New Technology Answers The Call For Smartphone Advances
Technology of the 21st century continues to knock down the doors of self-storage facilities, opening new opportunities to improve efficiency as well as the customer experience. While many of the new technology tools can extract a large investment from owners, smaller operators who have fallen behind the curve can still play catch-up without breaking the budget.
A major focus of this technology is to make it easier for digitally
connected customers like millennials to do business with storage companies.
“We’re seeing a huge push toward automation and self-service
tools, whether that’s automated overlocking using tools like DaVinci Locks or
Janus’s SecurGuard Smart Entry System; iPads or tablets for e-sign at the
facility; or online self-service tools like online rentals, reservations, bill
pay, and autopay,” says Jana Haecherl, storEDGE marketing communications
specialist in Westwood, Kan. “We expect to see a continued push toward
automation across all business models.”
Research shows that more customers are accessing websites from
smartphones versus desktop or laptop computers. Given that reality, the
smartphone has become the target of much of the emerging technology being
adopted by storage operators.
sense since the smartphone has become a lifeline for millennials as well as
older customers who have developed a trust and comfort level with mobile devices
that provide links to entertainment, purchasing, transportation, and online
banking, not forgetting communication.
just millennials that are using this technology,” says Christine DeBord,
director of marketing for Janus International in Temple, Ga. “We’re finding
people of all ages not only have phones but are using them for checking into
flights, reserving hotel rooms, executing bank transactions—things that in
self-storage we would ask the renter to do in the rental process right from
If operators want to attract these consumers to storage
facilities, they will need to supply similar tools such as those seen in the
transportation and lodging industries.
“More operators are providing the digital tools such as document
e-sign, online bill payment and move-ins, and two-way texting to attract more
device-driven customers,” Haecherl says. “More customers will expect to access
nearly all storage-related functions from their smartphones, tablets, and other
Self-storage vendors are developing hardware and software products
and apps that allow smartphone users to perform a wide variety of functions,
including virtual tours, autopay, online rentals, and to open gates and storage
“Our customers can use cell phones or iPads by logging into a
website and pulling up reports,” says Tom Smith, president of Empower Software
Technologies in Murrieta, Calif. “But we’ve also added the ability to do online
payments, online reservations, and online move-ins via a cell phone, iPad, and
whatever device they want to use.”
In order to engage in the mobile movement, it’s imperative for
operators to have mobile responsive websites that configure web pages to the
smaller format of smartphones. Mobile users have smaller screens than desktops
and laptops and less time to spend finding information on the go. Unless a
website is “mobile responsive”, your business risks losing untold amounts of
“Having a mobile responsive website is key to a successful
interaction with a mobile user,” confirms Haecherl. “When a website or
web/native app has actionable tools—like online move-ins with digital lease
signing and gate access—and mobile-centric communication—like two-way
texting—it makes it much easier for mobile users to do business with self-storage
brands online, resulting in more online rentals and increased revenue for your
Atlanta-based Universal Storage Group (USG) has gone all-in with
many of these new technology solutions. “We’re now converting all of our stores
over to PTI Easy Code, so customers can use their phones to enter properties,”
reports Anne Ballard, president of marketing, training, and developmental
services for USG.
According to the 2017 Self Storage Association Demand Study, a
majority of storage tenants ranked gate access as the most important facility
feature. It’s no surprise that self-storage suppliers have stepped up to the
plate to answer the call for easier gate access.
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based PTI Security Systems offers gate, door,
and elevator entry with Easy Code, which fully integrates with PTI door alarms
and compatible electronic locks. Easy Code remotely opens doors or triggers
gates and provides access and alarm activity notifications.
Ballard notes that Phoenix-based Open Tech Alliance has a new
product called INSOMNIAC Centralized Intelligence Access (CIA) that is
Bluetooth-based and can control multiple devices.
