By all means, listen to recommendations. It's one of the most powerful forms of selling. But be aware that what works for one operator doesn't always work for another. In addition, an operator's experience with computers and software may not match yours, and that will affect the usefulness of his advice. Even though one person may say he’s had a poor experience with a vendor, that doesn’t mean you will as well. Trialing software is a good start, and your potential vendor should be happy to help you through this process and even spend time with you to ensure you understand the features of the product.
Converting from one software program to another is another key area where a choice has to be made. Some vendors retire, discontinue products or fail to keep up with the times, so you may have to change your system to ensure continued support.
Ask your vendor about the data-conversion process and how the company will help you get through it. There’s no perfect conversion in the self-storage industry, despite what anyone may tell you. Work with a vendor whose software tools can handle the adjustments that need to be made on client accounts after the transition. More often than not, you’ll discover errors in your previous data that you didn’t know were there, such as missing spaces or transactions, and wrong names and addresses. Data conversions often give the opportunity to “cleanse” your data.
Tech Support and Upgrades
Just about every software package needs some kind of technical support. Ask your potential vendor about support and how it’s provided to you. Is it an annual upfront fee or covered in monthly subscription fees? Look for a supplier that offers online training or videos explaining the core features. Taking the time to watch these will often pay big dividends in using the software, as you might have missed a major feature that can help you make more money.
Ensure the software can run on the latest operating systems, and ask if the license to use the software is an upfront fee with a maintenance contract or by monthly subscription. There are arguments for and against each model. Software via a subscription model has become very popular. While it might appear that you pay more money over a given time for subscription-based software, there are many factors you need to take into account.
Many operators purchase software upfront, enjoy a year of technical support while they iron out the way they operate, and then drop off the support program, often to save money. The real outcome is that after a few months, they’re behind in technology. The software purchased is a “version in time,” a bit like a 73 Buick—great on the day, but now it's pretty old and doesn't get the same gas mileage as a Prius.
Attending industry tradeshows provides opportunities to meet with all the major vendors and discuss your self-storage software needs. Do your homework, take your time and ask suppliers about their plan for the next five years. After all, you're making a commitment to be their customer for the long term. It's important to know that they’ll be there to serve you. Happy choosing!
Dallas Dogger is CEO of Centreforce Technology Group, which has been trading in Australia for more than 10 years. The company specializes in self-storage software, websites and security, and offers a third-party application called RapidStor, which has been responsible for more than 500 online self-storage move-ins. Centreforce represents SMD Software Inc.'s SiteLink Web Edition in Australasia and is the developer of AccessEzy, a digital access-control system. Dogger is a moderator on the Self-Storage Talk online community and a contributor to the annual "Inside Self-Storage International" digital edition. To reach him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.