The Comprehensive Guide to Self Storage Software
What you need—and what you don’t—to keep your self storage business competitive
Software has enabled humanity to do some incredible things.
Early software flew the Apollo spacecraft from Earth to the moon, a four-day journey between two celestial bodies moving at 67,000 miles per hour! The astronauts could only help guide the ship when they were landing because they couldn’t see the target until then.
And whatever machine you’re reading this on has approximately 900 million times the computing power of the Apollo 11 guidance computer.
Of course, we use ours for social media and Netflix, but the opportunities provided by modern software are incredible. Self storage software can help you drive demand, collect rent, and maximize your revenue - but only if you know how to use it.
With dozens of software options available, choosing the right ones could be a full-time job - but you don’t have that luxury.
In this article, we’ll go over all the different types of self storage software, from property management software to gate control software, discussing how each can help you run your business better. We’ll also cover the most popular brands in each type, go over their pros and cons, and help you decide which one fits your needs!
We’ll explain all you need to know about self storage software. We’ll help you take your facility from pen and paper to the cutting edge of technology if that’s your goal - or we can just help you improve your operations with a few simple additions.
What is Self Storage Management Software
Self storage management software is a set of tools that all work together to help you run your self storage business. Most facilities have one integrated piece of software that performs all the major functions you need, sharing important information between the different functions. This gives you one place to go for payment processing, customer relationship management, billing, and more.
Other self storage software can be added separately, such as unit alarms, accounting software, wireless locks, etc. All of these fall under the umbrella of self storage management software.
Searching for self storage software can get cluttered up by all the different jargon, features, and marketing speak. Everything you look at has twenty-seven compelling reasons why you need this specific piece of software or your building will collapse.
Your task is to cut through the nonsense, and we can help. We’ve got to drill down into the software to figure out what problems it’s actually going to solve for us - and if we can’t find one, maybe we don’t need it.
Here are the main types of self storage software:
- Property Management Software - This is the foundation of your business. Your PMS keeps track of:
- Security Software - This category contains a variety of options to keep your facility protected
- Video monitoring and backup
- Unit alarms
- Bluetooth locks
- Gate access software
- Cloud data storage
- Financial Software - These help you manage your money; incoming and outgoing. Many of these are already bundled with your PMS, but if it’s not you’ll need something from this category.
These are a ton of options! And to make it more complicated, you can find many different self storage software brands that compile most of these features. We’ll cover each one in depth so you can decide whether your business needs any specific features before you pay for them.
Self Storage Facility Software Features
When you’re shopping for self storage management software, you’re going to get flooded with features - but what do these advertised features actually do? Will they make your day easier, or will you end up with a metaphorical bookshelf full of unused options?
This is a list of self storage management software features, complete with an explanation of what concrete benefit they can bring. Keep in mind you don’t need all of these - depending on the size of your business you may not need many. Not all PMSs have all of these features, but most will have a significant number of them.
Security Gate Access Control
Your PMS can issue gate access codes to your tenants. It will keep track of which code belongs to which person, so you know who enters your gate and when. This is invaluable when something goes wrong at the facility - you know whose code was being used. You also save time by not needing to give a new code out every time you get a new tenant.
Payment processing (online or PoS)
Your PMS should accept payments from customers and transfer any electronic payments into your business account. This can include a Point of Sale system and online payment acceptance, with varying levels of sophistication. Without a way to accept money (and document it), getting paid will take a long, long time!
Many self storage software systems offer a Customer Relationship Management platform within them. This covers a wide range of tasks (and the subject for another blog!) including sending communications to your tenants, tracking leads for follow-up, requesting reviews, and generating marketing reports.
Your CRM feature will also track all your customers’ information, so if you need to check when a credit card is going to expire, find someone’s phone number, or just send out birthday greetings, this is where you’d find that knowledge.
If your PMS doesn’t offer a full CRM, it should at least have a way to bill your tenants regularly. This is the type of task software excels at - repetitive, detailed, and requiring of precision. A good automatic billing system will ensure your books are kept balanced and will alert you when your attention is needed.
Another one that falls under the CRM umbrella. This is the most barebones version of customer management - you need something that will keep track of all your tenants. If you don’t get one of the upgraded versions, be certain you have at least this.
Lead management systems will alert you when a customer has visited your website, interacted with an ad, or otherwise indicated an interest in renting with you. Some systems will follow up with an automated email, while others will alert your staff (or you) to follow up with the lead manually.
