By Tom Brecke
When Hi-Tech, the makers of the Mini-StoragePlus management software system, decided to create a Windows-based software program nearly three years ago, the company tried a novel approach: It got a little help from its friends.
Mike Richards, president of Kailua, Hawaii-based Hi-Tech, recruited more than 20 self-storage-industry veterans to form an advisory committee to attain feedback on what would become Hi-Tech's newest software offering: RentPlus. The committee, made up of operators, owners, managers and construction personnel, among others, offered input to Hi-Tech during the design process of RentPlus. The group helped the 15-year-old company better understand what today's self-storage community is looking for in management software.
"We looked for a cross-section of skills and experience," says Richards. "What we did for more than a year was send out questionnaires to this group saying, 'This is what we're thinking of doing. What are your thoughts about this particular topic?'"
The questionnaires ranged from such software-specific topics as the move-in process to what size print works best when reading a print-out.
"In this way, we got a lot of people involved in the design process and it was very much a team effort as to the final design of our program," he says.
RentPlus Is Born
What resulted was a program that Hi-Tech began shipping earlier this year and has been met with rave reviews, according to Richards.
He says the RentPlus is very visual--a key to software programs that Hi-Tech attempted to build on--and offers several features, such as its color facility map that allows the user to click on an individual unit on the computer screen and be able to see its immediate status. If the unit is occupied, Richardson says all of the current renter's information appears on the screen, including their account, and gives the user the option to take payments, move the occupant out or change an address.
"When they're looking at the screen, they see a map of their facility, where the various units are laid out in the relative size, how they are laid out and where the corridors and aisles are," explains Richards, who adds that the units on the screen are color-coded as to their status. "What we've done is make it a very visual experience to run your facility. You're basically looking at a map of your facility and anything you want to do, you find the unit, click on it and off you go."
RentPlus also comes with a map editor that allows operators to place and drag units around the screen to match the facility's alignment. It also works with multi-floor and multi-building designs, as well.
Another feature of the new RentPlus system is its ability to handle rental periods other than monthly. Whether it's daily, weekly or monthly, RentPlus will process any time period the tenant wishes.
For Richards, this function is all part of adaptability and customer service that has become so crucial to being competitive in the industry.
"One of the key points we tried to program into the whole thing was the ability to accommodate all your different customers with whatever they want. For most systems, you choose whether the customer will be first-of-the-month or anniversary billing. With RentPlus, you can set them up to be due on any day," he says. "We also have a feature that allows you set-up different terms for different customers. For example, you may have a government account that is net-30 days, but you don't want them getting late charges and notices that other customers would get. So you can set it up so they won't."
Other features on RentPlus include:
- Full accounting system, including general ledger and check writing
- Inventory control
- Interface ability with popular gate systems
- Reports and graphs
Self Storage Legal Review on Disc
In a separate venture earlier this year, Hi-Tech joined forces with D. Carlos Kaslow, author of the Self Storage Legal Review, and Chateau Products to produce a CD-ROM of all articles published in the newsletter. With Hi-Tech writing the computer file and Chateau Products handling sales and distribution, the CD-ROM will include all of the newsletter's past articles in an easily cross-referenced Windows Help File format.
"You type in a topic or a key word. It will look for that and display a list of all the articles that talk about that topic," says Richards. "If I lived in the state of Florida, I might type in the word 'Florida,' and it may come up with 20 different articles that reference that topic."
Richards says the CD includes a glossary list of legal terms listed by Kaslow and will have an annual update.
"Every year we will take the previous year's articles and put them on a CD and make them available at a low cost to anyone who previously purchased it," he says. "It's an ongoing item that allows you do stay up-to-date. It's an amazing resource to have all of that information."
For more information, call Hi-Tech at (800) 551-8324; fax (808) 261-4447; Web: www.hitechsoftware.com.