Welcome to the new world order, one defined by the coronavirus pandemic. Communicable diseases aren’t new, but COVID-19 has brought a heightened awareness and sense of fear, largely because people are so digitally connected and constantly transmitting information. The virus has potentially changed the way we do business forever, in self-storage and many other sectors.
This crisis has been intensely disruptive, and our response as a community ought to be proportional. We have an obligation to adapt. Even though the initial outbreak is hopefully beginning to wane, it has created a new level of germ consciousness that isn’t likely to dissipate soon. With its relatively low traffic, self-storage is one of the few industries that’s well-positioned to provide consumers with the safe, convenient experience they desire now and going forward. How? Through the use of technology.
For the foreseeable future, the ability of a self-storage operator to offer contact-free rentals via a website, kiosk, mobile app, keyless entry will be the differentiating factor when customers make their rental decisions. Access-control keypads are germ magnets, and research has shown the coronavirus can live on some surfaces for days, not just hours. The danger of shared and potentially dirty surfaces will be at the forefront of consumers’ minds when they interact with a business.
The ability to use a mobile app to open your facility gate and other access points, even a tenant’s storage unit, will prove to be a real advantage. The ability to share digital keys rather than physical objects like keys and locks, provides convenience as well as safety. Features that were once perceived as luxuries are now a fundamental requirement.
Managing Physical Risk
Medical experts have recommended social distancing during the pandemic to limit the spread of infection. Self-storage operations that don’t have the technology to support a contact-free business model must make other efforts to limit risk for employees and customers. Some have shut down their management offices to limit interaction between managers and tenants, completing rentals online or via phone. The big challenge is how to strike a balance between maintaining a superior customer experience and meeting the current restrictions. Those operators who manage it will have a competitive advantage.
The goal, of course, is to reduce your self-storage facility’s physical touchpoints. Still, every property has components that can’t immediately be replaced via technology, such as elevators, hand carts and door handles. For these, you’ll have to maintain a much higher standard of cleanliness overall; and sanitation stations offering antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer will be expected by consumers. Even before the coronavirus, most grocery stores offered something at their entry points to wipe down carts and baskets. Self-storage operators will be wise to follow suit.
A Call to Innovate
To weather the current health crisis and the resulting public perception and fear, the self-storage industry must quickly adapt. Even if the medical community soon finds a safe, effective vaccine, the psychological impact on our customers will last for years to come.
American entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban recently tweeted, “When things are all messed up beyond recognition, that’s when heroes step forward and create things, [invent] things and develop things that change the world. And that’s what needed right now. If you have a vision for America 2.0, now is the time.” This is our challenge. The self-storage industry has a responsibility to meet changing consumer needs and demands, and contact-free rentals via technology is a big part of the solution.
Josh Boyd is CEO and president of StoreEase, which acquires, develops and oversees self-storage facilities using a virtual-management model. His background includes the sale of cutting-edge medical devices for hospital operating rooms that shifted paradigms and advanced the quality of patient care. He’s seen what disruptive technologies can do to positively impact cost models and improve the customer experience, and has made those core principles the foundation of the StoreEase mission. For more information, call 334.233.4856; visit www.storease.com.