Understanding Software Reports
By Pamela Alton
When I first started in the self-storage business, in what now seems like the Dark Ages, a lot of facilities used the old “peg board” system of record-keeping. It was used to track numbers of units, tenant information, rental rates, late fees and letters sent. Letters were often just photocopied, and you filled in the tenant name, unit number and amount past due. All that changed when computers and self-storage software became available.
Today, we have more than a dozen self-storage software programs from which to choose. Many of them provide the same information, just in different forms. One thing is for certain: With computerization, we are in a much better position to maintain tenant information, and track income, late fees, move-ins, move-outs and transfers, along with financial information about our facilities. We can look at computer-generated reports and see at a glance our occupancy level, monthly income, and how many units are rented, vacant, on reserve or past due.
The data, generated by software specific to our industry, can be viewed and printed on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The reports themselves may be called something different in every program; but this shouldn’t cause managers difficulty if they learn how to read the reports, and decipher and understand the information they contain.
Manual Tasks to Technical Understanding
I like programs that offer single-page summary reports—a recap, if you will, of a facility’s financial statistics. All of my site managers use a manual end-of-week report that uses information from the computerized data. Wait a second—did I say “manual”? Didn’t I also say computers generate reports so we no longer have to do things by hand? Yes, I did!
I purposely have managers fill out their end-of-week forms by hand because I want them to read and understand the reports our software generates. Why? Because managers are the ones who operate facilities on a daily basis and—after all—this is a business that can generate well over $100,000 per month at some sites. Shouldn’t the person who sits behind the counter and at the computer every day know what is going on at the facility he manages?
Know What You Know
Computer-generated reports provide a wealth of facility information, such as how many units have rented, who rented those units, when their rent is due, if they are current or past due, how much is owed, and if and when to over-lock units. These reports also indicate how much income is received month- and year-to-date, as well as other necessary financial information.
I travel all over the United States visiting facilities and speaking with managers. I ask things like, “How many units do you have?” and “What is your current occupancy level?” Most know the answers to these questions. But I am amazed that a vast majority of managers do not know how much rentable square footage they have. This is when I know they have not been taught, either by their owner, management company or software company, how to read reports and obtain this type of information.
If you are an owner, do you teach your managers how to decipher and understand reports, or do you bar them access to this information? How can a manager operate a multimillion-dollar investment when he doesn’t know how his facility is performing this year compared to last, its occupancy level, or how much square footage is available? To effectively manage a storage facility, the on-site staff needs to understand the facility reports.
We have come a long way since I entered this wonderful business of self-storage 13 years ago, and I see it evolve year after year. Facilities now have retail centers, which offer a whole new challenge of recordkeeping (cost of goods vs. retail sales price, collection of sales taxes, etc.). As years pass, our industry will become ever more sophisticated. There is no time like the present for site managers to learn to read and understand the reports generated by their management software. They offer information that can only help educate staff and make them top-notch managers.
Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management, a nationwide manager-placement service. Mini- Management also offers full-service and “operations only” facility management, training manuals, inspections and audits, feasibility studies, consulting and training seminars. For more information, call 800.646.4648.