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The Great Transition: Embracing Smart-Lock Technology in Self-Storage

The lock-and-key systems that have long secured self-storage units are giving way to intelligent, connected solutions that bolster site security and enhance operational efficiency. This article discusses the benefits of smart-lock technology and how to implement a successful transition at your property.

Mason Shaw

January 6, 2024

5 Min Read
Photo courtesy of American Storage South

In this era of rapidly advancing technology, self-storage operators have been presented with a transformative opportunity to switch from traditional unit locks and keys to “smart” products. The legacy systems that have long secured units are finally giving way to intelligent, connected solutions that not only bolster security but enhance operational efficiency.

Smart locks provide a seamless experience for operators and tenants. They offer monitoring and tracking features, access to customer data, and streamlined management via mobile applications. As the desires and demands of modern consumers evolve, particularly those of younger demographics, operators who embrace this technology will position themselves for long-term success. In fact, this new level of convenience, innovation and heightened security will ultimately redefine the self-storage landscape.

Lock Types and Key Benefits

Self-storage smart locks use Bluetooth, WiFi or NFC (near-field communication) to enable secure access control. They connect with authorized devices (typically smartphones) to authenticate users through encrypted communication, then grant or deny access based on predefined permissions. You already use many of these technologies in everyday life, for example, when you wirelessly connect to a printer via WiFi, sync to CarPlay with Bluetooth or use “tap to pay” in a store.

A smart lock can come in one of a few forms: a battery-operated or hardwired latch, a Bluetooth or battery-operated padlock, or an NFC padlock, cylinder lock and latch. Whichever style you choose, you and your staff and tenants will enjoy a host of benefits:

  • Tenants no longer need to carry or keep track of a physical key.

  • There’s no more concern about lost keys, which can easily be copied and pose a security risk.

  • Facility managers no longer need to cut locks on past-due units.

  • Staff can track who accessed units and when, which enhances security and provides valuable insight to tenant activities.

  • Tenants can manage unit access through a user-friendly mobile app, which simplifies their experience and ensures a higher level of security.

  • Smart locks eliminate the possibility that a tenant will move into the wrong space or a manager will auction the wrong unit.

The transition to smart locks in self-storage isn’t just a technological upgrade, it’s a strategic move toward a safer, more streamlined and customer-centric business. To help you fully grasp the impact, let’s look at how to implement a successful transition at your property.

Making the Transition

The first step in transitioning to self-storage smart locks is to research and select the product that best aligns with your security requirements and operational needs. When contacting vendors, request a full demo and introduction to get a clear sense for how the technology will work on your property, including any software integration.

Once you find a product you believe will work, implementation typically begins with a pilot program or small-scale deployment to assess functionality and gather user feedback. If you’d like to move forward following a successful trial, a broader rollout will ensue to install the locks across all applicable units and locations.

By working with your vendor, you might be able to pursue a slower, phased approach in which you start the transition by assigning smart locks only to empty units and issue them as you gain new rentals. This allows you to practice the new move-in process to get up to speed rather than onboarding all units at once.

Cost will depend on your vendor and product; however, solutions typically have a monthly subscription fee to cover all backend reporting and the mobile application. For NFC padlocks and cylinder locks, expect to pay about $45 per unit. For systems with Bluetooth latches, the entire hasp is required, which can run upward of $300 per door, plus setup fees.

Strategic planning and effective communication will provide the foundation for a successful transition with minimal disruption. Overall, the timeline for a smart-lock conversion can vary based on the size of the self-storage facility and the complexity of the system. Most projects can be completed within a few months. Don’t rush it! You want to ensure there’s a smooth and effective adoption of the product.

Start by providing ample, advance notice to tenants, typically one to three months before implementation. Highlight the benefits of the change, along with the expected timeline, and give clear instructions on the new access procedures.

In addition, conduct thorough staff training to ensure a smooth rollout and responsive customer service. To create as little friction as possible, seriously consider your support channels. Perhaps create a helpline to promptly address tenant queries and issues.

Maintaining open communication throughout the process, keeping tenants informed about milestones, and ensuring their input is considered and shared with staff will pave the way for a smooth transition. This proactive and considerate approach will foster a positive experience for all involved.

Be Prepared

As with all technology, there will be kinks and sometimes failures to work through when you implement smart locks at your self-storage facility. It’s critical to tackle and overcome issues as they arise. Again, tenants must have clear channels for reporting problems and seeking assistance. Staff should know how to effectively help customers as well as how to troubleshoot common glitches.

Schedule regular maintenance on your smart locks and use digital reporting to stay proactive. Dealing with potential issues promptly will go a long way toward ensuring customer satisfaction. Also, stay informed regarding technology updates to ensure your systems are up-to-date.

Smart locks aren’t going away. The trajectory of access control in self-storage points toward even more sophisticated and integrated solutions. To prepare your facility for the future, now’s the time to consider an upgrade. If you take the time to consider your options and select the solution that best fits your needs, you’ll be poised to satisfy tenant needs and stay ahead of your competition.

Mason Shaw is director of operations for American Storage South. Founded in 2001, the family-owned and -operated company has four facilities in North Carolina. She’s also director of operations for Keep It Simple Storage Solutions, a provider of technology to the self-storage industry including two-way smart video, near-field communication smart locks, a mobile app and auto-attendant. To reach her, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Mason Shaw

Director of Operations, American Storage South

Mason Shaw is director of operations for American Storage South. Founded in 2001, the family-owned and -operated company has four facilities in North Carolina. She’s also director of sales and marketing for KISS Solutions, a provider of technology to the self-storage industry including two-way smart video, a mobile app and auto-attendant. To reach her, email [email protected].

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