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Inside Self-Storage Magazine 02/2001: Online Self-Storage

February 1, 2001

4 Min Read
Inside Self-Storage Magazine 02/2001: Online Self-Storage

Online Self-Storage

By RK Kliebenstein

Editor's note: The opinions of thiscolumn are the express convictions of the author. Inside Self-Storagedoes not endorse individual products or services of industry suppliers.

From computer bits and bytes to Xeon processors, fromautomatic-payment processing to world-class training for your managers, TechTalk brings you the latest in technological products and services forself-storage. Designed as a means for first-generation stores to compete withnewer, state-of-the-art facilities, this column will give you the tools to beatthe competition.

New Lease-Up Tool

One ofthe latest trends among the major self-storage operators (such as U-Haul,Shurgard, Storage USA and Public Storage) is the race to perfect the renting ofstorage space via the Internet. Modeling after successful websites such as Sabre,which serves as a reservation system for the airline industry, and Internetportals such as Travelocity, which actually allows passengers to bookreservations online, the self-storage giants recognize the value in allowingcustomers to rent online.

There are huge upfront expenses involved in developing this technology. Somecompanies have used the online rental feature to lure independent self-storageoperators into lucrative management contracts and gain access to online rentals.Online directory services such as Storage Net can get the customer to your doorvia the Internet, but they do not allow a prospective customer to actually renta unit and pay by credit card.

What Is the Concept?

At the Self Storage Association conference in Denver at the end of September,a company called Online Self Storage debuted a program that represents a quantumleap in the ability of independent operators, regional players and even nationalfirms to embrace this technology at low cost. Onlineselfstorage.com is anelectronic marketplace for the self-storage industry, bringing facility ownerstogether with online customers.

This interactive Internet marketplace allows facility owners toelectronically post available inventory, advertise promotions, provide updatedpricing information and give important details about their facility, includinglocation, amenities and unique features. Customers that prefer shopping onlinewill be able to make informed decisions regarding their storage-space needs,obtain information about specific facilities, and make reservations or paymentsfrom the convenience of their home or office.

What Does This Do for the Storage Customer?

For customers who demand the convenience and power of online shopping, theservice provides a large selection of available storage inventory, allowing themto choose the best location, price and amenities. Unlike conventional shoppingthrough Yellow Pages or online searches through the websites of individualfacilities, Online Self Storage provides an interactive shopping experience thatculminates in the reservation and purchase of the best available space. Some ofthe site's features include: online bookings, quick- and detailed-searchcapabilities, geocoding and mapping, specials and discounts, customer education,space calculator and customer profile.

What Does This Mean for Owners?

For self-storage owners, the service provides an electronic marketplace wherethey can post up-to-date information on available inventory, specials and otheraspects of their facility. Owners will also be able to accept electroniccredit-card reservations and ongoing payments online. Special features forowners include: participation options, instantaneous sales transactions,inventory control, facility-management features, Internet specials andpromotions, reservation and payment management, and online banner advertising.

What if You Already Have a Website?

Online Self Storage integrates into a facility's existing website,registering online rentals as a part of the company. The service offers embeddedwebsites a "competition free" session. Figure 1 indicates the flow webusers experience, depending on how onlineselfstorage.com is accessed. Thisprocess is "seamless" to the prospective self-storage tenant.

What Are Potential Drawbacks?

One of the current challenges of this system is that the spaces an owneroffers for online booking must be manually conveyed or "uploaded" intothe reservation system. Online Self Storage is developing application interfacesthat will automate this process, but this feature is currently not available.

The only other drawback is that you do not "own" the customer oncehe is in the Online Self Storage reservation system; that is to say, you arestill competing with other storage properties. This risk is somewhat mitigatedby the search system. We know self-storage is location-sensitive, that thestorage customer wants to store within close proximity to his home or business,and that he will likely choose a self-storage facility first by location, thenby price and availability. If your product is priced properly and you are givingproper descriptions and features online, you have the best opportunity tocapture the prospective customer.

Is It Expensive?

Initial discussions with the developer about pricing indicate the start-upcost may be a one-time fee less than $500, with per-rental charges around $10.

A Final Thought

Access to a reservation system of this sophistication level is a definiteboon for the self-storage operator. The cost of developing such a system isprohibitive. By sharing it with other operators, an owner can have almost all ofthe features with very little downside. This product is of such low risk, everyfacility with space available to rent should consider participating.

For more information, call 877.301.4635, or contact the author at561.367.9241.

RK Kliebenstein of Coast-to-Coast Storage is an industrywide author andpublic speaker on technology and tools to help storage operators compete in thischallenging marketplace. For more information on how your first- orsecond-generation facility can beat state-of-the-art competitors, contactCoast-To-Coast Storage toll-free at 877.622.5508.

FIGURE 1
Customer Enters
www.onlineselfstorage.com
Searches for facility
Searches for unit
Reserves unit
Pays online
Customer returns to
www.onlineselfstorage.com

Customer Enters
www.yourwebsite.com 
Searches for unit
Reserves unit
Pays online
Customer returns to
www.yourwebsite.com

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