Self-service kiosks burst onto the self-storage scene in late 2003 as the newest way to increase facility profitability. In just over a year, they have jumped to the top of the shopping list for most facilities, especially those in the planning and construction phases. Industry leaders like AAAAA Rent A Space, Public Storage, SecurCare, Shurgard and Storage Solutions are using kiosks at their sites.
Although most people are familiar with a self-service system of some type, such as an ATM, the benefits and operational impact of kiosks in a self-storage environment is still a gray area for many operators. This article answers some commonly asked questions. First, it’s important to understand not all units are the same, and the following information may not applicable to all kiosks. Speak with your vendor for answers specific to your particular product.
Kiosks reduce staffing costs while providing customers with increased convenience. They allow people to rent storage units 24 hours a day without ever talking to a facility manager. A potential customer can take a virtual tour of the facility, select his unit, purchase a lock, pay for his unit, print out a rental agreement, and even buy tenant insurance.
Existing tenants can use the kiosk—which interacts in real-time with a facility’s management software—to make payments and changes to their accounts.
Kiosks enable facility owners to leave their “OPEN” sign on permanently, even during holidays, without paying costly overtime. They also help eliminate the need for that extra employee to sit around and wait for prospects to drop by. Of course, increased occupancy and reduced staffing goes straight to your bottom line, which can boost facility value.
Self-storage kiosks aid with another hot button in self-storage: security. The latest developments include a fingerprint scanner, driver’s license reader, signature pad, check reader and digital camera to positively identify new tenants and discourage potential wrongdoing. One manufacturer is integrating its kiosk with the Self Storage Association’s Counter Measures program, providing real-time customer ID verification, credit scoring, bankruptcy screening and criminal-background checks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does adding a kiosk to my facility mean I have to allow 24-hour access to my property?
No. The kiosk does not control access to your property. Access codes given to new tenants by the kiosk follow the policies defined in your security system. Regardless of what time of day a customer rents a unit, the code he receives will only work during access hours.
I generally keep my empty units locked. How can I allow new tenants to rent units through the kiosk without a manager present to unlock them?
Facilities use several different approaches to this situation. You can:
- Install electronic locks, which use a code instead of a key, on each door.
- Replace the lock on an empty unit with a plastic tab or wire tie a new tenant can remove by himself.
- Limit the number of units available for rent through the kiosk and leave only those units unlocked.
- Install a combination lock on empty units and dispense the combination with the customer’s receipt and rental paperwork.
- Leave all empty units unlocked.
- Allow tenants to initiate rentals through the kiosk but require them to meet with a manager during office hours to access their unit for the first time.
How do new tenants sign their lease so it is legal?
During the rental process, customers are required to sign their lease using the kiosk’s digital signature pad. The signature is embedded in the lease and appears on the printed copy. The lease is presented to the tenant on completion of the rental and is stored for retrieval by the manager.
Can I limit the number of units displayed by the kiosk in each size/type?
Yes. If you are concerned about exposing your facility’s inventory, you can limit the number of units available for rent in each size category. In addition, customized unit types can be defined to restrict tenants to only the type they need, such as a mailbox or wine-storage bin.
What does a tenant get at completion of a rental?
He receives a receipt of the transaction with his unit number, account number and access code; a complete lease agreement including his signature and fingerprint; and a lock, if he purchased one.
Does the kiosk give change?
No. Facility owners have two options when customers purchase with cash. They can have the extra amount escrowed for a specified time so the tenant can get his change during office hours, or the overpayment can be applied as a credit to the tenant’s account.
How is the kiosk installed?
There are two primary types of kiosk enclosures: thru-the-wall and freestanding. Thru-the-wall enclosures are the most secure and designed to withstand even the harshest weather. They are based on the proven ATM model, with a setback style to protect the components from weather and vandalism. The electronic connections are secure inside the building, eliminating the possibility for any tampering or disconnection of power or data cables.
The second enclosure type is freestanding, which is more exposed. Freestanding enclosures are usually made of thick metal that will not rust or be easily penetrated. Locks on a freestanding unit have multiple securing points and are recessed in the unit for additional security. The enclosure should have a minimum of four mounting points at the base to keep it from being tipped over or moved. The cabling is brought through an opening in the bottom to eliminate exposure to weather and vandalism.
Some operators have chosen to install a thru-the-wall enclosure in a vestibule with a security camera mounted overhead. This helps protect the kiosk and the tenant using it.
Can a kiosk offer special pricing and promotions?
Yes. Some kiosks allow operators to customize pricing and promotions to be displayed in real-time to prospects.
Can tenants make payments with cash, check or credit card?
Yes. Some kiosks offer all three forms of payment. Checks can be collected by the kiosk and later deposited by the manager, or they can be processed online via an ACH transaction. When accepting check payments, it’s very important to validate the check routing and account numbers by electronically scanning the check. Some kiosks can also require a digital signature authorizing the withdrawal, which is valuable in the case of payment disputes.
Does the kiosk do anything else?
Some kiosks can dispense merchandise, allowing new tenants to purchase locks or tenant insurance during the rental process.
Other Important Considerations
It does no good to have a kiosk if it won’t work with your facility’s management software. The top kiosks give you a choice of popular software programs, letting you choose which is best for your business and giving you the flexibility to change vendors if you need to later on.
From a legal and security standpoint, it’s more important than ever to positively identify tenants and be able to prove they completed your lease agreement. A digital signature pad built into your kiosk will store tenant signatures in your management software. An integrated fingerprint scanner lends added security and is a powerful criminal deterrent.
Security and Vandalism.
Using an integrated speakerphone, kiosk users can be automatically connected to a customer-service agent who can answer questions about the rental process or their accounts. Don’t choose a kiosk with a handset—upset customers and children like to use these as a hammer to beat on the kiosk screen, and they are frequently left off the hook. Finally, when possible, choose a model with a thru-the-wall enclosure so no one can drive away with it!
Curtis Sojka is vice president of marketing for OpenTech Alliance Inc., a developer of self-storage kiosks. The company’s INSOMNIAC line improves customer convenience, reduces operating costs and increases revenue for self-storage facilities. For more information, call 480.778.9370; visit www.opentechalliance.com.