New-School Technology

Doug Carner Comments
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Customers of any business hate waiting in line, especially when they only have a quick question or want to make a payment. Banks have addressed this issue by adding self-service equipment and 24-hour, off-site banking tools. Day or night, customers can make payments and review their banking history from their home or office. Authorized bank executives can remotely research any customer’s account or analyze an entire branch or district. ATMs have completely changed the way people conduct business.

All these tools contribute to one goal: Increasing customer service while reducing operating costs. We all love the convenience and speed these services provide, and self-storage now employs similar solutions. Like banks, storage facilities have a high volume of customers serviced by limited employee resources. New and innovative products have brought banking-style services to your storage business. To understand what’s possible, we’ll compare the old-school and new-school technology.

Off-Site Management

A self-storage owner appreciates the ability to remotely review business activity at his storage site, especially when he owns more than one facility.

Old School.

You manually dial into your site’s computer-modem phone number and use a remote software product, like Symantec’s PC-Anywhere, to take control of your management computer. Your site employees can do absolutely nothing with the computer until you are finished with your remote connection. Rather than sitting around being bored, the manager watches everything you do and reads the financial reports you generate.

You, or another employee, must then individually request each report desired for your off-site files. Maintaining a safety backup of your data requires an even longer transmission session. This is a process that must be repeated every day for every storage location you operate. When time is worth money, this is an extraordinary business expense.

New School.

Integrated remote-management software automatically stores a complete data backup at your facility and offsite office. Business reports are automatically emailed to the designated people on the desired schedule. You can instantly connect to any of your storage locations, and no one else can monitor what you are doing. Most important, there is no interruption to your manager’s normal work, and everyone remains synchronized with the current financial records.

Sophisticated security settings provide complete control over every employee and monitor what was done at each site. If an employee drives to a sister site, his usage rights can be remotely defined in seconds. You can access every aspect of a tenant’s account or view up-to-the-minute site collections at any time. The entire process is automated, and you never need to pay a monthly fee to any outside company to maintain your data.

Reporting Abilities

As your business grows, you will require tools to compare aggregate performance and identify under-performing properties.

Old School.

Each site manager generates a set of reports and faxes them to a corporate office. Another employee collects the transmitted reports, verifies their readability, and summarizes specific values into several consolidated reports for management. One report may analyze income efficiency, while another compares marketing productivity. The required man-hours accumulate into a significant expenditure and the results are prone to human error.

New School.

Consolidated reporting software automatically compiles and analyzes each of your facilities. The reports identify why a location is underperforming. You can instantly determine which managers need help selling inventory and which units are overdue for a rate change. The entire process is automated without requiring any actions by your staff. The labor savings are so significant you may easily save an entire employee salary.

Afterhours Services

No remote solution would be complete without the ability to manage reservations and delinquencies from an offsite location.

Old School.

A tenant calls your storage facility after hours. That call is forwarded to an off-site employee who keeps later hours and handwrites the reservation request. That request is faxed to the intended site, where a second employee must enter the same information into the management software. If the desired unit is no longer available, the facility manager must contact the tenant and try to sell him a substitute unit. If your staff is unavailable to answer the customer’s call, a reservation call center can provide the labor for $3,000 to $6,000 annually. However, you have no guarantee you will recoup that expenditure through extra rental income.

New School.

A tenant calls your storage facility after hours. That call is forwarded offsite to an employee who, using integrated remote software, enters the reservation directly into the intended site’s data. The manager can only rent what is actually available and the entire transaction, including the credit-card payment, is performed as if the manager was sitting at the remote site. All work by the off-site employee is transparent and unobtrusive to anyone who may be simultaneously using the facility’s management computer.

If your staff is unavailable to answer the customer’s phone call, your phone message directs that caller to your website, as do your business cards and advertising. Your management- software company should create or enhance your website to provide convenient real-time reservations, payments and account information. The entire e-commerce service must be completely secure, include all webhosting fees and be economical. Labor-free after-hours solutions have allowed banks to compete, and they will do the same for you.

Absent Management

There will also be times when a prospective customer or delinquent tenant arrives on site while your manager is out of the office. How will you handle these clients?

Old School.

The customer honks his horn or uses a paging intercom/telephone, and waits for assistance. Anyone driving behind him also waits for this process to be complete.

New School.

The delinquent customer inserts his credit card into your pay-at-the-gate drive-up keypad. The walk-up and prospective tenant uses your ATM-style kiosk. Both provide instant, labor-free, anytime customer service. Modern kiosks are pay stations designed to operate outdoors in all types of weather. Quality kiosks sell for less than $6,000 and have the option to accept cash as well as most major credit cards. Both systems can be added to almost every site. Providing affordable, 24/7 customer service makes good business sense.

Consider what you want your customers to experience along with the operational costs to deliver certain services. If, over a five-year period, you are paying more than a few thousand dollars per site for management software, enterprise tools, e-commerce or kiosk solutions, you may be lining someone else’s pockets with your hard-earned income.

Doug Carner is a former member of Self Storage Association’s Western-region board of directors. He is also the vice president of QuikStor Security & Software, a California based company specializing in access control, management software, digital video surveillance, kiosk and corporate products for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail doug@quikstor.com; visit www.quikstor.com.

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