Late fee calculation
Your PMS should automatically calculate and bill late fees when your customers don’t pay on time. When you’re shopping for a PMS, be sure that the one you choose enables you to forgive late fees too - this can help you create a positive customer experience.
Multiple location capabilities
If you have more than one location, or expect to grow, be sure your PMS can run multiple locations. This means segregating the operations of the different locations; keeping customers separate, billing separate, employees separate, etc. Management software should make your job easier, and if you have to parse multiple locations in one instance of your PMS, it won’t be doing that.
Document management means your software can save, store, and return important documentation on demand. Most PMSs will have this capability, but a better User Interface can make it much easier to use. Cloud storage lets you access your documents from anywhere, which can be incredibly handy.
Self storage reporting lets you make informed decisions about your business. A PMS with reporting capabilities will keep track of your lead conversions, revenue per unit type, customers’ payment rates, marketing success, late fees, and everything else that you might need to know. Accurate reports show you which parts of your business are making money and which aren’t. Without accurate information, you can’t make good decisions - meaning a strong reporting system is invaluable.
Offering online rentals is trickier than a lot of these other features. You have to have a website that can talk with your property management software and payment processing. Some PMS companies require you to hire them for your website to offer online rentals, but others will work with third-party website teams. This feature will let you choose your preferred website vendor, rather than being locked into the one your PMS provider prefers.
Younger generations value online rentals very highly, and even the older generations are starting to prioritize them more. If you don’t offer online rentals, you’re falling behind the REITs and larger companies that have entirely-online processes.
An e-sign feature enables you to collect legally binding signatures from your tenants online. This is necessary if you’re going to be renting your units online - which is a highly desirable feature in most markets. An E-verify feature enables you to skip the lead follow-up step if your customer is ready to rent. Without e-sign, you’ll have to contact your potential customer again, maybe multiple times, which wastes labor and risks losing the customer.
A comprehensive PMS should have some sort of time management feature that lets you keep track of everyday tasks. This can make your employees more efficient, help you see where time is being wasted, and ensure that every important task gets completed.
Rate change software can automatically offer different rates to customers depending on certain circumstances. For example, if you’re almost full, good rate management software can raise the rate on your remaining units until it hits the sweet spot of what customers are willing to pay.
Reminder emails are automatically sent to customers to remind them when their bill is due. This can reduce the number of delinquent customers you have without you having to lift a finger. It also creates a better customer experience, as your customers won’t be charged late fees (or have to argue with you about it).
Self storage auction management tools will let you semi-automate the auction process, which saves time and protects you from mistakes. Depending on the software, yours may tie into online auction websites so you can get your unit back without having to post ads in the newspaper or other annoying tasks.
You’ll still need to research the lien laws in your area to ensure that you can run your auctions online with software. Check with your self storage association too if you’re not sure.
Discount and other pricing tools
Discount pricing tools enable you to change all your rates (or apply certain discounts) all at once. This can be helpful if you offer discount plans like “7th month free,” so you don’t have to remember or go back and change the rate yourself when the tenant gets to their 7th month.
This is the most basic feature your PMS should have. Unit tracking features monitor all your rentals and catalog all your units, so you can tell who is in which unit, how many you have available, which unit types are making money, which ones people don’t rent, etc. etc.
If software tracks your marketing data, that can again help you make good decisions - without software tracking the return on your marketing investments, you can end up wasting money on marketing tactics that aren’t working. Good marketing software will track which tenants come from which marketing investments, so you can see how well each is working.
A property map helps you visualize your occupancy better - and it can help you use Value Pricing to better match the rates you charge to the demand for a specific unit. Units closer to the gate, ones that are easier to get to, and units on the ground floor command higher rents than others, and a property map can help you assign those prices correctly.
Automatic surveys can help you shape your business to match your customers’ needs! This can be incredibly valuable, but getting tenants to complete surveys is tricky. Still, having the software in place to ask questions can be a big benefit if you’re looking to match your facility to your customers.
Most PMSs let you send emails to your customers, which is incredibly useful. You need to be able to send rental rate increase notices, new leases, or simply invite them to your community events! If you stumble across a PMS that doesn’t let you automatically email your tenants, steer clear.
What Software Do Most Self Storage Facilities Use?
While we don’t have exact numbers on who uses what PMS, from our experience SiteLink is the most commonly used property management software.
SiteLink was the leading management software when much of the industry started to adopt technology, and for good reason - it works!
