Franklin Young, CEO, PTI Security Systems

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From conception to completion, self-storage owners spend several million dollars and years developing state-of-the-art facilities before they can turn a profit. Nowadays, most are designed to include all the latest and greatest amenities that self-storage customers are seeking, such as climate controls that regulate unit temperatures, access controls that restrict and/or record who comes and goes on site, and self-service kiosks that enable them to complete move-ins and payments on their own, as well as motion detecting lighting, motion detecting cameras, and infrared sensors that are intended to keep facilities safer.

Smart self-storage developers conduct rigorous due diligence before breaking ground. Smart self-storage builders utilize top-notch materials and experienced crews to erect facilities that are both appealing and secure. Smart self-storage owners protect their multi-million-dollar investments with various insurance coverages. And smart self-storage operators employ data to create effective marketing campaigns, budgets, rental rates, and the like.

With all the time, effort, and money that you put into your self-storage facility, Franklin Young, CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based PTI Security Systems, has one question: Why not make it more functional and interactive by making it a “smart”, connected facility?

Young compares the capabilities of connectivity to the essential gauges of your vehicle. “You wouldn’t know how fast you are driving without the speedometer,” he says, adding that, similar to gas gauges and temperature gauges that warn drivers of impending issues, self-storage operators can be notified of problematic situations at their facilities thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). “You can see things in real time and get feedback.”

Basically, an IoT platform connects smart devices in one place—the cloud—and connecting all the smart devices within a self-storage facility provides the self-storage operator with real-time data that could potentially protect the property from damage.

For instance, according to Young, self-storage facilities with smart units (those with door sensors and/or smart locks) receive notifications if/when doors are left open. The significance: That one simple notification about a door left ajar can prevent theft, risk, or liability from occurring. In addition to notifications, facility owners who utilize an IoT platform can monitor, control, and/or command their sites’ smart devices through an online portal.

Endless Possibilities
Just like residential homes, self-storage facilities can be equipped with smart devices to create efficiencies and automate tasks. Young mentions that PTI has integrated the Ecobee thermostat into the company’s new IoT platform, PTI CORE. Connected, or smart, thermostats enable users to enjoy both energy efficiencies (also known as reduced expenses) and custom automations through pre-programmed settings. What’s more, they can be controlled remotely from any location with internet access. So, you can adjust the facility’s thermostat to correspond with that location’s current weather conditions—even if you are at a self-storage trade show on the opposite side of the country.

Light bulbs/switches, power sockets, televisions, window blinds, door locks, doorbells, video cameras, toilets, HVAC systems, garage doors, flood sensors, motion sensors, smoke detectors, and appliances are some of the numerous smart devices being used in homes. Any of those devices, and others, could be utilized at self-storage facilities as well.

For starters, connected devices can make self-storage facilities more secure. Smart cameras, smart locks, smart doors, smart gates, and smart alarms are all available for self-storage application. According to Young, sites secured by smart devices offer more protection than non-connected devices. As an example, standard industry locks can be picked or cut. However, smart locks have no keys, codes, or shackles, which makes them a smarter option. Instead of relying on key fobs that can be stolen or used by unauthorized individuals, a connected access door or gate can be remotely unlocked with the swipe of a phone’s touchscreen. And smart cameras can be monitored remotely from any location with an internet connection.

Aside from security features, Young points out that any connected device could provide self-storage operators with information about maintenance issues and/or detect malfunctions. These kinds of predictive maintenance reports have the potential to greatly reduce equipment expenses. According to Young, smart solar panels connected to an IoT platform could alert self-storage operators of damage to panels. The notification would enable the property owner to repair or replace the damaged panel(s) more quickly, thus minimizing the loss of solar power. This would be especially advantageous in states like Texas, where hail storms have been known to dent roofs.

He goes on to say that connected elevators could prevent expensive and dangerous situations. For example, an elevator that is malfunctioning would send a notification to the self-storage operator, who could then prohibit access to that elevator and send for a repair person before a tenant has the misfortune of becoming trapped inside it. Once repairs are completed, the self-storage operator could restore access to it—remotely, of course. While this scenario may seem unlikely, Young notes that having the fire department rescue someone from an elevator in a big city is a huge expense compared to the cost of connecting it to an IoT platform.

Smoke detectors and sprinkler systems that are connected to an IoT platform could be beneficial in a self-storage setting as well. These sorts of smart systems could minimize water damage by restricting water flow to only the affected area instead of dowsing the entire facility or floor. On the flipside, flood sensors could alert self-storage operators of an area that’s experiencing flooding from a pipe that has burst or excessive rainwater.

Similar to the smart thermostats, a self-storage facility’s lighting can be connected to an IoT platform. Motion detecting lighting could notify authorities of after-hours activity, or the lighting could be controlled remotely to conserve energy. Like high-tech timers, the settings of connected lighting could be programmed to automatically turn on and off at specific times; many smart bulbs even have dimming capabilities.

GPS tracking devices can be incorporated into an IoT platform too. Self-storage facilities that offer free moving vans or trucks to new renters may find this to be helpful, especially on busy weekends when customers may be waiting to utilize a vehicle that’s already in use. The property manager would be able to monitor the vehicle’s whereabouts and provide a waiting customer with an estimate as to how long it will take until its returned to the facility. GPS tracking devices could be attached to other facility items that renters use as well, such as hand trucks, carts, or dollies.

While smart TVs are already being used within some self-storage facilities across the country, Young is quick to suggest that they aren’t being used to their full potential. For example, smart TVs connected to an IoT platform could make the facility more interactive. He says that they could be used as a form of digital signage, displaying customer-specific ads on screen when they enter the site. Young’s scenario: showing advertisements for Jersey Mike’s Subs, Jack In The Box, or any other fast food restaurant that’s open late when a tenant access their unit at 2 a.m.

Last but not least, there is no less than one smart appliance that make sense in any office environment: a connected coffee pot. A manager could have their favorite brew percolating while sitting in rush-hour traffic.

As you can see from the examples above, you can connect just about every aspect of your self-storage facility—as long as the device has internet connection capabilities or software that can be incorporated into an IoT platform.

Big Data
According to Young, big data is another reason self-storage operators should seriously consider having connected facilities. “Owners don’t know predictive analytics,” he says.

Fortunately, an IoT platform can provide highly-sought-after insights about customers’ behaviors, sales, and revenues. For instance, facility owners can monitor a site’s access points. Access data can show how long customers stay on site and how much time they spend in their units. It can also be used to “draw correlations and identify patterns in customer behavior”.

Additionally, data can be collected and analyzed about the occupancies. Calculating each unit’s tenancy can reveal patterns based on unit size, type, and location within the facility. The facility’s marketing can be adjusted to reflect those insights. As an example, a hard-to-access unit with high turnover could be made available at a discounted rate to attract and retain a long-term, price-conscious tenant who won’t mind walking a farther distance to access the unit. 

A Smart Future
Whether you’re seeking data, security, or efficiencies at your self-storage facility, there’s most certainly an app for that. And PTI CORE is proof that the self-storage industry can be part of the smart future that lies ahead.

Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.

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