It wasnt that long ago that we lived in a world of high- and low-tech businesses. Now everything is technology-based, and every job function involves technology skills of some kind.
Self-storage is no different; but as an industry, we've been slow to adopt technology, more hesitant than most to embrace it. This has to do with the roots of the business. No one built storage facilities because they wanted to run a technological enterprise. People built them because storage was a great way to create passive income with a low customer and employee touch.
Conversely, employees who work the front lines at self-storage facilities generally don't take the job to use their computer-science degrees or MBAs. Most managers are attracted to the position because they like interaction with customers, the variety of daily tasks, the opportunity to be outside part of the day, and doing some physical activity. Customer service and retail, not technology, is usually the background of successful self-storage managers.
We could be nostalgic for the good old days when no on needed to worry about any technology, or we could use tech tools to get the business where we want it to be. Owners and developers want storage to produce a passive income and yet be easy to manage. Technology can help with that. Property managers want to spend time with their customers and enjoy diverse work activities. Technology can help with that, too.
Lets take a closer look at the technology available for self-storage managers today and how it can help them be better at their jobs while pleasing upper management and investors.
Talk to Your Vendors
The first place to look for ways technology can help you is anywhere you already employ it, such as your facility-management software. Chances are youre only using the product to a very small fraction of its full potential. There could be report capabilities or other features youre not using.
Contact your vendor and ask for a tutorial or training materials. Also ask what enhancements and features theyve added since you last had training with the company. You may be surprised to see just how little youre using of the suite of tools the company developed with operators in mind. In addition, software companies continually add new features and enhancements to their products to help make a storage business easier and more efficient to manage. Some form partnerships with other vendors, adding new capabilities that could make you a knowledge worker and techie.
Ask for Time to Learn
Your superiors may not know that current times require you to be more skilled and educated about available technology and how to use it. Ask your supervisor to carve out four or five hours a week so you can study and implement new technology in which your company has already invested. You might be surprised what you find.
Most of you are probably using Microsoft Excel or Word to create customized reports or track items particular to your property. Ive been using these two programs for as long as I can remember, yet every day Im reminded of how little I actually know about them. I bet you could get your boss to pay for an online class or one at your local community-education center. The classes are inexpensive and will give you added confidence that will help you learn and implement all the great software features your current vendors offer that youre not yet using.
Im harping on learning and using software tools because there are a lot of great hardware devices that could help you. Im also harping on using your current vendors for adding technology, because as you adopt more cool and new hardware, you want to make sure youre fully integrating with your current tools. The one big caution about using technology is this: The more you use, the more your technologies will clash with one another. So try to use all of what you have to its fullest capacity, then integrate new tools as best you can.
Look for New Tools
Now lets take a look at a five cool tools. Some have been around a few years, while others are new. All can take your technology aptitude to a new level.
Your smartphone: Some of your current vendors have apps you can use to make yourself more mobile and efficient. Find out what they have to offer, then browse your app store for other things that might help you. Just a flashlight app could help when cleaning units.
Tablets: If your current PC-based system allows it, you can use a remote log-in service like LogMeIn to do your business as you travel the property. You can do a move-in on the golf cart while showing a unit, and you can bring your apps with you. You can take photos of the unit thats about to go to auction and send or file it on the go. You can load a customer survey and hand it to customers to complete.
Payment terminals: There are stripped-down PCs that can be set up at your counter to take payments. What a great way to add a customer convenience that saves you time on the busy days of the month.
Kiosks: In many markets, self-service move-ins and account management are becoming readily accepted by consumers. Maybe its time to consider one for your store. A kiosk effectively makes your office open 24/7.
- Automated door locks: If you ever wished there was a way to eliminate the hassle of removing the overlock on doors to accommodate a late-paying customer, think how easy it would be if your management software would know when to slide the automated lock open on a unit as a part of the payment transaction. No more telling people to wait until tomorrow when you have a chance to remove the overlock personally.
Then there are a host of great technologies that are available as a service through websites and package vendors for things like call tracking and monitoring, lead management, reputation management, website analytics, business intelligence, competition analysis, and consumer-market research. Its a whole new wonderful world in which we live. It takes a little adjusting and a lot of learning, but the technology allows us to make storage a passive business for its owners and an enjoyable customer-service mission for its workforce.
Go and ask your superiors now for four or five hours a week to learn about new technologies. Tell them youll report back with information about all the cool features you can add to your capabilities. Youll run a better business, and your superiors will be happier, too.
Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, an off-site sales force serving self-storage owners for more than 10 years. For more information, call 866.639.1715; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.phone-smart.net .