As a self-storage owner or manager, you likely spend a healthy amount of time seeking ways to improve your operation. The right facility-management software can help, particularly if you have more than one site and a growing staff.
Even if you’re already using a software program, you don’t have to be complacent. Do your current product and supplier provide the same level of value as when you first made your purchase? Have they continued to develop new features to keep up with industry evolution?
In an unstable economic climate like the one we’re currently experiencing, good technology can help you enjoy a better return on your self-storage investment. Let’s explore the types of management software available, the features to expect, the benefits it offers and guidance for choosing the right program.
Why Management Software?
To begin your decision-making process, you need to understand what you and your self-storage business will get from a management-software product. At its core, a program should provide useful features to help you operate your property more efficiently. Any one you choose should at least cover the basics, like tenant, occupancy and payment management. Today’s options are almost unrecognizable compared to their predecessors from a decade or even just a few years ago. They’ve evolved to become faster and easier to use.
Software providers on the cutting edge are focusing their efforts on making every touchpoint easy for self-storage managers and tenants to navigate. They know their product shouldn’t create any friction when it comes to fulfilling the functions of the business. Everything from paying a bill to changing an account or adding/removing somebody from access control should be simple and seamless.
Most available software options in this industry fall into two categories: cloud-based or onsite/cloud hybrid. Let’s explore them further.
The newest self-storage software is cloud-based. It’s hosted on an offsite server so you can access it through any internet browser. A cloud-based program offers the most flexibility due to its ability to run on almost any machine, whether it’s a desktop computer or a mobile device like a tablet. That means it doesn’t matter what operating system your computer is using, and you can access the software from anywhere, so long as you have web access. It’s also adaptable in terms of the types of third-party systems with which it can integrate.
The one significant drawback is this type of software relies on a web connection. If the internet goes out, you won’t be able to access it. Tethering to the web through your mobile device can help in this scenario.
Onsite/Cloud Hybrid Software
A hybrid software system is usually older. The program is housed on a physical computer or other device in your self-storage management office, but it’s been updated to include some cloud-based features. For example, you may have the ability to log in remotely to access certain parts of the software.
The good news is that because the software is local, you’ll still be able to use it even during an internet outage. On the other hand, an onsite device is necessary. You’ll need to devote a computer or tablet and some space to it, and those can be susceptible to power outages.
Features to Expect
Regardless of the management software you’re using at your self-storage facility, every program should offer some form of integration that’ll allow you to take customer payments, at a minimum. You should also have tools to help you manage your tenants and unit inventory. But there’s so much more available today beyond these essentials, so choose a system that offers multiple options and a provider that continuously develops new features to help you run your business more efficiently. Here are some possibilities:
- Process automation: This allows you to systematize repetitive tasks that are part of your or your daily routine.
- Tenant management: These tools allow you to convert and manage customers more efficiently.
- Customizable reports: These can be programmed to cater to your specific needs and provide important data that converts into business advantages.
- Facility groupings: This allows you to categorize your properties based on various criteria, such as state, region, county and more.
- Tenant communication: These tools allow you to interact directly with tenants through calls, texts or emails.
- Application programming interface (API): A software built on an open API gives you full ownership of your data. That means you’re free to work with the most advantageous providers for your access control, payment systems, insurance systems, etc.
- Vertical integration: Many self-storage software options are horizontally integrated, which means not all functionalities are natively built. To access them, you have to log into various dashboards, which is a less efficient, less intuitive system. Vertical integration means every single function is built into the software so you can access everything you need from a single dashboard.
Discover the Benefits
Employing an industry-specific software program for your self-storage business yields many benefits. First, the system can record every single action that occurs within your operation, including every tenant who signs a lease, opens a gate or misses a payment. It’ll tell you when a unit should head to auction. It can warn you when a facility begins to underperform.
With the right product, you gain full visibility into the inner workings of your self-storage business, which means you’ll be able to react quickly when something goes wrong or take advantage of opportunities as they arise. You can parse out your data to analyze it and compare how your properties or staff members are performing. You can look at your various locations and customize actionable reports based on your findings. Being able to identify strengths and weaknesses in your management can give you a huge advantage over competitors.
Many of the features of more modern software programs add convenience for tenants, too. Some can send rental agreements and documents digitally. Tenants can sign them on their mobile device from anywhere, which makes it easier for them to complete the rental process. The easier you make it for them to buy from you, the more likely they’ll choose your business.
Ask the Right Questions
One of the best ways to find out if a self-storage software is worth using is by talking to other facility operators who are using it. Ask if their experience with the product has been favorable or if they’ve encountered issues. What they tell you may or may not be relevant to your particular business, but it can likely help you form an opinion.
You can also request a demo from the software provider. You want to ensure the product is intuitive for you and any other staff to use without much trouble.
Next, read reviews and testimonials. Often, the provider posts them on their website or social media channels. These can be a fast, easy way to see what others have said about the software.
Finally, ask your potential providers these important questions:
What kinds of data integration do you offer? Do I need to use any proprietary systems? You don’t want to spend a lot of money adding other systems to your self-storage facilities, such as access control, only to find out you’ll no longer be able to use them if you switch to a different software provider.
Will I own my data? If you ever choose to move to another software system, owning your data can make the process easier and more seamless. You want to know if it’ll cost you money to retrieve this data. It shouldn’t cost you anything if you truly own it.
If I own my data, can I use other services or market my unit inventory where I choose? You want to be wary when a software provider says, “We have partners you can use.” These companies may have financially incentivized to work with the company, and you never want a lack of choice.
You’ll find a common theme for all these questions, and it’s for good reason: Your data is one of the most valuable components of your self-storage business and not all facility-software providers give you ownership of it. If you were to leave that provider, for whatever reason, you want to make sure you’d be able to walk away with all the valuable data they’ve collected while you worked with them.
Avoid These Mistakes
The most important mistake to avoid when choosing a self-storage management software is picking one based solely on price. Any product with a low monthly cost may come with hidden fees and possibly even rules about which third-party providers you can use. You need to evaluate the cost of running the system as a whole, including the expense to integrate with other products.
It’s critical to have a clear idea of exactly what it is you need in a self-storage software program before you begin looking. Do your research and ask questions of any potential provider to ensure the system you choose will be a perfect fit for your needs now and in the future.
Eric Gandarilla is the lead content writer for Tenant Inc., a Newport Beach, Calif.-based developer of real estate technology and services. The company’s platform is designed to create customizable solutions for self-storage operators, including property-management software, website technology, digital-marketing services and more. For more information, call 949.894.4500.