It’s not up to self-storage owners to decide if they will use tech tools. Rather, it’s simply a question of how soon successful owners will decide to take advantage of customer-friendly, revenue-growing technology. The sooner, the better!
As a self-storage facility owner,
you don’t have to adopt each new technology that hits the market. Prioritizing
is important. This list will help guide you, but don’t wait to implement useful
technology. The perfect time to start using technology to grow your business is
right after you acquire or develop an updated and properly functioning facility
with trained staff. It’s true that technology is always changing, but these 10
tech tools are established and relevant.
1. Store Management System: A store management system keeps important
information organized and promotes efficiency. Plus, it never hurts to receive
those task reminders. The system automates tasks and keeps track of details
such as how many units are available and who has paid. In addition to the
increase in efficiency that comes with a store management system, another major
reason to have one is that it enables online reservations and payments on your
website. Even if you don’t currently have the capability to allow customers to
make online reservations and payments, think of your store management system as
a home base from which to expand.
Choose a management system that
meets your needs and budget. The most important thing is that the system does
what you need it to do. There are many options, including high-end systems
designed for larger companies and simpler systems for owners with a handful of
properties. While customers may never actually see your store management
system, they can feel the effects. Using a management system will help you help
customers and allow you to grow.
2. Website: In the past, the majority of self-storage customers found storage
by driving around town or by looking in the Yellow Pages, but those days are
long gone. When they’re looking for something, most customers today turn to the
Internet. If you’re not there, you’re losing potential business. While it’s
good to have an online presence, it’s also important to cultivate the right
presence. Potential customers make judgments about your business based on your
website. If it’s not attractive or easy to navigate, customers may think that
it won’t be so easy or enjoyable to do business with you.
Today, having an attractive and
easy-to-use website is just the beginning. More than ever, customers expect the
convenience of making online reservations and payments. If you’re not there
yet, don’t worry. A good website with your contact information, as well as
unique property information, will also guide customers to you. And, of course,
using good search engine optimization practices will help customers find your
3. Mobile-friendly Website: In this digital age, customers have nonstop fingertip
access to the Internet. In fact, mobile Internet usage has exceeded desktop Internet
usage. Your new customer may be in a car a mere mile from your facility. Help
that customer find you by making sure your website is mobile friendly. Why go
to the trouble? If your website is difficult to use on a mobile device, your
potential customer may quickly move on to a competitor. A mobile-friendly
website for self-storage companies should include information on unit sizes and
pricing as well as contact information.
There are a variety of ways to
make your website mobile friendly. Some popular content management systems like
Drupal and WordPress allow for solutions that don’t involve having two separate
websites. Ultimately, your goal is to adopt a mobile-first responsive design. That
means your website design should be responsive to what your customers are
trying to do on it. If you have an existing website that isn’t mobile friendly,
you can use stopgap solutions until you have the ability to redesign your
entire site to make it more compatible with mobile usage.
4. Google: It may seem silly to list Google as a tech tool, but it most
definitely is one. Businesses can’t afford to ignore Google. If your website is
optimized for search, Google will send visitors your way; there are also simpler
ways to make Google work for you. One way to use Google as a tech tool is to
claim your Google listing. When you claim your business listing on Google, you
ensure that the information presented is accurate and helpful. In short, you gain
the ability to control how your business appears on Google Search and Google
Maps. You have nothing to lose. Claiming your Google listing is free, but it’s
not the only way to put Google to work.
You can use Google Analytics to
monitor how customers use your website. With Google Analytics, you’ll gain
valuable insight into the behavior of your website audience. You’ll know where
visitors are coming from and what parts of your website capture their attention
or make them bolt. Google Analytics is free for the basic service, and it’s
quick and easy to implement.
5. Aggregator: Using an online aggregator of self-storage
listings is a cost-effective method to gain new customers. While owners pay for
each lead that comes from an aggregator, it’s more affordable to use such a
service rather than trying to find good leads with more expensive in-house
Aggregators use all of their tech
tools and the marvel that is the Internet to collect valuable leads for facility
owners. To customers, the websites run by aggregators are self-storage
marketplaces. To owners, they’re an opportunity to get in front of many more
6. Live Chat: Customers may like shopping online, but they also appreciate
having live help.
