There are several ways to describe what it feels like to be the new kid on the block—lonely, anxious, excited, even scared. Bringing a new software package to an existing industry is not much different. The difficult part about unveiling a product—like being the new kid—is hoping for acceptance by the business community or “neighborhood.” You will encounter people who are friendly and willing to help you, and others who are not.
The same is true in the self-storage industry. Because of the diversity in products and services, there are companies everywhere willing to give you leads and information. Three years ago, when we subscribed to this magazine, the helpful salesperson gave us the name of a gate company that might possibly integrate its access-control system with our software. This is when we first realized how tight-knit the self-storage community is.
A common goal in our company is to give customers what they want or, at the very least, help them find it, even if you have to direct them elsewhere. We think our software is great, but other products on the market have features ours does not. Evaluating software is not what most people consider fun; and many don’t have the time to assess 10 or more packages to find the one with the features they need. If our product doesn’t have a specific ability, chances are we know which software does and can point customers in the right direction. We may lose some sales that way, but a sale is not worthwhile if a customer isn’t happy with what he purchased.
You may be wondering, “Why would a company want to introduce a new product to a competitive, established industry?” The short answer is the industry should offer the best products possible. Although there are several high-quality packages available on the market, there is always room for improvement.
We originally developed our product in 1999 for a local storage facility. After several years of enhancements and versions, we released it to the public. The program went through various changes to make it specific to self-storage. One of the challenges we faced was the diversity of how facilities do business. Applications have become cluttered with options difficult for users to understand. To mitigate this problem, we employ a philosophy common to the software-development community. It is best described by Joel Spolsky, a renowned developer and author. The following excerpt can be found on his website, www.joelonsoftware.com:
In designing a user interface for anything, the very first question you always want to ask is: Who is the user? Specifically, is this a casual, occasional user, or one who will be spending all of his time using your program? For a casual user, learnability and simplicity are more important than usability and power. By “learnability,” I mean the ability for novices to figure out how to get tasks done rapidly. By “usability,” I mean only the ability to do tasks in a convenient, ergonomic way without making mistakes and needing to do repetitive tasks. A data-entry system that minimizes keystrokes by prefilling fields and automatically jumps from field to field is more usable for experienced users, but it’s harder for a novice to learn because it behaves unexpectedly.
It sounds simple and makes plenty of sense, but many products on the market weren’t developed with this type of mind set and are difficult to use. Of course, functionality is one of the most important things to look for in a self-storage software package, but an application that is intuitive is much easier to understand.
Once Upon a Time
As the competitive nature of business would have it, companies with similar products would like you to stay away from “the new kid.” Software companies and products come and go all the time. They are attracted to what they believe is a lucrative industry, but soon realize it’s not as easy to conquer as it looks. That may be true of several companies that have failed in selfstorage. But even experienced software companies were new, once upon a time.
Experience makes for a great product, but imagination, ideas and ingenuity make for a healthy industry. What a new product brings to the table is a fresh view of what management software could be. It keeps the experienced companies on their toes, pushing them to keep up with technology. It’s a good situation all around. Just imagine what it would be like if new products were always shunned and excluded. You’d be forced to purchase software that was potentially outdated. Bright ideas coupled with the latest technology create a win-win situation for everyone. You get the best the industry can offer, even if it’s not from the new guy in town.
Those of you who have taken a chance on a new product should pat yourself on the back. You’ve paved the way for others to follow and given this industry a boost in the right direction. The developers of new products are usually very flexible with pricing and support. They make that extra effort to satisfy you. They know every customer makes a difference. These companies will often be responsive to making changes to their product to suit you. Sure, every company needs to make money to survive, but smaller companies can survive on less revenue.
The bottom line is: When you decide to evaluate management software, give all the available packages a chance. The functionality should speak for itself. If the software does not have what you need, move on to the next option. If a newer product has the features you want, give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.
James Boyd is the president and CEO of AndraTech Software Corp., a provider of self-storage software and a new kid on the block. For more information, call 703.766.2700; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.selfstoragepro.com.