The Complete Self Storage Dictionary

August 22, 2023

26 min

In self storage, operators are always willing to help each other out. You don’t see this in every industry. In some, even basic knowledge can be a closely held secret, available only through hard-won experience or by paying exorbitant sums for the education.

At any self storage conference, you can find operators big and small exchanging problems and advice. This attitude makes self storage a great industry to be in!

Every industry, though, has its share of jargon - words that can be confusing if you haven’t already been taught what they mean.

Building up your SEO with your GBP can enable revenue management that will help you maximize your economic occupancy and outcompete the REITs!

On this page, we’ll go over all the main self storage terms that you might hear at these conventions. This includes storage-specific terms, words that may have different meaning in storage than elsewhere, and all the acronyms you’re likely to run across!

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General Self Storage Terms

lease_dic What is a self storage lease?

  • A self storage lease is an agreement between the storage operator and their tenant in which the tenant can use a storage unit for a certain period of time in exchange for paying a certain rate. The lease must be legally binding. Talk to your state storage association if you need help writing your lease.

rentalagree_dic What is a self storage rental agreement?

  • A self storage rental agreement is an agreement between the operator and tenant to exchange money for use of a storage unit over a period of time. Rental agreement and lease are often used interchangeably, but rental agreements tend to be month-to-month and renew automatically, while a lease refers to a specific, usually longer, period of time. 
  • Lease and Rental Agreement are almost interchangeable, with only a slight difference in the length of time implied.

lien_dic What is a lien?

  • A lien is a legal right to assets used as collateral against debt - in layman’s terms, storage operators have a lien against the property stored in their units. If your tenant doesn’t pay the obligated rent, you can legally sell the stuff in the unit to make up the difference. If a unit is under default (meaning it hasn’t been paid for), it will be said to be “in lien” or “under lien.” Storage operators will follow a specific process of alerting the tenant, waiting, and eventually sending the storage unit to auction to recoup some of the money they’re owed.
  • Lien laws are tricky! They vary in each state, from how long you have to wait before starting the process to how you have to alert the tenant who hasn’t paid. Often, the value of the storage unit doesn’t make up for the lost revenue (if they were storing something worth a lot of money, the tenant would make sure they paid rent!)

letter_dic What is a lien letter in self storage?

  • A lien letter is a legally required contact notifying your tenant that you’re placing their storage unit under lien. Usually, this is in the form of certified mail or some other verifiable method of delivering the letter. 
  • Depending on the specific laws of your state, you may still have to send a physical lien letter to the delinquent tenant. In other states, you may be able to send electronic mail. The main point of a lien letter is that you must be able to verify that you let your tenant know with plenty of time that you were going to sell the things in their storage units. Check with your local SSA to be sure you’re sending legally-enforceable lien letters.
  • What do storage customers care about the most? Download our Top 9 Amenities to  find out.

auction_dic What is an auction in self storage?

  • A self storage auction is similar to a regular auction, but with extra rules. People will big how much they would pay for the contents of your storage unit, and whoever bids the most money pays that amount and takes the items home. 
  • However! The bidders are not allowed to examine the items in the storage unit. You (the operator) cannot go through the items and analyze their value. You can only take photos from outside the storage unit.
  • You must notify the owner in multiple ways before auctioning their items. Not long ago, you’d have to post a notice in the local newspaper, just to be sure that the tenant knew you were about to sell their stuff! Now, you’ll have to check your state’s laws before you make a move. Every self storage owner needs to know their state’s lien process (which is sending unit to auction) and have a set of procedures in place!

ssa_dic What is an SSA in self storage?

  • SSA is an acronym that stands for “self storage association.” These are state level organizations that perform a lot of functions for their local self storage operators. If you’re not already part of your state organization, we highly recommend you join! SSAs will:
    • Lobby local legislatures
    • Establish connections with storage specific services (like lawyers)
    • Put you in touch with the people who can help your business
    • Provide education and commiseration with your fellow operators

gbp_dic What is a self storage GBP?

