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Self-Storage Managers Share Straight Talk on Using Industry Technology

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Self-storage operational teams are acclimating to a variety of new technology these days. In this candid Q&A, managers reveal what they like about it, what they don’t, pros and cons, and what they wish new tools could do for them.

The self-storage industry has enjoyed a wave of new technology in recent years, and facility managers are at the forefront of putting these tools to work. What do they really think about all this innovation?

We asked for their honest perspectives, including the perks they enjoy, the challenges they’ve faced, what they do and don’t like, and more. They also shared what they wish technology could do, in a perfect world, to improve the staff and customer experience.

More self-storage owners are investing in facility technology. As a manager, how do you feel about the new tools you’re being asked to use?

I enjoy the new technology. It’s exciting to operate the needs of the business with new or improved ways. It has its moments of frustration if it isn’t working properly or [there’s a] lack of knowledge of a system or program. It’s helpful when it allows you to complete a task faster and without errors.
―Brittney Accardo, Mt. Olive Storage, Duarte, Calif.

New technology is exciting! For some, I can see where it may be overwhelming. Having to learn a new system, new gadgets—many are set in their ways and find “new” to be stressful. As long as there’s good support for those who do not welcome new gadgets and technology and training that comes with it, I feel new technology is wonderful! It makes the day-to-day processes easier, more efficient, appealing and interesting.
―Jolene Acevedo, Devon Self Storage, El Paso, Texas

This is exciting! This is an ever-evolving world, and I feel that the companies/properties that keep up with the latest technology are the ones that have more success. I believe the advancements in operating software and security systems, in particular, can only improve your product and help you shine over your competitors.
―Danni Blake, Simply Self Storage, Seattle

Hands down, I feel investing in technology to a fast-growing industry is a must, and it's exciting. A management-software program really is a one-stop hub for me. Our state-of-the-art gate system has technologies to not only help customers enter and exit, it’s designed to help me manage my job better with peace of mind. Owners investing in technologies have higher revenue growth, in my opinion. Consumers want technology for its convenience and orderly fashion.
―Connie Cerda, Thunderbird Mini Storage, Peoria, Ariz.

I always find new technology to be exciting. I’m always researching on my own to see what may be coming down the pipeline for the industry and usually bringing it to owners before they’re even aware of it. The owners who don’t embrace change and adapting to the times are the ones who, in my opinion, are going to end up staying small scale or bought out by the bigger operators eventually.
―Kenneth Coker, Stockton, Calif.

My prior experience stems from retail and technology. I couldn’t be more excited that our facility owners have been investing in ways to improve the technology of many things, from our security to our everyday business operations. As soon as I heard our company was making an effort to go paperless, I could not wait to dive in and learn about the new tools at our disposal.

We started this journey in 2019, and thankfully so, due to the obstacles of the 2020 pandemic. To say that it’s been helpful is an understatement. It’s interesting because even though I’m excited, the excitement isn’t the same as [that of] our customers. They’re already used to this technology from all the other industries they involve themselves with. This is the norm now, and to have the storage industry meet our customers’ technological expectations is great!
―Ruben Elenes, Encinitas Self Storage, Encinitas, Calif.

I personally love to get involved in technology, as I am a tech-type person. It makes it easier to stay organized and keep things uniform/automated where they should be.
―Jessica Kimball, Devon Self Storage, Greenville, Texas

Has your owner invested in tech tools for your site? If so, which ones, and how well have they worked for you thus far?

We work with computers, security cameras, gate systems, printers and more. They work great. The issues we have are usually not with the devices or tools but the programs we use—the networks or the Internet not working properly.
―Brittney Accardo, Mt. Olive Storage, Duarte, Calif.

Besides RingCentral being convenient for us to answer calls while in the field or away from the office, which I find very beneficial to us and customers, my favorite tool is having the customers sign their leases with an email link or in the office electronically. I love the idea of not needing to keep paper leases, and everything being online and in the system, right there and easy to access.
―Jolene Acevedo, Devon Self Storage, El Paso, Texas

They have. We use Sitelink, Storlogix Cloud, Insomniac Live, storEdge, SpareFoot and other industry technologies.
―Connie Cerda, Thunderbird Mini Storage, Peoria, Ariz.

With my last company, no, as they were pretty old-school and still relied on faxes for pretty much all communication. Personally, I’ve invested in a good drone, endoscope camera and a Segway, as these are just a few of the tech items that help me in my job.
―Kenneth Coker, Stockton, Calif.

One recent addition has been making a tablet available for business use. This enables us to help customers make a payment, check a due date or sign an electronic lease from anywhere on the property. Our cameras have been upgraded to HD quality, so we’re able to keep our property safe and see things with perfect clarity. Our alarm systems have been upgraded to be more autonomous so customers can enter the property earlier in the morning and stay later at night. These changes have been difficult but have helped our facility tremendously.
―Ruben Elenes, Encinitas Self Storage, Encinitas, Calif.

We use QuikStor, which is a self-storage program. It helps us in several different ways, including past dues, rent increases, access to the facility, etc.
―Kris Fetter, Newcastle Heated Storage, Newcastle, Wash.

Yes, we’ve worked with tablets to help make our rentals easier. We’ve incorporated Microsoft Teams and SiteLink Lead Alert, along with RingCentral desktop and mobile app to help us catch all incoming calls. They’ve all worked out well.
―Jessica Kimball, Devon Self Storage, Greenville, Texas

What do you find the most beneficial and the most challenging about using industry technology?

