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The Tribulations of Dealing With Technology as a Small Self-Storage Operator

Tech Vex: The Tribulations of Dealing With Technology as a Small Self-Storage Operator

Technology may be designed to increase efficiency, but it can sometimes feel like more trouble than it’s worth. Read the frustrations of one small self-storage operator in dealing with everything from merchant-services errors to access-control issues. Have any of these plagued you, too?

I’ve been challenged by technology lately. Well, that’s not completely accurate. I’ve been frustrated by technology for years, but recently, I seem to be buried by it!

Like many of you, I spend hours on my phone each day. I also use four different e-mail addresses. Each account was installed on my phone, so I could work remotely. During the last couple of months, however, they each decided—one by one—that they wouldn’t allow me to send messages. I could receive and read e-mails, but couldn’t reply to or initiate one.

Keep in mind, nothing on the phone had changed. The technology just decided to rebel. When I went back to the store where I’d purchased the device, the so-called “expert” I spoke with said he hadn’t experienced anything like the issue I was describing in his three days of employment there. Fabulous!

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Below are a few other tech-based vexations I’ve been dealing with as the operator of a small self-storage operation. Have any of these plagued you, too?

PCI-DSS Abyss

Last fall, I attempted to complete the PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliance test for our self-storage operation’s merchant-services account. When I finished the initial portion, which took well over an hour, I received a message indicating that, based on my responses, there were 287 additional questions to answer!

Seriously? We use three computers in our storage operation, all on the same network and in the same room. How could there be 287 more questions about firewall and configuration standards, external-penetration testing, and an error about my “Firewall UDP Packet Source Port 53 Ruleset Bypass”? Well, of course, I often sit around with my friends discussing our Firewall UDP Packet Source Port 53 Ruleset Bypasses. Don’t you? Honestly, I just gave up.

New-Property Transition

Last summer, we added another self-storage facility to our portfolio, and we had to switch it over to our preferred management software and new merchant-services agreements. There was also the little matter of transferring the phone numbers. We also needed to add this property to our company website, search engine marketing and search engine optimization plan, along with integrating ancillary services such as text/short message service (SMS).

I got overwhelmed. I made the conscious decision not to add text/SMS, or to add the location to our website. Then my wife reminded me that, while I’m a technology dolt, other people aren’t. She told me to hire someone so I could get back to renting units. She’s a very smart woman!

Scale Matters

Contending with technology issues is a real problem at our level. We’re a small self-storage company in a rural area. We don’t have an IT department, or marketing or human resources or accounting, for that matter. If we had employee meetings, we could all fit around a kitchen table.

There are times I think it would be easy to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Think about it: Your driver drops you at the office; your administrative assistant brings you coffee; and you’re presented with a stream of reports and information from people who know what they’re doing. When you need to make a decision, you gather your team and make an educated choice—possibly in your private lunchroom!

At our size, when something goes wrong, it’s magnified. Recently, I had to replace the access-control system at a facility, which included four keypads and all the associated technology. These are just a few of the questions a task like this triggers:

  • Do I need a camera built into the keypad? Intercom?
  • Do I need to download additional software?
  • Do I need a computer onsite, or do I have Category 5 cable capable of running the system?
  • Is it compatible with our current management software?
  • Is it wise to have some sort of battery backup? If so, can I get that to integrate with the preferred keypad system?

Of course, there are people who have the answers, but they don’t work for me. They work for the vendors trying to sell me these systems. Their priority is to sell product, not solve my problems. They try, but ultimately our goals aren’t aligned.

Not long ago, I destroyed a cell phone. My wife went to the store to get me a new one and asked for the same model. The salesperson told her how much better the new models were, and she should look at the latest version. My wife didn’t flinch. She insisted she wanted another phone identical to the one I demolished. She told the salesperson she was my tech support and she couldn’t handle teaching me how to use a new phone!

Well, what do you know? I guess I do have an IT department after all!

Gary Edmonds has been the owner, manager, janitor and lawnmower at Pike County Storage in Pittsfield, Ill., since 1999. He and his wife, Diane, also own All-Star Mini Storage and Puro Mini Storage in Peoria, Ill., and U-Store-It in Macomb, Ill. With a background in banking, financial services and construction, Gary strives to be surrounded by people who are smarter than he is. He can be reached at gary@getstoragehere.com.

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