  • Your business’s GBP is your Google Business Profile. This functions like your storefront on the web, and is the only way to show up in Google’s Local Pack rankings. This used to be called Google My Business
  • Your GBP is one of the primary ways people will find you online, so it needs to be accurate and updated. You will show up in the top results (and get the most clicks) if you have good reviews, lots of photos, and are near the searcher. Google Business Profile search results will get more clicks than organic results, so if your profile is showing up when you search “storage units in [your town],” you’re doing great!

lock_dic What is overlocking?

  • Overlocking a unit is applying a second lock over the top of the renter’s lock. Storage operators need to overlock a unit when the tenant hasn’t paid their rent - otherwise, the tenant could simply come take all of their stuff and disappear. By placing a second lock on the unit, which only your management team has the key to, you can demand that the customer pay rent before they take their stuff out.
  • If you have smart locks, you can overlock simply by retracting their access. This saves your team time and hassle. With smart locks, you may even be able to tie the function to your PMS and have the overlocking done automatically when tenants are late on rent.

seo_dic What is self storage SEO?

  • SEO stands for search engine optimization. It is the process of trying to make your online presence show up when potential customers search the web for storage. Google is the most important search engine, as it is used by the greatest percentage of people (89% or more). In general, SEO tries to put your website (or GBP) high up on the page of Search Engine Results (SERPs).
  • SEO is a tricky game, and for most self storage operators, having a good website and a good GBP will be the best return on investment for your time and effort. Be wary of SEO companies promising you front-page rankings with blogs or backlinks - these are not usually an efficient way to spend your marketing dollars.

reit_dic What is a self storage REIT?

  • If you go to a self storage association event, you’ll hear people talking (or complaining) about the REITs. REITs are real estate investment trusts, which use vast quantities of investor money to buy, build, and operate self storage facilities. You’ve probably heard of them - CubeSmart, Extra Space Storage, Public Storage, Life Storage, and National Storage Affiliates Trust.
  • U-Haul isn’t technically a REIT, but is often lumped in with these five because they operate in a similar (but not identical) manner.
  • REITs are the big dogs in self storage. They have multi-million dollar marketing departments, the data to find the most promising locations, and the experience of running thousands of facilities. Many small operators find themselves competing with these behemoths for business - but you’ve got some advantages! You know your community better, can get more personally involved, and can pivot easier to new strategies. 
  • And, in most places, there’s enough demand to go around!

lead_dic What constitutes a lead in self storage?

  • “Lead” is a marketing term referring to a potential customer who has made contact with your business. This can be someone who has called your facility, someone who has started a rental online, or simply someone who has visited your web page.
  • Following up on leads is one of the best ways to increase your rentals. Depending on the type of lead, this may mean calling the person to see if you can help them find a good unit, or it could mean sending them an email with a discount offer.

autopay_dic What is autopay?

  • Autopay is a software feature that automatically bills your customers’ credit card or bank account for the agreed amount on an agreed date. For example, your software would bill all of your autopay customers on the first of the month, saving you time that you’d otherwise spend collecting checks, counting cash, or otherwise managing your income.
  • Customers appreciate autopay as well because they don’t have to think about paying for their storage unit. This enhances the customer experience, because you’re ensuring your business isn’t interfering with their day any more than absolutely necessary. Remember, people rent storage when they have a problem - they want you to solve it, without adding new problems!

revenue_dic What is revenue management?

  • In storage, revenue management is a general term referring to paying attention to what rates you’re charging tenants and increasing them if they fall too low compared to your street rates. This can happen if you don’t increase the rates your long-term tenants are paying. However, raising your rates is a touchy subject!
  • Of course, your tenants don’t want to pay more, and you don’t want to lose renters, so revenue management must be done carefully. You will have to do some, though, or your economic occupancy will be too low and you’ll fall behind the competition!

customer_dic What is customer experience?

