Nowadays, self-service kiosks and self-checkout is everywhere. Know it or not, a similar self-service phenomenon is occurring in the self-storage industry. Did you know:
- 95 percent of gas stations now have pay-at-the-pump payment terminals?
- More than 65 percent of U.S. airline check-ins in 2006 were completed using kiosks?
- More than 396,000 ATMs exist in the United States and most banks have more than one onsite ATM?
- All Home Depot’s 2,000 U.S. stores feature self-checkout machines and 40 percent of customers choose these instead of a human checker?
Today, almost every state has one or more storage facility employing a self-service kiosk. From rural facilities on the outer edges of town, to busy urban areas such as Bronx, N.Y., kiosks are taking rentals and payments daily. In fact, there are already 33 facilities utilizing kiosks just in the state of Indiana!
Self-storage kiosks enable tenants to rent storage units 24 hours a day without ever talking to a facility manager. A potential customer can take a virtual tour of the facility, select a unit, purchase a lock, pay for the unit, print a rental agreement, and even buy tenant insurance. Existing tenants can use the kiosk to make payments and changes to their accounts.
While many management consultants continue to stress having friendly onsite managers to sell customers, we have become a nation of consumers trained by ATMs, fast food restaurants and the Internet to do things ourselves. Simply stated, many of us now prefer “do-it-yourself” to “customer service.”
We also want to do business when we want, not just when the office is open. Kiosks enable tenants to make rentals and payments on their schedules, resulting in increased rentals, less late payments and happier customers.
As the self-storage landscape continues to get more competitive and staffing expenses continue to rise, it makes sense to consider adding a kiosk to the list of amenities you offer customers. While you don’t have to go completely unmanned, being able to keep your “Open” sign on 24 hours a day thanks to a kiosk will increase rentals and please customers. In fact, many owners find providing a kiosk for anytime rentals and payments with excellent customer service during regular office hours can be a powerful combination.
Self-storage kiosks range in price from $10,000 to $20,000 each, depending on size and level of security features desired. Higher priced kiosks often include a fingerprint scanner, driver’s license scanner, digital signature pad, and video camera that can be plugged into the security system’s digital video recorder.
Kiosk manufacturers typically require a subscription to a monthly maintenance and warranty-services program, which covers replacement of parts, proactive kiosk monitoring, technical phone support, software updates, training and other services.
While some owners may at first object to paying a monthly fee, it helps to realize kiosks contain moving mechanical parts and often operate in harsh environments. A good maintenance program will make certain your kiosk has the latest software, is running great and keeps your site open for business.
There are two primary ways to mount kiosks: thru-the-wall and freestanding on a pedestal. Both are straightforward and take little more than plugging in a 110-volt power cord, connecting a phone cord for a speaker phone, and connecting an Ethernet cable to the computer where your management software is running.
Thru-the-wall kiosks are a little most secure because their set-back style helps protect components from the weather because all electronic connections are inside the building. This also helps eliminate any tampering or disconnection of power or data cables.
Freestanding kiosks tend to be a good choice for existing facilities because of their flexible mounting options and smaller footprint. Most are also front loading, so they can be pushed up against a wall if needed. While smaller than most thru-the-wall kiosks, they still take payments and rent units.
Regardless of which style of kiosk you choose, in many areas it makes sense to create an indoor or outdoor enclosure for the kiosk. Besides protecting the kiosk from sun, rain and snow, customers will appreciate the added comfort from the elements. These can often be made relatively inexpensively out of cinderblock and Plexiglas. Signage such as “Rent and Pay Here” on awnings or walls is a great addition to create awareness the self-service kiosk is available for customer use.
Self-storage kiosk usage patterns tend to mirror those of ATMs. On average, 54 percent of transactions occur between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This finding is consistent even when a manager is onsite and available. Most managers attribute this finding to customers being in a hurry and not wanting to take the time to chat with office staff. To consumers, self-service is viewed as faster and more convenient.
Even knowing that most transactions will occur during the day, most owners’ biggest concern when they first hear about kiosks is the fear of renting to “undesirable” tenants shopping for midnight rentals. Remember: Kiosks do not control access to your property. Instead, access codes are assigned by your management software or security system and follow the same access policies you set up.
Customers renting units through the kiosk outside of your access hours are typically given an access code that will only work during standard access hours. A few facilities take an extra step and make new rental customers come back during office hours to get their access code so the manager can meet them—for added safety.
Now that self-storage kiosks have been around for several years, many sites that originally had a full-time and a part-time manager can operate with only one manager and a kiosk. Others are finding that because kiosks can handle routine payments, managers are able to spend more time selling new customers and showing them around the property. Perhaps the most excited are owner/operators who can now leave their facility, monitor their business remotely, and only visit to sweep out units and remove cash from the kiosk.
Self-service is a growing trend in almost every sector of business including banking, travel, retail and now self-storage. As you look at ways to improve your facility, it’s worth looking into a kiosk and how one might help business. Customers will appreciate the convenience, and the competition will be nervous when you turn on that 24-hour rentals and payments sign.
Curtis Sojka is vice president of marketing for OpenTech Alliance Inc., makers of the INSOMNIAC line of self-storage kiosks. He can be reached at 602.749.9370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.