Are you among the tens of thousands of storage facilities that have yet to purchase Windows management software? In the early 1990s, software choices were DOS management software or DOS software with a Windows face. Then Bill Gates and Windows became the wave of the future and software companies tripped over themselves in a rush to make their first Windows offering. These first Windows products were sometimes incomplete and unreliable. Only the brave dared to install version No. 1.
This opened the door to a flood of new-to-market software vendors that, while lacking the industry knowledge, brought Windows programming expertise. The mighty DOS companies had to write better Windows programs or perish. The road to the 21st century is littered with software companies that could not make that transition.
Decent management software can analyze your unit mix and rental rates. Computerized operations free your manager to provide increased customer service. But Windows management software makes it possible to electronically collect your rents and automatically reduce your operating expenses, and gives instant remote access to your business files.
Today, you may be happily using a DOS program on an older computer, but the winds of change are closing in. Computers from the late 1990s have an average operating life of about five years so, eventually, your computer will die. Microsoft's latest version, Windows XP, often refuses to let DOS management software operate. Yet Windows XP is what you will find on most new computers. If you do not make the transition to Windows now, you may soon find yourself in a panic search for new software.
If you are currently using DOS management software, the natural choice is to upgrade with the same software company with which you are familiar. However, familiarity does not ensure this is the best choice. Other things to consider include price, usability, reputation, support and expandability. Let's examine each of these.
The advertisers in this issue have prices ranging from free to $5,000. Price does not automatically infer value, and you must be careful. At one end are the companies that ask high prices, even after your trade-in value. At the other extreme are companies that offer their software for free, believing a happy customer will return to purchase future products and services. Most companies are somewhere in between. Just don't forget about hidden costs, such as the ones outlined below.
No one buys a car without paying more than the advertised price. This is why you should always ask the company for the total at-my-door cost to have exactly what you need. For example, if you want your management software to integrate with a security system, ask if that is included in the quoted price.
Some companies price their software based on the maximum number of tenants they allow you to track. One day, you might add partitioned shelves behind the counter and rent that space as mail boxes, or you might use phase-two land for RV storage. These income sources also count toward your maximum number of units. Will the version you are considering allow that growth? If not, what is the price to upsize, and for how many years will the company guarantee that price? Then there is the cost for shipping, taxes and any required extras. Once you know the real purchase price, you will be better prepared to compare your software choices.
No software package is worth a penny if your managers require extensive training to use it. The functions of a good software should be obvious. Controls should be clearly labeled and easy on your eyes. If you have just installed a demonstration CD, consider not looking at the user's manual until after you have tried to take a payment and perform a move-in. What was your experience? Will your employees be able to navigate the software? Like any business tool, management software must be fully used to realize its full value.
A company with a brand name is one with a reputation to uphold. While it cannot guarantee your happiness, it does mean the vendor has one more reason to seek your satisfaction. Fancy sales materials only imply the company has a good marketing department and an expensive advertising budget. A shiny promotional packet is no substitute for a quality product. Look to companies that offer innovative features, as they are investing in their future and yours.
Companies with large market share are likely to be around to supply your future needs. They can afford to hire programming and support talent to bring innovations to their current and future versions. If you don't know which software is popular, ask other facilities what they use and if they are pleased with the product. Facilities outside your market will be more candid with their views since you will not become their competitor.
The best support is that which you don't need! What is really necessary is easy-to-use software with a reputation for reliability. Otherwise, you could lose thousands of dollars in employee productivity as they repeatedly call technical support trying to get the software to fulfill its promise. A software company that offers a year of unlimited support is a company that is confident in its product. And if you ever need support, the technicians should be available on weekends and holidays.
When you purchase management software, you may also receive several other programs required to use the management product. As such, you are investing in the integrations between these products. For example, several management software programs offer a credit-card feature. If that feature requires you to install another company's processing software, you will have two companies to deal with if you experience erroneous or missing charges. Likewise, if your software has an invoice e-mailing feature that requires you to use Microsoft Outlook, you will have to call Microsoft for e-mail support if a problem arises.
Your management software may also have third-party integrations with your report writer, access control and Internet-based reservation feature. There may be products from half a dozen independent companies that were installed by your management software. Each time a new vendor becomes involved, a new potential point of failure is introduced. This is especially true if you unintentionally alter or update any of these integrated programs. Before you buy, ask your software provider who will support these third-party products should a problem arise.
When your business plans are fully realized, you will grow to have a larger facility and possibly several locations. Will the software vendor be able to accommodate that growth? For example, does the company offer the ability for the manager at your first facility to remotely make reservations at your second location? Can you access your site data at any time from anywhere? Does the software offer rent collection at the access gates and via the Internet? In short, does it offer the products today you may need tomorrow?
The management software you choose will have a substantial impact on your ability to remain competitive. If your employees can use the full benefit of your software, you will have a wealth of marketing tools at your fingertips. When you choose management software, you are investing in your future.
Doug Carner is on the Western-region board of directors for the Self Storage Association. He is also the vice president of QuikStor Security & Software, a California-based company specializing in access control, management software, digital video surveillance and corporate products for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.quikstor.com.
Quikstor Security & Software
Contact: Doug Carner
Software Type: Management software, accounting software, online management/ accounting software, online-payment technology, online-reservations technology
Price Range: Free and up
Designed specifically for storage? Yes
Current version on market since: January 2002
New version to be released: January 2004
Demo: Software is free.
Tech support: Video assistance 24/7; phone assistance daily.
Labor-saving, feature-rich management software. Built-in interactive multilevel help systems. Automatic online rent collection with the industry's lowest banking fees (1.59 percent plus 30 cents for credit cards and only 21cents for checks). Postage-saving automatic e-mailing of payment receipts and delinquency letters. Integrated, digital tenant photography. Complete accounting through QuikStor-Quickbooks integration. Automatic off-site data backups. Same-day data conversion from current management software. Pay-at-the-gate access keypads. Weather/vandal-proof keypad enclosures with intercom and hidden-camera options. Rentable wireless door alarms for storage units and recreational vehicles. Customer self-service reservation/ payment kiosks. Corporate enterprise software gives instant and simultaneous access to a site's data from anywhere in the world. Call-center option allows for multisite and/or after-hours reservations. Free NSF check-collection service. Secure, better-than-DVD resolution, digital video surveillance. Low-light, wireless and wire-free digital cameras. Turnkey software, security and installation packages. QuikStor's exclusive modular design allows customer to purchase only the software and security he needs and expand as his needs grow. On-staff licensed contractor and engineers. ISO-9000 certified production.13908 Ventura Blvd.