  • Customer experience is the entire interaction a customer has with your business, from first learning about you until your relationship ends. This idea encompasses much more than simple customer service. A good customer experience means your customer was able to find and purchase what they need easily, that they were happy with the product provided, and that you were able to quickly solve any troubles they had.
  • A single customer with a good customer experience is worth a ton of money to your business. Happy customers leave positive Google reviews. They tell their friends when that friend needs a place to store. They go out and share your business in a way that no amount of marketing money can replicate!

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

Financial Self Storage Terms

latefee_dic What are self storage late fees?

  • Late fees are monetary penalties that operators charge their tenants for paying late. So, if payment is due on the 1st of the month, and they haven’t paid by the 10th, they owe you X more dollars on top of the rent payment.
  • Some operators love late fees - they see the fees as an easy way to increase revenue. Others see late fees only as a way to encourage timely payment. They’d rather not charge any late fees at all!
  • At StoragePug, we recommend the latter. Customers hate late fees, and we recommend not charging them unless a tenant becomes a problem. Even then, it’d be better to replace them with a customer that pays on time than to make small change every time they’re late.
  • Late fees can be necessary, but in general they create a worse customer experience. Use them to encourage timely payment, but not as a way to generate revenue. 

caprate_dic What is a cap rate?

  • A cap rate (or capitalization rate) is a real estate term used to describe how much money a facility brings in every year (net operating income, or NOI) compared to how much the facility itself is worth. If your facility brings in $100,000 a year and is valued at $2,000,000, the cap rate of that facility would be 5%. The cap rate is mostly used by investors as a quick and dirty way to evaluate a facility.
  • It can also be useful to compare the capitalization rate with the current interest rate on a loan you might be able to get. The greater the difference between the cap rate and interest rate, the bigger the actual cash flow of the property will be. A high cap rate means the facility brings in more money compared to how much it costs, which is a good indicator if you’re looking to invest.

profit_dic What are the differences between revenue, profit, and income?

  • The three terms, revenue, profit, and income are pretty similar, which leads to confusion!
  • Revenue is all the money your business brings in. For a self storage business, this is all the money paid in rent, plus any other cash you make by selling boxes, renting moving trucks, selling locks, etc. Revenue does not factor in any of your expenditures.
  • Profit is the amount of money you bring in, minus the cost of goods. With rental property, your profit may be the same as your revenue, since you aren’t spending money directly on the good you sell. However, your profit on moving supplies or locks would be the price the customer pays minus the cost you paid for the product initially. Profit does not factor in taxes, salary, maintenance, or other expenses besides the cost of goods.
  • Income is the money you bring in minus all your expenditures. This is the measurement of whether your business is making or losing money! Take however much you’ve brought in through rent, goods sales, and anything else, then subtract what you pay for facility upkeep, payroll, taxes, interest on your loan, marketing, etc. Whatever is left is your income!

ocupancy_dic What is a self storage occupancy rate?

  • In self storage, an occupancy rate is a measurement of how many of your storage units are full, compared to how many you have. There are different ways to measure this, but the simplest occupancy rate (called your physical occupancy rate) is the percentage of units you have rented, ignoring their size, amenities, and any other factors.

square_dic What is square footage occupancy rate?

  • Operators often talk about square footage occupancy because it provides different information than the physical occupancy. Instead of the percentage of storage units currently rented, square footage occupancy measures the total space being rented compared to how much space you have.
  • For example, if you rented all your small 5x5 units, but all your larger warehouse-style units were empty, you would have a low square footage occupancy. There’s a lot of space on that property not being used! This measurement can help you see where you need to adjust prices to get the most income from your storage facility.

economic_dic What is economic occupancy?

