Open 24/7 is a nice concept for a self-storage business, and it’s become a reality through the growing use of payment and rental kiosks. In 2012, 9 percent of self-storage facilities in the U.S. were using kiosks, according to the 2013 Self-Storage Almanac. That was up from 1.4 percent in 2011.
The kiosks serve as a right hand to on-site employees—covering busy times during business hours and automating operations for walk-in customers after hours. Depending on the model, the kiosks can rent units and collect payments in the form of cash or checks; dispense locks; solicit insurance; and confirm identification.
Many are bilingual and paperless, and offer two-way video consultations with a call center. What’s not to like?
OpenTech Alliance Inc. is a major player in the kiosk space, with seven Insomniac kiosk models on the market. The Phoenix company obtained a patent for the kiosk technology 11 years ago, and today nearly 1,000 self-storage facilities have them installed.
Much like ATMs revolutionized the banking industry in the 1980s, self-storage kiosks can offer a competitive boost to self-storage facilities, said Mike Sawyer, marketing director at OpenTech Alliance.
How Do Kiosks Work?
The kiosks are designed to integrate with a facility’s property management software, enabling customers to rent units from inventory and apply a payment in real time.
Kiosks typically are installed at the welcome center or anchored to the ground outside a facility. A newer trend shows demand for another location—the countertop. OpenTech Alliance has introduced a lower-cost compact model for $1,500, called the Insomniac 50, for a facility’s front counter.
“The counter is one of the most important spaces at the facility,” Sawyer said. “The countertop model frees up managers’ time and eliminates paperwork because the customer is inputting the information.”
While it’s true that a facility could become fully automated with a kiosk, it’s not always the best option when trying to meet customers’ varied needs. However, some scale back use of kiosks to three days a week, for example, to continue to offer face-to-face interaction with customers.
“There’s always going to be a need to service people on-site,” Sawyer said. “We’re finding (owners are) tag-teaming the automation with a manager on site even if it’s for less hours. Those are the people that are the most successful. It ends up being a great marriage.”
How Much Do They Cost?
OpenTech Alliance’s kiosks range in price from $1,500 to $18,000, based on the accessories. Every model is designed to rent units and accept payments.
For the most expensive model, installation and training costs can run $1,250 for the first year, and monthly maintenance fees average $250. Sawyer pointed out that the annual return on investment is more than $50,000 for the top-tier model, based on payroll savings as well as new business generated either through the kiosk or through transferred inquiries to a call center.
What Are the Drawbacks?
Cost is clearly a drawback because of the large capital outlay, construction costs and electricity, as well as potential tweaks to a facility’s software. Furthermore, some storage facilities, like those in urban areas, benefit more from kiosk foot traffic than ones in rural areas.
“A lot of people haven’t thought through all of the technology that is available right now,” Jordheim said. “Most of the self-storage software has abilities for customers to do just about anything a large kiosk can do. All that capability is on the mobile (device) in your pocket.”
Jordheim calls it self-storage pocket kiosk technology, and it’s available through quick read (QR) codes that direct customers to a storage facility’s website. Most people are familiar with the QR technology, which resembles a large bar code that can be scanned using any smartphone. Users need to download a free QR code reader app before they can scan anything.
Storage owners can use a number of free online services to create a QR code and program it to take customers to a business’ website. They can display the QR code on signs that ask a customer to scan it, enabling them to reserve a unit, pay rent or access an online account.
Self-storage facilities should check with their software providers to ensure that whatever is built into their desktop-oriented websites will work with mobile platforms. Any development costs should be less than $5,000, Jordheim said.
Sawyer said that outside the regular kiosk business, OpenTech Alliance can build smartphone apps to link customers to self-storage websites. While not every demographic is tech-savvy, this is another option available to reach potential customers.
“I always tell people you have to know your market, your client and customer base—whatever works,” Jordheim said. “This is an almost cost-free way to do additional promotions and capture more business. One of the beauties of the pocket kiosk is you direct people to your website immediately. If the site is set up correctly, they can touch a button and be connected by a call.”