Data entered into the wrong field is the perfect setup for big problems. For example, if someone mistakenly enters order information in the field designated for ZIP codes, the ZIP code report will obviously be inaccurate.
Same goes for unit numbers. First, let me ask, Do we really need strange and difficult unit numbering systems? Some facilities have very elaborate unit-numbering systems that will disrupt most gate systems and create havoc on reports. As an example, a facility may have a unit labelled 45AC30 (unit 45, corridor A, unit type C, 30 feet deep). Unfortunately, all this information can clog up even the best software. Often, facilities take unit numbering to the extreme then never run reports to itemize all the categories.
Instead of creating a convoluted numbering system, it would be far easier to use descriptions in the software. A system using multiple numbers and letters for units confuses customers as well as the software and gate systems. Keeping data simple is one of the best ways to assure smooth operations.
Due Diligence and Demographics
When it comes to selling a property, part of due diligence is to check a facility’s management-software reports. How does the auditor know all rents have been billed correctly? How does he know if all customers are billed the correct price? The audit program in the software should answer many of these questions. If data entry is haphazard, and mistakes are found, it can be costly for the seller. Looking at it from another perspective: At a cap rate of 8 percent, every dollar you throw away because of data-entry mistakes costs a $12.50 reduction on the sales price!
In another example, about a year ago I was asked to assist a self-storage facility with the planning of a new site. The owner had purchased a lot about two miles from the original facility. This decision, he said, was determined by his customer base. After running a report from his management software, we realized he was completely wrong. In fact, 77 percent of his customers came from a completely different ZIP code. He was basing his building decision entirely on anecdotal evidence and hearsay, which were flawed. The simple ZIP code report saved him from making a costly mistake.
More often than not, the evidence locked up in your data may prove to be very interesting—once analyzed. Business vs. residential, length of stay, male or female, previous addresses, reasons for storing, alternate details, license numbers—these all change over time and analysis of the change may uncover fundamental shifts in demographics. But, you can’t analyze any of these trends if you don’t capture the data accurately in the first place.
Be sure your employees know how to use the software and what data must be entered when renting to a new tenant or making changes to an existing file. Train staff to be very specific, concise and careful. A good philosophy is to tell everyone, “Enter the data and information as though you will not be here tomorrow.” Although it sounds strange, it reminds those on duty that communication must be succinct and understandable, or it’s worthless. For important time-sensitive communication, train employees to use the “alert message” function of management software.
Matters of Security
The importance of diligent data entry can’t be overstated when it comes to security. Although self-storage facilities may be vulnerable to theft, security systems can alleviate the threat. One important step is to ensure accurate data input of tenants’ names and addresses. At any time, records can be requested by law enforcement authorities, Homeland Security or other agencies. The reasons for a search can be many, making it critical to provide these investigating agencies with reliable data.
Software vendors are continually creating additional information fields to software to satisfy users. Many fields require entry of data that is significantly important for operational and security reasons. I’ve heard many managers’ excuses for not filling in these fields: “We didn’t have time” or “I didn’t get his number.” Nobody is so busy they shouldn’t fill out the required fields. It’s ludicrous not to keep a minimal amount of data on tenants.
Case in Point
In a recent court case, a facility had rented a unit to an individual (whose name was on the lease) but his place of employment paid the storage fees. The company folded and the storage fees fell into arrears. The storage facility took court action against the person—not the company—to recover the fees, because his name was on the contract.
Unfortunately, the original contract was not accessible because the manager who had possession of it was no longer employed by the facility. The defense demonstrated the company—not the tenant—was liable because the company had paid all the fees. In retrospect, and with reference to the importance of complete data entry, if the tenant and his company were both identified as responsible parties on the contract, the facility would have had redress. In this case, the facility lost a good sum of money—all of which might have been recovered if the data accuracy had been up to snuff.
When there is a dispute (and you will have one!), your documents and computer records will form the basis of your defense not only with a tenant but possibly in court, as well. Make sure your records are legible, accurate and easily found by employees at your site. And remember that the few minutes it takes to input the necessary data when a new unit is rented can save you time, money and frustration later on.
Dallas Dogger is the CEO of StorMan Software, developer of the award-winning MultiView enterprise suite for multi-facility 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.