Running an Automated Self-Storage Site: Customers Clamor for Self-Service

Robert A. Chiti Comments
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“There are no excuses. We’re always open, and we can rent a unit or take a payment anytime of the day or night,” Mutchner says. He also finds that outstanding accounts-receivable have diminished since installation of this new technology. “Our automation is a unique convenience, and it increases our potential to keep customers.”

Owners operating unmanned or partially automated facilities agree that customers like the self-service experience and appreciate the benefits the technology provides. “I can sometimes look out of my window and watch customers as they use the kiosk—they love it,” Mutchner confirms. He finds the younger generation of self-storage customers is increasingly adapted to technology, find it comfortable, and often prefer automated solutions that allow them to conduct business quickly, at times that work best for them.

While there are those who say operating an unmanned facility is risky, Adams says, not really. In fact, he finds there is no appreciable difference in the number of break-ins or incidents of vandalism that occur at manned vs. unmanned locations. Proper site configuration reduces any unit-number confusion, and his kiosks even print maps for new customers so they know exactly where their unit is located. He also says customers don’t seem to have a preference as to whether the facility is manned. Mutchner agrees: “These days, some people put too much weight on the value of eye-to-eye contact and handshakes. This generation wants to do it themselves.”

Technology

When you examine the differences between a traditional storage location and a more automated or unmanned facility, the key differentiator becomes clear: technical sophistication. While the traditional model takes advantage of a personal touch (so long as there’s a good, personable manager available), more automated locations give customer access to valuable services even after the office has closed. Self-serve options on the Internet and on site give new and existing customers the ability to rent units, pay their bill, retrieve gate codes and update their account information. Connectivity allows management to take place remotely, often in real time.

Unmanned locations do require a greater investment in technical infrastructure, and connectivity is critical. Nevertheless, most owners find the return on investment is sound. “When we consider the faster lease-up, lower operating cost and increased cash-on-cash return automated facilities provide, unmanned operations are the secret to making money in many markets,” Adams concludes.

Robert A. Chiti is the president and CEO of Phoenix-based OpenTech Alliance Inc., developer of the INSOMNIAC line of self-storage kiosks. For more information or to see an online demo, visit www.opentechalliance.com.

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