The self-storage industry has always been slow to adopt technology. In fact, when I first started in this business, the Internet was still trying to find an identity, Napster was destroying the music industry, self-storage management software was DOS-based, and hearing “You’ve got mail” was the norm when checking e-mail.
Fast forward 15 years and everything has changed. There’s more computing power in my iPhone than there was in my first desktop. Almost everything you could possibly want—or need—is available on demand, and many management-software programs are cloud-based. Not bad.
Although we have all of these new and great technological advances, we need to learn how to leverage them correctly. I’m not a proponent of “shiny-toy syndrome” or installing items because they seem cool or neat, but I also despise statements like, “Well, we can’t upgrade because this is how we’ve always done it” or “Our managers won’t understand.”
In any business, successfully leveraging technology requires meeting three criteria. Ask yourself:
- Will this technology make my self-storage more efficient?
- Will it have a positive effect on my net operating income?
- Do I have adequate ways of training my managers on how to use it?
Now that we’ve established the standards for evaluating new technology, what tools and ideas are working for other storage operators? Let’s take a look at three ways you can leverage technology to improve your business.
1. Maximize Your Management Software
Even though the majority of self-storage facilities use some sort of management software, there are still a few owners out there who are hesitant to install a program. This is the single-most important piece of technology you can purchase for a storage business. Yes, it costs money, but so does lost production. The idea that you can manage your facility’s data more efficiently by hand is ludicrous.
Management software gives you immediate access to your customer accounts, monthly deposits, rent roll, unit inventory, etc. It also allows you to audit a facility more efficiently and takes the “human error” out of the equation. In addition, if you decide to sell your facility or move forward with a refinance, having your numbers in one place, with correct accounting, will be an amazing head start in either process.
If you haven’t installed quality management software to help run your storage operation, you need to. Determine your business needs, then do some research to find the program that will best meet them. Software is well worth the investment.
If you already have a quality program, are you and your managers using it to its full potential? Today’s software is rich with features, including the ability to generate a variety of reports, assist in revenue management and marketing endeavors, and even provide remote management. Make sure everyone knows how to access and use your software’s modules, or provide training for those who don’t.
2. Streamline Communication
Instant communication is now a way of life. Between instant messaging, text messaging, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype and Slack, the options to connect with your self-storage staff, co-workers and customers are endless. All you need to do is choose the one program with which you’re most comfortable. If you have multiple stores or you’re an owner/investor who’s not at the property on a daily basis, these tools can be invaluable.
Instant messaging and text messaging offer the easiest learning curve and allow you to keep in constant touch with your facility. FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Skype allow you to have video conferencing with your co-workers or employees. These are great for one-on-one or group training. Slack gives you instant-messaging capabilities across multiple platforms and also allows you to set up group-chat rooms.
One of the most important aspects of any business is the consistent and unimpeded flow of information. If there’s an issue, a manager can reach out to the owner or supervisor to receive an answer or even ask another one of his colleagues. All of these can be installed for free or at a minimal cost.
3. Manage and Track Projects
A self-storage manager is responsible for a number of tasks including maintenance, marketing, retail sales and unit rentals. Facility operation has certainly evolved. Previously, managers would wait for the phone to ring. Now they have to make it ring, and that means actively managing projects to bring that to fruition.
The worst project-management system in the world is the human brain. Not only will it fail you right when you need it, it has a tendency to remind you of things at 2 a.m., when you’re in no position to handle the problem. Basecamp and Teamwork.com are Web-based, project-management tools that can help you for a minimum investment. Each allows for individual projects to be assigned and tracked until they’re complete. This keeps a facility operator consistently aware of outstanding tasks and their status.
Another new tool is a software program called eTRACKER. Designed specifically for the self-storage industry, it helps operators manage their maintenance projects for individual properties using a smartphone, dedicated app and cloud-based management system. There are a number of other options available to help you streamline daily tasks. Just test and select the software that best integrates with your existing operation.
Correctly choosing and implementing technology is the key to creating greater efficiency at your storage facility. Take inventory of any issues or breakdowns in your current systems, and then pinpoint areas that cause you the most pain. Once you know where you need improvement, research possible hardware or software solutions that might help. Also reach out to family members, friends, industry vendors and your storage colleagues. They’ll be glad to tell you their experience with different tools.
Technology can be the difference between operational insanity and self-storage bliss. Which would you prefer?
Matthew Van Horn is vice president of Cutting Edge Self Storage Management, which specializes in facility management, feasibility studies, consulting and joint ventures. He’s also president of 3 Mile Domination, a full-service self-storage marketing and strategy company. For more information, visit www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com and www.3miledomination.com, where you can download a free e-book.