Being Smart About Self-Storage Software: Advice for Choosing and Using Today's Advanced Platforms

Self-storage management software keeps evolving to meet the needs of facility operators and customers. Whether you’re looking to buy a new package or maximize your existing program, the following advice from industry providers will guide you in making the best choices.

Amy Campbell, Senior Editor

February 25, 2016

10 Min Read
Being Smart About Self-Storage Software: Advice for Choosing and Using Today's Advanced Platforms

When self-storage management software first came on the scene, its main purpose was to move tenants in and out of their units. While this remains a core function, today’s platforms offer so much more. Advanced features run the gamut from revenue-management tools to mobile capabilities. Today’s programs work seamlessly with hardware and other technology tools, such as call centers and kiosks. This progression provides many benefits to self-storage operators and customers.

“These days, storage operators seek flexibility in their smart management software. The days of offering only the services your software provides and asking operators to do everything else on the side are gone,” says Chuck Vion, marketing director for SiteLink, the provider of SiteLink Web Edition. “Owners expect end-to-end seamless integrated services and service offerings for their customers.”

Whether you’re looking to purchase new software or maximize your existing program, the following advice from industry providers will guide you in making the best choices.

Feature-Rich Programs

Management programs handle many of the day-to-day functions you’d expect, such as moving in tenants, communicating with the access-control system, and offering built-in accounting and payment processing. However, today’s products go way beyond these basics.

“With the recent technology advancements, operators are seeking nothing less than the total package,” says Kevin Kerr, marketing and sales coordinator for Empower Software, which offers Storage Commander cloud-based and standalone software. “The ideal software should be a woven tapestry that addresses the needs of both management and owners with diverse features, enhanced security and an intuitive user interface.”

Most current programs offer some or all of the following features:

  • Real-time analytics

  • Digital leases and electronic-signature capabilities

  • Online billpay and reservations

  • Price-optimization tools

  • Detailed management and marketing reports

  • Lead-generation tools

  • Integration with other technology

However, one of the biggest things to happen in management software in recent years is mobile. As more customers seek self-storage via the Internet, operators have recognized the need to offer more services and information directly from their websites. These include directions, rates, unit availability, reservations and billpay.

“Management-software programs are shifting toward allowing customers to complete many actions that they previously needed to rely on self-storage managers to complete,” says Amy Daniels, content manager for storEDGE, which offers a suite of technology solutions.

Some operators have incorporated mobile capabilities into their sales interactions at the property level as well. “Today’s consumers demand a quick and convenient experience every time they interact with your company. Because of that, it’s imperative you have a management-software system that can be utilized on portable tablets for when customers are onsite at your property, and seamlessly extended to websites and mobile apps for when they’re at home,” says Mark Smith, director of self-storage product marketing at Yardi, which provides software systems for real estate management, including self-storage. “The ability to walk the site with your customers and actually rent them a storage unit from a tablet in your hand is something that most customers would reasonably expect to see, given their experiences in other industries.”

In addition, district and site managers as well as owners—particularly those who have more than one property—are tapping into mobile technology to keep tabs or even operate their facilities remotely. Many programs offer the ability to remotely view a property’s video feed, operate the security gate, review real-time data and even overlock units from any mobile-connected device.

Before You Buy

With so many options, it can be overwhelming to choose the right software platform for your business. “Historically, the axiom for management software was ‘functionality, ease of use, low price—choose two.’ That isn’t necessarily the case anymore,” Smith says. “Operators must not only choose the best fit for them today, but also ensure there’s a migration path for future growth when they inevitably add more properties.”

First, know what features you’re seeking in a program. Which platform type do you prefer? If you’re looking for remote capabilities, for example, a standalone package won’t suit. However, if all operations will be performed on site, this platform can be more cost-efficient.

“Most of our customers come to us with a list of requirements, which includes must-haves, nice-to-haves, customer references and quality integrations. It’s important to speak with the software providers to understand how your specific requirements can be met,” Vion says.

Self-Storage Software Poll***Next, do your homework. “Research and review the products that are available. Ask about interface with other programs for self-storage access control and credit card processing,” suggests John Fogg, general manager for Sentinel Systems Corp., a provider of security and software components for the self-storage industry.

Integration with existing and future technology-based services and products is an important factor to consider. While the majority of software programs have longed worked seamlessly with a storage property’s security hardware—door alarms, gates and keypads—today’s systems also function in tandem with other platforms, even those from other vendors. This includes accounting and payment-processing programs, call centers, lead-generation software, kiosks, tenant-insurance programs, third-party directories, and others.

“Communication between your software and other aspects of your operation is crucial and should not be overlooked while choosing a management solution,” Kerr says. “From the very basic level of regulating gate entries to the more advanced operations such as scanning and storing digital images of checks directly into a tenant’s history, make sure your software will grow with the advancements of technology as they progress.”

Most software providers offer demos so you can try before you buy. Narrow the list of selections to a preferred few based on your operational needs, then test these with real-life scenarios, Kerr advises. “This will give insight on the ease of use and possible limitations of the software at hand.”

