Inside Self-Storage Magazine 11/99: Ask The Waldmans

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Choosing is Confusing

DEAR WALDMANS: I am the proud new owner of a self-storage facility. It has truthfully been an experience in developing all the essential elements that go into a storage facility. The facility is approximately 50,000 square feet, and will have a resident manager. As of now, I want my tenants to be able to have 24-hour access to their units. The manager that I have hired to fill the position has a background in sales and is great with people and numbers. My dilemma is down to which software to choose. Choosing a program really makes me nervous. Being new at all of this, I truly am afraid I will purchase the wrong program. After coming this far, it is very important that I feel comfortable with the software and that it meets my expectations. First, how do I find software packages for storage facilities? Second, are there certain items I need to investigate more than others? Third, what will really give me the feeling I have chosen the right program? Please give me some feedback on what, how and why on this very delicate choice. Your insight will be greatly appreciated.

--CHOOSING IS CONFUSING

DEAR CHOOSING IS CONFUSING: As you have found out, it is extremely hard but rewarding work to start your own business. You are not alone in discovering it seems as equally hard to choose a software program. After all, the program you choose operates the entire facility. A good source of locating programs is the Internet, or by attending a self-storage tradeshow where you can demo numerous programs on site.

First, take time to determine exactly what you expect out of a program. For certain, you will want the software you choose to be beneficial for your tenants, manager and accountant. Think about what it can do for you beyond the normal aspects of the day-to-day business.

Make sure to choose at least three vendors to give you a demo of their program. Ask about the ability of day-to-day operations of a facility. Make sure the sales representative is knowledgeable. Ask a lot of questions, such as: What is their length of time in the business? How many facilities do they service? What type of support will they give you, and what are the fees for this support? After asking a few questions, you will be able to determine just how much wisdom they have to back up their product.

You may want to call a few of the vendors' current customers to obtain their opinions on the software and their comments. Nothing is quite as effective as advice from a hands-on user of the product. Question the ability of the system to run reports and offer self-help. Likewise, make sure an operations manual is available. Running data statistics from month to month or comparing year to year is extremely useful.

Determine how the product handles client information, from completing the lease agreement to the receipt of monies to tracking payments, late fees, move outs, or generating letters for different incidents. Does it handle insurance if you collect the fees for the insurance company? Go over the accounting viewpoint and envision how you and your accountant will be able to deal with this part of it. If you have installed electronic gates, will it be compatible, and how does it work? Do you have the option of charging for extended or 24-hour access? What about the security system? The list goes on and on.

A father-daughter team, the Waldmans are self-storage owners/operators and attorneys. In addition, Ms. Waldman holds a master's degree in labor and employment law from Georgetown University. The Waldmans are co-authors of the industry's leading series of books on self-storage operations: Getting Started, Forms, Policies & Procedures and South Carolina Tools. Another creation of Ask The Waldmans are their colorful posters designed exclusively for the self-storage industry. Comments and questions for ASK THE WALDMANS may be sent to: The Waldmans, P.O. Box 21416, Charleston, SC 29413.

E-mail: askus@askthewaldmans.com; Web: www.askthewaldmans.com

Views and opinions on legal matters are those of the authors. Professional counsel should be obtained before any determination or positive action is taken.

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