As we move through 2012, a great feeling is moving through the self-storage industry. Racked in recent years by the financial crisis and increased supply, self-storage has come back extremely strong. Capital markets are starting to work again. Facility occupancies are higher, and net income has been solid. Self-storage has continually been ranked one of the best commercial investments available. Inc. magazine placed it among the best startup businesses in 2010.
Now that the industry's day-to-day operations have begun to stabilize, it’s time to take a look at the processes used to run the business. Are you using the best techniques to reach customers? Are you using modern methods of accounting? Do you have remote access to your operation? Can you find your facilities online? Let’s review five technology-related initiatives you can implement now at a reasonable cost to improve your self-storage operation.
1. Your Facility Website
The future of self-storage marketing is on the Internet, and facility operators must be prepared. In 2010, for the first time ever, more advertising dollars were spent online than on print and newspaper advertising. In addition, adults now spend an average of 18 hours per week on the Internet. These two facts alone show where the trend is heading.
Creating a solid website with features customers want should be at the top of your list. Your self-storage facility must be found online. A website will cost some money to develop, but it will be well worth the expense.
2. Cloud-Based Software
There are technological developments that revolutionize the way we do business. In the 80s, it was personal computers and cellular phones. In the 90s, it was the perfection of personal-computing software and the birth of the smartphone with the first Blackberry. This decade will be remembered for the implementation of cloud-based software. This is simply applications and services offered via the Internet from data centers all over the world.
One example of cloud-based software is QuickBooks online. This tool enables you to review the accounting information for any self-storage facility at any time as long as you have an Internet connection. It can be done from a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet. Another excellent cloud-based program is Evernote. This is a note-taking program similar to Microsoft One Note. Evernote can be accessed from a computer, smartphone or tablet. It’s like having a dynamic legal pad at your fingertips.
Consider finding a self-storage management software you can access online. It’s nice to be able to access all your operational data while on vacation or a business trip.
3. Social Media
We hear a lot about this marketing tool, especially since Facebook decided to go public. The nice thing about social media is it’s mostly free. All that’s needed is an Internet-connected device and a little time. The primary platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn.
The question is, how do self-storage operators get prospects and customers from this medium? There’s no direct answer. I’ve not found one social-media strategy that has brought in a steady stream of potential customers to the self-storage facilities I manage.
However, social media allows you to keep in regular contact with your customers and prospects. Operators once had to rely on tenant events or direct mail for this. Now the possibilities are endless. You can post an interesting article, video, community event or organize a contest. Your existing social-media followers are most likely your current customers. Consider using this medium to interact with them, and they’ll likely send referrals your way. Remember, people store their belongings where they feel comfortable. The more they interact with your facility the better.
An interesting social-media platform that recently launched is Pinterest, which allows a user to upload pictures or “pin” pictures from the Internet to an online bulletin board. Can this be used effectively in self-storage? It’s too early to tell, but if you have some spare time, it’s worth a look.