“Automation” has been a buzzword in the self-storage industry for quite some time. But, with so many options out there, it can be hard to identify which tools to use and which business areas need the tools the most. The possibilities are overwhelming! Whether you’re new to the self-storage world or simply evaluating how to enhance your facility, there are three major opportunities for integrating automation at any self-storage site.
1. Automating Payments and Rentals
If your storage facility lacks automation, the first step you should take to improve your operations is to implement online payment and rental capabilities. According to McKinsey, approximately 82% of Americans used some form of digital payment in 2021, compared to 72% in 2016. Although the COVID-19 pandemic certainly accelerated the adoption of digital payment methods, the economy has been moving in that direction for years.
It can be very frustrating and inconvenient for tenants to be unable to sign a lease or pay rent online. What if something comes up and the tenant cannot drive to the facility in time to make their payment at the end of the month? Owners and operators do not want to exhaust resources sourcing delinquent payments unnecessarily, and tenants don’t want to pay late fees. Facilitating online payments lowers delinquency rates because it provides an additional, convenient method for tenants to pay their bills.
Use Case: Last Minute Rental
Moreover, prospective tenants may need to secure a storage site at the last minute, making online lease signing a necessity. For example, my grandmother passed away on Sunday, July 31st of this year. Since she did not pay rent for her apartment in advance, my family only had 48 hours to move her stuff out to avoid paying another month’s rent. We needed a storage unit immediately, although many offices weren’t open. Choosing a facility that supported online payments and rentals was a necessity. Having this convenience also made this difficult time easier for my family.
Monitoring Online Rentals
However, automating this process doesn’t force operators to let payments and rentals go unmonitored. It’s a good idea to have the site manager give the tenant a follow-up call to answer any questions they may have. This way, the operator works with the automatic system to enhance a customer’s experience. Some operators hesitate to utilize automation tools because they don’t want to downgrade their customer service. However, these systems will enhance the customer experience when properly integrated and monitored. Creating an integrated online payment and rental system is rapidly becoming standard in the industry.
2. Automating Access Through Mobile Apps
Another opportunity for integrating automation tools is your site access points. Instead of depending solely on keypads and physically entering access codes, storage facilities should provide keyless entry through mobile apps. Instead of punching in a keycode that is easy to forget, tenants use the mobile app to access the facility. Tenants with large vehicles, such as boats and RVs, use the app to open gates so they don’t have to maneuver their vehicle right next to the keypad and risk damaging their prized possessions. Geo-fencing and Bluetooth technologies ensure that the app only opens the appropriate gate when the tenant is on the property and within appropriate proximity.
In addition, digital keys are more secure than physical keys because digital keys are encrypted, making them difficult for bad actors to hack. Even when the tenant needs to share their key, mobile apps can enable one-time access keys that operators can deny if they suspect foul play. Physical keys are easy to lose, allowing unauthorized access to whoever finds the key. The same situation can occur when troublesome tenants refuse to turn in their keys, costing operators as they change locks to keep their site secure. Digital keys are easy for tenants to keep up with and operators to turn off as needed.
3. Automating Management Functions
The third area to implement automation tools includes several site management functions. For example, electronic smart locks can overlock units. Site operators don’t need to spend their entire day ensuring all delinquent and vacant units are secure. Cloud-based access control is an integral component of automating management functions. Using a cloud-based management software supports automating software updates, ensuring property management software is always up to date. The cloud also enhances remote monitoring capabilities. Small self-storage operations don’t necessarily need to hire a site operator, and larger operations can use the technology to monitor multiple locations remotely and effectively. Automation tools can detect activity the human eye might miss, such as tampered locks, and instantly notify employees of the problem. These tools allow site owners to lower costs and use their resources more efficiently while making their self-storage facility more secure.
Automation is the Future
There’s no denying that implementing automation tools is the way of the future. In fact, the future is already here. Even before the digital acceleration of the last few years, many people opted to initiate payments and rentals online. We are constantly using our smartphones as a central access point for anything from shopping to doctor’s appointments to banking; it is time for self-storage owners and operators to respond to these consumer expectations. Moreover, automation tools can save owners and operators a significant amount of time and money. Although the specifics regarding what owners should automate can vary based on the resources available to them, there is no doubt that the time to investigate their options is now.