Sampling multiple programs also allows you to get a feel for each company’s level of customer service. “A bad experience in the beginning stages can be a red flag for more bad experiences to come,” Daniels says. “Meanwhile, a positive interaction with a helpful, attentive and knowledgeable representative can be extremely telling of a company’s values.”

While the program’s initial and ongoing costs should be a consideration in the decision-making process, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor.Also think about the overall value of the program, ease of use, how it will help your business grow and whether it takes advantage of new mobile technologies, says Randy Fountain, business development consultant for QuikStor Security & Software, a provider of industry products since 1987.

“A complete package should provide everything you need to efficiently run your facility including offsite management, online payments and rentals, Web access, unlimited technical support, and more,” Fountain says. “It should be easy to use and provide managers and owners with valuable information at their fingertips.”

Self-Storage Tech-Support Poll*** 

Chip Technology and Other Security

Credit card security has long been a cornerstone to a quality software program, but much has changed in recent years. Seek software that meets the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS), an information security standard defined by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. The standards cover all aspects of cardholder data in a system and include card data entry, processing and secure payment applications.

“The PCI DSS Level 1 Certification brings peace of mind to operators with the understanding that external auditors have certified the software products after the most stringent security audit,” Vion says.

Another innovation from the credit industry is EMV (Europe, MasterCard and Visa) technology. This involves the use of integrated circuit cards, known as IC cards or “chip cards,” which digitally sign each transaction with a unique stamp that can’t be replicated. They make each transaction distinct. Last October, the liability for fraudulent transactions moved from card issuers to merchants if an EMV card is presented for payment and it’s swiped or entered manually.

“With the EMV liability shift, the industry has now moved to a more secure standard of payment processing ready for pin and chip cards,” Kerr says. “This has also opened up avenues for online virtual terminals and increased payment options such as Google Wallet and Apple Pay.”

Many software programs also use “tokenization,” which is the process of substituting sensitive card-holder data with a non-sensitive equivalent or token. “With credit card fraud becoming more and more prevalent, storage owners want all the credit card security they can get,” says Ramona Taylor, president of Space Control Systems Inc., a provider of management software for the storage industry.

Maximizing Your Existing Program

If upgrading to new software isn’t in your immediate plans, make sure you’re using your existing platform to its full potential. “Many single-store owners feel they’re too small for many of the services that software programs offer,” Vion says. “Too often, owners focus only on the cost and underestimate the benefit built-in features and service integrations offer in a software program. The truth is, for active owners who wear many hats in their organization, process efficiency and automation can have a dramatic effect on profitability.” He suggests focusing on these tools:

  • Revenue management

  • Online-reservation capabilities

  • Call-center integration

  • Customer-relationship-management capabilities

  • Notification services such as mail centers and SMS (short message service)

Rate-management modules are one of the most powerful software tools many operators have yet to embrace, Smith says. “Not only are most operators leaving significant dollars on the table, but would likely be shocked to learn that storage customers’ price-sensitivity thresholds are a lot higher than they think. The ability to dynamically analyze and adjust rates as market demands fluctuate yields enormous returns.”

Operators also have the ability to customize their software’s rate-management modules. “They can choose rate increases and decreases for occupied and unoccupied units based on occupancy rates, customers’ length of stay, and much more,” Daniels says. “Regardless of how much an operator feels comfortable charging customers, yield management is an often under-utilized method for tracking and optimizing facility value.”

Many operators also fail to tap into their program’s processing and marketing capabilities. This might include batch-payment features, adding notes to a master calendar, assigning maintenance tasks, and even group e-mail functions. “E-mail is free and could be used for marketing,” says Taylor, who suggests sending current tenants a coupon for referrals.

One reason operators might not be embracing these functions is a lack of knowledge or hesitancy to change protocols. Implementing no-cost features such as online payments or using a software program’s automatic rate-change tool might seem risky to those who don’t completely trust technology, Kerr says. “In these cases, both features would most likely have a benefit effect on the facility as a whole, but change will always be hard for some.”

The Future

There’s really only one certainty about the future of self-storage management software—it will continue to evolve as operators’ needs change and customers demand more services. “Although self-storage is not brain surgery, new technology will trickle down to influence software and devices for the future,” Fogg says.

Look for more programs to incorporate additional rich features to make repetitive tasks simpler, provide secure remote capabilities and offer new online modules. “Self-storage management software is constantly evolving with the demand to meet new requirements and to integrate with new industry partners,” Kerr says. “The future will only knit these relationships closer together to bring a better user experience and increased profitability for each operator.”

As more technology-based companies enter the storage marketplace, operators will continue to see a change in product integration as well. “As software providers grow to better understand the needs of their customers, many will expand their product lines to cover several aspects of facility operations,” Daniels says. “This shift means that operators may soon need to rely on fewer vendors than they previously needed.”

While management software is one of a property’s smallest investments, it has the greatest impact on the entire business. “A software solution that suits your facility well can improve your management’s productivity and yield a higher return of investment that assists in success in your market,” Kerr says. “Conversely, choosing the wrong type of software can halt operations, decrease management morale and, ultimately, leave a burning hole in your budget. Taking the time to research software products will guarantee you and your team have all the tools available to you to succeed.”

About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Senior Editor, Inside Self Storage

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