Automation is the future of self-storage, including RV and boat 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.
Chances are your facility falls somewhere on the spectrum between partial automation and full automation.
This article discusses the issues related to automating storage facilities, including ways to automate, the benefits of automation, and factors to consider when creating an automation plan.
Ways to automate storage facilities
Storage facility owners and operators can choose from a wide variety of automation technologies, including:
- Property management software that integrates with websites and kiosks;
- Websites offering online rentals, online bill pay, online lease signing and Autopay—all features of a StoragePug website;
- Automated kiosks (providing 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same services as a website with the addition of dispensing locks)–Using a kiosk to automate your facility is becoming outdated as they require the customer to come onto your property to interact with it.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;
- Security monitoring systems, including surveillance cameras and wireless door alarms;
- Digital gate access/gate codes;
- Electronic door locks;
- Self-storage kiosks;
The costs, benefits and limitations of these technologies vary, and not all will be suited to your facility.
Benefits of automation
The goal of automation should be to make the lives of people easier—whether those people are your customers or your facility manager. Automation eliminates repetitive and tedious tasks—freeing up people to spend their time on more worthwhile activities.
Automation benefits for managers
For facility managers, automation can be used for online rentals, bill pay, notifying customers of delinquency, and calculating rate changes—which frees up a manager’s time to focus on marketing, following up on leads, facility maintenance, and customer service.
Automation benefits for tenants
For customers, automation means increased convenience, with customers being able to rent units at any time of the night or day. 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.
Also, customers appreciate being able to electronically manage their accounts from the comfort of their own homes and on their schedule.
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.
Automation benefits 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.
Creating an automation plan for your facility
When creating an automation plan for your 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. (Research has shown that fully automated facilities are best suited for highly desirable neighborhoods in growing suburban and metropolitan areas.)
Nor do all facilities need to be fully automated. The key is to evaluate your facility and determine where automation will be most helpful.
Know your customers
If your customers are younger (e.g., millennials, 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.
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 and budget.
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 (preferably one with RV and boat storage experience) to maximize your site for automation. The key is to add in 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). 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.
Jennifer Pfliegler is a writer for StoragePug, a modern marketing company for self-storage facilities. The company creates intelligent marketing websites that allow users to rent units and take payments through the facility’s website. For more information, visit storagepub.com