Tom Smith and partner Jeff Power have been developing software packages for more than 20 years. They created software for the medical and legal markets before discovering the booming self-storage arena and launching Empower Software Technologies LLC in October 1998. Power's brother, Ed, an engineer, joined the company six months later. The Sun City, Calif.-based company now has 10 employees.
Empower's signature software piece, Storage Commander, is designed for ease of use. "The key is we've made the program totally interactive, so all the manager has to do is point and click to perform virtually any function," Smith says. The star of Storage Commander is its site map, which looks identical to the actual facility. "Rather than having little buttons that represent units, we have actual rectangles that represent the buildings and physical layout of the facility."
The site map features color codes to indicate the status of each unit. Green-colored units are available, for example; blue-colored units are occupied by a customer in good standing. The colors indicate which units are unpaid, empty or need repair. A legend tallies units of each status daily.
Another feature of the package is the customer-information panel, which allows a manager to quickly and easily obtain data by simply passing the cursor over the icon of a unit. He can find everything he needs to know, including the name and address on the account, move-in date, pay-due date, rental rate and access code. "It's all the information managers need to get to quickly," Smith says. "All they have to do is move the mouse over a particular unit and that information pops up immediately."
With Storage Commander, managers can easily change functions with a few mouse clicks--from renting a new unit to accepting a payment, for example. "It's a very simple package to use, but it's also flexible. You can set it up virtually any way you want," Smith says.
Storage Commander also has universal gate control and interfaces with all of the major gate companies. "When you do a move-in and enter an access code to Storage Commander, that code is automatically sent to the gate-security system. You only enter it once," Smith says. "When a customer goes into a late step associated with a lockout, the software automatically sends a suspend or lockout code to the security system so his key code doesn't work. It also automatically unlocks it when the customer pays his bill."
At the end of the day, the system automatically categorizes customers by status and assesses fees and notices. "A close-of-day function in Storage Commander is about a 20-minute operation. You click on the end-of-day icon, and everything is done for you," Smith says.
Storage Commander interfaces with QuickBooks, and the straightforward technology translates into less training on the computer. "The amount of time it takes to get up to speed to run this program is just a few hours vs. a few days," Smith notes. "We make it easy to operate the package, and it can be configured to fit virtually any management style."
An adjunct to Storage Commander, Net Commander, was slated for release in February. Designed for companies with more than five facilities, Net Commander connects the individual sites via an IP address or dial-up connection. The Internet server resides at the company's headquarters.
"From the corporate headquarters, you can basically control the sites. You can send down new discounts, pricing or plans; run reports; or make rate changes," Smith says. Net Commander allows the corporate office to do everything Storage Commander does at the facility, including rent units or take payments. Reports about facilities can be generated individually or combined by district or region. There is no limit to how many people can access the same information simultaneously, although a manager's access to files can be restricted.
The best part is Net Commander keeps the site functional, even in the event of a failed connection. "If you lose the phone line or Internet connection, Storage Commander keeps running. When the connection is re-established, all of the transactions are updated. The site is always up and running," Smith says.
Empower offers an annual contract, which includes free upgrades (roughly three a year) and unlimited support during business hours. For more information, call 877.672.6257; visit www.storagecommander.com.