ISS BLOG – Why and How I Make Remote Management Work for My Self-Storage Business and You Can, Too!

There’s so much talk in the self-storage industry now about remote facility management. Some operators are all in while others are content to sit on the sidelines. Where do you stand? The owner of three facilities in Montana has taken the plunge. He shares how it has simplified every aspect of his business and given him the freedom to enjoy life.

Tim Davis, Owner

July 5, 2024

5 Min Read

Thanks to advancements in technology, many self-storage owners have transitioned away from management offices staffed with employees to working remotely. Are you still meeting tenants in person and wondering if you can ever break away from the property? Would you like reduce or even eliminate office hours? Are you looking for the freedom to do what you want while running a successful business with great customer service? You can do it. I know because I do!

I’ve been the lone employee of my Montana-based self-storage business since 2007. I built it from a single facility with 165 units to three with nearly 1,100 spaces. I offer several unit sizes at two pricing levels: standard and premium. I don’t offer retail sales, heated units, wine storage or outdoor vehicle storage. There are no dumpsters, bathrooms or other amenities. It’s indoor, dry storage only, and I expect tenants to come and go quickly.

The key to success has been to streamline the operation so I only do the most important tasks: rent storage units and collect money. I delegate or outsource anything that might stop me from answering the phone when it rings or immediately responding to an online rental. Streamlining includes every aspect of the business such as the website, facility maintenance and all communications. Here’s how I do it.

The Top 3 Steps

1. Have the right set-up. The first step is to invest in self-storage management software that integrates with your website, gate and payments. You want potential tenants to visit your website, quickly rent a unit and sign their rental agreement online. Automation can significantly reduce the number of employees needed and minimize the amount of time you spend on the phone. Get the best software you can afford, preferably with integrated texting.

2. Outsource. The next step is to outsource nearly everything to do with site maintenance. Hire a company for landscaping, lot sweeping and snow plowing, if needed. They have the equipment and the time; you should be answering calls. The most you should do at the facility is pick up any small garbage when you drive around checking locks. Also, have a Google expert handle your search engine optimization and Google Ads marketing.

3. Rent units! When the phone rings or an email comes in for a new tenant, you need to be ready and focused; and you need to simplify the process so it’s as easy and efficient as possible. Some small talk on the phone is good, but listening to the customer’s needs is the priority. Steer the conversation politely as you listen and remember that you’re the expert. With a cooperative customer, I can complete a phone rental in as little as six minutes but generally in about 10.

I’ve streamlined the self-storage rental process in several ways. I charge rent only, so no administration fees or deposits, and its credit or debit card only. I don’t do meetups to show units or get payments. There’s no hand-holding, and minimal time is spent on the phone. That's a lot of saying no, but what it means is that I’m fresh and happy for every call, ready to talk storage.

If tenants rent online, which is more than 50% of the time, I send a single text welcoming and thanking them, reiterating their unit number and gate code, and inviting them to contact me by phone or text if needed. You’d be surprised at how happy they are to receive a text from a real person.

The Ongoing Relationship

Once the units are rented, the less contact the better. Put your self-storage customers on autopay and leave them alone. They don't need to be reminded that they have storage, and the longer they stay the better. If you do have to communicate, use automated texting. It’s brief and to the point, trackable within the software, and far more likely to get a response than email.

When they move out, send a thank-you text and ask if they enjoyed their storage experience. If they did, forward them a link to your website-review page and ask them for a quick recommendation.

Create Boundaries

Now that you don’t go to an office and you have everything set up online, establish some boundaries. You can’t answer every call from current or potential self-storage tenants, but you can send a quick text letting them know when you'll get back to them.

State your available hours on your website. For example, I take calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, but not during meals with family or friends. I do, however, take them while skiing, biking or hiking, much to the annoyance of those family and friends. If I’m not busy, I’ll answer any call. I’ve rented many units by picking up the phone at 6:45 a.m. or 9 p.m. It’s a trade-off. I’m almost never at work, but I visit each facility once every week or two, and I’m always on call.

I realize that remote management isn’t for everyone. Perhaps you own a large self-storage facility with elevators and a retail store, or maybe you need staff for security purposes. But if you think you can go remote, I hope that something in my methods might free up some of your time and make owning and managing your facility easier and more fun.

Tim Davis is owner, manager, handyman and janitor of American Storage in Helena, Montana. The company operates three facilities in the area that offer more than 1,100 units.

About the Author(s)

Tim Davis

Owner, American Storage

Tim Davis is owner, manager, handyman and janitor of American Storage in Helena, Montana. The company operates three facilities in the area that offer more than 1,050 units. For more information, visit www.americanstoragemt.com.

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