As the economy continues to take
“In this tough economic climate, automation has enabled me to undercut the market and still be open when my competitors are not,” says Robert Walker, owner of Self Storage of America, an 1,100-unit facility in downtown
Five years ago, running a self-storage facility without an onsite manager was something attempted by owners of only very small facilities. The idea of running a 25,000- to 40,000-square-foot facility without a manager was unheard of; but today, unmanned sites have become more commonplace. As it turns out, all facilities end up being unmanned to some degree.
Hours of Operation
It’s no secret that consumers have become use to and even expect to do business on their schedule. Gone are the days when a business can keep banker’s hours. In this respect, automated storage facilities are better equipped to serve today’s consumers. Traditional facilities with onsite or resident managers usually hold office hours for 8 to 10 hours and are closed for business the rest of the day, where unmanned facilities are open up to 24 hours.
When it comes to renting more units, there’s not much argument that when a potential renter is looking for a storage space after hours, he will bypass facilities with the light out in the office and go to the one down the street where business is still happening. But there’s a catch: To be open for business when the office is closed takes an investment in infrastructure including electronically controlled access, security cameras, ample lighting, a self-service kiosk to rent units and process payments and, yes, people.
While technology has improved to a point where customers can serve themselves, there are still times when only a live person will do. Someone still needs to answer calls, clean out units, perform lock checks, hold auctions and be available to deal with customer issues. This part of the puzzle is being solved with the help of a call center and a part-time employee to stop by the facility on a regular basis.
Designing and Building Unmanned Facilities
Self-service kiosk at Secure Holdings Inc. Jim Adams, president of Secure Holdings Inc. in Indiana, has made developing and operating fully automated facilities a part of his company’s long-term strategy. “Having built unmanned facilities from the ground up as well as more traditional storage facilities, I know firsthand each model can be done successfully,”
Self-service kiosk at Secure Holdings Inc.
Jim Adams, president of Secure Holdings Inc. in Indiana, has made developing and operating fully automated facilities a part of his company’s long-term strategy. “Having built unmanned facilities from the ground up as well as more traditional storage facilities, I know firsthand each model can be done successfully,”
“When I surveyed the competition, I saw most did not have paved driveways, which I felt was a must,” he says. “They did not have the 8-foot fencing, cameras or good lighting and, more important, they were closed more than often than they were open. Focusing more on the quality of the facility as a whole and less on the office, we are able to provide customers with the same level of amenities found at a class-A property.”
As far as marketing,
Managing Unmanned Facilities
After fully automating his facilities,
Jon Mutchner, owner of The Storage Center in
“There are no excuses. We’re always open, and we can rent a unit or take a payment anytime of the day or night,” Mutchner says. He also finds that outstanding accounts-receivable have diminished since installation of this new technology. “Our automation is a unique convenience, and it increases our potential to keep customers.”
Owners operating unmanned or partially automated facilities agree that customers like the self-service experience and appreciate the benefits the technology provides. “I can sometimes look out of my window and watch customers as they use the kiosk—they love it,” Mutchner confirms. He finds the younger generation of self-storage customers is increasingly adapted to technology, find it comfortable, and often prefer automated solutions that allow them to conduct business quickly, at times that work best for them.
While there are those who say operating an unmanned facility is risky,
When you examine the differences between a traditional storage location and a more automated or unmanned facility, the key differentiator becomes clear: technical sophistication. While the traditional model takes advantage of a personal touch (so long as there’s a good, personable manager available), more automated locations give customer access to valuable services even after the office has closed. Self-serve options on the Internet and on site give new and existing customers the ability to rent units, pay their bill, retrieve gate codes and update their account information. Connectivity allows management to take place remotely, often in real time.
Unmanned locations do require a greater investment in technical infrastructure, and connectivity is critical. Nevertheless, most owners find the return on investment is sound. “When we consider the faster lease-up, lower operating cost and increased cash-on-cash return automated facilities provide, unmanned operations are the secret to making money in many markets,”
Robert A. Chiti is the president and CEO of Phoenix-based OpenTech Alliance Inc., developer of the INSOMNIAC line of self-storage kiosks. For more information or to see an online demo, visit www.opentechalliance.com.
Insomniac Kiosks [Self-Storage Talk Discussion Thread]