations, revenue and overall business.”

For their part, self-storage operators need to keep up-to-date with the rapidly changing technology to ensure they stay competitive and meet the needs of their customers. Adding friendly applications while controlling costs and increasing revenue through technology is one way to do this. “We are always seeking new and better ways to do what is necessary to have the best software in the world for self-storage operators, and this is our goal and passion,” Bilton says.