There’s no such thing as a software that’s perfect for everyone. This is especially true in a diverse vertical market like self-storage. Originally born to simply manage units and track payments, facility-management software rapidly evolved into a central hub of operation that now goes far beyond basic processes. Advanced revenue management, tenant communication, marketing automation—there’s an unbelievable number of features and integrations offered by these once modest systems.
Along with fancy features, however, can sometimes come unwanted change. The management software you fell in love with even a few years ago may now look, feel, function or even cost much different than what you originally purchased. Troublesome updates, company mergers and rising costs are problems that can afflict software consumers in any industry. Being prepared to assess your operational needs and re-evaluate your options can save you months (or years) of headache down the line.
Whether you’ve become disenchanted with your current product or you’re just a fresh face to self-storage, here are some important factors to consider when shopping for property-management software.
Platform: Cloud-Based or Standalone?
The most fundamental question in choosing a management software is how you’d like your system to operate. There are two main platforms: standalone and cloud-based.
Standalone software though Windows or even DOS was the original format and is still used today, though it’s significantly less common. In a standalone system, your software and data are hosted locally on your computer. Backups are usually done manually and stored on the local or external hard drive.
The reason for the decline in standalone use is in part due to its vulnerabilities to malicious online attacks and the potential loss of data in the case of natural disaster. But mostly, it’s attributed to the ease and options available through the cloud.
Most industry software suppliers now offer a cloud-based product, as it has the greatest potential benefits for the end user. For example, providers host their data on proven, reliable data networks. This allows your data to be stored at a location near you, which provides for a fast, dependable software connection. It also allows your data to be duplicated on multiple servers, so it’s safe in the event of corruption or disaster. Since the software is hosted online, it’s also easier for partners to integrate their features, opening many options for users.
In the end, modern technology favors cloud software. However, in the case of an unreliable Internet connection or simple operational preferences, there are still providers that offer a standalone solution.
The Features You Need, Now and Tomorrow
You know better than anyone what you’ll require in a software program. The product you choose should fit your current needs and future goals. As you make your choice, consider whether you’d might one day like to expand your business, automate operation or include any types of specialty storage such as vehicle or wine.
If there’s even a possibility that you’ll operate more than one facility in the future, you need to evaluate each software’s multi-site functionality. While some providers have adapted workarounds for their product to clumsily operate for several locations, keep looking until you find one that seamlessly transitions through your properties. This will not only help you train new employees at each location but also diminish the potential for human error due to an improvised user interface.
When operating multiple facilities, you may want to limit access to parts of the software from onsite management via administrative controls. Used to restrict vision from certain financial reporting or rate and discount manipulation, user permissions can be a great first step in protecting your business while your attention is spread thin.
Depending on the tools at his disposal, a facility manager has a lot to handle. Too often, repetition, waste and needless steps can slow a storage operation. If you’re unwilling to look at the options available in today’s management software to facilitate, you could be hindering your business potential. When considering a product’s automation tools, we’re well beyond simple gate integrations in 2019. Consider the following:
- Kiosks and online rental tools can streamline the sales process and improve the customer experience.
- Automated reputation management not only helps to boost local search engine optimization, it has a proven positive impact on rental conversions.
- Dynamic revenue management balances your online rates by occupancy demand and can be used to automate future rate changes for existing customers by rental trends.
- Bluetooth-operated unit locks used with other rental tools provide a complete lead-to-lease rental solution with zero manager interaction.
Automation tools can be a powerful force in self-storage, so consider the options offered by the management software you choose.
Any self-storage management software should be able to handle the basic functions of renting traditional units or even selling retail merchandise like boxes and locks. But what if you wish to offer specialty types of storage? Take boat/RV storage, for example. Storing these vehicles can be an amazing revenue generator, but make sure the software you choose is up for the task.
Not all industry software is equipped to manage sales with variable pricing for items such as propane and electricity hookups, which are commonly offered alongside vehicle storage. The data you’re able to gather and store within your software is also important. In addition to the usual information you collect from a renter, you need to know about vehicle-identification numbers, insurance and registration. You should also take and save photos of any vehicles stored.
Think beyond what your facility currently offers. Might you wish to explore other profit centers down the road? There are many other ancillaries that work well with self-storage including wine storage, records storage, valet storage, truck rental, pack and ship centers, mobile storage, and others. You’ll need a software that can manage any service you offer.
Ease of Use
When purchasing new management software, always expect at least some learning curve. That’s why most providers offer a demo, so you can try it out. Doing so is the fastest way to tell if that curve is going to be a burden that’ll force you to eventually go through the selection process again or if this will be the software right for you.
This doesn’t mean you should be able to master the entire program over a weekend. Realistically, identify the five to 10 functions most expected of your software. As you’re going through the demo, play out related scenarios to test whether the program makes sense to you. Also, consider what tools the vendor offers to better assist your future learning. These might include a knowledge base, training videos, live support and webinars.
Benjamin Franklin said, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” You don’t want to overpay for software, but I strongly caution against buying it solely on the merits of low price. When I see a prominent price difference between competing products, I don’t think, “Wow, what a great deal!” I think, “Is this missing something the others have? Does it include everything I’m going to need?” Most importantly, I wonder, “How long is it going to stay at this price?”
To get to the bottom on pricing, ask for a written quote from each vendor you’re considering. Make sure it includes all the features you’re going to require and then compare. Hunt down any of those pesky asterisked sections and ask questions. Ask other users of the software if the company has a history of raising costs, too. While price should be the last consideration, it’s still an important one.
The size of your business, the types of storage you offer and your overall business goals are key to determining the right management software for you. While there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, I hope this gives you a foundation to make an educated decision.
Kevin Kerr is the marketing manager for Storage Commander Software, a Murrieta, Calif.-based supplier of the cloud-based management software for self-storage operations. To reach him, e-ma; visit www.storagecommander.com.