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Is Remote Management for You? Learn the Benefits and Drawbacks for Self-Storage Operators

Remote management is gaining ground in the self-storage industry, as it offers many benefits—not only for facility owners, but for their employees and tenants, too. Still, there are some operational hurdles to consider. Read about the primary advantages and disadvantages, so you can decide whether this business model can work for you.

February 2, 2024

7 Min Read

By ISS Staff

Remote management is a hot topic in the self-storage industry as more and more operators move to this business model or at least consider running their facility without full-time, onsite staff. The idea behind it is that technology allows employee time to be used more efficiently. In some cases, a single manager oversees more than one property, perhaps with the help of a call center that specializes in sales and customer service, and a website and kiosk to help fill in the gaps.

Why are so many self-storage owners drawn to remote management? The biggest catalysts are personnel costs and staff shortages. It’s an employee’s market right now. Job seekers have great negotiating leverage and opportunities for higher pay. There’s simply more competition for labor and upward pressure on wages.

But on top of all that, there’s much more technology available in the industry today. Ten years ago, there was only one kiosk option for remote management. Today, there are a host of slick tools, including modern kiosks, Bluetooth-enabled locks, smartphone access controls and off-site motion-monitored cameras. There are also third-party companies that offer turnkey facility-conversion services.

In addition, consumers are much more open to buying goods and services without human interaction since the coronavirus pandemic. Most are adept at using a kiosk at grocery and retail stores, for example, as well as the airport, and even their local McDonald’s. Shoppers of all generations are growing more comfortable when buying goods and services online, too.

Now that you know the reasons why remote management is worth considering for your self-storage operation, let’s look at the primary advantages and hurdles.

The Benefits

For owners. The most obvious owner benefit of pursuing a remote-management model in self-storage is the ability to reduce staff count and payroll, thereby improving net operating income (NOI). In a traditional model, you’d need to four to five managers to oversee 250,000 square feet of storage space. In a remote model, you only need one or two, depending on the location of the facilities. Fewer employees make for fewer human-resources headaches as well.

In a remote operation, you can hire employees with a more concise area of specialty, too. The manager of a traditional site is a jack-of-all-trades, responsible for sales, customer service, collections, repairs and maintenance, property upkeep, pricing, and marketing. Alternatively, the manager of a remote facility focuses more on physical maintenance and repairs. They have minimal contact with customers, as a dedicated call center, kiosk and website handle much of the sales and customer service. In this way, roles are better aligned with employee skills.

Remote management also offers a competitive advantage when attempting to purchase or sell a self-storage facility. Higher NOI makes an asset more attractive, facilitating the hunt for investors or loans. It also draws stronger potential buyers.

For employees. Staff of remotely managed self-storage facilities report that they’re far happier performing the day-to-day operation of the site, free from interaction with upset customers and collections calls. The job also takes the employee out from behind a desk and allows them to be more hands-on with property maintenance. An additional benefit is weekends off, something not usually available under the onsite manager model.

For customers. In the end, your prospects and tenants receive a more consistent, predictable self-storage experience. The website and kiosk-reservation system are streamlined and automated to make the rental process as simple as possible. Users can choose their space, schedule a move-in or -out, make a payment, or speak with a person, all on their own schedule. Ultimately, customers have more agency to make decisions when it’s convenient for them.

Meanwhile, experienced call-center agents, who have encountered nearly every customer-service scenario, provide a consistently pleasant interaction. Conversely, the experience encountered with an onsite manager can vary based on the person, their mood, their lunch and break schedule, the number of customers in the office, and many other factors.

The Challenges

Benefits aside, there can be significant hurdles to converting a traditional self-storage operation to remote management. Let’s look at what they are.

Infrastructure needs. For starters, you need a way to capture walk-in rentals, so a kiosk is mandatory. You need reliable electricity and internet to the machine itself, and you may want to modernize your management office (aka “leasing center”). If your office is behind the access gate, you may need to reconfigure it. You’ll need an off-site customer-service team, generally in the form of a call center. Finally, communication between any remaining site staff, the call center and customers must be seamless, so your management software must be fully integrated with all platforms to allow information to flow in real time.

Lack of personal touch. The sales process is limited in a remotely managed operation. An onsite manager can show a self-storage prospect empty units to ensure they choose the correct size. They can also point out the property’s features and benefits in person. The rental is much more hands-off when there’s no one in the office. You must rely much more heavily on your website content and call-center support.

This lack of face-to-face interaction can also make it difficult to vet prospects. An onsite self-storage manager provides the first level of rental gatekeeping. If a customer seems difficult or likely to cause problems, it’s easy to deflect trouble. This level of screening isn’t possible with remote management. Further, there’s no solution for those demanding, high-touch tenants.

Task backlog. In a remotely managed self-storage environment, a manager may only visit the site in person every few days, which can create a delay in physical tasks such as facility walk-throughs, overlocks and general site maintenance. Keeping up with vacant units can be more difficult, too. Some operators will put a hold on move-outs until the tenant submits a photo of their clean, empty unit. They’ll charge a fee to those who don’t meet facility requirements.

Customer preferences. Some self-storage tenants simply prefer to work with onsite staff. To help you get around this need, some third-party management companies offer virtual property managers accessible through two-way video technology.

Payment limitations. Cash is not king with remote self-storage management. In fact, depending on the tools you have available, cash handling may not even be possible. Customers will have to pay via credit card, debit card or ACH.

Security. A strong investment in self-storage security is a must. Some customers believe a remotely managed facility is more vulnerable to break-in, but the vast majority of these crimes occur after hours, when there wouldn’t normally be staff on site anyway. Modern cameras powered by artificial intelligence can be used to remotely monitor for movement after hours. provide audible communication to ward off anyone with illicit intentions, and alert the authorities.

Get Started, but Cautiously

If you’re thinking about converting your self-storage facility to remote management, try renting a unit at a competing property that already offers it. Make a reservation on their website, interact with the kiosk and call center, and see how the tools interact. Drive to the site to see what security it has. This’ll give you a sense of the full tenant experience.

Also, talk with existing remote operators. Does the technology overcome off-site management challenges? Do vendors troubleshoot problems in a timely manner? Do their customers like the model? Do your due diligence.

There are many industry vendors that offer the tools necessary to remotely manage a self-storage facility, but you’ll need time and energy to shop for products and services and vet all providers. From software, kiosks and call centers to access control, security monitoring and automated collections, do the homework, ask lots of questions and invest wisely.

If this sounds too complicated, you can always hire a third-party management company with expertise in remote facility operation. They offer various degrees of service.

Some self-storage operators believe the remote-management model only words in low-density, low-traffic markets; but the reality is that changing demographics, normalization of ecommerce and very real cost savings will slowly shift the industry in that direction. It’s the future of the business!

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