Dennis Hall, executive vice president for Payment Service Network Inc. (PSN), is a former elected official and former chief lobbyist for several cities in Wisconsin, where he worked on tobacco-settlement funding. He was one of the first civilians to re-enter Kuwait after its liberation from Iraqi forces in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and his work there landed him on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. He was recruited by Madison, Wis.-based PSN soon after its January 2000 launch to handle all external operations for the company, including its RentToPay.com online rent-payment service. Inside Self-Storage recently met with Mr. Hall to reflect on the benefits of online services to self-storage businesses...
How did the idea for RentToPay.com come about?
The idea actually started because the founder, Norman Ehiorobo, didn't have time to spend writing out checks and going to the post office. His background is programming, and he got the idea about a year and a half ago to make it easier for himself to pay bills online. Necessity was the mother of invention in this case, and it was fortuitous because that's the direction the economy is going.
Your product seems to be applicable to any number of different industries. Are you taking a particular market approach toward self-storage?
The storage industry is our primary discipline. At this point, we're exhibiting at tradeshows and doing some print advertising. News of us is also traveling by word-of-mouth. Certainly, tradeshows are working very well--it's that personal, one-on-one contact that we like, and it really solidifies our position. We've received a number of calls from our magazine advertising as well.
Exactly what services are provided to self- storage operators and customers who utilize RentToPay.com?
The features for property managers are really unique in the industry across the board. Not only do we provide the mechanism for them to receive payments seamlessly by credit card or check, but it also provides an archived history of each renter, and managers can manipulate that information however they like. If they want to find out what payments have been made within a certain span of time--whether it's a week, a month or a quarter--they can easily go in and find that information. They can determine who paid by credit card, who paid by check, and how long they've been paying. It's very convenient for them to do that. And, typically, in this industry it costs between 80 cents and $1.40 to mail out a bill, so this is much more convenient.
On the renter side, the convenience is that it allows them--whether they're at work or at home--to avoid going to the mailbox or post office. Because I, myself, rent storage space, I know that it's really inconvenient to drive over to where the storage unit is and drop off my check, because I'm continually late and I hate to do mailings. This service was a blessing. It's very convenient for me, because I don't have to do anything extra. I'm already at work, and I can formulate my bill and send it in about a minute, and it's paid--I don't have to worry about it. For me, personally, it works well, and it's working very well for customers across the country. The renter also has an archive of payments, and has the ability to download a receipt. So he's got all of that justification at his fingertips. Wherever he's at in the world, he can pay his rent.
How do you assure users of your online system that their transactions are secure?
Security was Norman's biggest focus. Everyone who offers online credit-card transactions uses a security system called socket-layer technology. The difference in ours is that we've taken an extra step and double-encrypted our system. Even if some hacker wanted to penetrate that socket-layer system, the only thing he would get is random letters and numbers. He wouldn't be able to decipher any credit-card numbers, names, regions or anything else. We're extremely confident in our system.
Where do you envision RentTo Pay.com being positioned, say, five years from now?
Our ultimate goal is that the service be free to all users, that eventually there won't be a convenience fee for anybody. The more operator users we have on board, the more we can scale back the convenience fee for the consumer. We're probably going to see the first reduction of that fee coming in the next month.
We're constantly refining our site; in fact, we now have a brand-new site online, so users will see a new, updated version that will be even simpler to use.