When a visitor to your website has
the ability to click to chat with a real person, your business benefits. Live
chat is convenient for customers who don’t have the time or desire to make a
phone call or send an email. It helps build rapport and strengthen
relationships with existing and potential customers.
Another benefit to using a live chat
service is the transcripts. Analyzing chat transcripts can help you identify
customer pain points and areas of weakness in training. Transcripts from live
chats also prove useful for creating responses for frequently asked questions. Some
popular live chat providers include Bold Chat, LiveEngage, Livezilla, and
In addition to calling you, customers should have the option to communicate
electronically. When a customer provides you with an email address, you’re
gaining a valuable means of communication. One of the best ways to stay in
touch with customers is through email. It’s an efficient and affordable way to
remind customers about reservations or payments or even just to send tips on
organizing a storage unit.
Your store management system can
help you communicate with customers via email for reservation reminders and
other messages, but marketing services, such as MailChimp, are also available. Some
customers may also opt-in for receiving text messages from your business, but
it’s important to receive permission before sending messages and to limit the number
of messages sent to customers.
8. Cloud Applications: Many businesses today are taking advantage of
the cloud to offer services that can help owners operate more efficiently.
Cloud-based solutions are generally affordable and easy to use.
One example of a useful
cloud-based business solution for owners is DocuSign. Using a service like
DocuSign for storage leases allows you to have a paperless office and it speeds
up the rental process. After signing a lease with Docusign at the storage
facility, the customer receives an email with the lease agreement.
Cloud-based document scanning
services are also helping storage businesses everywhere to be more organized
and much more paperless. Using a document scanning service means you not only
free up office space, you also gain the ability to quickly find needed
information with digital searches. Digitally “filing” your documents reduces
clutter and improves information security. Original documents may be shredded
and returned to you.
Box is another useful cloud-based
service. It’s a content management and collaboration platform designed with our
digital-age work styles in mind. Box allows you to review, create, and edit
documents with others in real time. Dropbox, which originally catered mostly to
consumers, also provides similar services and is used by businesses.
9. Online Auctions: In-person auctions might make for interesting
reality television, but they aren’t necessarily the best solution for storage
businesses. Storage auctions are moving online and that’s a good thing. If you
implement online auctions for the contents of abandoned storage units, a
third-party provider will post pictures and other necessary information for the
auction on their website. Registered users place bids and the winner receives a
confirmation number to take to the storage facility. The winner of the auction
typically has 24 hours to clean out the unit. Storage Treasures, the current
online auction provider for Extra Space Storage, is just one of several online
auction services for the storage industry.
Your business may benefit from
moving auctions online. Online auctions eliminate distractions for your
operations team as well as for current customers trying to get into their
storage units. Also, with online auctions there’s no mess left behind by
bidders. In addition to increasing efficiency in operations, online auctions
help bidders by allowing them to participate in several auctions at the same
time as well as save travel costs and time on lost auctions. A potential bonus
for storage facilities using online auctions is that a delinquent tenant may be
more motivated to pay a bill and cancel the auction after seeing belongings at
an online auction with the clock ticking.
10. Infrared Temperature and Humidity Sensors: While the self-storage world isn’t typically very
gadget-oriented, an exception can be made with extremely useful and
cost-effective infrared temperature and humidity sensors. With minimal
training, facility managers can begin using infrared sensors and potentially
lower operating costs.
Managers using infrared sensors
can quickly check the temperature and humidity in climate-controlled areas of the
facility. Using a sensor can help cut down on costs from overcooling or
overheating. The sensors also help ensure that belongings are protected and those
premium climate-controlled units are comfortable for customers.
When adopting new technology for
your self-storage business, don’t be afraid to make an investment. When you
stick with established and recommended tech tools you’re more likely than not
making a really smart investment.
Tools like store management systems
and websites come with a price, but they’re wise investments. If you keep
careful track of expenditures for tech tools, you can compare those costs with
your results and figure out your return on investment. When implemented wisely,
the tech tools discussed above can do a lot for your bottom line.
Bron McCall is the chief technology officer at Extra Space Storage.