It seems like
unmanned, fully automated self-storage properties are popping up on every
corner. Nearly everywhere you look, facilities are utilizing online
self-service tools, rental kiosks, and high-tech security tools to bring in new
tenants. Unmanned self-storage properties leave traditional self-storage
operators everywhere wondering how the automated trend will affect their
Even if you’re
not interested in running a fully automated facility, there are dozens of ways
you can use automation technology to streamline your daily work, increase
productivity, and save money. Before you dive into new automated tools for your
facility, read this section to find out more about the growing technology trend
and how it can affect your storage business.
What’s The Big
Deal With Automation?
The traditional self-storage business model is simple but
effective, and it’s worked perfectly for over 50 years. Consumers need storage
space, and self-storage managers advise them on their storage needs and provide
them with the right space. But with all the daily tasks self-storage managers are
expected to do, from collecting rent payments and managing delinquent tenants
to cleaning out units and preventing unwanted pests, managers are left with
little time to actually talk to new customers and build those vital
relationships. That’s where automation comes in.
Automating certain parts of your business frees up time
for managers to complete more important tasks like following up on leads and
ensuring customer satisfaction. Automating those annoying tasks that managers
hate to do is a great way to supplement your growing storage business, reduce
labor costs, and hit new goals and milestones that were previously unreachable.
No matter the size and scope of your self-storage
business, there are plenty of ways you can automate to grow your business and
increase revenue. From running your facility completely unmanned with digital
locks and online rentals to simply automating rent collection or postal mail,
there are dozens of scalable options for automation across all property types.
How To Start
There are tons of reasons to automate, but most of them come
back to one of these big three:
To make things easier for the customer
To make things easier for the manager
To decrease overhead costs
When implementing automated tools, it’s important to
consider your business goals and figure out which of the big three your
business needs most. There is no right or wrong way to start using automated
tools. Some storage owners design their entire business around automation,
building facilities from the ground up with self-serve tools such as kiosks and
automatic door locks. Some owners simply start implementing technology to fix
pain points in their business and slowly work towards greater automation. If
you find yourself thinking “there has to be an easier way to do this” when
completing a task, that’s a great place to start looking at automation.
Training managers to use the new automated feature is
essential to successfully implementing new technology. Changing old habits can
be hard, but managers quickly embrace the change once they see the freedom the
automated tool gives them, especially if the newly automated chore was
repetitive, boring, or something they hated doing week after week. Technology
was designed to make the lives of humans easier, and your team will appreciate
having less busywork to do and more time for important tasks.
When it comes to decreasing overhead costs, automated
tools can sometimes replace the need for an employee to complete various tasks.
While not every facility can run completely unmanned, some facilities can use
automated tools to decrease their need for daily office hours and run the
business more efficiently overall. As a facility owner, it’s your job to
evaluate the effect of automated tools on your business’s bottom line and
determine the value of having managerial staff to provide service to customers at
Automated technology comes in a variety of forms, from
tools in your software to on-site self-service technology to daily conveniences
like online calendars to manage work schedules and emails notifying you when
customers leave reviews for your business. Read on to browse various automated
tools that can save your business time and money.
Software Tools A great place to start automating your storage business is
in your software. It’s likely that your software already offers dozens of
features that can make both customers’ and managers’ lives easier. If you’re
not already using these features to complete repetitive tasks and simplify
work, you can easily start implementing them one at a time and tracking the
effect of the change on your company’s revenue and productivity week to week.
Start automating one task at a time, and eventually your business will be
running like a well-oiled machine. Here are just a few software-related tasks
that can become fully-automated:
reminders – Set up your software to automatically text or email your tenants when
rent is due every month. You can even include a link to your online tenant
portal so customers can pay right from the text message or email. Automated
rent collection messages can save hours of time for managers who previously had
to call tenants to collect rent on the first of the month or on their
anniversary billing date.
Auto pay – Make it easy
for your customers to pay rent month to month by providing them with automatic
rent payments. Customers can enter their credit card information once and set
up online payments to be made every month to avoid late fees and delinquency.
Not only does this make rent collection easier for managers, it also helps to
increase your occupancy percentage. Customers want self-storage to be easy and
convenient, and nothing is less convenient than having to mail a check or
hand-deliver a payment to the office drop-box. When auto pay is set up, your
storage customers can store it and forget it, so they’ll store with you longer
and always make payments on time.
– Automatic rate change features (also called rate modification, rate
management, or rent push) adjust your rental prices based on occupancy
percentages over a period of time. These small rent increases help bring in
extra revenue automatically, without managers having to create a complex
spreadsheet to track rates over time and occupancy percentages for units of
various sizes and amenities. Utilizing automated rate changes can help increase
your occupancy percentage to keep your facility full all year round, even
during the winter slump.
delivery – The one thing you probably didn’t know you could automate is
also one of the biggest time-savers: automated postal mailing services. While
most of your tenant communication nowadays is probably through email (or even
text messaging), it’s likely there are a handful of documents your facility
still needs to send through postal mail such as rate change notices, invoices,
lien or auction notices, or NSF notices. Now, you can send postal mail right
from your software based on tenant statuses that trigger mail to be sent. For
example, you can set up your software to automatically send a delinquency
notice to groups of tenants who reach a certain level of delinquency, thus
eliminating the need for trips to the post office, stamps, and printing lien
notices. Plus, no more waiting in line at the post office!
