Smartphones put the web in everyone’s pocket. That’s why Tom Garden, president and owner of software company Syrasoft, thinks self-storage owners need to pay attention as smartphone and tablet use rises beyond tech-savvy Millennials to the population at large.
“Mobile brings the web to their hip, if you will,” he said.
Self-storage owners and operators who are smart about the use of cellphones and tablets have an advantage in attracting—and retaining—customers, according to Garden.
“The easier it is for me to pay every month, the longer I will stay rather than move all that stuff somewhere else,” he said.
Other customers aren’t concerned about mobile payments. They just want the convenience of searching for a self-storage facility on a mobile device and clicking a button to call the facility or reserve a unit.
Garden’s company, based near Syracuse, NY, provides self-storage management software with features that include online payments, real-time reservations, rental rate assessments and task automation.
A Level Playing Field?
While some of the larger players have their own proprietary management systems with robust mobile optimization, small independents and regional players can take advantage of the popularity of mobile devices without breaking the bank, Garden said.
Most newly developed websites today include mobile optimization, but sites created just a few years ago may not. Mobile optimization means that if a person pulls up a website on a mobile device, the website recognizes that and displays content so that it fits the screen and is easy to read. The mobile site may be a simplified version of the main website.
Providing mobile optimization in today’s marketplace is critical, experts say.
Dave Wolf, managing partner at Independence, OH, marketing firm LinkMedia360, which caters to the self-storage industry, said search engines like Google give higher rankings to websites that are mobile-compatible. He expects mobile use to continue to rise among self-storage customers.
“Mobile, I think, primarily is used to find a unit and make a click to call to see if they have availability,” he said. “I think where it is going—as mobile devices become easier to navigate—is toward payments and reservations. Make sure your mobile experience provides a good user experience.”
It’s important for companies to provide a variety of content on their mobile-optimized websites, Wolf said, and to feed their local listings to a variety of sites to improve SEO.
Michael Denning, a marketing professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said society is becoming more mobile, and the self-storage industry must act to stay relevant.
“One way for the smaller operators to attract market share is through the use of the Internet—an attractive and user-friendly website,” Denning said. “They will end up with two types of websites—one for general use and one for mobile. Some of the larger operators may want to develop apps, which is a relatively inexpensive proposition.”
John Eisenbarth, vice president of operations for at Mill Creek, WA-based West Coast Self-Storage, said his company is wrapping up a redesign of 24 facility websites. Mobile compatibility was part of the makeover, he said. The company owns six facilities and manages 18 as a third-party operator.
Eisenbarth said he first heard about the need to go mobile about three years ago while attending a self-storage conference in California.
“We saw that print was going away and the Internet was completely taking over,” he said. “We wanted to be ahead of the curve. We saw that everyone was getting smartphones, including myself, and I’d open up our website and say, ‘That doesn’t look good.’ Part of it was self-recognition that we needed to go this route.”
A Bump in Business
Six months after launching one of the California websites, data showed 49 percent of customers for that facility came through mobile, Eisenbarth said. Before the switch, only 10 percent of business came through mobile devices.
Through mobile-ready websites, West Coast customers can reserve a unit, click on a map for directions or click a button to call the store. The company decided not to provide payments via mobile devices, although it provides that option on its main website. However, West Coast will monitor mobile payments to see whether customers want that function in the future.
Eisenbarth recommends that self-storage owners and operators do their research but keep things simple to benefit from mobile growth.
“I think it’s a good idea to look at other mobile sites and make it as simple as possible,” he said. “On a mobile device, people want it to be quick and fast.”
Eisenbarth added: “I don’t know that my goal is to rent a bunch of units through a mobile device. My goal is to get people the information they need.”