Times have changed for self-storage operators. As occupancy levels drop and openings and expansions slow, they are increasingly focused on improving operations, seeking ways to enhance efficiency by cutting costs, strengthening collections and offering more value to tenants. New software and technology lets them do that.
Advances in programming tools and Web design make the most powerful features available to any self-storage owner or manager. While once only larger operators were able to implement online management, today operators of all sizes can reduce labor with e-commerce modules.
Stores can offer more value through online features that allow tenants to make payments and reserve units. Improved tie-ins with payment processors allow for bank drafts and lower credit card fees for owners, while improved reporting and data mining enable them to fine-tune advertising efforts.
A good management software wraps these and other money-making features into a user-friendly package that’s ready “out of the box.” Web systems are the way of the future, not because they operate online, but because they make owners more money.
While Windows programs of the past only ran on a computer at the facility, today’s Web programs tie together diverse users and platforms. More powerful databases, such as Microsoft’s SQL, can work faster and to scale. Operators can add any number of computers, stores or users without special networking, cumbersome installation or added maintenance. Managers, tenants, call centers, district managers and central-office personnel can share data.
In fact, any number of users can work with data and process transactions simultaneously. A single-store operator can rent and take payments from anywhere. Busier, larger operators can have multiple users operating at the same time, and call centers and managers can process payments while tenants pay online or at a kiosk.
There are different ways to design software for self-storage using the Web. Not all Web systems require a server at the central office. Web-based programs run on a Web server in secure data center. Web systems catalog data on the Web server, which means they require only a basic computer to operate, eliminating the need for a network and network maintenance.
When a database resides on a Web server, users do not need to receive upgrades via CD-ROM. Instead, the software company deploys automatic, live updates that bring every computer up to the latest version. Eliminating central servers and running automatic updates lowers the cost of software ownership. Plus, Web systems that keep a copy of all data on the Web server as well as users’ computers improve speed and reliability, which lets stores better handle large amounts of data and customer transactions.
Web databases can also tie into a store’s website, enabling online payments and even First Class and Certified Mail outsourcing. Managers no longer have to print letters, stuff envelopes or spend time driving to the post office. Owners who enroll in a printing service not only eliminate repetitive administrative tasks but also those costly, high-maintenance postage meters. Web systems can send letters, handle postage and offer tracking, including recipients’ signatures, more reliably than manual printing at stores.
The tighter integration of a Web system also enables owners to lower monthly credit card fees. First, programs can exchange more information with processors about cardholders. The more information about a cardholder you send to the processor, the lower your rates.
Next, more users rely on automatic billing by ACH or bank draft, not credit card processing. One-time or recurring ACH can cost a fraction of credit card fees. Stores can offer ACH payments to tenants at the office and website as an alternative or replacement for credit card payments. It’s not uncommon for operators to cut credit card fees by 20 percent per month.
SQL databases form the backbone of most Web systems and offer powerful ways to create standard and custom reports. Report writers, exported into PDF, Excel or more fine-tuned systems for tracking, can help analyze strong areas and those ripe for change.
For example, a better analysis of advertising dollars can pinpoint worthwhile channels and bring customers to the store. Owners can even create specials and assign different coupon codes for various online and print ads. Coupon codes entered into the system will bring up the right special, online or at the store, and include rent discounts coupled with waived fees or free merchandise.
Creating and tracking coupon codes not only helps combat the “$1 move-in special,” but takes the guesswork out of marketing effectiveness. Today’s improved reporting, commonly called data mining or carving, shows how specials, customer type, marketing sources and other factors are related.
Pulling It All Together
The future of self-storage software lies in better data analysis and the connection of platforms and users. Operators who want to stay in the loop but aren’t always at the store can view reports online. Because data on Web servers should be in real time and available to any authorized user at any time, central office reporting is easy.
Managers do not need to collect and e-mail reports because the Web system will have already centralized the data from any number of stores. Users can batch-print reports for multiple stores and download data into accounting programs in one step.
Because data, even for multiple stores, resides in a central database on a Web server, dashboards offer a higher level of enterprise-level reporting, including analysis of key indicators, such as move-ins, collection calls and log-in times, by store. Comparing stores and spotting areas for improvement is easy. After using these new reporting tools, self-storage owners will wonder how they ever did without them.
The Next Step
As more users adapt operations to the new environment, management programs will offer the tools to save money and rent more units. The new generation of management programs is a huge step up from older DOS or PC-based Windows programs. Simply put: Web systems create more efficient stores.
Migrating to new Web programs with money-making features will more than pay for the software investment and raise the value of your store. Web systems can bring online payments, ACH and other billing options at no added cost. Switching now is not a moment too soon. Almost by necessity, many owners have embraced newer Web systems to survive in the current climate and found they can grow revenue, even in times like these. Now that’s real progress!
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.