How to Automate Your Self Storage Facility [2023]

October 12, 2018

self storage automation
5 min

[This article was updated in 2023 to reflect the changing storage landscape]

Automation is the future of self storage. Most facilities already have some level of automation, and an increasing number are fully automated—operating with limited or no staff and relying on automation for everything from security to rentals to door locks.

If you haven't looked into automation yet, now's the time! As your competition gets more and more efficient, you can't afford to be the odd one out.

It's 2023, and the move toward automation and technological sophistication has not yet abated. I'm beginning to believe it never will!

Everyone shops online at Amazon. Everyone watches TV through streaming services. Even food and other perishables are ordered online and brought to our houses!

Self storage didn't have to lead the way, but we can't afford to be left behind. The big players, the REITs, are going to offer easy online rentals, monitored smart units, and other features that younger renters want.

In this article, we'll help you plan out how to automate your facility - how far you should go, which steps to prioritize, and which ones you'd be better off skipping! We'll help you keep your facility competitive no matter what your market looks like.

Want to see what your customers value most in a storage facility? Check out our Top 9 Self Storage Amenities download!

What do storage customers care about the most? Download our Top 9 Amenities to  find out.

Options for Self Storage Automation

Self storage facilities can choose from a wide variety of automation technologies, including:

  • Property management software that integrates with websites and kiosks. This can keep track of your rentals, send bills, collect payments, issue gate codes, and much more, depending on the software you buy.
  • Websites offering online rentals, online bill pay, online lease signing, and autopay—all features of a StoragePug website
  • Automated kiosks provide the same services as a website with the addition of dispensing locks. Using a kiosk to automate your facility is becoming outdated as they require the customer to come onto your property to interact with it, not to mention the massive cash expenditure required to install them.
  • Security monitoring systems, including surveillance cameras and wireless unit alarms
  • Smart self storage units can provide high-tech security and additional peace of mind for you and your customers

The costs, benefits, and limitations of these technologies vary, and not all will be suited to your facility.

For a comparison of websites and kiosks, check out this article.

Infrographic: Ways to Automate Your Facility: Property management software, websites, kiosks, wireless security, smart unit monitors

Benefits of Self Storage Automation

The goal of automation is to make the lives of people easier—whether those people are your customers, your facility manager, or yourself. Automation eliminates repetitive and tedious tasks, freeing people to spend their time on more worthwhile activities.

Automation for Self Storage Managers

For self storage facility managers, automation can be used for online rentals, bill pay, notifying customers of delinquency, and calculating rate changes. This lets your manager focus on marketing, following up on leads, facility maintenance, and customer service.

Automation for Self Storage Tenants

For customers, automation means increased convenience.  Your customers can rent units at any time of the night or day, make payments, or even monitor their units from their phones.

A website (or the kiosk in your pocket) is particularly convenient as you can use it anywhere and anytime without having to be at the facility’s site. That makes it easier to 

Also, customers appreciate being able to electronically manage their accounts from the comfort of their own homes and on their schedule. Online commerce is growing and growing, and Millennials and Gen Zers especially will expect to be able to do business online. 

Your website can also let tenants gain access to your facility through its gate. A StoragePug website handles gate access codes in a few different ways:

  • We let the tenant choose their own when renting a unit
  • We randomly create one that gets emailed to the tenant right after the move in
  • We don't give one to the tenant, requiring them to have to come into the office during business hours to get one.

Self Storage Automation for Everyone

Finally, both managers and customers benefit from automated security systems, which provide peace of mind with 24/7 monitoring. Because managers can get notifications via their smartphones if any problems arise, automated security systems reduce or eliminate the need for resident managers.

This can save you a lot of money without sacrificing security. Smart storage units are also a great marketing point for tech-savvy tenants!

Automated security is a huge benefit if you're planning on offering commercial storage, too!

5 ways ebook

Creating an Automation Plan for Your Self Storage Facility

When creating an automation plan for your self storage facility, you’ll increase the chances of success if you follow these guidelines.

Evaluate your facility and property to identify where automation is most needed: Not all facilities are suited for full automation. Fully automated facilities are best suited for highly desirable neighborhoods in growing suburban and metropolitan areas, where your customers are more likely to prefer high-tech offerings.

Not all facilities need to be fully automated. The key is to evaluate your facility and determine where automation will be most helpful.

What do storage customers care about the most? Download our Top 9 Amenities to  find out.

Know your customers

If your customers are younger (e.g., millennials, Gen Z, college students, young families), then they’re going to expect more automation than older customers.

At the bare minimum, younger customers expect to be able to conduct most of their business with you via a website.

Research available technology

Learn what is out there in the marketplace, including the costs, benefits, and limitations of available technologies.

The more you research, the better you’ll be able to match available technology to your facility’s specific needs.

Know your competitors

Don’t forget to research your competitors to see what technology they use. If they already have a website that offers online rentals, lease signing, and autopay, then you’re probably going to have to provide the same services to remain competitive. If you know your competitor's pricing, then you can use price optimization on your website to maximize your revenue.

Technology can also give your facility a competitive advantage, as customers will often pay a premium for ultra-modern facilities with all the amenities.

5 ways ebook

Start small and budget accordingly

Don’t jump into automating your facility without having an automation plan and budget. If you do, you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed and overleveraged. Instead, conduct the research highlighted above and then formulate a realistic plan.

You don’t need to implement everything overnight. You might want to start by purchasing a property management system and then incorporating that system into your website.

Then, talk with a self storage website vendor to maximize your site for automation. The key is to add automation incrementally and with thought and purpose.

Finally, realize that automation will not be able to do everything. You’ll still need someone to clean out units, conduct lock checks, hold auctions, deal with customer service issues, and answer calls (although calls can be routed to a call center rather than an employee).

What do storage customers care about the most? Download our Top 9 Amenities to  find out.
However, automation can reduce the amount of staff that you need and the hours that you need them.

Many facilities are discovering that automation is allowing them to get by with a part-time employee rather than a full-time manager.

Still, other facilities are opting to be staffed during the day and be automated at night. In the end, you must determine what level of automation and staffing is best suited for your facility.

If you enjoyed this article, here are some others you might like: 

Do you know what your tenants are looking for?

Download our Top 9 Self Storage Amenities!

Top 9 Self Storage Amenities - Cover