Self-Storage Automation, A Case Study: Two Facilities Embrace Technology and Transform Their Operations

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By Mandy Welborn

Turning a weak self-storage operation into a business that outperforms the competition is what it’s all about. The Yandow Realty Group did just that with its new automated tools and processes.

Owner Mark Yandow conducted case studies on two self-storage properties in different states that yielded astounding results, including increases in occupancy and net operating income. The studies span about 18 months, from January 2007 to July 2008, and demonstrate how automation and business-process improvements are instrumental to optimized facility performance, bottom-line cash flow and increased market value.

Facility Statistics and Management Structure

The first self-storage facility, South Congress Storage in Austin, Texas, was developed during the 1980s. It has approximately 40,000 square feet of enclosed storage and 2 acres of uncovered parking. With approximately 380 units, this facility needed an operation overhaul. Its profile in the beginning included:

  • Two full-time resident managers who spent three to four hours daily collecting and distributing operational data
  • An office that was open six days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • 170 paid parking spaces
  • A gate controller with a single monthly access code for all customers, requiring tenants to acquire the new code each month
  • Outdated office technology—a dot-matrix printer, standalone software, no Internet connectivity and no website

The South Congress facility was similar to many others in the area. All customer interactions required the presence of a manager. If an employee wasn’t available, business wasn’t conducted. In addition, managers worked overtime and wasted time chasing information that could be readily available with sound property-management software.

The second facility in this case study is You Stuff It Personal Storage in Tehachapi, Calif. It has 274 storage units and 30,000 square feet. The facility’s profile includes:

  • One full-time manager
  • One part-time assistant manager
  • An owner who oversaw the property from 200 miles away
  • No website

This facility received numerous customer complaints about service levels and the onsite manager’s performance. The grievances included missed office hours, account-status disagreements, no or handwritten payment receipts for cash, and incorrect payment posting. After investigating the complaints, theft and lack of employee performance were identified as major issues.

The Transformation

Upon purchasing both properties, Yandow evaluated the state of the businesses. Substantial investments in infrastructure, technology and business processes were needed for both. Yandow believed the Internet and the flow of information were critical success factors. His background in real estate, consulting, information technology and supply-chain management made him a solid source for process-management knowledge. Here’s how the changes affected each property.

South Congress. Data integrity and timely data entry are fundamental to the use of automated tools and, based on this philosophy, Yandow decided to start from scratch and manually enter data into the new property-management software. Items purchased and services engaged included:

  • A kiosk to allow rentals and payments 24/7
  • Installation of an Internet connection (with static IP address)
  • Two new computers and printers (one for the office and one for customers)
  • A Web developer to launch a website with payment capability
  • An electrician to prepare the area for a kiosk (trench, power, phone, etc.)

Once escrow closed, a draft copy of the new business-process guide was distributed and discussed with employees. The owners and managers paired into teams and began the transformation. One team focused on the office and computer system, and the other on the kiosk and competitive landscape. To do this, the teams spent one day in the office and one day off site.

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