If you’re unsure about embracing automated self-storage, here’s a cautionary tale about underestimating the effects of technology from another industry.
In 2000, Reed Hastings approached Blockbuster CEO John Antioco with the opportunity to purchase a relatively unknown video mailing business for $50 million. Antioco had his doubts about the automated service, so he passed. That same business, which is Netflix, is now valued at over $32 billion.
Automation wasn’t a myth for that industry, and it isn’t a myth in the self-storage industry either.
My facilities in Arizona, California, Texas, and Utah have all benefited from automated technology. Automation hasn’t just won us awards, it’s won us business. At my storage facility in Marana, Ariz., 98 percent of move-ins come from automated features we have employed.
The Self-Storage Experience With And Without Automation
The primary reason I made the switch to automation was for the customer experience. For tenants, the rental process at a storage facility that doesn’t use automation is very different than the rental process at a storage facility that does.
The old customer acquisition model works like this: Through local SEO, pay-per-click ads, or third-party sources, the customer finds your storage facility. He/she then calls the facility or makes a reservation through your website. Next, he/she has to make an appointment to go to the facility, at which time the manager will print out way too much paperwork. The manager may be too busy to offer insurance or might forget to upsell premium units. After this appointment, which can take 20 minutes or longer, the customer finally gets access to the storage facility and is able to move in—but only during specific hours.
Here’s how the experience goes with automation: The customer searches via mobile, a computer, or at a kiosk at the facility. He/she sees individual units with pricing and promotions, signs the lease, chooses insurance, and gets access to the facility. This takes less than five minutes.
My customers have the ability to interact with us as much or as little as they want. If I’m closed on a Sunday, they can select a unit, move into my facility, and access their unit without talking to a manager. This creates the ability to rent storage units when the office is closed. There’s also the potential for lower operating costs as a result of reduced manpower. Other perks of automation include less paper waste, the ability to provide all customers with the same optimized experience, and faster lead conversion.
Customers are already interacting with automation by using self checkout at the grocery store, ATMs at the bank, and when shopping online. I want them to see that familiar technology when they come into my storage facility, because, to me, the ultimate benefit is the ability to provide a streamlined, approachable, and modern customer experience.