After much research and debate, you’ve added technology to your self-storage operation. Now the challenge is keeping up with the latest innovations. Which tools should you be using today? Read about recent trends as well as pros and cons, and get advice from experts in the business.

Rachel French, Freelance Content Writer

March 9, 2024

7 Min Read

It’s 2024, and self-storage operators are riding high on a wave of technology, embracing a variety of tools and resources that are enabling them to better serve their customers and run a more efficient and profitable business. But innovation evolves quickly, and it’s hard to keep track of the latest trends and developments. How will you avoid a wipeout?

In this article, we’ll look at the most recent technology innovations in market as well as the perks and pain points involved in technology use. I’ve also solicited advice from industry experts on keeping up with trends and evaluating your business needs.  

New technology trends are constantly hitting the self-storage industry. Among the most recent are solutions driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and remote-management tools. AI testing is ongoing in the areas of reputation management, social media posting and customer service. “AI is here to stay, and operators need to be smart on how they adapt AI into their technology roadmap,” says Alyssa Parker, senior vice president of real estate for William Warren Group, which operates 314 facilities under the StorQuest Self Storage brand.

Many operators are eager to give AI a try. There are tools today that can predict demand for storage units in a particular area, create competitive pricing by collecting data from competing companies, and assist with marketing strategies, points out David Doget, revenue manager at SKS Management LLC, which provides third-party management to 29 locations.

Remote facility management is another popular trend. “Operators have finally woken up to the fact that they don’t need a manager on site eight hours a day, which leads to lower operating costs,” says Robert Chiti, CEO of OpenTech Alliance Inc., a provider of kiosks, call-center services and other technology for the self-storage industry. Self-storage REIT Public Storage Inc. has seen a 40% reduction in labor annually per location using kiosk technology, he adds.

The flexibility afforded by technology is what allows the managers of North Carolina-based American Storage South to work remotely and oversee multiple facilities at once, according to Mason Shaw, director of operations. The company’s platform maintains the human element of customer service by enabling managers to greet and assist people in real time using two-way video.

“The data points we can harvest from these interactions allow us to understand busy days/times/weeks of the month, provide real-time feedback to managers, and gauge our in-person conversion rate in a way that we were not doing before,” Shaw says.

Just bear in mind that while remote-management technology can decrease labor costs and yield other benefits, it isn’t without drawbacks. First, it can be off-putting to customers who prefer face-to-face interaction, particularly those who are older. Further, it requires a greater reliance on technology, and operators must invest more time in staff training to use it effectively, Doget says.

Parker warns against using touchless, tech-driven services to completely supplant onsite staff. “The industry saw many fully automated facilities pop up during the pandemic that are now at least partially staffed because technology cannot 100% replace the value a tenant receives from interacting with a team member in person,” she explains. “Technology is best used to complement our human capital, but not to completely replace it in most cases.”

Security is another major area of technology focus in the self-storage industry today. Popular products include electronic door locks, unit alarms and smart cameras. American Storage South is piloting near-field communication (NFC) locks that integrate directly into the facility’s property-management software and allow for access-control without battery, Bluetooth or a network. The company plans to transition completely to this technology in 2024.

The Perks

Technology has the potential to elevate a self-storage business in a variety of ways. Improved efficiency and a smoother customer experience (CX) are among the enticing perks.

“It simplifies administrative tasks and improves the overall management of facilities,” says Jim Ross, owner of 3 Mile Storage Management, which helps clients understand their technology needs and implement new systems. He specifically cites enhanced security, increased efficiency and a better CX. Operators are especially receptive to tools that streamline operations, for example, software that integrates billing, customer communication and facility maintenance.

Shaw adds that technology can improve a facility’s data analytics, marketing strategies and digital record-keeping. When leveraged effectively, this information can be a powerful asset to any self-storage business.

For self-storage real estate investment trust Extra Space Storage Inc., which operates more than 3,600 properties including dozens of unattended sites, data is the driving force behind pricing strategies, marketing, acquisitions, feasibility and core operating metrics, according to James Hafen, senior vice president of product development. In fact, the company’s growth has been powered by “connected stores, efficient operating platforms, aggressive use of the web for customer acquisition, and data, data, data,” he says.

