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 business.
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 Using Automation
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 your facility.
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.
Use Automated 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:
Payment 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.
Rate changes – 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.
Postal mail 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.
Lead 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:
Self-service 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.
Electronic 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.
Digital gate 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.
Automated 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:
Google 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.
Genius Scan – 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.
Smart 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.