Move-ins – If your
software offers online self-service tools, new customers can select the unit
size they need and complete the entire move-in process in minutes, right from
their computer or smartphone. This time-saving feature can be used in
conjunction with an on-site kiosk, or just through your website, essentially
allowing your facility to be open for business and accepting new rentals or
unit reservations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A new tenant can digitally
sign their lease, choose a gate code, and create an account to check their
balance and pay bills. The automated move-in and online rental feature is a
huge time-saver for managers who previously had to spend a lot of time
completing lease agreements and taking down new customer information. Because
it makes it easier for customers to rent, it also helps your facility keep a
high occupancy percentage and increase revenue.
tracking – Automate your lead tracking so you don’t have to worry
about penciling down contact information from hard-to-hear voicemails and
entering it into your software. By integrating your phone line with your
software, you can track phone calls, receive notifications to follow-up on
leads, and automatically add new leads with information from phone calls. If
you manage multiple facilities, you can also use this feature to listen to
customer phone calls and monitor your manager’s sales tactics. By automating
your lead tracking ability, you’ll avoid missing out on potential new customers
and save time.
If you’re looking to fully automate your facility, or you
just want to provide more self-serve tools to your customers, check out on-site
automation. This technology allows new customers to walk onto your property,
rent a unit, get a gate code, and move-in, all without ever having to speak to
a manager. Just like people prefer to use the ATM over speaking to a teller at
the bank, research shows that more and more people prefer self-serve storage
rentals over traditional, in-office rentals. If you’re interested in providing
on-site automation for your tenants, check out these tools:
kiosks – Just like an ATM, kiosks allow new customers who visit your property to
serve themselves. No matter what time of day or day of the week it is, whether
your facility is open or not, visitors who use the kiosk are able to view unit
prices, sign leases, purchase locks, and set gate codes. Kiosks can save
managers time even when the facility is open, as many people prefer to serve
themselves over speaking to a manager. With a kiosk on site, your facility is
never closed for new business or rent payments.
unit door locks – Electronic locks on unit doors offer more than just
advanced security protection from break-ins. With digital door locks, managers
can automate overlocking for delinquent tenants and continuously monitor the
status of the door (locked or unlocked, open or closed) to keep track of tenant
activity. Electronic unit door locks also integrate with your software and
on-site kiosks, so there is no need for managers to unlock units for new tenants
to move in. While this feature comes with a high price tag, it allows for a
completely unmanned operation and cuts out the need for office hours.
access – With digital gate access, tenants can enter their gate code and access
their unit without the need for a manager to open and close the gate. New
access systems allow bluetooth access from tenants’ smartphones, so they don’t
even have to roll down their window to open the gate in inclement weather. View
every vehicle or person that approaches your gate with built-in security monitoring
from your smartphone and even troubleshoot access issues right through your
phone. Digital gate access technology makes it easy for owners to manage who is
on site at their property, even when they’re out of the state or country.
security – Security is one of the top features and amenities
marketed by modern facilities, but your security features can also help to
automate your business. With wireless door alarms, managers are automatically
alerted with a push notification or phone call whenever an armed (unoccupied)
door is opened or attempted to be opened. You can automate security systems to
notify you when there is movement at your facility after hours or alert you
when vehicles or people are loitering outside of your business. Security automation
makes it easy to keep an eye on your facility, no matter where you are, even
without an on-site manager. Top of the market security features also come with
a top of the market price tag, but they pay for themselves by thwarting crime
and illegal activity at your facility.
Automating Management Tasks
Even unmanned facilities need someone to keep track of
their reviews and what people are saying about them online, and the new
technology often comes with additional partnerships with vendors and local
companies. To keep everything organized and simple, you can use online tools to
automate some of your business management tasks. Check out these free (or
nearly free) tools to simplify your daily work:
Alerts – Google Alerts are a free and easy Google tool that allow you to create
an alert for Internet mentions of a keyword. Whenever your keyword is
mentioned, you’ll receive an email notification. Many self-storage owners and
operators use Google Alerts to track mentions of their business or website
name, local competitors, town name and self-storage, or their own name. Google
Alerts are a great way to keep an eye out for people talking about your
business or things that could affect your business.
– You can use the Genius Scan app to keep track of business receipts and
expenses; all you need is the app and your smartphone camera. Genius Scan
detects the text on the page, corrects and enhances the receipt image, and
automatically stores the digital receipt in your Google Drive, Dropbox, or
Expensify account. After scanning, it’s easy to fax or email the receipt.
calendars – If you work with a team of people, using an online team
calendar is the best way to organize upcoming appointments and meetings. Free
online calendars like Google Calendars automatically add events from your
emails, so you don’t have to write down the event. You can also add people to
events, organize virtual or physical meeting spaces, and receive notifications
for upcoming appointments. If you fly solo, online calendars are still handy
for scheduling your work around your busy life.
The Bottom Line Making automation
work for your business all comes down to the bottom line: increased revenue.
Make sure your automated technology makes sense financially to optimize your
business for future storage rentals. Check with your software provider and
technology vendors to see what automated tools you’re not currently utilizing
that could help your business rake in more revenue. The benefits of automated
tools are huge, both for storage owners and customers. With the increased
freedom of automating tasks at your facility, you can spend more time ensuring
customers are happy and saving money for your business.
Jana Haecherl is a marketing content writer for storEDGE living in Kansas City. A graduate of South Dakota State University with a degree in psychology and business, she enjoys bringing technology, web marketing, and industry news and tips to self-storage owners and managers.