For many self-storage operators, offering contactless rentals was originally a way to capture sales when the management office was closed. However, the coronavirus pandemic has shifted the customer mindset about when and how they interact with businesses. Derek Walker, executive vice president of Storage of America, which operates 24 self-storage facilities in five states, explains why his company has embraced technology that allows for contract-free transactions and why he believes it’s here to stay.
When and why did you decide to offer contactless self-storage?
We've had full-service kiosks at our facilities pretty much since the technology first became available. The first one went in around 2006. We now have them at all our operating facilities. We added the ability to rent via phone shortly thereafter and online rentals a few years after that.
Storage of America in Kimball, Michigan
The original motivation was to capture as many rentals and payments after hours as possible, though now contactless-rental options are quickly becoming the preferred way to rent, especially as my fellow Millennials make up a larger share of our renters. This probably goes without saying, but our contactless rental and payment options saved us during the early COVID-19 days.
What were some challenges and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is getting our tenants to trust the technology. To many, storage rentals is something you do in person. We're trying to lovingly show them that just about everything they can do with a manager in the office can be accomplished online or on our kiosk. As the world has become more contactless, especially with COVID-19, this has become much easier.
What technology are you using to deliver this customer experience?
Kiosks and online rentals.
What have been the benefits and drawbacks to your staff and customers?
For staff, originally the prospect of increasing our contactless options can be seen as a threat. But it usually doesn't work out that way. In most cases, having contactless rental options allows managers more time to market and maintain the property.
The kiosk at Storage of America in Kimball, Michigan
What advice would you offer to fellow operators who’d like to make the switch?
You don't know what you're missing out on until you try. Since kiosks can be expensive, I'd recommend starting small. Online rentals are a pretty easy way to start.