I remember how excited I was as a kid when our family bought its first car with power windows. I really thought I was living in the future by being able to control them with a flick of a button. Fast forward many years and we now have cars that can drive and park themselves, play a movie, and help us navigate. Times have changed, and so has the technology on which we’ve come to rely.
Consider self-storage management software. Its use has led to the automation of many tasks that were once performed manually—or not at all. Just a couple of decades ago, it wasn’t uncommon for operators to use paper ledgers, index-card systems and even Post-It note boards! As technology advanced, so has our desire to leverage cutting-edge tools and features.
Software is now a must in this industry. Before making a purchase, however, it’s vital to understand your options, including platforms, cost and program features. Following is some guidance to help you choose the right product and supplier for your self-storage business.
Though there are many companies offering storage-specific software now, their products really boil down to two main options:
Desktop software. The industry’s first introduction to automation was the original pre-mouse MS-DOS, and then Microsoft Windows. These systems allowed self-storage tenant records to be easily updated, and reports quickly pulled to show anything from vacancy/occupancy to current revenue trends. Perhaps most important, invoices and late notices could be automatically printed. Better still, the software could communicate with a facility’s access-control system to regulate who could come through the gate and when.
Desktop programs don’t require an Internet connection to function. The software is installed and stored on your facility computer. This solution is typically very fast, as you aren’t at the mercy of Internet speed. Plus, you always have access to your data.
Web-based software. Cloud computing has been the creeping into our lives more and more over the years. It’s changing how business is conducted and life lived. The next time you take a picture of a check for deposit using your phone, watch Netflix on your tablet or conduct a video-conference call, remember: It’s all thanks to the cloud.
The cloud has also changed self-storage management software. With a Web-based program, instead of installing an application that runs on your local computer, you simply log into a website from any Internet-enabled device. This allows multiple users to access the same data to do things like review reports, accept remote payments or check tenant balances from anywhere.
Cost is often a leading factor when it comes to choosing self-storage software. A desktop program is typically a one-time purchase. You’re buying a license to use the product at your facility for an indefinite amount of time. Updates, technical support and new features are often an additional fee.
Conversely, cloud-based software generally uses the Software-as-a-Service model, or pay-as-you-go, allowing an operator to start using the product with minimal upfront investment. The other benefit is updates and support are usually included in the monthly fee. Ask your provider if it offers any discounts for annual plans as well.
When it comes to choosing between desktop or cloud-based software, consider features and usability, as well as how the product will help your facility increase revenue and efficiency. Also consider how it’ll improve your customer experience. Software developers know that if they can build a product that pays for itself in either capacity, it’ll be an easier pick.
Current and planned features should be a driving factor in choosing software for your self-storage operation. Below are a few popular ones, plus some that aren’t quite as common but beneficial to have:
- Contactless rentals, reservations and payments
- Electronic leases/signatures
- Dynamic reporting
- Lead-management dashboard
- Text messaging
- Call monitoring
- Customizable user experience
- Payment processing (choices and options)
- Ease of switching between facilities
- Mobile apps
- Automated invoicing and delinquency processes
- Customer relationship management
- Websites and ecommerce
The term “contactless” has been used ad nauseum since COVID-19 began, but the importance of contact-free tools to self-storage owners, managers and tenants can’t be overstated. Leading software programs are accessible from any Web-enabled device, creating flexibility for staff and convenience for customers, who can now rent units, sign their lease, pay rent, upload documentation, and even generate a gate code all from the comfort of their home. Existing tenants enjoy the ability to log in to their account to pay rent or view history. These features, so critical during the pandemic, are undoubtedly going to improve and extend into our lives for years to come.
The Right Product and Vendor
Choosing the right software for your facility shouldn’t be a hasty decision. This is a tool managers will use daily and owners routinely. You don’t want to invest in a program only to discover a few weeks into the switch that basic functions like payments, move-ins, etc., aren’t as easy, quick or as intuitive as you thought they would be.
When vetting options, ask if there’s a trial period in which you can test the software with your actual data. Run it side by side with your existing program. Duplicating a normal work week in the new software (called double-entry) may seem tedious, but it’s a way to ensure the program works the way you expect.
Selecting a provider is another important decision. Your management software will be the backbone of day-to-day operation. As such, it’s critical to understand what your business needs now, and what it may need in the future.
So, how do you pick a software? I’ve found one thing to be true: No two self-storage operators run their facility the same way! What works best for ABC Storage might not be right for XYZ Storage. Here are few things to consider when comparing programs:
- How long has the company been in business? Is its focus self-storage, or is our industry just one of several it serves? This may tell you how resources will be allocated to new features, customer support and so on.
- Does the company offer tiered service? Can you start at a basic plan now and upgrade later?
- What’s included? Take into consideration all the features your facility will use. If one company offers something another doesn’t, what would be the cost to add that feature via an integration?
- Consider relative value. How much time will a program save you daily, and how much is that worth? Likewise, how many “units” does it need to help you rent per year to pay for itself?
- How will your new software and its associated features and integrations improve the tenant experience?
Management software has the potential to make or break your self-storage operation. So, take your time, do your research, and choose the program and provider that best fit your needs.
April Lee works in sales and marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a provider of security and software solutions for the self-storage industry. She’s been with the company since 2008, working on various capacities including accounting and technical support. Her experience managing a 27-acre storage and parking facility helped give her hands-on experience, a foundation on which she draws daily. For more information, call 800.321.1987.