The Ups and Downs Of Remote Management

Posted by Faraz Hemani on May 7, 2024 11:30:00 PM

The storage industry went through a huge boom after the pandemic. A few interesting things happened that reshaped the industry.


  1. COVID protocols forcing businesses to switch to a “contactless” model, where face-to-face human interaction was as limited as possible
  2. Low interest rates and strong performance in the self-storage industry led to tons of new entrants and new buyers coming into the market


As a result, the industry saw lots of new, first-time operators taking over storage facilities and shifting them over to a remotely managed operation. This new style of remote management has become all the buzz over the last few years, growing rapidly in popularity. 


It makes a ton of sense on paper. Instead of placing a full-time onsite manager at your storage facility for 40 hours a week, owner’s rely on technology, automation and outsourcing to help run the facility. Customers now interact with a call center and a website portal, instead of an onsite manager. Man hours are cut down significantly from 40 hours a week, with minimal labor required just for simple tasks like unit turnovers and over-locking units.


The benefits to owners can be significant by going down this route. They save money by reducing the payroll expense of a full-time onsite manager. And they can run their facilities more efficiently by sharing management resources across several properties at once.


Remote management also helped make lots of new buyers feel comfortable with owning and operating a facility outside of where they lived, since the facility could be operated remotely. And remote management makes it more economically feasible to operate smaller properties, where the revenue typically isn’t high enough to support the cost of a full-time onsite manager.


As the practice of remote management becomes more and more common, it can sometimes feel like a no brainer to folks looking in from the outside. What is there not to love?


What does not get discussed enough, however, is just how hard remote management can really be when put into practice.


Think about it. How can you ensure a property is running smoothly and is kept clean, well-maintained and secure, when you have no eyes and ears at the property? 


So many little things can slip through the cracks when you don’t have a manager present:

  • Is the property well lit? Have any exterior lights gone out?
  • Are people dumping trash?
  • Are the drive aisles being swept?
  • Are there points of entry on your fence or gate that can be used by thieves to break in?
  • Are customers running electric cables in and out of units, and abusing the utilities of the facility?


This is not to say that remote management is bad or impossible. Our company, Iron Storage, owns and operates over 25 locations, all remotely managed!


These are smaller locations, where the economics of the facility would not support having a full-time payroll expense. These locations simply do not produce enough revenue. Remote management is the only way to run the business profitably.


But remote management, although efficient for our profit & loss statement, is simply not a walk in the park. It involves much more than putting up a website and hiring a call center. I often feel like it requires much more hands-on attention from the owner to run a well-maintained remotely operated storage facility.


That is because the best remote operators have the difficult task of figuring out how to address a big challenge: how do I maintain a high standard of facility operations and maintenance, with no eyes and ears at the facility?


How do I deliver a superb customer experience, without having anyone there to understand what exactly the customers are experiencing?


This is the challenge for those who take on remote operations. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned at Iron Storage in our remote management journey:


  • Be proactive about monitoring
    Install security cameras, and check them on regularly scheduled intervals. Have someone come by once every few weeks to do full video inspections of the property with you. Do not wait for problems to get reported to you, go out and try to find them yourself!


  • Ask customers for feedback
    Without a manager onsite, the next most frequent presence at the property is your customers. Make them your eyes and ears. On move-ins and move-outs, ask for feedback about the property condition. Ask if everything is up to high standards, or if they noticed anything you can improve. It is much better to tackle problems this way, rather than wait for a customer to complain about an issue that you were blind to.


  • Hire well
    Most remote managers hire a part-time contractor, or “boots on the ground”, to help with unit turnovers, overlocking units, etc. Make sure that whoever you hire has a sense of urgency to their work. You don’t want to hire someone who just comes and checks the boxes. You want someone who will treat the property like their own. In our experience, it is a worthwhile investment to pay a higher hourly rate and get someone with property management experience. The extra few dollars are well worth it, when the outcome is having a well-maintained facility that attracts more rentals and diminishes churn!


  • Standardize your practices
    When you send contractors out to the facility, make sure they have a standard checklist they need to go through, so that you are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to property maintenance. On a regular basis, you should be checking units to see if there are issues or discrepancies with locks, you should be inspecting landscaping and drainage, you should be checking the fence and gate for signs of forced entry, etc. Create a checklist, stick to it, and ask for lots of pictures and visual verification for the items on this list.


  • Reward your call center agents
    Your call center in many ways becomes the heart and soul of your business in the eyes of your customers. This is the only human interaction your customers get from your facility, so you want to make sure the quality of this interaction is as stellar as possible. Encourage your call center agents to ask customers to leave reviews online, and reward your agents when customers leave good reviews. Not only will this help your facility’s online ranking and visibility, it will also incentivize your call center agents to deliver high quality interactions with your customers!


Remote management is not easy. No matter how much planning and systemization you do, it is simply always going to be a challenge compared to having a manager present onsite at all times.


But as this becomes a more normalized practice in the storage industry, accepted by operators and customers alike, remote management is an essential tool to have in your management tool belt. 


In my experience, the key is to remain hyper-proactive about everything that goes on at your property. Put systems in place to constantly monitor and gather feedback about your facility. And, as with any style of managing a storage facility, make sure you prioritize the customer experience if you want to have long-term, sustainable success!



Faraz Hemani is the CEO of Iron Storage.