By Barry Morris
Virtually any industry, including self-storage, has its benefits and pitfalls. But rather than simply taking the bad with the good, Christopher Capozzoli thought it would be better to take the bad and make it better.
Capozzoli, a Boston-area real-estate developer, opened his first self-storage facility 12 years ago. After a few years in the business, he concluded that many self-storage software products available at the time left something to be desired. The only way to change that, he concluded, was to create a product that would fill the void. This was the genesis of MicroTask Inc. "Being in the industry and seeing what was out there, I took it upon myself to start this company to try to bring better technology to the industry," he says.
Burlington, Mass.-based MicroTask was founded in 1996, and its principals--Capozzoli, the company president; Stephen Davis, vice president of sales and marketing; and Chad Nale, vice president of engineering--collectively have more than 20 years' experience in the self-storage industry. Additionally, the company's engineering team has more than 50 years of experience in the development of Windows- and Internet-based applications.
MicroTask's newest solution for the industry is referred to as SOMS (Self-Storage Online Management System), a completely Web-based facility-management application. "With our new software there will be a centralized database at our facility, set up as an ASP (application service provider), and each facility will run its software over the Internet," Davis says. "This way they have a centralized database, so now a national operator or multi-facility operator can get detailed, up-to-the-minute information on any particular facility or group of facilities, regional or national, from any computer with Internet access."
Focusing on the Internet
Even with today's strong product offerings, the single-facility software needs of the multi-facility operator often go unmet. This is causing a change in MicroTask's dynamic from that of a software-package producer to, as Davis calls it, a "Web-centered company." "Single-facility-based software really wasn't conducive to running multiple facilities," says Davis. "Each facility was an independent island, and there was no integrated database. Even the major vendors have had a hard time figuring out how to consolidate information from all their facilities."
While SOMS seems to be what large multi-facility operators have long dreamed about, Davis says that even small-facility operators can benefit in several ways. "One, they (often) have a problem with software and upgrades. With us, they don't have to worry about installing software, upgrade problems or ever paying for upgrades," Davis says. "As soon as they sign on to the system through a standard Internet browser, they have the latest version of the software--the installation issues go away. Tech support becomes much easier because the technician has the capability of seeing exactly what the user is doing, almost as if looking over the user's shoulder. Also, most facilities never adequately back up their data, so if something goes wrong, their data may be old. With us, it's backed up automatically at various times during the day."
Testing of SOMS was to begin in late May or early June, according to Davis. Once testing is complete and SOMS is introduced to the industry, the company will discontinue its Stor-Rite software package. Also contributing to MicroTask's new Web-centric approach is eSTORIT.com, the company's self-storage industry portal. The site has an active search engine listing more than 30,000 facilities in the United States, and offers the capability to rent units from any listed facility directly via the Internet.
Similar search engines now on the Web don't level the playing field between small- and mid-size storage operations and their larger competitors, Davis says. "To get information on a particular locality, you've got to go four or five pages deep into some sites, and on each page you see banners from the national competitors. The feeling for the independents was that 'people are going to click on one of those banners well before they ever get to see our listing.'"
Capozzoli currently operates two self-storage facilities in Massachusetts and plans to open three others elsewhere in the Eastern United States--including one in Florida--within the next 12 months. These properties provide a natural proving ground for MicroTask's products. "We test a lot of our ideas (in Chris's facilities) before we even approach anybody," notes Davis. "For instance, we were testing confirmed reservations and rentals online for at least four or five months with Chris's properties before we implemented it in eSTORIT.com, with great success."
Capozzoli's continual goal with MicroTask has been to be a mover and shaker, venturing into areas others may be hesitant to enter. "We bring a unique flavor to the industry," he says. "We know where technology is going, where things are moving, and we can make those technological decisions as to what fits best with this industry.
"Outside this industry, everyone's talking 'B2B' (business to business). We're trying to bring a business-to-business model into this industry through the web. By doing that, I think we're not only opening up a great opportunity in this industry, but also bringing a great peace of mind."