When renovating a self-storage facility, it makes sense to consider adding a self-service kiosk. There’s a reason these units are popping up in places like airports, hotels, gas stations, banks, retailers and now storage facilities: They save money for business owners while providing increased convenience for customers.
On the service side, kiosks enable customers to rent storage units 24 hours a day, every day of the year, without staff assistance. They let prospects take a virtual tour of a facility, select and pay for a unit, purchase a lock, print out a rental agreement, and even buy tenant insurance. Existing tenants can use the kiosk to make payments and changes to their accounts.
On the operational side, a kiosk acts as a helper, freeing employees to spend more time helping customers, taking care of maintenance, and marketing the facility. In the grand scheme, self-serve units can help facilities minimize their staffing, increase occupancy, and boost their bottom line.
Thanks to the wide variety of kiosk models available, every operator can find one that fits his needs and budget. Those looking for a low-cost solution can purchase a basic model unit—one that accepts payments, not new rentals—for about $6,000. This might be a great addition to a site that doesn’t require full-time staff, such as a boat- or RV-storage facility on the outskirts of town.
Kiosks that accept new rentals are a little more expensive, ranging from $10,000 to about $16,500. Some manufactures offer leasing programs so you can fit the price of a kiosk into your facility’s operating expenses. For example, on a 48-month contract, you could lease a top-of-the-line unit for about $460 a month. This would include state-of-the-art security features such as a fingerprint scanner, signature pad, driver’s license scanner and digital camera.
And kiosks aren’t just for new facilities. Older sites are adding these units to create a competitive advantage. In this application, a higher-end kiosk makes sense. This is because the more sophisticated units resemble ATMs, helping customers immediately recognize how to use them. They also tend to be easier to use because they have full keyboards, bright touch screens, letter-size printers and a signature pad.
When it comes to kiosk installation, there are two primary options: thru-the-wall and freestanding units. Thru-the-wall enclosures are based on the proven ATM model, with a setback to protect components from the elements and vandalism. This installation involves cutting a 2-footwide by 4-foot-high hole in a wall; rolling the kiosk into place; leveling the unit; caulking around the unit; and then plugging in the power cable, Ethernet connection and phone cord. Of course, this is a simplification, but it outlines the general process, which typically takes about half a day.
For freestanding units, which aren’t fastened to a wall, you need to figure out how to permanently mount the kiosk to the ground so it can’t be moved. This enclosure requires a minimum of four mounting points that can be bolted to a concrete base. It’s best if all the cabling can be snaked through an opening in the bottom of the unit to eliminate exposure to moisture or tampering.
For both kiosk types, a great solution is to place the unit in a vestibule, which can be inside or outside. Aside from protecting the kiosk from sun, rain and snow, this will provide added comfort for customers. It also allows for easy installation of an overhead security camera.
Location is probably the most important factor contributing to a kiosk’s success or lack of use. If customers don’t see the kiosk, recognize what it is, or feel safe using it, your investment will be wasted. Here are some guidelines to use when placing your self-serve units. A kiosk should be:
- Visible from the parking area and when customers enter the office.
- As close as possible to the entry keypad and office doors.
- Guarded by a surveillance camera.
- Protected from the elements.
- Easily accessible from the back so it can be serviced.
The kiosk should also be surrounded with signage explaining what it does and how to use it. A rolling marquee above the unit, similar to those used in movie theaters and bus stations, is a flashy way to attract attention and increase the kiosk’s use.
It’s also a good idea to include a flier with monthly invoices, alerting customers to the new technology. Promotions can get great response, such as offering $10 off a month’s rent when paid through the kiosk. Once customers get used to using self-serve, they rarely visit the manager’s counter again.
Renovating with a kiosk gives you the chance to reconsider your operational procedures. Many facilities decide to cut back on staff hours—for example, changing a manager’s schedule from an eight-hour shift (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to a four-hour stretch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). This kind of adjustment would save an operator considerably on labor costs.
Another option is to eliminate staff altogether. Of course, facilities converting to this business model would need to make other changes, such as upgrading electronic security and lighting. Operators wishing to move in this direction should consider a phased approach, reducing staff hours over time while making necessary improvements to their systems. This would also provide an opportunity to see how customers respond to using a kiosk and allow you to formulate a new modus operandi.
Facility renovation involves expense and careful consideration. Kiosks provide cost savings while increasing customer convenience. You might find the money a kiosk saves you can be used for additional facility improvements.
Curtis Sojka is vice president of marketing for OpenTech Alliance Inc., a developer of self-storage kiosks. The company’s INSOMNIAC line improves customer convenience, reduces operating costs, and increases revenue for self-storage facilities. For more information, call 480.778.9370; visit www.opentechalliance.com.