Automation is a technology solution that supports nearly every self-storage owner’s top priorities. This article explores why operators should consider it, highlighting various tools and services available.

April 5, 2016

6 Min Read
Using Automation to Meet Your Self-Storage Business Needs

By Michael Sawyer

Most every self-storage entrepreneur has already built a rewarding business. Be that as it may, that entrepreneurial spirit still drives many operators to consider ever smarter ways to scale and improve.

Unfortunately, instead of working on their business, most self-storage owners end up working in their business with a hands-on approach. And when it comes to focusing on your goals, this has the knack of stealing time away from your priorities.

Automation is a technology solution that supports nearly every business owner’s top concerns. But before considering automated processes, every owner will need to answer to one vital question: Why?

Why Automate?

When you started your self-storage business, you probably thought you’d be free to pursue your leisure and create the entrepreneurial dream that has been forever promised. Instead you found that being a businessperson is more about sacrifice than liberty. For this reason alone, many storage operators use automation—to restore freedom.

They’ve also found that systemizing their manual processes is the best approach to improving business performance. Higher profit, improved efficiency and faster growth motivate them to implement automated procedures.

Becoming a more flexible business is another reason to automate. By offering customers self-serve office hours (online, onsite or over the phone), automation ensures customer satisfaction, more timely cash flow and the ability to maximize sales 24/7.

Automation can also be used to increase employee productivity. Day-to-day efficiency is improved, and labor costs are reduced when a few processes happen automatically and without the involvement of the facility manager or owner.

Regardless of the need and no matter the size of your property, automation is available in the self-storage space to improve property performance and value.

Simple, Not Easy

Like using an ATM outside a bank, paying for gas at the pump or reserving a hotel room online, self-service automation is already proven and preferred by many. When implementing automated processes for the first time, some storage owners choose to dive in at the deep end, while others dip their feet by focusing on one process at a time. There’s no right or wrong way to start. Automating is straightforward, however, building a new routine, one that chooses to make use of the new workflow process, isn’t. Is short, automating is simple but not easy.

To make automation work effectively, it’s necessary to change your old business practices and philosophy. Automation will displace people from the comfort they’ve gained in their current routine. Up-skilling your strong points is really the reason for automation, as your repetitive duties are sent to machines. Once you’re freed from duplication, you can start to focus on using technology to fine-tune your business.

People are usually a little hesitant to try out new things because they want to quickly finish the task at hand. However, a little extra time spent on automating the stuff you do over and over can save a lot of time, effort and money in the long run. That’s one reason why technology was invented: to help with the busy work!

On top of it all, machines are better, faster and more accurate at repetitive processes than people. If you’re doing the same task over and over again, stop and think, “Do I really need to replicate these steps?” That chore could be a good one to automate.

What Can You Automate?

Some automation tools focus on time and tasks, others on transaction management and efficiency, and some on customer service or up-surging revenue. They all attempt to systematize the work that would otherwise require a person. Let’s take a look at each type of technology and how your self-storage operation can benefit.

Kiosks. Onsite kiosks are used to uplift service and sales. A kiosk is simply a remote assistant, able to help take care of customers when the manager is occupied or the office closed. It takes care of monthly payments and most all tenant services, renting units, providing locks, completing payments and managing paperwork.  The technology is even able to direct video-conferencing calls to a live storage professional for customers who want to talk to a real person. With a kiosk, operators can open their facility and never close.

Pay-by-phone. This technology connects to the facility’s telephone and reduces the time operators spend on monthly payment transactions. Upon dialing, callers don’t immediately reach the manager. Instead, the application welcomes callers with automated prompts to pay. The service integrates with your property-management system to identify callers, collect rent and deposit money into their accounts. This 24/7 convenience helps to reduce tenant delinquencies, offering tenants the ability to pay every time they with the touch of a few buttons.

Call centers. Remote call centers, used by large self-storage operators and independents alike, can boost sales, provide better service and manage payment transactions more efficiently. Essentially, the technology can be preset (days, nights or weekends) to transfer your facility calls to a remote office where storage professionals are able to service your customers immediately. The best call centers have technology that ensures the person answering your calls knows everything about your facility, including available units, locations, pricing, policies, tenant information and more.

Online rentals. Rental software is used to enhance the user experience on your facility website. It’s an effective way to convert online traffic to real revenue and immediate occupancy. By using this technology, your customers can select their unit, sign the lease and pay for their space before ever calling or visiting your office. All the paperwork is completed in advance from the convenience of a customer’s desktop computer, smartphone or tablet.

Online chat. The automation allows self-storage operators to host a live specialist on their website to assist visitors, providing an enhanced level of service. Online chat gives you the ability to immediately serve customers via their mobile phones, laptops or personal computers. The tool is proven to automatically develop new business, as valuable leads are forwarded to the operator in real time.

Collections. The automatic payment-reminder and collections system is becoming a popular tool to reduce the time and tasks associated with recovering past-due rent. It reduces the need to make individual collections calls or send personalized e-mails or texts. Once set up, it never stops working. Through a series of friendly e-mail, phone or text reminders, the service automatically drives late tenants to immediately process their payment online or call the storage facility to pay.

Getting Started

Do some homework and learn from other self-storage operators. Find owners who are using automation. They have the vision to see where you can be in two to three years. They know how to do it right, and they understand the organizational change required.

Next, talk to a technology vendor. If you reach the point where you want to bring in a supplier, the key is to look ahead a few years and ensure your partner has the right level of experience, innovation, scope and technology, and that the company can scale with you.

The benefits of automated tools are obvious. The use of these resources translates into dollars earned, dollars saved and happier customers.

Mike Sawyer is the director of marketing for OpenTech Alliance Inc., a Phoenix-based provider of automation tools including a call center and kiosks. With more than 4,000 daily transactions, the company’s automated products and services helped storage operators move in more than 100,000 tenants in 2015, generating $100 million in new-sales revenue alone. For more information, call 602.749.9370; visit

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