SiteLink won ISS’s award for Best Management Software for eight straight years, and most of the voters are self storage operators - you can’t ask for a better recommendation than that.
One big reason people choose SiteLink is that they have a cloud-based Web Edition that you can access from anywhere on any internet-connected device. This lets you check on your business even when you’re out on the lot - performing most of the tasks you’d do at your computer right from your phone.
Of course, there are other benefits to cloud computing than convenience, such as data backup.
SiteLink has been constantly improving it since the software came out and it remains the first choice for most of the industry.
SiteLink offers flexibility that a lot of other software options don’t - with SiteLink, you can choose your own website vendor, text messaging service, or credit card processing company. Many other PMSes require you to use their version of these functions, which locks you into a service you may not choose.
Self Storage Software Options
SiteLink isn’t your only option, though! Property Management Software comes in a huge range of shapes and sizes - in general, the more you pay for, the more features you’ll get. You’re also paying for different levels of service, as more expensive PMSs will have bigger support staff.
The trick to choosing a good PMS for your business is sorting out which features you’ll make good use of and which ones will never be clicked. Smaller operations won’t need the same number of features as a bigger operation, so consider how much time you have to make use of a feature, and what its potential effect could be before you invest extra money to upgrade.
We’ll provide a list of the most prominent features for some common property management softwares here, as well as what you can expect to pay.
Not all features are listed here! We’ve chosen to call out the ones that are unique or most important.
Check the links for more information.
How Much Does Storage Software Cost?
Property management software typically has three different avenues of payment, and each company might charge you more in one than the other. These are:
- Monthly Subscription Cost
- Startup Cost
- Percentage of Payment Processing Cost
Monthly Subscription Costs
This is the easiest to calculate when you're doing your theoretical budget. Depending on how many units you have and how many facilities you run, you’ll pay the PMS company a certain amount per month for the service.
Some companies charge per unit (like Yardi), while others have pricing tiers that change the monthly cost when you hit a certain number of units.
Almost every company is going to charge you more for larger facilities. If you’re operating a small facility, this won’t be as big of a jump in cost, but if you’re operating hundreds of units or multiple facilities, you’ll need to pay close attention to what your price will actually be.
Factor in whether or not you plan on growing soon, too. If you’re going to expand rapidly you don’t want the hassle of learning a new PMS on top of the difficulties of opening a new facility.
Most PMSs charge a flat fee for all the work required to get your facility set up with the new software. That can include training, hardware, and other onboarding steps. If the PMS company is going to also furnish you with a website, they’ll have to pay a team to create that, too.
Startup costs should cover all these expenses - if you’re getting a software set without any startup costs, you’ll probably have to agree to use the program for a set amount of time to offset it. If not, you may not get much in the way of onboarding and you’ll have to learn to use the software set without extensive training.
This charge will quickly be outweighed by the monthly payments and processing cost in most cases.
Payment Processing Fees
Almost all of these property management softwares offer payment processing, and for many of them, part of the way they make money is by charging a percentage of your transactions. Depending on your net income, this could quickly eclipse any money you’re paying monthly.
If you’re a small facility, you may be able to save money by taking a higher payment processing fee over higher flat fees. Of course, the larger your business, the higher all of these fees will be.
Estimating Total Costs
Running a mock budget for a year with these charges can help you get a better understanding of what you’re actually going to pay. If you’ve already been running, you can take last year’s budget and plug those numbers into the new PMS pay schedule to see how much you’ll pay. If you’re a new business, you won’t have last year’s numbers - plug in averages from your area instead, if you can.
Your State Self Storage Association is a great resource for more information. The more local your test numbers, the more accurate they’ll be!
Once you know how much you’ll actually be paying per year, you can balance the benefits between the different softwares. There are also some unmeasurable variables - like how easy you find the software to use, how good their support team is, and how well the company keeps up with new needs and trends.
While you certainly can change PMS (and should in certain circumstances), be aware that you’re committing significant time to relearn a new system. This time and effort could be spent elsewhere, so it has a real opportunity cost that could exceed any money you’re saving!
Smart Storage Unit Software
Now that you’ve got your foundational software sorted, you can start thinking about building up your tech presence with other options!
Self storage has been relatively low-tech over the last few decades - while Amazon and Netflix were revolutionizing their industries, self storage was just bumping along, doing fine.
Now the industry has started booming, especially after the Great Recession. Big investment firms have started moving in, and with them comes modernization in every aspect of the business.
