There is little doubt the modern computer has changed the face of self-storage. As our industry has matured, no factor has had more impact than the proliferation of computer use at storage sites. In the late ‘80s, industry-specific software was just coming available. Before that, we were using manual records-keeping techniques—most of us remember the old ledger cards used to track customer activity.
Thankfully, those days are gone for most facility owners; but there are still thousands of sites that use manual systems. Some owners argue that with older staff members and the technical nature of computers, a manual system is easier. But this does not take into account the time involved to keep records up-to-date manually. It can take up to 75 percent more time to maintain the same records by hand than electronically. And the more spaces your facility has, the longer it takes.
Current software packages automate the daily grind of running a storage site. Move-ins, move-outs, payments and rent increases are automatically handled using predefined “rules,” making easy work of most tasks. Detailed statistical information is just a click away. The key is what you do with it.
Should You Take the Plunge?
Should you take the plunge and update from DOS to Windows? Computers are cheaper and easier to use than ever before, and they all rely on an operating system. Microsoft, the maker of Windows, and the hardware manufacturers control versions of these systems, which dictate what software and devices will work with a computer. Support for some DOS based systems is no longer available. For example, the Windows XP system many people use today has very poor support for DOS, and many new computers will not even run DOS programs.
Don’t wait until your system fails—as it eventually will—to upgrade. Many storage owners wait for a complete failure of their old software before buying a new product. Most software companies have conversion routines that can translate data from old packages to new software, but most require that the old system be operational. While not all data is convertible, it is important for sites considering an upgrade to ensure their existing records are as up-to-date and accurate as possible.
Sites that convert from DOS to Windows systems will go through a sort of “technology shock.” This is normal, and good software companies will help you deal with this changeover period. Buy from a company that offers training—this will minimize the “pain” involved. Upgrading to more complex software will only provide benefits if you are committed to an education process. You have to understand how the software works and how to apply its many features.
Windows-based software packages have been on the market for close to 10 years, and many have matured into outstanding products with lots of features and flexibility. Products range from basic transactional packages that sell for less than $1,000 to detailed, professional packages that cost much more. In search of “software nirvana,” some larger operators have attempted to develop their own packages. In reality, they could have easily approached one of the leading software suppliers and asked for a company- specific version, which would be a lot cheaper.
A late trend in the industry is software geared toward larger companies or multi site groups, which can be complex without a complete understanding of the features it offers. Gains in productivity can outweigh costs many times over, as software reports realtime activity and information from branch sites to head offices, providing a basis for immediate action. These days, the right software can increase income and aid in important decision making.
The size of your storage site does not matter—the process of managing it is no different if you have 25 or 2,000 spaces. Customers have the same needs. Good Windows-based software will save you time—the bigger your business, the bigger the savings.
Dallas Dogger is the CEO of StorMan Software, an international self-storage software company with offices in Aukland, New Zealand; Boston; and Brisbane, Australia. It offers single and multiuser software as well as professional replicating software for larger operators. For more information, e-mail email@example.com; visit www.storman.com.