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Updating the Self-Storage Management Model: An Automated, Two-Silo Approach

A self-storage operational model that involves a single manager handling all tasks at each property is outdated and risky. An owner proposes a new approach that leverages automation and separates customer- and facility-focused tasks for better business resilience, productivity and tenant experience.

How can we forget February 2020? The global economy was riding a long wave of expansion, the S&P 500 was at an all-time high, and unemployment was near a record low. With the exception of some market-specific supply concerns, the self-storage industry was healthy, and owners were approaching a decade with relatively few headwinds.

Little did we know that within a few weeks, the coronavirus would turn our economy and way of life upside down. As our industry now faces a whole new set of challenges, there’s never been a better time to automate our operations. Technology and an updated, two-silo approach to facility management creates business resilience, greater staff productivity and a better customer experience. I’ve seen the proof in my own facilities. Here’s how it works.  

Customer vs. Facility Management

Self-storage managers wear many hats; but they’re primarily responsible for two workstreams:

  • Customer management: Tasks that require direct interaction with new and existing tenants such as inquiries, reservations, rentals, payments, collections, account updates, gate codes, etc.
  • Facility management: Any hands-on work at the property such as unit overlocking, auction prep, building repairs and maintenance, landscaping, cleaning and sanitation, etc.

Automation meets several needs in the customer-management category. Tools like kiosks, video cameras, live chat, online rentals and other technology make it possible for a single remote manager to support five to 10 self-storage properties, depending on their size.

If you break all your operational tasks into these two silos and channel all customer-management tasks to a remote manager, your onsite manager now has the capacity to focus on things like fixing latches and gates, sweeping out vacant units, sanitizing surfaces, picking up trash, replacing light bulbs, etc., which are critical in maintaining curb appeal and a superior customer experience. Like the customer manager whose focus has been streamlined, the facility manager now also has bandwidth to handle more than one property.

The Importance of Integration

The key to linking these two workstreams is cloud-based management software, which ties together all aspects of the business. Integrating the call center, kiosk and website into a single platform allows for the seamless exchange of data across the entire customer interface. For example, if a customer rents a unit on the website, that information is updated in real time at the call center and kiosk to avoid any confusion over available units.

By creating and assigning tasks within the software, a remote customer manager can direct onsite needs to a facility manager. For example, let’s say a customer has a broken door spring and calls customer service. The customer manager can immediately create a task within the software and assign it to the facility manager. As soon the repair is done, the facility manager updates the task in his smartphone or tablet as complete, which prompts the customer manager to send notification to the tenant via email, phone or text.

In summary, the high-level way to think about automated management is:

  • Bifurcate your operation into separate silos (customer vs. facility management).
  • Supplement each silo with technology that creates scale and depth of expertise.
  • Link the silos in a seamless, integrated software platform.

Resilience and Scale

There’s a common misconception in our industry that automated self-storage facilities run by themselves and require vast technological prowess. This isn’t the case. Automation is simply an approach to operation that combines multiple solutions into a single platform. By leveraging the power of technology, management staff can specialize in the work silos that best align with their aptitude, resulting in higher productivity and better outcomes.

Whether you have one facility or 1,000, automation will make your self-storage business more resilient, scalable and successful. To know the truth of this, we need look no further than our current operating environment stemming from the spread of the coronavirus. A threat to human health and safety has forced us to rethink our operational systems and processes. We should use this challenging but unique moment to shift our management paradigm. The operational model of one manager per property is rife with shortcomings. I encourage you to think about the technology necessary to guide your business through the challenges of COVID-19 or any other unforeseen obstacles.

Seth Bent founded Red Dot Storage, which operates 185 facilities in 17 states, in 2013. He oversaw the development of the company’s unmanned operating model, including proprietary hardware, software, a call center and more. He stepped down as CEO in 2019, but remains a board member. Earlier this year, he launched StoreLine Self Storage, an automated self-storage management platform, and Storage Exchange, an acquisitions and capital-deployment solution for established buyers and investors, with the goal of creating an operator-centric transaction platform.

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