By Allie Johnson
If you’re not using mobile technology to help operate your self-storage facility, you could be missing out on savings of time and money—and the chance to secure more business. “Mobile devices aren’t going anywhere; they’re just going to get more and more sophisticated,” says Michael Sawyer, director of marketing for OpenTech Alliance Inc., a Phoenix-based company that offers cloud services and technology products to the self-storage industry. “And there are lots of opportunities to use them in self-storage.”
Here are two main ways you can tap into mobile technology:
- Use your own mobile phone to help you do your jobs more efficiently.
- Optimize your business so consumers can use smartphones or tablets to shop for units, make payments and even ensure their belongings are secure.
Mobile technology also lets you manage their businesses from anywhere, says Scott Hedrick, owner of Super Storage Group, which operates six facilities in Alabama, Kentucky and North Carolina. He uses the mobile features from a Web-based management-software program and has also optimized his website, superstorageonline.com, for mobile phones. “I don’t have to get in the car or on an airplane and go see a site every week or month. I can see from afar what happens,” he says.
Mobile technology can help self-storage operators with almost all aspects of their businesses. Here are seven benefits you will see when using it.
Market to customers you might not otherwise reach. If your website is optimized for mobile phones, you’ll have a better shot at reaching the 55 percent of American adults who own a smartphone and the 42 percent who own a tablet, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit, research organization. The numbers are even higher in the under-50 crowd; 79 percent of those age 18 to 29 and 67 percent of those age 30 to 49 use a smartphone, according to the survey.
Many customers are shopping for self-storage from their smartphones. When surveying new customers, Hedrick says the percentage who find his facility using a mobile device grows each year. In 2013, he estimates the number surpassed 50 percent. As soon as a prospective customer visits his website via a mobile device, it’s easy to contact the nearest facility, he says. “They don’t even have to dial the number. They just push the button that says ‘call.’”
Check up on the competition. In March, StorTrack LLC launched a mobile version of its new subscription pricing-management service that allows self-storage operators to monitor prices on units in their area. The app makes it easier for operators to use their smartphones or tablets to track and analyze pricing data such as average, minimum and maximum prices, according to Cindy Rivera, support and marketing manager at StorTrack. “They’ll get alerts when a price changes for a competitor down the street,” she says. “It will be a way for owners to be quickly in the know.”
Rent units after hours. When storage facilities are set up for self-service, such as with mobile technology or kiosks, about half of customer transactions take place outside normal business hours, Sawyer says. And letting a customer lease a unit—pick the desired location and size, e-sign a lease and pay rent—using a mobile device requires no face-to-face time, he adds. By contrast, it typically takes about 25 minutes to complete the rental process when a customer walks into the office.
Take payments from customers. Having technology that enables customers to pay using their mobile phones provides convenience and saves time for operators and tenants, Sawyer says. In some cases, it can even boost your chances of getting money from a delinquent tenant, according to Joe Krezdorn, owner and manager at DAK Self Storage in Leesport, Pa.
Sometimes, Krezdorn will get a call from a tenant who’s at the gate, locked out because of a delinquent bill. “I’ll tell them, ‘I’m not there and I won’t be in until tomorrow at 9 a.m.,” he says. “They’ll say, ‘That’s no problem, I’ll just pay from my phone.’” Once the customer makes the payment, he can enter the gate and access the unit, as long as the unit isn’t overlocked.
Nudge customers to pay past-due bills. Some self-storage software programs offer the ability to send text messages to customers, which can help with the collection process, says Markus Hecker, chief operating officer of SMD Software Inc., the provider of SiteLink self-storage software. Text messaging can reach tenants when e-mail and other methods might fail. Hecker cites research showing consumers take an average of only 90 seconds to respond to a text message, but 90 minutes to answer an e-mail.
Perform routine management tasks. Some mobile apps allow operators to open and close security gates, turn lights on and off, and run video surveillance on the property, Hecker says. “They can basically control the whole property from whenever and wherever they are via their smartphone or tablet.”
Monitor the security of the facility. As an out-of-state owner, Hedrick appreciates the ability to check a facility’s security cameras from his phone if an alarm goes off after hours. “You can see if somebody’s in your office at 2 a.m.”
Mobile technology also lets customers ensure their stuff is safe. For example, with PTI Security Systems’ StorLogix software and Falcon XT system controller, operators can control site security from their mobile devices and send a text or e-mail alert to tenants when a unit is opened.
Begin With the Basics
If you’re not yet using mobile technology, Sawyer recommends you start with the fundamentals. First, make sure your website is compatible with mobile devices. Then get a jump on the competition by creating the ability for tenants to complete the rental process on your website.
Only a small percentage of properties do this now, Sawyer says. “Have a functional website that will allow them to pick out a unit, pay for the unit, sign the lease electronically, and show up at your business and already be a customer.”
Allie Johnson is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ga. She writes regularly for SpareFoot, an online marketplace for the self-storage industry, and its blog, The Storage Facilitator, as well as creditcards.com, insurancequotes.com, costhelper.com and other websites.