“Customers can use their phones for entry,” she says. “They pull
up to the gate and Bluetooth recognizes the cell phone number associated with
the account, and the gate automatically opens and can let them into hallway
INSOMNIAC CIA utilizes the hands-free secure access from the
Storage Genie mobile app, which uses beacon technology to securely grant access
to a storage property while the phone stays in the customer’s pocket.
Janus has introduced a new version of the SecurGuard Smart Entry
System, a wireless, cloud-based digital key solution that allows tenants entry
to the facility using only a smartphone.
SecurGuard provides authorized tenant entry (or restricts entry)
to access the gate, man-door, floor, and individual units using a smartphone app
or wireless phone key fob. SecurGuard also provides constant monitoring of all
entry points including individual units, unit door and lock status, and motion
sensor and smartphone notifications.
“What we are seeing is automation of the rental process and
overlock process with this solution,” DeBord says. “Online rentals have almost
always been a kind of reservation. Now you have a smartphone app as soon as you
pay for your unit. Your property management software sends a text message that
links you to download an app that gets you into the gate and into the unit.
It’s a fully automated rental process.”
With motion sensor technology located inside and outside the unit,
facility management gets an alert if someone tries to break in or use a code
“The motion sensors can detect if people are living in units or if
there is motion on site after hours,” DeBord says. “We put motion sensors that
detect thermal signatures inside of the unit door that connects to our smart
entry system. If someone is living in a unit, right away you are going to get a
notification that there’s a heat signature inside of a locked unit. If it’s one
in the morning and no one’s supposed to be on site, but someone is walking down
the hallway, now you know that as well. It becomes a proactive tool rather than
a reactive tool.”
The industry typically
uses keyed overlocks requiring the property manager or maintenance crew to
remove the overlocks of vacant units or the spaces of delinquent tenants. New
technology is automating the overlocking process so that someone doesn’t have
to physically attach or remove an overlock.
SecurGuard automates the overlocking and release process and
potentially eliminates lock cutting. If a tenant is late on the rent, the
system prevents their unit access. As soon as their balance is paid, the
manager can instantly restore access with the push of a button.
The DaVinci Lock from 10 Federal in Raleigh, N.C., is another tool
that automates overlocking. Components include the DaVinci Lock, a standard
four-digit combination disc lock, and the DaVinci Software System, which
decrypts the DaVinci serial code and returns the unlock combination code.
With this device, the self-storage customer is able to make their
delinquent payment, enter the DaVinci serial code, receive the unlock
combination code, and remove the lock on their own.
The new lock
system frees overlocking responsibility from facility managers, allowing the
entire process to be executed even during off hours. It also helps owners of
unmanned facilities to address overlock issues.
Digital Equals Paperless
Many self-storage companies are going paperless given the fact
that more and more transactions are handled digitally.
“We’re going live on all stores with eSign with SiteLink, so we no
longer will print leases, and that technology is going to save us a bundle on
printing costs and paper,” Ballard says.
This feature also allows USG to go live with online rentals, since
the software automatically feeds unit availability and pricing to the website.
Since the customer inputs all the pertinent data, selects the unit, and signs
electronically, it saves the manager from having to fill out lease forms.
SiteLink eSign lets storage tenants sign more agreements, letters,
and forms faster at stores, on a website, and by phone anywhere day and night.
Another mobile tool growing in popularity is two-way texting that
can send late notices, surveys, and reminders to customers over the smartphone.
Empower incorporates texting into Storage Commander, but with a wrinkle.
“Usually what you find is a software package will incorporate
texting, which allows the manager to open up a text message box for a
particular customer type,” Smith says. “We decided to have more control over
the content of text messages, so we created a function within the configuration
manager where a district manager or owner can create text messages that the
manager can pull from. They can create those in advance, they can spell check
them, and they can make sure the wording is correct and the right message is
going out to the customer base.”
The text message can be a reminder that the rent is due, or a unit
will go into auction, or that maintenance work will be done at the facility on
a certain date. These pre-defined, or “canned” messages will better ensure that
the wording is legally correct and free from grammatical and spelling errors.
