We still call them cell phones, but they’re much, much more. We expect our phones to do nearly everything. While the range of mobile devices includes laptops and tablets, we depend mainly on our smartphones for the things we do every day. They’re our source for entertainment, purchases, transportation and conversations. They serve as our televisions, wallets, credit cards, cameras and car keys. Mobile phones are the new personal computers.
Some market sectors, such as banking, retail and healthcare, have made great strides in using the power of mobile computing to improve business functions and connect more effectively with customers. Innovation has proceeded more slowly in the self-storage industry, but profound developments are underway. When considering how this technology is changing our business, it’s useful to think about the perspectives of two user groups: facility operators and tenants.
Innovation for Operators
Mobile computing is enabled by the convergence of several technologies, including mobile Internet access, cloud computing, data storage, the Internet of Things and apps. All these technologies are in play for self-storage operations.
Historically, the storage industry has approached computing from the perspective of the operator, especially the site manager. The goal was to improve manager efficiency by computerizing the standard functions for payments, accounting, contracts and customer records. Personal computers (PCs) ran the software that streamlined daily processes, which freed up time for managers to pursue other duties. Digital records were maintained onsite and usually accessed by a manager, who used the PC for all transactions and functions. Business metrics were available on a site-by-site basis, but there was no convenient way to aggregate results across multiple sites and review overall company performance.
With the advent of cloud computing, we now have new tools for improving operational efficiency. Business data is accessible in the cloud and accessed via any device with an Internet connection. Information for all facilities can be centralized and available for real-time monitoring. Owners, executives and site managers can execute computer functions remotely, and collaborate on work assignments and decision-making. Cloud computing also makes it easier to manage security, control site access, share files, review business data, manage expenses, identify trends, and develop strategies for enrolling new tenants. Additionally, tenants now do at least some of the work managers used to do.
Innovation for Tenants
While products to support a self-storage business have traditionally focused on the manager, the next generation of innovations centers on the tenant. The goals for these new products are to improve the customer experience and strengthen the relationship.
For example, mobile technology gives you the tools you need to reach Generation X and Millennial consumers (people born between 1965 and 2005). For these groups, the customer experience is the most important part of the purchasing decision. These customers are more independent than previous generations, and fully engaged with mobile technology. For many of them, the mobile Web is their only way of connecting with the Internet.
Google reported that in 2016 it processed 707 million queries for searches related to these keywords: “self-storage near me.” Sixty-three percent of those queries were initiated from mobile devices, and 89 percent of those produced some type of next action from the user.
Today’s prospective tenants are using their mobile devices to research local facilities, and they’re qualifying their options by taking virtual tours and reading online reviews. Once they’re customers, they pay their monthly rental fees online. They expect to engage with self-storage in the same way they handle every other aspect of their lives—by accessing an app on their smartphone. The storage industry is responding by developing apps to facilitate more engagement with tenants, including those that enable gate access and round-the-clock security monitoring.
Impact on the Business Model
While the rapidly developing technology trends can be challenging, self-storage operators stand to gain from a business model that’s changing to meet an emerging set of consumer needs. Mobile offers a cost-effective approach for delivering high-value services that will command a premium price in the marketplace. You can improve your bottom-line results by adopting solutions that simultaneously reduce expenses and increase revenue.
Thomas Brooks is vice president of sales for PTI Security Systems, a provider of access-control and security systems for the self-storage industry. He applies his knowledge of technology to the self-storage industry to better secure owner investments and improve facility revenue and valuation. For more information, call 800.523.9504; visit www.ptisecurity.com.