  • Economic occupancy is the measurement of the amount of money you’re making from your facility compared to the theoretical maximum. If you’ve been charging below-market rates, not increasing customers’ rates as your street rates increase, or not collecting all the money you’re owed, your economic occupancy will be low.
  • Compared to square-foot occupancy and physical occupancy, economic occupancy is the hardest to measure. You have to estimate what rates the market will sustain and compare it to what you’re currently charging. However, economic occupancy is more important than the other two types as well! Having a full facility doesn’t do you much good if you can’t pay the mortgage.

debt_dic What is debt service in self storage?

  • Debt servicing is the act of paying back your loans on schedule - this means keeping up with interest payments so you don’t fall further behind. This term is used often in real estate to benchmark the lowest amount of money you need to make to stay afloat.
  • Your debt service can be measured over a range of different time periods - monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. As interest rates have crept higher, so has the debt service required to keep a new self storage facility above water. If you got a loan for your facility at low rates a few years ago, you may have an advantage over the newer facilities because your debt service is so much lower.

prorating_dic What is prorating in self storage?

  • Prorating is when an operator charges a tenant only for the days they actually use a unit, rather than requiring the tenant to pay for a full month, even if they move out on the 3rd, for example. Some operators prorate rent, while others won’t. Be sure you have a plan in place before your tenant asks!
  • Many tenants will expect you to prorate their unit if they move out early - after all, they only want to pay for the time they use. If you’re not planning on prorating their rent, be clear about that up front!

Self Storage Software Terms

pms_dic What is a self storage PMS?

  • A PMS is Property Management Software, which is the foundational piece of software that runs a self storage business. Your PMS keeps track of tenants, information, billing, email, and more. Everything else you add to your facility needs to work with your PMS, like your gate software, your accounting software, etc.

crm_dic What is CRM software?

  • CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, and this type of software helps businesses keep track of customers and potential customers. A good CRM will give your business new capabilities to interact with customers and leads
  • If you’ve ever gotten an automated “thank you” email from a company, that was their CRM software. You can use it to send texts, automate billing, ask for reviews, etc. Most Property Management Softwares come with a built-in set of CRM tools. These can be super complicated or fairly simple, depending on the particular software you choose.

pos_dic What does POS stand for?

  • In self storage, POS stands for point of sale, and refers to the system you use to take payments from your customers. Usually a cash register, credit card scanner, bar code scanner, and computer constitute your point of sale system. Your POS should record transactions, print receipts, and actually process the transfer of funds from the customer’s bank to your account.
  • Different types of payment processing will cost your business different amounts. Credit and debit card processing will cost you a small fee along with a percentage of the transaction. Cash is the cheapest to use, but is falling out of favor with customers. Our advice is to use whatever payment method your customers prefer! Their good will is worth more to your business than whatever the POS software company is going to charge you for processing the payment.

esign_dic What is e-sign?

  • In self storage, e-sign stands for “electronic signature,” which is a legally binding signature completed on a smartphone, computer, tablet, etc. Self storage operators use some sort of electronic signature software to take a signature and verify that it is authentic when renting their units online.
  • Many property management softwares offer e-sign as part of their package. If they’re going to help you rent units online, they’ll have to have some way to do so. Others will offer reservations, which are a step down from rentals. A rented unit - signed for online - is money in the bank, while reservations are simply strong leads.

pay_dic What is payment processing?

  • Payment processing is the act of your software system asking the customer’s bank to transfer money to your business. All of this is done online in moments through your point of sale system. If your customer is using a credit or debit card, accepting payment requires payment processing. Whenever you use your software to accept a card payment, it will send a request to the issuing bank or card company via the internet. The company will respond by approving the payment or rejecting it, and your system will let you know which happened after a moment.
  • The mechanics behind payment processing are fairly complex, but for the operator it’s easy. Swipe the card, accept the payment, and get on with helping the customer. Pay attention when choosing a PMS or other Point of Sale system, though - the software that performs this money transfer will send take a small portion of the sale for the vendor. This is how many PMSes make a lot of their money. You’re not necessarily getting ripped off, as you’re only paying for the convenience your customers need - just be aware of how much you’re paying.

call_dic What is self storage call tracking?

