A funny thing happens when self-storage facilities use technology to rent units off-hours: Consumers tend to use it when the facilities are open as well.
Whether the after-hours interface is a web-based self-rental and access system like ClickandStor from The Storage Group, a kiosk with two-way live video assistance like Insomniac from OpenTech Alliance or an around-the-clock call center like PhoneSmart, consumers seem to appreciate the convenience factor.
The Storage Group, a self-storage Internet marketing firm in Maitland, FL, estimates that half of its ClickandStor website rentals happen during office hours. Phoenix-based OpenTech Alliance finds that consumers prefer its automated kiosk even when the front desk is staffed. And PhoneSmart, a call center in Columbia, MO, estimates 70 percent of its self-storage volume occurs during regular business hours.
If you’re only answering 70 percent of your phone calls, you’ve just wasted 30 percent of your advertising budget.
— Tron Jordheim, director of operations, PhoneSmart
Relax, self-storage managers: None of these technologies is designed to replace you. Instead, their mission is to answer questions, accept payments and rack up rentals while you’re busy helping other customers, taking a break or enjoying your time off.
Here are three ways to fill your storage units when your office is closed.
Self-storage software systems seem to grow more robust by the day, adding time- and money-saving functions to their operations management, reservations, payment, customer relationship management, security and customer-access capabilities.
Case in point: ClickandStor from The Storage Group, a website addition that enables consumers to sign up, digitally sign a lease, make a payment, and get a code for immediate access to a unit via tablet or smartphone.
“If the manager is busy with someone when a customer walks in, they can hand them a tablet with ClickandStor on it and they can complete the move-in that way,” said Holly Ritchie, marketing director at The Storage Group. “If they’re walking the property and have the office locked, they can post a sign on the front door that says, ‘Go to our website and complete your move-in.’”
Operators can customize ClickandStor functions based on a facility’s needs.
“Because security is an issue for some facilities, we do have some clients who don’t use the unit-access feature of ClickandStor,” Ritchie said. “Or if they want some units to have 24/7 access, they can designate that in ClickandStor, and the rest of the facility won’t be accessible except during office hours.”
The one thing consumers can’t do on a facility’s ClickandStor page is hunt for other local facilities.
“We want ClickandStor to be an extension of our client’s website and not an aggregator,” Ritchie said. “It would be bad business on our part to enable consumers to access a client’s competitors through their site.”
Robert Chiti, president and CEO of OpenTech Alliance, predicts self-service storage kiosks someday will be as common as bank ATMs.
The key, he said, is for skeptics to look beyond a kiosk’s $5,500 to $18,000 price tag to the years of revenue to be captured by providing an off-hours, user-friendly setup that appeals to tech-savvy college students, ATM-minded Gen Xers and stuck-in-their-ways Baby Boomers.
“You can’t get all that on your smartphone,” Chiti said. “For operators who want their customers to have a face-to-face interaction, our live video support really helps cut through the idea that they’re working with a machine.”
Chiti said the idea of several facilities co-owning a self-service kiosk may be the next “killer app” to help mom-and-pops compete with the REITs.
“We’re seeing more and more clustering of operators buying properties together,” he said. “As this continues, they’re going to recognize the benefits of one kiosk that serves multiple properties.”
Tron Jordheim, director of operations at PhoneSmart, isn’t threatened by all this talk of tablets and kiosks.
“The more technology we put into play and automate things, the more people want to talk to somebody live,” he said. “And the more people rely on their cellphones, the more people call, because it’s far easier to call than it is to peck around on a website looking for what you need.”
Jordheim said storage operators who do the math quickly recognize the logic of using a company like PhoneSmart.
“If you’re only answering 70 percent of your phone calls, you’ve just wasted 30 percent of your advertising budget,” he said. “Having a call center working for you is like having a sales force working for like $1 an hour—it’s really cheap. Why some people don’t do it is baffling.”