More mobile: technological innovation for self-storage operators

We always call them cell phones, but they are much more than that. We expect our phones to do almost everything. While the range of mobile devices includes laptops and tablets, we mainly depend on our smartphones for the things we do every day. They are our source of entertainment, shopping, transportation and conversation. They serve us as televisions, wallets, credit cards, cameras and car keys. Mobile phones are the new personal computers.

Certain market sectors, such as banking, retail and healthcare, have made great strides in using the power of mobile computing to improve business functions and connect more effectively with customers. Innovation has progressed more slowly in the self-storage industry, but profound developments are underway. When considering how this technology is changing our business, it is useful to think about the perspectives of two user groups: facility operators and tenants.

Innovation for operators

Mobile computing is made possible by the convergence of several technologies, including mobile Internet access, cloud computing, data storage, Internet of Things and applications. All of these technologies are in play for self-storage operations.

Historically, the storage industry has approached IT from the perspective of the operator, particularly the site manager. The objective was to improve the efficiency of managers by computerizing the standard functions of payments, accounting, contracts and customer files. Personal computers (PCs) ran the software that streamlined daily processes, freeing up managers’ time for other tasks. Digital records were kept on site and usually accessed by a manager, who used the PC for all transactions and functions. Business metrics were available on a site-by-site basis, but there was no convenient way to aggregate results across multiple sites and look at overall business performance.

With the advent of cloud computing, we now have new tools to improve operational efficiency. Corporate data is accessible in the cloud and can be accessed through any device with an internet connection. Information from all installations can be centralized and available for real-time monitoring. Site owners, executives and managers can perform IT functions remotely and collaborate on work assignments and decision making. Cloud computing also makes it easier to manage security, control site access, share files, review business data, manage expenses, identify trends, and strategize to recruit. new tenants. Additionally, tenants are now doing at least some of the work that managers used to do.

Innovation for tenants

While products to support a self-storage business have traditionally focused on the manager, the next generation of innovations are tenant-centric. The objectives of these new products are to improve the customer experience and strengthen the relationship.

For example, mobile technology gives you the tools you need to reach Gen X and millennial consumers (those born between 1965 and 2005). For these groups, the customer experience is the most important part of the purchase decision. These customers are more independent than previous generations and fully engaged in mobile technology. For many of them, the mobile web is their only way to connect to the Internet.

Google reported that in 2016 it served 707 million queries for searches related to these keywords: “self-service storage near me”. Sixty-three percent of these queries were initiated from mobile devices, and 89% of them produced some type of next action from the user.

Today’s potential tenants use their mobile devices to research local facilities, and they qualify their options by taking virtual tours and reading online reviews. Once they are customers, they pay their monthly rental fees online. They expect to engage in self-storage the same way they manage every other aspect of their lives, by accessing an app on their smartphone. The storage industry is responding by developing apps to facilitate greater engagement with tenants, including ones that enable door access and around-the-clock security monitoring.

Impact on the business model

While rapidly changing technology trends can be challenging, self-storage operators stand to gain from a business model that evolves to meet an emerging set of consumer needs. Mobile offers a cost-effective approach to delivering high-value services that will command a premium price in the marketplace. You can improve your bottom line by adopting solutions that simultaneously reduce expenses and increase revenue.

Thomas Brooks is vice president of sales for PTI Security Systems, a provider of access control and security systems for the self-storage industry. He applies his knowledge of technology to the self-storage industry to better secure owners’ investments and improve facility revenue and valuation. For more information, call 800.523.9504; visit

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