Consumers are spending more time than ever on mobile devices, and they love apps. So it’s wise to ask: Can apps boost your self-storage business?
An average U.S. consumer spends more than 2½ hours a day on a mobile device, and over 85 percent of that time is spent using apps, according to 2014 data from mobile analytics firm Flurry.
So, what does that mean for self-storage? Storage operators can take advantage of mobile apps in three key ways.
1. Marketing your business.
The Facebook app is the most popular mobile app in the U.S., with over 115 million unique users a month, according to the August 2014 U.S. Mobile App Report from digital technology research company comScore.
Self-storage operators should be using it and other social media apps to quickly post to their own social media accounts while on the go, self-storage consultant and owner Marc Goodin said. Try a time-saving app like Hootsuite, which lets you post to several social media accounts at once, said Holly Ritchie-Fiorello, marketing director for Internet marketing firm The Storage Group.
2. Handling management tasks.
Since a self-storage business revolves around at least one property, it can be hard to run facilities remotely, said Robert Chiti, president and CEO of OpenTech Alliance, which provides technology and services to the self-storage industry.
But if you’re in a pinch—maybe you’re out to dinner Friday night with your spouse—apps allow you to get something done without rushing over to the facility, Chiti said. For example, mobile apps on the market let operators switch lights on or off, open or close gates and check video surveillance.
3. Enabling self-service.
You can provide mobile apps that let customers perform several tasks, from paying a bill to entering a facility, via a smartphone or tablet, Goodin said. It makes sense to offer customers an app that lets them enter a gate code from their phones, he said.
“That way, customers don’t have to roll down the window or get out of the car,” Goodin said. “They just push a few buttons on their cell phone.”
Apps aren’t always the answer
Before you get too excited about the possibilities, ask yourself: Do I really need an app for this? The answer might be no.
Storage operators should think about mobile technology but not focus too much on apps, Chiti said. For example, a website that’s optimized for mobile devices can perform many of the same functions that an app could, without your customers having to download an app, Chiti, Goodwin and Ritchie-Fiorello say.
New customers can visit your mobile-friendly site from a phone or tablet, pick out a unit, sign a lease and pay, Ritchie-Fiorello said. Later, tenants can log in and update their payment or contact information or pay their bills, Chiti said.
“We generally just use mobile websites,” Ritchie-Fiorello said. “The client can save an icon on their home screen, and it functions like an app.”
Should you get your own app?
With the rising popularity of apps, maybe you’ve thought about riding the wave and get your own app developed. Chiti recommends against it. “It’s a waste of money,” he said.
For example, he said, one self-storage company had a unit inventory app created to enable customers to take photos of the contents of their units and store those photos in the app. It was expensive and unnecessary, he said.
“Why not just take a picture and store it in your phone?” Chiti said.
However, under unusual circumstances, getting your own app can make sense, Ritchie-Fiorello said.
For example, The Storage Group works with one facility that offers storage of “adult toys” such as boats, RVs and four-wheelers. The company had its own app built to offer a “pull boat” feature, she said. A customer can click a button in the app two hours before arriving, and the facility will pull the customer’s boat from storage and have it waiting, she said.
But, Ritchie-Fiorello noted, apps require updates fixes, so it typically isn’t worth it to pay for development of an app.
“For an average self-storage business, it probably wouldn’t work,” she said.
Photo of app developers courtesy of Flickr/New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority