By Kevin Kerr
The need for technology within the self-storage industry was born from humble beginnings, but over the past decade, we’ve seen facility operators spend less time moving in tenants and taking payments and becoming more focused on other tasks to improve efficiency. Let’s take a look at tools that have evolved to help you better your business processes and profitability.
In its infancy, self-storage management software was nothing compared to what we’re accustomed to today. DOS-based programs resided locally on the office computer and gave operators their first glimpse of how technology would begin to shape the industry, but they lacked in many areas we consider integral at this point. Still, early programs brought the beginnings of basic reporting and customer-relationship management.
Newer and more sophisticated operating systems like Windows ushered in a new line of software solutions, introducing features such as interactive sitemaps, multiple facility management and the first of many Web-based tools. Coined as “Web-enabled,” these could be used for backing up data online via a transmitter application, which also allowed the software to tie directly into a facility’s website to show real-time unit inventory. They could also be used to complete online reservations and payments. Users quickly realized the benefits of these features, and software developers knew they had to meet the growing demand. This brought about the Web-based software that’s now readily available.
Today’s Web-based management software comes from a stunning array of diverse providers, each offering a variety of unique features. What they share in common is a product that’s hosted on secure cloud servers, delivering a new sense of flexibility, mobility and security.
Gone are the days of storing sensitive information locally on your facility’s computer. While better than keeping hard copies, this method of data storage carries the inherent risks of potential database corruptibility and data loss from computer theft. To address these issues, software providers now offer to host your vital information on secure third-party cloud servers. This takes the pressure off the facility operation and places the responsibility of data storage with the providers and their server hosts, who are able to provide enhanced security via anti-malware/anti-virus protection, penetration testing and redundancies.
Biometric-fingerprint security is a relatively new feature added to management software that allows operators to log in securely without the need for using and regularly changing alpha-numeric passwords. These practices ensure that even in the event of computer theft, your information is always secure and in control of your staff.
Having a Web presence is no longer optional; it’s necessary to stay competitive in your market. With the resources available to you, it shouldn’t be too difficult or costly. Developing an aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly website is a great start, but tying that website into your operation will provide you with the tools to increase management productivity and your overall profitability.
Simple additions such as online payments, reservations and rentals usually come at little or no cost with Web-based software and can be implemented quite easily. By freeing up time for managers to focus on other tasks and decreasing tenant foot traffic, the benefits of these features become quickly noticeable.
Facility-aggregator services may help a low-occupancy facilities gain visibility in their markets as well as provide valuable services to those who may not have a website or the resources to manage one. These can often be tied directly into your management software to show unit inventory and allow for online rentals, and can also be used as a viable alternative to in-house Web marketing.
In the early years of self-storage, the only payment options available were cash, check and credit card. While operators made due with these methods, new payment methods are now available to accommodate tenants and provide operators with payment alternatives.
Recurring payments via credit card or electronic check—ideal for facilities of all sizes—give you a consistent income flow. Managers can even create promotions to incentivize these payment methods. Going a step further, online payments provide maximum customer convenience and can easily be tracked through a property’s management software. Limiting tenants’ ability to pay to regular office hours can be a hurdle for current and future customers, but online options open the door to 24/7 possibilities.
Mobile payments through providers such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet are still relatively new concepts but gaining traction as preferred methods. By offering these “tap and pay” options, you give tenants the ability to pay you securely without having to carry their debit or credit cards. This not only provides an additional form of payment, it gives you a new venue to brand your company and even create loyalty programs within the app.
Older models of credit card and check scanning equipment are reminiscent of bricks—lumbering pieces of archaic technology that provided little use besides the single action for which they were developed. On the other hand, today’s facility-management systems provide you with a host of multi-purpose devices that serve a variety of functions, such as credit card scanning, digital-check imaging and digital-signature capture. All are designed to streamline processes and provide additional security for your facility and tenants.
Unlike single-purpose check and credit card scanners, robust combination readers allow you to tie in directly to most management-software platforms. Having the ability to scan a driver’s license, check and credit card with the same device isn’t only a time-saver, it’s more cost-efficient than purchasing each of these devices individually. By integrating these tools with your management software, you can even save digital images of checks for future reference long after the physical check has gone to the bank.
Additional Hardware and Devices
Kiosks are a powerful addition for self-storage operators who want to provide customers with management tools around the clock. Users can rent units, make payments and more without the assistance of an onsite manager.
Similarly, user-accessible terminals can assist managers with tenant move-ins and payments. Newer models are already EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa)-compliant to ensure you’re not liable for fraudulent credit card transactions. They also provide branding opportunities for your business, as they display your facility name while customers verify their transactions.
While new tools can be hard to predict with any specificity, much of the writing is already on the wall. With technology growing exponentially, self-storage operators should expect to see closely integrated solutions readily available for all aspects of their business. Coupling flexibility and security will be key factors in future development, and advancements in technology will undoubtedly ensure each facility has the opportunity to further its overall profitability and maximize management efficiency.
Kevin Kerr is marketing and sales coordinator for Storage Commander, a Murrieta, Calif.-based supplier of self-storage management software. To reach him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.storagecommander.com.