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Technology in Action: Self-Storage Operators Discuss Use, Challenges and More

We recently asked a few of the industry’s top facility operators and management firms how they’re using technology at their sites as well as the challenges they face in implementation and staff-training strategies. Here’s what they had to say.

From kiosks to automated locks to online payment portals, self-storage operators are embracing technology to run more efficient properties while catering to customer demands for automation. Inside Self-Storage asked a few leading companies how they’re employing tech tools at their facilities, challenges they face during implementation, and the training they provide to staff.

How do you use technology at your facility?

We use it in a variety of ways—first, to acquire the customers. We have a strong search engine optimization program in place, partnered with aggregators, and we really work our Google My Business (GMB) listings. We have some solid approaches deployed using GMB that have shown pretty significant results. We feel that’s the beginning of the process. If you’re not using technology to bring customers in, you eventually won’t need a storage facility because they’ll get “scooped up” by everyone else who is.
      When we acquire the customer, we use a Web-based accounting software to enter his data. We use this information, even after the move-in, to make other decisions such as pricing, expansion, etc. From there, our customers can use an app to open the gates and climate-controlled doors, and even access the elevators. From start to finish, technology has changed the self-storage game.
      ―Brian Byrd, Chief Operations Officer, Landvest Management (oversees 37 facilities in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas and Texas)

From internal uses to customer-facing advances, technology is an integral part of daily operation at our properties. Implemented strategies using Microsoft’s Outlook calendars to share appointments and meetings have aided in efficiency and effective internal communications. The recent theme of technology advancements in our industry creates many customer-facing improvement opportunities. Currently, we’re testing Bluetooth capabilities.
      ―Scott Beatty, CEO, Absolute Storage Management (operates 116 properties in 14 states)

Each of our properties features a proprietary kiosk, state-of-the-art cameras and access controls. The kiosk allows customers to make reservations and payments 24 hours a day, while the access controls allow them to access the facility 24 hours a day using unique gate codes. We’re also rolling out a proprietary lock that will allow past-due customers to unlock their overlock as soon as they bring their account current. Overall, technology has allowed us to create a more seamless customer experience while enabling our staff to focus on high-level strategic initiatives.
      ―Seth Bent, Founder and CEO, Red Dot Storage (owns and operates 135-plus properties)

We use technology to help our managers in their daily activities. We’ve distributed the Amazon Echo Dot to our facilities to take advantage of Alexa as a digital personal assistant. We chose Alexa as it integrates well with Google calendar for scheduling meetings and reminders. We take advantage of Alexa's integration with Todoist, our project-management application, which allows us to add actionable items to execute or order. We use Alexa to dial into conference calls, making it easy to be hands-free and take notes. One of our team members said he uses it to give himself reminders to smile throughout the day to create a welcoming environment. Capturing everything by voice is fast and efficient, and reduces stress, as you don’t need to walk around trying to remember that thing that you need to do.
      ―David Doget, District and Revenue Manager, SKS Management LLC (operates 20 facilities)

Fundamentally, ours is a data-driven company that uses data to make forward decisions rather than to report on its past. Our technology platform is vertically integrated so all respective applications—from marketing to accounting to operations—are working together so we can get the entire picture and status of our business in real time. This approach gives us many advantages in the competitive landscape because we’re not only able to see what’s happening in real time but can forecast and see trends ahead of the curve. To boot, our data is democratized and, therefore, we have no barriers between departments. This really helps us all work together and in the same direction.
      ―Jason Lopez, Chief Marketing Officer, US Storage Centers (operates 120-plus facilities)

We utilize technology in almost every aspect at the store level. The stores we manage deploy technology from gates to lead follow-up to internal communication to facility operation. For example, each facility has a tablet that can be used to do a move-in or walk-through lock audit, take payments, etc. This tablet can also be taken off site to marketing events to allow customers to rent away from the facility.
      ―Melissa Stiles, Director of Marketing, Storage Asset Management Inc. (oversees 150-plus properties along the East Coast)

What challenges have you faced when implementing new technology?