Property Management Software is one of the big upgrades, of course, as is a self storage website. Many operators are pushing even further forward with Smart Storage Units.
What Are Smart Storage Units?
This is a broad term that can refer to several different actual technologies. The primary two are Bluetooth unit access apps and unit monitors. These both allow your tenants to have better control over their units.
Smart units, in general, are a way for self storage facilities to differentiate themselves from the competition. Smart units provide value above and beyond what the average self storage unit can offer, and customers will often pay more for the added capabilities.
Smart units are a good investment if you can charge more for them - or if they increase demand.
That being said, not every customer base is prepared to pay extra for a smart unit. Many of our operators upgrade just a handful of self storage units at first to gauge interest. Younger generations are more likely to opt for smart units, so that’s a good way to estimate your potential audience.
If you only offer drive-up, non-climate storage, you may have a harder time convincing your tenants to pay more for Bluetooth locks. The higher-tech your current operation, the more likely you are to benefit from upgrading to smart units.
There are two main options for smart storage unit software, each of which offers a different set of features.
Nokē offers software and hardware that lets your tenants enter their self storage unit with their smartphone instead of a key.
SpiderDoor offers gate access control, door access control, and easy-to-install unit alarms.
Nokē (pronounced No-Key, of course) primarily provides smart locks that let your customers access their storage unit and your facility with the Bluetooth identification of their smartphone, without keys or codes.
This can be a big boost for your customers, as they don’t have to remember a gate code or keep up with a key - which then benefits you because you don’t have to replace keys or remind them of gate codes.
With Nokē locks, you also save money by not needing to rekey a lock when a tenant moves out. You can just tell the Bluetooth lock not to admit that tenant any longer and you’re good to go.
Nokē also lets you track who accesses which units and when.
This can be incredibly useful, especially if you’ve got a big facility with tons of tenants coming and going. With this information you can tell who was on the property at any given time - say, when someone backed their truck into your office.
With smart locks like Nokē, your tenants can delegate access to their self storage unit to others - family members, friends, whoever. The app software will then track who accesses the property or a given storage unit.
Nokē uses actual padlocks that are unlocked by Bluetooth phone signals. If the battery in the lock dies, you can jumpstart it with an external battery. Tenants who prefer not to use a smartphone app can still unlock the padlock with Nokē’s Quick-Click feature.
- Automatic Wireless Unit Access
- Automatic Gate Access
- Tracking Apps
SpiderDoor offers both gate access control hardware, unit locks, and unit monitors. They also have manager and tenant apps that integrate with their software and hardware.
The big value add for SpiderDoor is that all of their stuff is super easy to install - their keypads work off of wifi or cellular data, so you don’t have to hardwire them to your server, their unit alarms are wireless and battery powered, and of course, their apps use a smartphone’s wireless signal too.
While they do have apps you can use, the unit alarms and keypads work without them, which is important. Tenants may not want to install more apps on their phones, and even if they do, adding more steps to their rental process isn’t good practice. You want your tenants to have the easiest possible rental, as this creates a better customer experience.
SpiderDoor can be set up to simply text the tenant when their alarm goes off. Some of our storage operator friends demonstrate their unit alarms to potential renters by having a text sent whenever the manager opens the door - this can impress on-the-fence renters!
SpiderDoor has customizable escalations, so you can tell it who to alert in a given situation. For example, text the tenant when the unit is accessed, then text your manager if the tenant doesn’t know the unit was supposed to be accessed.
- Wireless Unit Monitors
- Gate Access Hardware
- Text Alerts
- Monitoring Apps
Gate Access Software
This category is less complicated than the others - mostly, your gate access software should automatically give new customers a code to access their self storage unit.
This necessitates your gate access software be able to talk to your PMS, whichever one you choose. If your system can’t automatically issue access to new tenants, you’ll have to pay someone to manually issue these codes - or do it yourself.
You’ll need to buy a physical gate as well, and those come in a huge array of shapes, sizes, and styles. Check out our guide to self storage gate software here.
Many gate access systems also offer other access options, like door alarms and video surveillance systems. These include lots of hardware options, so we’re not going to go in-depth here, but here is a list of popular gate access software providers:
- PTI Security Systems
- Insomniac CIA Access Control
- Sentinel Systems
- Access Control by Storable
Other Types of Self Storage Software
There are a few other types of self storage software that can be beneficial to your business but don’t sit comfortably in any of the prior categories. We’ll cover a couple here, though you could find hundreds more if you looked. Inside Self Storage has a huge catalog of storage options, ranging from construction contractors to software developers.