“We also tie
that function into the core of the product, so when a customer goes late, say
after 10 days, you can have a text message go out on the eighth day to remind
them you’ve got two days before you go late so you can come in and make a
payment,” Smith says. “It will automatically be generated and sent out when
that day arrives, so the manager doesn’t have to get involved with that.”
In-Office Digital Displays
Another function software packages are addressing is EMV
technology. MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover imposed a
liability shift in 2015 that affected merchants accepting credit cards for
payment. Merchants who did not switch to new EMV chip technology terminals for
credit and debit card transactions could see banks offload the cost of fraud to
self-storage operations are lagging behind in EMV compliance, and now Smith
says credit card companies are going to charge fees to merchants who use the
swipe method on terminals to process credit cards containing a chip.
“Our customers have new terminals and they can use the chip side
as well as the swipe side if the card doesn’t have a chip on it,” Smith says.
“The machine has a keypad on it, so it allows debit cards to run. That saves
the merchant one or two percentage points on transactions.”
technology is designed to save the manager’s time and help with accuracy, and
Smith mentions a peripheral device that reads driver’s licenses and military
IDs and runs off the Storage Commander system. With a cost of around $300, the
device reads either the magnetic stripe or the 2D barcode of the ID.
“This device during move-in allows the manager to put the driver’s
license into the device and it fills in the move-in screen with that data, so
they don’t have to type it in manually,” Smith says. “This makes things more
accurate and a whole lot faster because all the information is instantly
brought over to the screen.”
Another time-saver is a display terminal the customer can use
during the move-in process to select tenant insurance, review the contents of
the merchandise they are purchasing, and view the move-in contract
electronically. The tenant can also digitally sign the contract, which is
immediately put into customer’s record in the computer.
Smaller self-storage operators can make incremental steps to
automating facility processes in affordable ways. No matter the size of your
budget, automating parts of your operation might be easier than you think.
“We love to use low-cost technology that’s quick and easy to
deploy,” Ballard says.
One thankless and time-consuming task that begs for automation is the
collections process. USG uses Tampa, Fla.-based Storage Collections to provide
automated payment reminders to tenants.
“Storage Collections makes two voice mails and two texts to
customers who haven’t paid in full to remind them to pay,” Ballard says. “On
the text, they can hit a hyperlink and it takes them to a payment window on the
She estimates the cost for average facilities is less than $20 per
month per store.
Ballard also identifies Open Tech’s INSOMNIAC XpressCollect as
another automation tool. XpressCollect is an automatic payment reminder and
collection system with conversion rates up to 10 times higher than direct mail
or do-it-yourself collection calls, according to Open Tech.
Operators of all sizes can tap into a multitude of industry
resources to begin their technology search and open their eyes to an emerging
arena of automation.
“It’s important to do your research, talk to other operators, and
attend trade shows when you’re looking at new technology to get the full
picture of what’s available,” storEDGE’s Haecherl recommends.
“The best bang for the buck is to go to national conferences and
see the technology on the tradeshow floor where vendors will give full
demonstrations and show how it works,” adds Ballard. “You can attend classes to
learn what the latest is.”
In addition to attending tradeshows, Empower’s Smith recommends reading
industry trade magazines and exploiting the resources state self-storage
associations have to offer.
Also, software providers and technology vendors are good sources
in identifying automated tools you’re not currently using that could help
reduce costs and produce additional income.
Automation is advancing in self-storage and more operators are
embracing new technology to streamline operations, secure the premises, and
free up staff time to better serve customers.
“Advanced security features are increasingly important when it
comes to differentiating yourself from competitors,” Haecherl says. “With
premium security features like digital access control, smart storage units, and
Bluetooth overlocks, storage facilities can charge a premium rate for space.”
Be sure to provide adequate manager training to better ensure a
successful transition to the new technology. Once managers see how these new
tools can free them from mundane, repetitive tasks, they can spend more time
marketing the company and creating a better customer experience.
David Lucas is a freelance writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a regular contributor to all of MiniCo’s publications.