Primarily with manager buy-in at first. Technology is awesome, but the real chore is getting the entire team bought in. Our managers have realized that it’s the only way to stay competitive.
      ―Brian Byrd, Chief Operations Officer, Landvest Management (oversees 37 facilities in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas and Texas)

Some of the challenges have been the learning curve when developing an application program interface for new products, taking over properties with outdated technology, training process updates, and prioritizing technologies to test and implement.
      ―Jennifer Barnett, Chief Operations Officer, Absolute Storage Management (operates 116 properties in 14 states)

Because we’re utilizing proprietary and third-party hardware and software, we’re subject to an unlimited number of potential problems. We must regularly handle these problems and troubleshoot for potential issues. While this is difficult and can require high amounts of work, we believe the customer experience and operational capabilities are well worth it. We know that using technology is what has allowed us to run our business at the speed and scale we do.
      ―Seth Bent, Founder and CEO, Red Dot Storage (owns and operates 135-plus properties)

Everyone has some hesitation with new technology. To best roll it out, I partner with managers, from the Baby Boomer to the Gen Xer, to beta test the product so we can identify the challenges and brainstorm other beneficial uses. After a few months, our managers share their experiences of using the new technology in our monthly meeting. Having peer-to-peer discussions increases the adoption rate.
      ―David Doget, District and Revenue Manager, SKS Management LLC (operates 20 facilities)

While our technology platform provides us with countless benefits and advantages, we still run into the same issues most businesses do, given the sophistication of our platform. We can break the challenge down to a few simple categories: annual service and support with the core system, annual costs, and new development.
      The new development is where it gets challenging and fun. For instance, some of our discovered opportunities may require introducing new technology into the mix and, therefore, creating a new implementation project and everything associated with it. We need to be mindful and diligent with our strategic planning and budgeting to ensure we don't develop technology for development’s sake. It's a tricky balance to know when to introduce something because, in the end, we have to see a return on our investment.
      ―Jason Lopez, Chief Marketing Officer, US Storage Centers (operates 120-plus facilities)

There’s always an aversion to change when implementing anything new. We try to conquer this challenge by utilizing a test group of facilities and making those store managers advocates for the technology. Those managers can demonstrate how the technology worked for them … Showing how the technology can enhance and help them do their job more effectively and efficiently is key.
      ―Melissa Stiles, Director of Marketing, Storage Asset Management Inc. (oversees 150-plus properties along the East Coast)

What kind of training does staff receive when new tech is introduced at your business?

In-person and continuous. We also feel that when we launch something new, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned contest to get everyone bought in. We’ve all heard the adage, “What gets measured, gets done!”
      ―Brian Byrd, Chief Operations Officer, Landvest Management (oversees 37 facilities in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas and Texas)

Before we roll out any new technology to the entire company, we use live beta testing that allows a few employees to see the tech in action and spot potential issues or room for improvement. Live beta testing lets some staff get hands-on experience, influence improvements and changes, and guides other staff members through the process when we roll out the change company-wide. We then use recorded training videos, written instruction, presentations and hands-on training to educate the entire staff. We feel this mixed approach has served us well and creates a comfortable learning environment while minimizing potential issues for the business.
       ―Seth Bent, Founder and CEO, Red Dot Storage (owns and operates 135-plus properties)

Training staff has evolved over the years. First, we created a repository of MP4 files in Dropbox called “Tech Tips” to which all our managers have access. We have videos covering multiple products from Alexa, Apple Apps, how to execute electronic contracts, G Suite products, Todoist and Workplace by Facebook. We also host training webinars through Google Meet, Zoom and occasionally a live broadcast with Workplace by Facebook.
       Our deployment of training videos has changed over the past year since we started using Workplace by Facebook. Now we use YouTube to create our training videos and post them every week on our announcements channel. We hope our “Tech Tip Tuesday” YouTube videos will grow our staff knowledge of the tools we use.
       ―David Doget, District and Revenue Manager, SKS Management LLC (operates 20 facilities)

We spend a lot of time on training because unless there is 100 percent adoption, even the most complex and expensive technology is useless. In addition, we tend to be in our vendors’ beta groups and user councils. This allows us to get an early look into what's next and get up to speed on new features a bit faster than most. But making an investment in training is paramount to realize any benefits of any technology platform.
      ―Jason Lopez, Chief Marketing Officer, US Storage Centers (operates 120-plus facilities)

When introducing new technology, we test it at a set of stores first. We make sure these stores cover different demographics, geographic areas, etc. The corporate staff receives training from the vendor. Then the vendor and corporate staff liaison will roll out the technology either in person or through a webinar to test stores. After sufficient testing is done, the test stores and corporate staff will roll it out to new stores through webinars and one-on-ones, if necessary.
       ―Melissa Stiles, Director of Marketing, Storage Asset Management Inc. (oversees 150-plus properties along the East Coast)

It’s a combination of onsite and remote training for onsite team members to bring them up to speed and help aid in the transition to a new process.
      ―Grace Totty, Director of Marketing, Absolute Storage Management (operates 116 properties in 14 states)

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