“It’s that rotten software again!” When a technological problem surfaces at a self-storage facility, most operators assume the mistake lies with their management software. But often the software isn’t the problem. Believe it or not, errors can usually be traced back to the user.
For example, the owners of one self-storage facility were proud to announce the performance of their site far exceeded that of others in the area. A report produced by their management software showed a per-square-foot return much higher than the regional norm. But after analysis of some key unit sizes, it was discovered that the dimensions of more than 30 spaces had been entered incorrectly, altering the total square footage used to generate performance indicators. After the error was fixed, new statistics revealed some sobering results: The operation was no more successful than its competitors.
Smooth facility operation depends on facility managers and employees using the software correctly and ensuring accurate data entry. But one of the biggest hurdles operators face when learning management software is their own attitudes regarding its use. Some find it a nuisance to use a computer, and they dislike the daily drudgery of entering new customers and payments through the system. But there’s no getting around using a PC as a key part of the job these days, even at the smallest facilities.
Correctness Is Key
It can be time-consuming to enter detailed information into a software program. But when other members of the operation rely on management data to make decisions for the business, it’s crucial to be consistent and accurate. Ask yourself who is affected by the information and if it’s worth the risk to take shortcuts. Perhaps a regional manager will use the data to make decisions regarding hiring and firing, or an appraiser will use it to determine the facility’s value. If the company is publicly owned, the information will likely be used to report operating results to shareholders.
The rental agreement is where data capture starts. Don’t take shortcuts when transferring information from the form to the PC database. Enter all customer information in the required database fields. Information can only be reliable if it is input according to the necessary business rules of the software. Remember this data will not only be used to create operating reports, it will be used for customer correspondence and marketing efforts; so be thorough and consistent in your data entry.
How can you ensure data is accurate? Obviously, always spell names and addresses correctly. But just as important, make sure the data in the software matches the written information provided by tenants.
Don’t only check to see you have typed information as the customer presented it. If a tenant gives you verbal changes during the rental process or calls at a later date to provide a change of address, note the change in the software as well as on the written lease. This will keep you covered if there is ever an interruption in power to your facility; a problem with your software; or your computer is stolen, catches a virus or is otherwise damaged.
No single factor will impact the value of your operation more than data accuracy. Here’s another example: An owner recently showed me an appraisal of his facility. He was upset because the value was less than acceptable. When I looked at the reports given to the appraiser, I noticed a large allowance had been made for losses from delinquent tenants. After looking into the issue further, the owner discovered the manager had failed to remove past-due units from the database, even after the delinquent tenants and their goods had been removed from the facility. The debt from delinquent rent was registering on the reports though it no longer existed. Once the error was corrected, the facility’s value increased by $385,000.
The Software Itself
But not all the responsibility for accuracy falls on human shoulders. It’s also important to choose the right management software for your self-storage site. Some software fails to accurately report key numbers or efficiently handle adjustments. As with most things, you get what you pay for. An attractively cheap management package could mislead you about the performance of your facility. You may save a few dollars upfront, but you’ll pay later for the cost of imprecision.
Only careful investigation will reveal if certain software is appropriate for your operation. One indicator of quality is the companies that already use a product. Generally, the larger an organization, the more emphasis it places on accuracy and service—that will be reflected in the software it uses. So look at what some of the larger storage operators are using, and always get references from any supplier you consider.
Do your best to enter information correctly, use good software products, and don’t take shortcuts. Make sure customers’ written records match the software files. Attention to detail and data accuracy will not only ensure consistency in your operation, it could translate to better facility value.
Dallas Dogger is the CEO of StorMan Software, developer of the award-winning MultiView enterprise suite for multifacility operators. MultiView is used by major self-storage operators in Australia and New Zealand. StorMan uses 4D technology, the same software tool used by organizations such as Merrill Lynch, NASA and Yahoo! For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.storman.com.