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Maintaining Your Self-Storage Technology: Prevention and Redundancy Are Key

As self-storage operators invest more heavily in sophisticated technology, they must also learn to properly maintain those systems. There’s no point in spending money on new tools if they don’t continue to function well and produce results! Read how 10 Federal handles this work across its portfolio of unmanned properties.

Brad Minsley

September 15, 2022

6 Min Read
Maintaining Your Self-Storage Technology

At 10 Federal, we operate 4 million square feet of self-storage across 74 facilities in 16 states. All of these properties are “unmanned” from the standpoint that there are no onsite managers, and the portfolio relies on a platform of technologies to operate through automation. Maintaining this type of business presents some unique challenges, though, not only due to the limited amount of staff available but because of the extensive number of systems required to function successfully under this model.

If we fail at maintenance, it results in a bad customer experience, such as being stuck outside of a malfunctioning gate with a moving truck and a team of hired helpers who are on the clock. An upset customer is bad news because in addition to being let down, they’re likely to share their experience with others. The worst repercussion is a negative online review. Like most self-storage operators today, we rely tremendously on internet marketing to succeed, and reviews are increasingly important.

Not only do prospective tenants base their buying decisions on reviews, platforms such as Google and even the storage industry aggregators are placing increased weight on reviews to determine page rank on searches. Therefore, it’s imperative to earn excellent customer feedback. With increased reliance on technology, maintaining our facilities to ensure a user customer experience is essential.

The suite of technologies we deploy at our facilities includes leasing kiosks, video call-center kiosks, artificial-intelligence cameras, controlled-access systems (some of which are heavily reliant on internet connectivity), thermal and humidity sensors, intercoms, and even drones we can fly remotely over a site from our headquarters. After seven years of operating unmanned facilities, we’ve learned there are two key ingredients to maintaining these critical tools: prevention and redundancy.

Preventive Measures

Prevention begins with the design of our self-storage technology systems to reduce the probability of failure. For example, when installing video cameras, we go to great lengths to protect the cabling that runs from the internet source to the equipment by placing it inside a conduit and burying it under the drive aisles. This ensures it won’t be exposed to the elements or any traffic that could damage or cut the lines.

We also install the cameras on “shepherd hooks” that elevate them above our roof lines. This puts them further out of reach of bad actors who might attempt to disable them. These measures have materially reduced camera failures and all but eliminated maintenance costs and down time.

Other upfront, preventive-maintenance investments we make include the installation of:

  • Bollards: These protect the gate keypad.

  • V-track gates: We’ve tried all kind of gates including vertical lift, cantilever, swing and V-track. In our experience, the latter is the least prone to failure. When made from heavy steel vs. aluminum, these gates sustain less damage if clipped by a car and are less susceptible to being blown off their track by high winds. If they’re damaged, steel is a lot easier to weld than aluminum. For northern locations, we install heat tape beneath the V-track to mitigate issues with snow accumulation.

  • LED lights: These not only last longer than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, they use less electricity. We typically put them on a timer rather than a photocell because we’ve found timers tend to be more reliable.

Of course, there are other aspects to preventive maintenance. Some tasks are performed in-house, while others are left to the professionals, such as regularly scheduled gate maintenance. There are just too many sensors, control boards and back-up batteries on self-storage gate systems for our teams to learn the intricacies well enough that it makes financial sense to do this work internally. Our HVAC systems are also on a scheduled contract with local vendors.

System Redundancy

We try to make every key system in our self-storage operation redundant. For example, when we acquire a property, we make sure it has two gates. If a site has a single entry point for vehicles, we tear out the existing gate and replace it with a bi-parting system, so the entrance and exit drive aisles each have their own gate that closes toward the center of the two driveways. This sometimes means the gate will retract into a unit, but it’s important enough that we’re willing to make the sacrifice. Other areas where redundancy is important include:

Internet. We’ve moved our sites from hardwired internet to dual, SIM-card cellular modems. There are 4G plans with 500 GB of data available for about $99 per month from well-known carriers. We use a device you can buy on Amazon to test which carriers have the strongest signals from a particular location. We use at least two carriers (one SIM card per carrier) and have found that our internet uptime is almost 100%.

Power. At a minimum, we recommend using universal-power-supply backup batteries to keep key systems online for several hours if the power goes out. We’re also installing solar panels to power key systems as well as entire sites in some instances.

Kiosks. We install two self-storage kiosks in each self-storage management office. Though their primary functions differ—one is for leasing, while the other works as a video call center—they can be interchanged if one goes down.

Active Monitoring

I’m excited about the future of self-storage maintenance from the standpoint of creating and/or leveraging technologies that dynamically monitor systems and send alerts if one goes down. The amount of time a system or service is offline is an important consideration to facility management.

If you rely on customers to let you know when something is offline or broken at your property, you’ve already failed at least one prospect or tenant. By using active-monitoring systems, we can learn of a malfunction as soon as it occurs and hopefully repair it before any renters are affected.

Within our self-storage operation, the camera system coupled with our provider’s platform has quickly become a central nervous system for monitoring temperature and humidity in climate-controlled buildings as well as stuck gates and doors. This is in addition to the platform being the backbone for video monitoring. We’ve also developed systems in-house to monitor kiosks, gate operators, power and the internet. I’m confident these kinds of capabilities will soon be offered by industry service providers.

The bottom line is to invest in preventive measures and redundant systems as you deploy new technologies in your self-storage operation. You’ll ultimately save yourself and your customers from headaches as well as unnecessary maintenance costs.

Brad Minsley is a co-founder of 10 Federal Storage LLC, where he leads the operations and development teams. He’s worked in the self-storage and multi-family industries since 2000, having participated in the acquisition of more than 2.5 million square feet of storage and 5,300 multi-family units. 10 Federal’s portfolio of unmanned self-storage facilities comprises more than 2 million rentable square feet. To reach Brad, call 919.977.8987, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Brad Minsley

Co-Founder, 10 Federal Cos.

Brad Minsley is a co-founder of 10 Federal Storage LLC, responsible for operations including new-technology development, acquisitions, management functions and finance. 10 Federal operates 17 unmanned facilities in the Carolinas and Virginia. For more information, visit www.10federalstorage.com.

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