  • Call tracking is a software feature that monitors and logs every phone call that comes into or goes out of your facility. Call tracking can help you prove that you did contact a customer about their late payments, and it can help you see if your team is doing well following up on leads. 
  • You will have to tie your PMS (or other software) into your phone system, but this is a one-time expenditure of time that can bring big benefits to your customer relations. 
  • Call logs can also transcribe what is actually said on the call! Of course, this isn’t perfect, but new tech is much, much better at accurately understanding human voices than it used to be. If your PMS offers call tracking, there’s no reason not to make use of it!

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Storage Feature Terms

smart_dic What are smart locks?

  • Smart locks are Bluetooth-enabled locks that are opened not with a key, but with a smartphone. Customers can use their existing smartphone to automatically send a wireless message to unlock it simply by being nearby. Other options will require the tenant to use an app or push a button. These are just as safe as a traditional lock, but can be easier to use.
  • Smart locks have significant benefits for operators - you can easily grant and retract access to your storage units without even being on the property. If a tenant doesn’t pay, you can lock them out automatically without adding a new lock to their unit. 
  • These can be highly-desirable to some tenants because they won’t have to add a new key to their keychain or have to memorize a code. Instead, they only need to have their smartphone with them - which almost everyone does already. 
  • On the other hand, some tenants prefer traditional locks, mostly because that’s what they’re used to. As a rule of thumb, you should let your tenants do whatever is most comfortable, either using a smart lock or not.

bluetooth_dic What is Bluetooth?

  • Bluetooth is a wireless technology that uses radio waves to communicate over short distances. In self storage, Bluetooth is used primarily for smart locks and smart gate systems, replacing keys and codes with smartphone Bluetooth signals.
  • Bluetooth is generally considered a secure way to access storage units and facilities. The sending device (your customer’s smartphone) encrypts the signal and the receiving device (your smart lock or smart gate) which has the encryption key and will open for an authorized device.

clime_dic What is climate control vs temperature control?

  • Climate-controlled storage units regulate both the temperature and humidity within the unit and temperature-controlled storage units only regulate the temperature.
  • Many storage operators use these terms interchangeably - and your tenants likely don’t know the difference either. But, if you want to be precise when describing your storage units, use temperature control for just temperature, and climate control if your system controls humidity too.
  • There is no hard-and-fast rule for what exactly “humidity control” means, either. Most air conditioning systems are going to move air in and out of the unit, which will keep the humidity lower than it might be otherwise. So, use your best judgment in advertising your air-conditioned storage!

rentalagree_dic Are reservations and rentals the same thing?

  • The main difference between reservations and rentals is that in a rental, money actually changes hands. In a reservation, the customer tells you they’re going to rent a unit, but in a rental, they actually do.
  • Rentals are way better for your business than reservations! Depending on your conversion rate, less than half of reservations may actually turn into rentals, so if you can offer online rentals (instead of just online reservations) you absolutely should.

insurance_dic What’s the difference between insurance and tenant protection plans?

  • Tenant protect plans and self storage insurance function in very similar ways, but for the owner of the facility, they are different. The main difference is in how many steps are between the damage and the payment. With a tenant protection plan, you as the operator purchase insurance for your facility, and the tenants pay into the plan to get covered. Storage insurance, on the other hand, is a direct insurance plan purchased by the tenant.
  • Insurance has more legal requirements as well. Most storage operations offer protection plans or buy insurance from an authorized broker, rather than trying to offer insurance themselves. 
  • In general, your facility is not legally responsible for the safety of items stored in your units, but your tenants won’t know that unless you tell them. Be clear in your rental agreement. Many homeowners’ insurance policies will cover items stored in a storage unit.

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

Self Storage Marketing Terms

seo_dic What is local SEO?