To me, it seems we all want to complete more work in a shorter amount of time. Technology allows for this to happen. However, when the devices we use give us trouble, I wish we still had a paper and pen way to get things done. It seems when in a pinch you can only get so far nowadays with old-school ways.
―Brittney Accardo, Mt. Olive Storage, Duarte, Calif.

The most beneficial thing about technology is ease and organization. Having tools ready and at your fingertips—not having to go to a different location or be unavailable. You can access customer information out of the office by using Web platforms and answer calls while away from the office. We don’t feel so chained to the office and can concentrate on the day-to-day tasks on the property, while still providing superior customer service.
―Jolene Acevedo, Devon Self Storage, El Paso, Texas

Most challenging: We’re so reliant on the technologies we have that when something goes down, we’re left scrambling to find ways to accommodate. Often, it’s in ways that we were trying to avoid in the first place and why we have these systems, such as security keypads, DVR systems, etc. Often, we can’t fix them ourselves as easily or quickly as we would like, and then our buildings are potentially left exposed for extended periods of time.

Most beneficial: It takes a fraction of the time than it used to to rent a unit or research an incident. It’s much quicker and easier to do our job in general. Efficiency is always going to be a huge benefit.
―Danni Blake, Simply Self Storage, Seattle

Everything has a smart purpose and I enjoy the features. The only downside is glitches happen, and updates have hiccups sometimes.
―Connie Cerda, Thunderbird Mini Storage, Peoria, Ariz.

When it’s good technology that has a proper purpose, it’s typically beneficial in a time-saved aspect, which allows more time to work on other items for the site. The usual challenging aspects are when a company rolls something out that isn’t properly tested and full of bugs, which causes more headaches than it’s worth.
―Kenneth Coker, Stockton, Calif.

The challenge is to show how the improved technology is more beneficial than former procedures, which have been considered by some to be tried and true. This applies to owners and coworkers alike because any change can be difficult. Once the change takes effect, the benefits are clear and lasting.

Take, for example, text messaging. It has been around for a long time, although it’s use is not yet a technology standard throughout the storage industry. Our facilities implemented a text-messaging service that has helped the business tremendously. I’ve found customers would much rather receive a text message than a phone call. Our collections with past-due customers have reduced due, in part, to improved customer communication with texting.
―Ruben Elenes, Encinitas Self Storage, Encinitas, Calif.

The most beneficial is keeping track of tenants, including their access to the facility, which helps keep our facility secure and assures that there are no issues.
―Kris Fetter, Newcastle Heated Storage, Newcastle, Wash.

The most beneficial is that it allows us to keep in closer communication with our coworkers and tenants, and keeps our day-to-day duties more organized and efficient. The most challenging would be getting everyone comfortable with tech tools, as not everyone is a tech person.
―Jessica Kimball, Devon Self Storage, Greenville, Texas

What do you wish technology could do for you at work that it doesn’t already do?

I would like technology to become more user-friendly for people like myself who are not tech-savvy. With easier understanding of operations, it would create less user error and increase productivity, while improving customer service and daily performance.
―Brittney Accardo, Mt. Olive Storage, Duarte, Calif.

I wish it was more personalized. On a security standpoint, using fingerprint technology instead of keypads would be wonderful to help maintain that only registered tenants have access to the facility. While we also use an e-sign option in the office, I do wish we could do away with the mouse and use finger signing or a tablet-and-pen concept, as many customers have issues signing with a mouse.
―Jolene Acevedo, Devon Self Storage, El Paso, Texas

The only suggestion that I can think of is to have added security measures that possibly already exist in some fashion, but may not be practical from a cost-effective standpoint.
―Danni Blake, Simply Self Storage, Seattle

Well, I’ve seen them in other industries already, but an automated cleaning robot would be nice!
―Kenneth Coker, Stockton, Calif.

Imagine being able to go on to a facility website as a prospective customer [who’s] never rented a storage unit before. It would be amazing to not only be able to start a lease online, but also be able to see what you’re about to rent. Instead of the customer needing to visit the property to visualize the space, they would be able to see a virtual tour of that specific unit from the comfort of their home.

Another opportunity could be to sell merchandise from the facility website. It could be ready for them to pick up in their own unit. Or there’s the possibility of setting up delivery for non-tenant customers seeking to buy merchandise. We could limit offering deliveries to customers who live within a certain radius from the storage property and add a small delivery fee for the convenience. I can’t count the amount of times a customer has stopped from purchasing more product because their vehicle couldn’t transport the merchandise.
―Ruben Elenes, Encinitas Self Storage, Encinitas, Calif.

I’d like to go paperless and have everything done on a tablet and email. We already can do a rental through our website and email the paperwork, but having a tablet on our counter and doing an in-person rental would save on paper. We’d no longer need folders and all the accoutrements that are included. Email their signed paperwork, keep a copy on our computer and hand over the code and keys.
―Kris Fetter, Newcastle Heated Storage, Newcastle, Wash.

It would be nice for each facility to have a real-time site map that shows the last time units were cleaned. I know we’ve discussed incorporating the tag program, which would be amazing, and managers can create their own spreadsheet if they’d like; but something automated that alerts managers when a unit has gone more than three weeks without being cleaned would be handy. My supervisors are very good about listening to our needs, and if there’s a tech tool out there that we would benefit from, they work on making it happen.
―Jessica Kimball, Devon Self Storage, Greenville, Texas

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