The information provided by technology platforms enables self-storage operators to better understand their customers and leverage that intel to market strategically and price their units dynamically, notes Parker. “This allows the ability to extend the tenant life cycle and creates referral opportunities based on a positive tenant experience.”

But the advantages of self-storage technology aren’t restricted to facility operators. They also benefit customers, whose expectations are rapidly changing.

“Tenants today are used to the everyday conveniences technology provides in other parts of their lives,” Parker says. “To capture and keep guests renting today, operators have to lower the barriers for a guest to rent and stay.” Basic expectations include online rentals, digital security and autopay.

Shaw’s tenants have shown tremendous acceptance of new technology. They enjoy engaging with staff virtually through remote-management systems and serving themselves when it’s convenient. Solutions that minimize face-to-face interaction are a preference for most consumers, but “tomorrow it will go from their preference to their demand,” Chiti says.

Tenants also appreciate enhanced security. Access-control systems and surveillance cameras can make a facility safer and better preserve the items that are being stored, “increasing customer trust and satisfaction,” Ross explains.

The Pain

Despite the many benefits of using technology in self-storage, there is a price to be paid, literally and figuratively. “The cost of technology is a considerable barrier to faster adoption,” Hafen says. Some tools are easy propositions; however, those that replace things that have traditionally been cheap and very reliable, like door hasps and locks, “hold a lot of promise but are very expensive and have considerable support costs,” he adds. Over time, he expects the costs to improve.

There’s also a battle between seamless integration and the exclusivity of private products. Self-storage operators are often expected to manage multiple-point solutions including cameras, locks, internet of things (IoT) and alarms “with proprietary elements that hinder integration over existing or shared infrastructure,” Hafen says. This can be unrealistic and hamper the broader implementation of store and customer-facing technologies.

Beyond integration and the initial investment costs, Shaw points to training requirements, maintenance and upkeep as potential pain points of implementation. While staff understand that adapting to new tool is a growing requirement, if it’s too complex, it runs the risk of lowering the adoption rate by team members, says Doget.

Evaluate Your Needs

Determining whether the latest technology releases are right for your self-storage business can be tricky. It takes due diligence. Here’s some expert advice:

  • Doget advises surveying tenants to solicit feedback on currently used items and gauge whether new tools would meet their needs. Similarly, ask your staff whether your tech is effective and how it’s being received by tenants.

  • It’s important to be flexible in adapting technology to your unique business model, Ross says, especially if you aren’t seeing the desired outcome. Take an inward look at your operation.

  • Shaw advises conducting a needs analysis to identify areas where technology can streamline tasks, reduce manual efforts and improve overall efficiency. It should evaluate customer service, security, billing and other operational processes.

  • Consider the future needs of your business. “Operators should also consider the scalability of technologies and how they align with long-term business goals,” Ross says.

  • Another strategy is to look at what’s working at other facilities and what’s happening in the industry at large. Regularly review trends and benchmarking against competitors, Ross suggests.

  • Attend self-storage conferences, talk to other operators who use technology and visit vendors, Chiti says. He also recommends visiting a supplier’s office to meet the people who’ll be providing customer support. Also, talk to the company’s clients.

Meeting the technology demands of today’s customers is increasingly critical to a facility’s success. But it can be a big investment for a self-storage operation, which is why it’s often a good idea to start small. “Walk before you run,” Chiti says. “Try the technology for a while at one facility before you install it across your portfolio.”

Rachel French is a freelance content writer and copywriter. Her background is in business-to-business media and copywriting for web applications. She’s covered a range of industries and markets including self-storage as well as financial, food and beverage, healthcare, and nutraceuticals. She previously worked for Inside Self-Storage as an intern turned associate editor.

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Freelance Content Writer

Rachel French is a freelance content writer and copywriter. Her background is in business-to-business media and copywriting for web applications. She’s covered a range of industries and markets including self-storage as well as financial, food and beverage, healthcare, and nutraceuticals. She previously worked for Inside Self-Storage as an intern turned associate editor.

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