Self Storage Call Management Software
For larger operators that handle a large volume of calls, a call center can be an invaluable addition to your business. Call centers can let your business answer questions and accept rentals even after operating hours, which may be a big boost depending on your customers.
Using a call center requires a suite of software to route calls to the appropriate place. Existing customers can be sent to a phone-based payment portal, while those enquiring about renting a unit could be forwarded directly to your manager during office hours, or a trained representative at the call center during off-hours.
CallPotential is one of the big names in this arena, and it offers cloud-based software to route and redirect calls with your existing hardware.
This software only helps you manage and direct your calls (as well as providing customized scripts for the answerer). They don’t provide you with a call center. You’ll have to contract with a center separately, but services like CallPotential can help you get the most out of your call center investment.
Data Aggregation & Competitor Tracking
All the biggest businesses keep track of what their competition is doing - this set of software lets you do the same, without the team of data professionals on payroll.
This includes a wide range of features, from simple rate scrapers that track how much your competitors are charging for comparable units to programs like Radius+ that aggregate data from a ton of sources to show you who is renting, where they live, what their household income likely is, and more.
A complete data source can give you valuable insights when you start growing your business. If you’re updating your facility, expanding, or investing in other facilities, the right data can save you huge amounts of money. This information can show you what population is growing, which one is shrinking, and what types of storage units a certain area might need.
Of course, even for static businesses, knowing if your competitors are all raising their rates can be a valuable bit of information.
StorTrack is a popular option for self storage. This software scrapes rates off the internet and keeps you informed about what your local competition is doing. They’ll also show you rate trends, availability, demographic data, and planned developments.
This information becomes more valuable the more competition you’re facing. If you’re the only storage facility in your area, no data aggregator will give you actionable information. If you only have a few competitors, you may not need software to keep track of what they’re doing.
On the other hand, if you’re in a high-demand area with lots of competition, a data aggregator can provide information that is very hard to acquire without software.
Revenue Management Software
Knowing what your competition is doing is great, but that doesn’t tell you exactly what to charge. Maybe you’ve got a different set of storage units. Maybe you offer amenities no one else around has.
Revenue management software can help you find the sweet spot of pricing. This goes a step further than just seeing what your competitors are charging - with enough data, revenue management software can tell you exactly what your street rates should be.
These algorithms can interpret data to find the optimal balance of renters vs price. This is a great way to improve your economic occupancy, even if you end up losing renters overall.
Veritec Solutions is one of the prominent revenue management software options for self storage. This software, and others in the same vein, can also help you implement value pricing, which will help you make the most out of your premium amenities.
Like most other Software as a Service listed here, you’ll be paying a monthly subscription for this capability. In general, the bigger your business is, the more money a Revenue Management Software will make you.
If you’re already sitting at a good economic occupancy (meaning you’re making a good percentage of your theoretical maximum), then revenue management software may not help. If you feel like you could be making more with your facility, you could try this software for a few months and see if it helps you set better rates!
Where to Go from Here
Choosing the best self storage software for a small business is intimidating. If you’re thinking about changing your PMS, or you’ve purchased a new facility, this could be one of your most important choices!
The cost of your software will add up over your first year of using it and can get to a very imposing sum if you’ve got a big facility, but you can’t go without one either.
To make a good decision, you’ve got to understand what you’re buying and what you’re paying!
A lot of self storage operators end up paying for software that they don’t use - to some extent, this is unavoidable. PMSs bundle tons of features together and you may not need all of them. But you do need to be careful not to pay more for features that you’re not using.
Before you make a big PMS purchase, make a list of the features you’re certain you’ll need and use. Then, make a list of features that would be nice but not necessary - ones you may be willing to pay more for, but aren’t deal breakers.
With this list in hand, you’re prepared to sort between the gigantic list of features that each Property Management Software offers. You can either choose the cheapest option that meets your needs, or you can balance cost with intangibles - service, reputation, and experience.
Your self storage management software will multiply the capabilities of you and your staff. What once would have taken hours and hours of manual labor can be done in an instant. This saves you time, yes, but it also makes for a much better experience for your customers.
They can rent with a click, pay with a click, and upgrade with a click. They can get reminders to pay on time, so they don’t get dinged by late fees. They can find your units online, browse your features, and reserve theirs no matter where they are.
And the better experience your customers have, the better your business will do!