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Gabfocus Session | Automating Your Facility

Automating Your Facility

Find out how operators are navigating a modern world, when they're adding automation, and when they're not. 

Automation doesn't always mean unmanned. From leasing to access control to communication, there are facilities implementing technology and automation across their business in all sorts of different ways. Find out how operators are navigating a modern world when they're adding automation, and when they're not.

Featured Speakers: AJ Osborne, Mason Levy, & Josh Parker
Moderators: Melissa Huff & Tommy Nguyen

Category: Operations & Technology
Focus: Owners & Operators
Aired: February 24, 2022
Duration: 1:11:32


If you don't have time to watch the whole Session, here are some of our favorite parts:

  • At 06:55, AJ, Josh, and Mason discuss the meaning of automation and all agree that it doesn’t actually mean “unmanned”
  • At 10:53, Mason breaks down the difference in levels of automation and what level the self industry is at now
  • At 17:08, the panelists answer the question, “What automation trends can we expect?” and acknowledge that regardless of the specific technologies, it is necessary to move towards more and more automation
  • At 17:36, AJ and Mason emphasizes how important it is for your data to work together across technology
  • At 22:12, Josh talks about how to decide if and when it is time to begin automating
  • At 23:30, the panelists each share what technologies make sense for different types facilities
  • At 33:17 , AJ and Tommy talk about how to transition a facility from cash or check payments to online and automatic payments, and how to do that well
  • At 41:38, the panelists discuss which types of automation they think are the absolute necessities when upgrading  your storage facility. “If you’re not doing online rentals, you’re not participating in the market”
  • At 55:15, each panelist shares how to give their customers the best possible experience when adding automation
  • At 1:01:30, our experts answer the Question of the Week!

Question of the Week

We asked our experts: What’s the most important thing to remember, when adopting new processes and technology into your business?

“I think for me, the question is ‘Is it accessible? For the customer, the manager, and the owner.’ If the answer is no to any one of those, then it is not worth doing.” - Josh Parker
“You have to have buy-in from the top. Behavioral change, any type of process change is hard and you’ve gotta have buy in from the top, making it known that this is something hey as a company, we’re going to be pushing this new initiative. It may hurt for a little while, but it’s going to make all of our lives easier and our customers are gonna love it. Once that executive is bought in, you need to have someone own the process. Managing automation is not something that you set it and forget it, because things tend to change, so having somebody that own it is what I would recommend” - Mason Levy
"When we look at changes on anything through automation with customers we need them to adopt out of their own free will and their own decision making process because that creates a buy in.” - AJ Osborne

Gabfocus Takeaway

Automation is necessary to be successful in the world of self storage. With so many industries moving towards quick and streamlined ways of serving their customers, it is important that the self storage industry does the same. But, it doesn’t have to be scary or even all at once! You can start small, but you should definitely start somewhere. All of our panelists agree, by simplifying processes and adding automation ultimately makes owners, operators, and most importantly, customers lives easier.

What are Gabfocus Sessions?

Gabfocus Sessions are virtual workshops for self storage owners, managers, and operators. Brought to you by the team behind Gabfest: StoragePug and Affordable Storage Guys Management.

Each session features hand-picked industry pros who will dive deep into relevant topics surrounding our industry, share best practices, and explore trends in the market. It's our hope that these sessions help you navigate your self storage business better during these uncertain times.

Want to learn more about self storage? Join us on select Thursdays for Gabfocus.

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Questions Answered in this Session

  1. What does automation mean?
  2. What are the automation trends we’re seeing?
  3. Where are we now? What can we expect?
  4. How do you decide when automation is right for your facility?
  5. How does the size of your facility or business affect it?
  6. How does location or demographic affect it?
  7. What are the biggest advantages of automating your facility?
  8. What are the biggest challenges and pitfalls when adding automation to your facility?
  9. When should you not automate your facility?
  10. What are the main places in your operations that need automation? How do you set them up?
  11. What are you looking for when choosing the right partners?
  12. How do you handle the “in-person” tasks that need to be done at your facility?
  13. How often do you have someone on-site?
  14. Do you need to live close to your facility if it’s automated?
  15. How do more automated systems and features affect your customers' experience?
  16. How do you maintain positive customer relationships when more interactions are
  17. What’s the most important thing to remember, when adopting new processes and technology into your business?

Live Poll Results: What tools are most important to provide to your employees?




Meet your speakers


Josh Parker

Storage Authority

Website: https://www.storageauthority.com/
Email: josh@storageauthority.com

Mason Levy


Website: https://tryswivl.com/
Email: mason@tryswivl.com

AJ Osbourne

Store Local

Website: https://www.selfstorage.coop/?hsLang=en

Got questions or comments for the panelists?

Our panelists will be happy to answer any questions you have. We hope you enjoyed this Gabfest Session. Talk soon!

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Resources from this session

Awesome Quotes

“Once your operation is in place, you can become more dynamic with your pricing, but that requires data. You need some method of being able to record the data that you need to know whether your price is in the right place - whether you need to move it up or start giving some concessions.” - Warren Lieberman
“I never want to downplay to what someone else is doing. I'm better than they are, then I'm going to be worth a higher price. That's what value is. If you go out to a restaurant and get really good service, would you go back? Yes! What if it was pricier? You'd still go back because you got better service and a better product.” - Jim Mooney
"It's good to be informed on your competition. I don't want to ignore them, but I don't want to respond too strongly to them either." - Warren Lieberman
"We did a survey of 10,000 facilities on their pricing. We found out that two-thirds of those operators didn't change the price of a single unit of the course of a month." - Warren Lieberman
“Rate increases and value pricing are the number one ways to grow your revenue.” - Jim Mooney
"Tenants in more convenient units tend to be less price sensitive." - Warren Lieberman
"The size of the unit is only one aspect of what people are willing to pay for." - Warren Lieberman


Foundational marketing strategies to have in place - whether leasing up or stabilized:

  • Website
  • Set up listings (Yelp, Google My Business, Apple Maps)
  • Social Media
  • Establish Local Partnerships

Lease up marketing strategies:

  • Lead Generating Strategies (like digital ads)
  • Aggregators (Sparefoot, Storagefront, etc.)
  • Awareness Campaigns (like billboards, flyers, and sponsorships)

Your average customer value
Find the average stay length of all tenants. Next take your economic occupancy and divide by how many units you have. That will tell you what the average customer pays.

Multiply the average length of stay by what the average customer pays, and that's the average value of a customer.

For example, if a customer stays for 12 months and pays $100 per month, then their value is $1,200.

Your average lead value

Figure out your closing rate (or conversion rate) i.e. how many leads do you turn into tenants? Multiply that by your average customer lifetime value to figure out what your leads are worth. 

Pro Tip: see which lead sources are converting the best. It may be that certain sources have a higher conversion rate, so those leads are worth more to you than a source that barely converts.

Typical Lease-up timeline

According to our panelists, it's typical to see a 3-4% increase each month, putting your facility at 36% after the first year, and 72% after the second.

Alternately, you can look at your lease up goals through the lens of your units, aiming for 20 units rented per month.

For Nick and StorageMax, they pro forma their economic occupancy at 85% with their sweet spot at 92%.

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