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July 30, 2018
Over the past decade, the real estate investment world has really started to take notice of the self storage industry. While there are some downsides such as saturation, there are upsides as well. In addition to newcomers seeing opportunity in storage, so have technology companies.
Although self storage has traditionally been behind when it comes to technology, the past couple years have seen some great innovation in several categories: Marketing, Self Storage Management Software, IoT/IoE Platforms, Access Control, Security, Mobile Apps, and Automation.
Trying to take in all that has become available at once can be overwhelming; however, if you break it down one piece at a time, it’s a lot easier to digest and understand it all. Technology can boost the ROI on your self storage investment.
Marketing technology is a great example of how technology available to self storage facilities has advanced. Long gone are the days when picking a good location and listing in the phone book cut it for marketing.
Modern marketing is built around your self storage website. Every self storage website needs good SEO, online rentals, and online bill pay. From there you can use pay-per-click (PPC) or social media ads to drive traffic to your website and capture tenants that you would have otherwise missed out on.
In addition to social media ads regular posts aren’t as effective, but they do help legitimize your online presence. A good way to accomplish this is to schedule posts.
If you want to frequently update the content of your website, Content Management System (CMS) capabilities are a plus. All CMS means is that you can change how your website looks and what it says without having to know how to code.
Self storage management software is not new by any means, but the way in which it is used and available is changing.
A lot of software is moving to the cloud, which is to say that you login to a website instead of installing something on a computer.
Cloud self storage management software is really about the convenience to self storage owners and managers.
Gone are the days where you have to drive to the office and use the computer that the management system is installed on. In fact, when you access software in the cloud, there is nothing to update. You can just use any internet connected device to login.
Don’t let the CaMeLcAsE buzzwords scare you away! IoT (Internet of Things) or IoE (Internet of Everything) really mean the same thing.
At the moment, marketers are just trying to figure out which one sounds more interesting.
All that it means is making different devices that you likely already use “smart.” This usually involves embedding microcontrollers (think of a chip that would be in a garage door controller) into devices that wouldn’t traditionally connect to the internet.
For a storage facility, this would include things such as your gate, unit doors, lights, solar panels, locks, thermostats, surveillance cameras, etc.
This is useful for many reasons. The key reason is more control and a deeper awareness of your facility.
For example, your lightbulbs can “tell” you when they go out. Or your units doors could know when to allow a new tenant in.
The emergence of these platforms is relatively new, but it will be exciting to see what self storage technology vendors come up with in the next few years.
In the last sentence of the previous section, you might notice that the vendors mentioned are traditionally access control companies. This is because the logical next step for access control is implementing IoT/IoE solutions.
Much like a website is the center for modern self storage marketing, access control is becoming the central piece of IoT. This is due to the fact that a tenants visit to your storage facility starts with the gate.
Whether using a gate code or a mobile phone (which we will get to later) to get in the gate, they have thereby identified themselves and their visit to the facility begins.
Cloud access control systems provided by companies such as PTI Security, Opentech Alliance, and Janus International provide a lot more control and information than previously available.
Because they are cloud-based, they can be logged into from any internet connected device. You can control which gates are accessible and even which unit doors can be opened.
The key uses of cloud access control are allowing tenants to open the gate and unit with their phone. A big advantage of the latter is being able to make the overlock and move-in process digital and automated. Managers and owners can control it all from their phone, tablet, or computer.
Other options such as Smartlok from Stor-Guard, are a balance between new and old. They provide bluetooth gate access and remote control of unit latches, but allow for the use of traditional locks by tenants.
Other ways of making your gate more convenient are license plate recognition and automation vehicle identification. For a self storage customer to access your facility, they simply drive up to the gate.
However, this doesn’t replace your keypad. If a customer has a dirty car, a new license plate, or new vehicle then they will need a backup entry method.
In addition to cloud technology that works on multiple devices, there are apps for that. Mobile apps allowing tenants to use next generation access control and units locks.
Self storage tenants no longer have to unlock anything manually, and can be identified by phone.
Other features include tenant receives notifications of unit access and alarm activity, view unit access and event history, make an online payment, get site-proximity notifications, or look up an access code.
While some people find mobile apps unnecessary or even annoying, others live and die by the apps on their phone. It’s important to cater to all of your tenants.
Regardless of unmanned intentions or not, kiosks can be a great way to service tenants after hours, take some work off of the manager’s plate, or even provide a new rental experience.
For example, storelocal’s new kiosk isn’t meant to be accessed without a manager.
The setup used by National Self Storage is meant to have the manager be more involved by standing next to the tenant and help them rent or pay (see image below).
The two key points to most of these technologies is increased automation and analytics.
The first of which is increased convenience for managers, owners, and tenants.
Being able to rent and pay online is easier for tenants. It is also easier for managers and owners because it is less manual bookkeeping and leads to decreases in delinquency.
The second key point is the analytical side.
When anything happens electronically, software logs data and events. A lot can be analyzed from keeping track of what is going on.
This can include how long, often, and when tenants visit your facility, how much you spend on lighting, tracking the entire process of lead-to-lease, or even detecting move-outs.
As this extensive record-keeping continues, machine learning will be able to detect and predict all sorts of events previously thought impossible.
Try not to be overwhelmed by all of this. Just look through the options and think about what might make YOUR self storage operation better.
Some vendors are even launch programs for facilities to roll out new tech into their existing storage operations. The most prominent so far is Janus International’s R3 program. Other vendors are sure to follow suit.
Stick with new ideas and embrace change. Before you know it, you could make your tenants’ and your life easier.
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