Contactless self-storage solutions aren’t just for bigger operators. Even those with only one or two sites can benefit greatly by adding this technology. Ray Wilson, owner of Chelan Boat Storage in Chelan, Washington, and EZ Access Storage in Rock Island, Washington, discusses his company’s journey to introduce contact-free rentals. He also shares the many ways in which his business, employees and customers have benefited.
When and why did you decide to offer contactless self-storage?
Over the past two and half years, we’ve been on a journey with contactless self-storage that has dramatically changed our business for the better. We started with mobile site access, which is delivered by Sentinel Anywhere. This gives me the ability to perform all management functions remotely from any device, anywhere in the world.
Next, we completely rebuilt and relaunched our websites to make them much more user-friendly and engaging, and provide the platform for online reservations. As part of this website relaunch, we hired a web-hosting company with experience in self-storage, social media and search engine optimization (SEO).
We relaunched our Facebook page with a completely new look and feel and weekly targeted social media ads. Next, we started publishing monthly blog posts on our website ensuring that our SEO results are better on Google searches.
What technology are you using to deliver this customer experience?
We integrated Sentinel Platinum into our websites to provide online rental, reservations and payments, giving us the ability to secure new customers and take care of existing customers online 24 hours per day, seven days per week. At the Chelan facility, we are also preparing to launch a self-service kiosk from Advanced Kiosks. The system is installed, and construction of the new kiosk structure is complete. The implementation is temporarily on hold as we wait for customer demand to resume with the next boating season. But with minimal effort, we’ll be able to turn on the system, offering one more channel for customers to engage with us in a contactless manner and during non-office hours.
What were some challenges and how did you overcome them?
These are all things I wanted to implement but had no real sense of urgency until COVID-19 struck. We had just barely begun the journey when the pandemic started, causing us to shut our offices and reimagine how we engage with customers going forward.
Fortunately, we had just launched our new website and we were in a good place to build from. With that footing, we were able to accelerate plans we had on the drawing board. What we thought was going to take us six to 12 months to implement was live and operational within three weeks! There have been a few operational issues to figure out, but by enlisting our onsite managers to help come up with solutions, those have been minor issues easily overcome.
What have been the benefits and drawbacks to your staff and customers?
What has happened to our business since then has been phenomenal. Customers are finding us online, booking reservations, making payments online and signing for automatic monthly payments, and occupancy rates are up significantly.
For the first 20 months, we operated our business in a complete contactless mode, never opening the onsite office to the public. We are now operating in a hybrid environment with onsite managers working limited office hours combined with a full contactless platform. This gives us the best of both worlds and the ability to switch to a full contactless operation in a moment’s notice any time there’s a threat in the environment or other unexpected change.