  • Local SEO is a specific subgroup of Search Engine Optimization that tries to get your business to appear as a top result when people search in your geographical area. Instead of competing with the whole internet, you’re trying to compete with just the businesses that serve your town!
  • Almost all self storage SEO is going to be local SEO. You aren’t going to rent storage to people across the country - so you don’t need to waste effort trying to get your website in front of them. Local operators also don’t have the capacity to compete with global brands, so targeting global keywords won’t yield any results.

serp_dic What are SERPS?

  • SERP is an acronym for “search engine result page.” This is the page that Google or other search engines display when a user gives a query. In general, you want your self storage website to show up in the higher positions on the SERP, because users are more likely to click the websites that place higher.
  • For Google, the top results are paid ads, followed by the Local Pack business profiles, followed by the most relevant web pages that aren’t paid or local (called organic results). The search engines will mix this up sometimes, but in general they follow this order. That doesn’t mean this is the order people click in, though!
  • Local pack results get the most clicks, and they’re free! The top three organic results get the second-highest amount of clicks (with the #1 organic spot getting by far the most). Google’s paid ad spots come in third, then the rest of the organic spots come in below that.

local_dic What is the local pack?

  • In self storage, the Local Pack is the set of results Google shows a searcher that are the best local result for the query. These usually appear on a SERP when the searcher is looking to find a local business. The result will have your business name, address, phone number, and a link to your website, as well as a map with your location.
  • These are the gold medal results for a self storage website! People click on these far more than organic results, PPC ads, or anything else on the SERP. If someone is looking to spend money, they click the local pack. If you’re in the local pack, you’ll get rentals!

crawlers_dic  What are SEO crawlers?

  • Crawlers are the bots that Google and other search engines use to explore the internet, cataloging every page they find to display the helpful pages when someone searches on Google.
  • As a self storage operator, you won’t need to know much about crawlers, as long as your website is built by a reputable company. A good website is easily accessible to crawlers and helps them to categorize the site correctly.

backlink_dic What are backlinks?

  • Backlinks are links from one website to another. This is the blue text you may click on that sends you to a new web page. Search engines see backlinks as a vote of confidence from one website to another! Think of it like a recommendation from a friend that “hey, this website is useful!”
  • Backlinks from relevant websites are gold for a self storage business. This is a niche business, so a handful of quality backlinks can put your website above your competitors. One way we recommend you approach this is by adding your storage business to directories. You can also sponsor local charities or associations to get backlinks from their website to yours.
  • Sometimes you’ll end up with bad backlinks - these come from irrelevant sites or are otherwise not useful to users. If you pay someone for backlinks, you’ll often end up with backlinks that hurt you more than help.

citation_dic What are citations in self storage SEO?

  • For a self storage business, citations are places on line where your business and contact information are mentioned. Directories like Yelp, Sparefoot, List Self Storage, etc., can help renters find your business, but they also provide backlinks to your website!
  • Many citations can be set up by the owner of the business. Getting your self storage citations right can help your business jump up to the top of the rankings in your community!

meta_dic What are meta titles and descriptions?

  • Meta titles and descriptions are information your website gives to search engines to help the search engine understand what the website is about. The meta title shows up as your page’s title in the SERP, and the meta description shows up beneath it, giving readers a preview of the subject matter of the website.
  • You want your meta to be engaging, descriptive, and accurate. Tricking someone into clicking on your website when you’re not a good answer for their search isn’t helpful. They will simply back out and click a different link. Over time, this teaches the search engine that your website isn’t helpful!

ppc_dic What are PPC ads?

  • PPC stands for “Pay Per Click.” PPC ads are advertisements that appear at the very top of a search engine results page, getting your business in front of relevant searchers without having to build up the same sort of SEO presence that you would without ads.
  • The PPC part means that every time a searcher clicks on your ad, you will pay Google (or Bing, or whomever) a prenegotiated fee. Depending on how busy your market is, you could end up paying a decent bit for each click - and if your self storage website doesn’t turn those clicks into rentals, you’re throwing the money away.

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What do your customers really want?
Find out with our Top 9 Amenities!

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