To determine the future of self-storage, we must first look to the past. Gone are the days of manual reporting and hand-written checks, along with waiting for the mail to get bank statements or send reports to property owners.
Many third-party management companies now offer online tools, giving facility owners and managers access to reports, occupancy stats and even remote viewing capabilities via onsite cameras and monitoring systems.
So where is third-party management headed in the next year, five years or even 10? There has been phenomenal growth in the number of third-party management companies over the last two decades, with some startups in growing markets around the world.
When thinking about the future of this industry subcategory, the problems we now face in communications and processing come to mind first and foremost. Everyone wants faster, more accurate reporting and analysis tools. In this arena, we will see continuing improvements across the board.
Software vendors will continue to refine operating platforms to customize combined reporting for portfolios within minutes. This tool alone will cut countless hours of re-entering data to get comparative information. Accounting software, access-control systems and management software will all bring dramatic improvements in monitoring and analysis.
Getting More From Technology
There are more ways to make the most of cameras and office equipment and bring more value for everyone. Using the tools we have in better and more creative ways allows us to increase responsiveness without adding any costs.
Many self-storage owners and managers are already familiar with Web-based operating software. In the future, these systems will become even more advanced, aggregating reporting for all of a company’s facilities quickly and in a format that is meaningful.
Touch screens with icons for each store and combined reports could also play a role. For example, touching the screen for a particular store could bring up a management-summary report or occupancy information. This will enable third-party management companies to more quickly answer questions from owners and access any level of detail in an instant.
Face-to-face communication may also become a part of regular meetings in the near future. Laptops can now be equipped easily with cameras so everyone can stay in touch, even when traveling. Interviews can be done long distance, cutting down on travel and the associated expenses. Operators and managers will continue to see more streamlining in the reporting, communications and analysis processes.
The Development Stage
Improving margins and profit for property owners is another goal for most third-party management companies. As systems and processes become more automated, operating costs will decrease.
Each year, more third-party management companies are conducting feasibility studies and market analysis, developing marketing strategies and providing manager training. No one in the industry better knows how stores operate and what features are needed like a management company.
Providing these valuable services from the moment a client chooses a site to the grand opening allows a management company to ensure the front desk is functional, customers are accommodated, and traffic flows in and out of the site as it should. These services will play an even more important role in the future.
The current financial market not only dictates a well-structured plan, it requires developers to have someone on the team with a proven track record. Accurate forecasting of lease-up absorption, negative cash requirements during leaseup, and startup costs can best be found by using a proven management professional in the planning and development of any new self-storage operation. These services will become increasingly important as the industry changes due to pressure from financial providers.
M. Anne Ballard is president of Atlanta-based Universal Management Co., which provides global consulting for self-storage evaluations, feasibility studies, training and development services. The company also offers full-service fee management in the United States, where it manages more than 35 storage locations. For more information, visit www.universalmanagementcompany.com.