By Markus Hecker
In the face of a new economy and changing demographics, self-storage operators continue to modernize their systems to improve profit. New technologies have made Web-based management software mainstream.
But facility owners dont just replace standalone Windows programs with Web-based ones for the sake of technology. Well-designed Web software costs less to own and will grow revenue. Web systems exchange critical information such as pricing, unit availability and payments with other platforms including self-storage directory websites, kiosks and call centers in real time. Newer, more powerful databases collect and analyze additional marketing data that can result in better advertising. Enhanced reporting also shows when to offer discountsand when to skip themto greatly impact revenue.
Web-based software systems can also offer a two-way flow of information to a facilitys website, listing services and call center to capture every lead and calculate closing ratios. Payments, reservations and even move-ins on a facilitys website are all the rage, and not just with younger clients. Shifting demographics show consumers often bypass phone directories to research and buy products online.
Self-storage owners who seek to replace their Windows-based software program should realize not all Web-based management systems work the same way; they differ in design and capabilities. While Web systems allow access any time and anywhere, smart design can lower the cost of ownership significantly because owners spend less on hardware and maintenance.
For example, a program hosted in a data center eliminates the owners cost on servers, networking, backups and program updates. The programs architecture will determine speed, reliability and up-time. It pays to shop and compare because Web systems vary in look, feel and function.
If user-friendly design and rock-solid architecture are the foundation of a Web-based program, integration with other services may be its greatest possibility. To connect and exchange data with other vendors such as insurance companies and call centers, programs often use APIs, or application programming interfaces. APIs allow other platforms to share the data entered into the management program.
Lets look at the most important features of Web-based software that helps self-storage operators come out ahead.
Newer, more powerful programming tools and databases of Web-based management systems can be connected to a facility website, allowing tenants to create accounts, and view their balances and payment history. Customers can pay rent online or opt for recurring billing by credit card or ACH/bank draft. Online management allows a facility to accept payments around the clock, and eliminates tenant trips to the office just to pay. Today, most customers expect to manage their account and even reserve units online.
Reservations and rentals also increase when tenants see pricing, availability and specials on a facilitys website. Web-based systems share data in real time, reflecting every change at the facility and eliminating the need for manually posting or uploading of pricing and availability. Many operators have found rentals increase as tenants see the value of online account management and renting. Owners should expect a free e-commerce module with their Web-based management software.
Lowering Credit Card Fees
Automatic credit card billing at the facility level and on the facilitys website has long been a staple to collecting self-storage rent. To lower credit card fees, more owners offer their tenants ACH or bank draft as an alternative to automatically processing credit cards. Monthly savings in credit card fees add up quickly.
The newer technology underlying Web-based management programs lets software vendors offer, not just ACH and credit card billing on websites and at physical sites, but direct integration with processors, which can lower processing fees. Most important, the reliable integration to a growing number of processors gives owners more choice. When consumers have choices, they can shop and pick the vendor offering the best rate and service.
Web-based systems share tenant data as well as facility pricing, specials, availability and other information with any number of users at any time. When a facility registers with a call center, Web systems share up-to-date information with phone operators who accept payments, reserve units and move in tenants. Managers see reservations from the call center and follow up to convert prospective customers to paying renters.
Like call centers and facility websites, kiosks offer convenience, cut operating expenses and bring in rentals. A kiosk can accept payments, reservations and move-ins, and even sell locks. Most important, it solves the dilemma of renting to a person online without proof of proper credentials.
For example, a customer can reserve a unit on a facilitys website, entering all necessary contact and unit details. The Web-based software can then exchange that data between the website and kiosk in real time. When the customer visits his unit for the first time, he first stops at the kiosk, where he views his reservation, scans his fingerprint or drivers license, and gets his lock.
The integration between the kiosk and management software has reached a much-awaited milestone, says Robert Chiti, CEO of Opentech Alliance Inc., developer of the INSOMNIAC line of self-storage kiosks. Now, tenants can reserve units online and complete move-ins at the kiosk with the same security measures as in-store rentals.
The robust, modern databases underlying Web-based management software allow owners to maximize services from partner vendors such as kiosks, call centers and listing services. Web systems powerful APIs enable payments, reservations and even exit surveys. Facilities can automatically send electronic reports to insurance companies.
Most Web systems do not charge for integrating with these and other vendors. More important, companies may launch new services that help owners to rent and save.
In the years to come, Web-based management software systems will offer more value to owners. Integration with other platforms will lead to increased rentals and lower operating costs, improving profit for self-storage operators. Now thats reason to be excited about the future and technology.
Markus Hecker is the chief operating officer for SMD Software, which offers SiteLink and SiteLink Web Edition for managing self-storage and mobile-storage facilities. For more information, call 919.865.0789; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.smdsoftware.com.