Every day we hear about technology innovations that can transform the way we live, work and play. For many years, technology in the self-storage industry went largely unchanged. Then, seemingly overnight, a litany of products and services hit the market. Their quality and usefulness vary, but the purpose of this article isn’t to determine which tools are worth implementing. It focuses on something much easier to digest: Pizza!
Yes, pizza. Just humor me and answer this question: When’s the last time you called your favorite pizza joint and placed an order with a live human being? If you’re like most U.S. consumers, it may have been a while. In 2018, Domino’s and Papa John’s reported that more than 60 percent of their orders came through their websites, social media or mobile apps, while more than half of Pizza Hut’s orders were placed digitally.
This comes as little surprise. In addition to being fast and easy, mobile and online ordering provides conveniences that can’t be achieved via a phone call. From viewing special offers, to preloading past orders, to automatically applying coupons, to saving payment methods, to tracking order progress down to the location of the delivery person, digital platforms provide perks call-in ordering could never offer—at least not expediently or cost-effectively.
Of course, casual dining is a highly transactional business and unlike self-storage in many ways. However, there’s still a lot facility operators can learn from the world of pizza about consumer behavior and leveraging mobile technology to generate more revenue.
The Domino’s Effect
Overall, the pizza market is thriving, seeing annual revenue increases of 12 percent in North America. While the entire industry grew over the past year, there was one clear winner: Domino’s.
The Domino’s story is remarkable. In November 2008, investors could pick up company stock for around $3 a share. Fast forward a decade, and the stock sits at $268 per share. Domino’s has also reported same-store revenue increases for 24 straight quarters. Plus, it’s primed to dethrone the industry’s longtime No.1: Pizza Hut.
Why is this important? The answer is simple: Domino’s embraced mobile and digital technologies and left everyone else to play catchup. Now, like the large, multi-national chains, thousands of smaller, independent companies have begun offering online and mobile ordering.
What Storage Operators Can Learn
This isn’t a story about appearing first in online search, though Domino’s certainly does. Much has been written about search engine optimization and search engine marketing in self-storage. Today, most of the industry understands the importance of online placement and rankings. What storage operators can take away from the Domino’s success story and the shifting landscape of the pizza industry can be boiled down to two things: customer convenience and the implementation of the right technology at the right time.
Think about the way we all want to interact with businesses today. Consider these questions:
- Would you rather renew your driver’s license at the department of motor vehicles or online via computer or mobile device?
- To go to the airport, would you rather call a cab company or order an Uber from your phone?
- During the winter holidays, would you rather fight the crowds at the store or get the same deals, delivered right to your door, by shopping online?
Chances are, you’d pick the online or mobile option in at least one of these scenarios. With today’s consumer, the money generally goes where the convenience lies. Often, we’re even willing to pay a premium for it.
I haven’t booked a hotel room or reserved a rental car with a phone call in years; I do it all via app. People of all ages are beginning to order groceries online to pick up curbside or deliver to their home. When my Amazon Prime subscription automatically renews each year, I don’t think twice. Food-delivery fees and tips don’t phase me either; in fact, they feel like a small price to pay for the time and energy saved. If this is the way most consumers think and behave—and companies like Airbnb, Amazon and Uber prove time and again that it is—then why should self-storage operate any differently?
Leveraging Tech Tools
What Domino’s did to outpace its competition seems so intuitive now, but it was risky at the time. The company spent a lot of time and resources to implement technology that allows customers to Tweet an emoji and order a pizza, or order pizza from a mobile app in five clicks. Domino’s moved toward its customers rather than making customers come to them.
Self-storage operators have a similar opportunity to eliminate inconvenience in the rental and payment processes by leveraging mobile technology. For years, even if a tenant rented or reserved a unit online, he still needed to see a manager for his gate code or to have the lock removed from his unit. With new access-control solutions, rental to move-in can be accomplished from a mobile phone.
Now, storage operators can meet their customers where they are and provide a heightened level of unit security and facility monitoring with Bluetooth smart-locking technology. A customer simply rents online, receives a text confirmation and uses his mobile phone to do the rest, from gate and door entry, to unit entry, to billpay.
When tenants can enter gates and open doors with their mobile device, you’re not only eliminating the hassle of remembering key codes, you cut down on your call-center volume.
According to one facility operator, as many as 60 percent of his calls were related to the gate—from forgotten access codes to past-due payments to general keypad malfunctions. When customers can view their account and pay their balance from their mobile device, you’re providing a more convenient solution for them while minimizing the labor-intensive process of restoring facility access.
Moreover, with modern smart-entry systems, tenants can share digital keys with movers, family, coworkers and friends, providing a hassle-free experience for tenants and improving data for self-storage owners. With digital keys, the technology ties the guest user’s mobile device directly to the tenant, providing a better audit trail in the event of arson or vandalism.
As in the pizza world, mobile technology is ultimately changing the self-storage landscape. If customers are using mobile apps to pay for everything from pizza to car rentals, isn’t it time to meet them where they are and offer a similar experience? Just as Domino’s realized the telephone might become a deterrent to ordering food, we could be discouraging customers with necessary office visits, gate codes and padlocks.
Will DeBord is the product manager for the SecurGuard Smart Entry System division at Janus International Group Inc., a global provider of self-storage doors, hallways and smart security solutions. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.janusintl.com/securguardapp.