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Time To Evolve
Embracing Technological Transformation
By Jesse Harmon
digital illustration of people standing next to scaffolding

eople have always feared change. This fear is deeply ingrained in us, even though we are often taught from a young age that change is the only constant in life. Many sectors feel this fear. They have long had traditional practices. One such sector where this fear is notably prominent is the self-storage industry.

Traditionally, for a vast majority of self-storage operators, the incorporation of technology was limited to the bare essentials. These typically included an electric gate for security, a digital sign for marketing, and a basic personal computer in the office. This computer often ran rudimentary property management software, in many cases, simply a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel. Historically, the self-storage industry did not heavily rely on advanced technology as a means to enhance various aspects of business operations. There was little focus on using technology to increase revenue. It also wasn’t used to improve the efficiency of lead acquisition and rental processes or streamline operations during move-out or transfer.

However, the landscape began to shift dramatically in the post-COVID era. Today, the reliance on technology has become not just a matter of convenience but a necessity for the continual improvement of revenue generation and occupancy rates in self-storage facilities. Contemporary property management systems now play a pivotal role. These systems have the capability to identify and highlight best-selling units. This information is crucial and can be strategically utilized to adjust pricing and promote these units on various acquisition channels. Modern technologies empower self-storage operators to influence consumer decisions through sophisticated website design and online marketing strategies. They enable customers the convenience of renting a unit online at any time, say at 9 p.m., while in their pajamas, and moving in before the office opens the next day. This process is facilitated by advanced electronic doors and gates that interact with software to provide tenants with necessary access codes upon completion of the online rental process.

The challenge then becomes: How do we, as an industry, overcome our ingrained fear of change? The answer lies in recognizing and embracing the advantages that technology brings. Operators see how technology makes their businesses efficient and effective. It allows seamless 24/7 operations, so they start to integrate these new systems and processes into their operations. This infusion of technology, while beneficial, is not without its challenges. It brings a mix of positive and negative outcomes, and it demands a prudent, logical approach when beginning the journey of technological integration.

Technology has had a big positive impact in our industry. It has made data, solutions, and oversight widely available for our facilities and businesses. Data gives us power. It lets us understand and use market trends, seasonal changes, economic impacts, and competition. We can do this in a new and dynamic way. The idea of reverting to old methods becomes unimaginable once we experience the benefits of these advanced systems. Another notable advancement is the possibility of extending operational hours. The concept of a self-storage facility operating 24/7 was unheard of several years ago, but it’s now a feasible reality thanks to technological advancements.

However, the adoption of technology is not without potential pitfalls. Firstly, the cost of implementing cutting-edge technology can be significant. Additionally, not all technological systems are designed to integrate seamlessly with one another. Operators must find systems that align well. These systems ensure that investments yield benefits. They should not complicate or hinder the operation. Another risk is becoming too reliant on technology. This can make us neglect the need for ongoing personal and professional growth. Understanding and interpreting data trends is helpful, but it’s equally important to keep making business decisions based on experience and industry expertise. This is especially true when data may not provide clear guidance.

In terms of operational efficiency, technology has the potential to revolutionize every facet of daily operations in a storage facility.
So, how can we effectively utilize technology to enhance the operations of self-storage facilities? The answer lies in focusing on three main areas. They are operational efficiency, improving customer experience, and gaining a competitive advantage.

In terms of operational efficiency, technology has the potential to revolutionize every facet of daily operations in a storage facility. Cloud-based property management software, for instance, has improved various operational aspects. We now follow up with new tenants in real time. We tailor follow-ups to their needs and timing. We also see right away which inventory is vacant and ready for move-in. The move-in and move-out processes were managed by an on-site manager. They used extensive paperwork, printers, and filing, but the processes have been streamlined. Modern technology enables prospective tenants to check unit availability and pricing online. Coupled with electronic gates and doors, tenants can now move in without the need for direct interaction with a manager. Similarly, the move-out process has been simplified. Tenants can indicate their intention to vacate online, upload photos of the now-empty unit, and have these documents automatically appended to their tenant profiles. This makes the process smoother. It also helps customers. It makes them more likely to come back for storage.

Security is another critical aspect that has been enhanced through technology. Modern surveillance cameras now have artificial intelligence. They can recognize individuals and read license plates. This tech advance adds security. It speeds reviews during incidents. It aids in assessing and preventing damage.

These features make life easier for customers. They also allow self-storage operators to charge higher rates and build longer customer relationships.
Another key benefit is that tech is improving the customer experience in self-storage. Today’s tech stack includes features such as mobile app access to facilities and units, online payment and auto-pay systems, and climate-controlled units. These features make life easier for customers. They also allow self-storage operators to charge higher rates and build longer customer relationships.

In the realm of competitive advantage, technology is leading the way. These systems offer insights into competitor pricing. They recommend pricing strategies based on market analytics. They also provide valuable demand indicators for various unit types. These systems also inform rent raise strategies. They bring data-driven insights that enable better decisions about fee changes.

Time To Evolve
I outlined the reasons why tech is reshaping self-storage. Now, let’s delve into strategies to conquer fear and embrace these advances. The first step is to prioritize the importance of technology through staff training and education. Effective communication about the benefits and necessity of new technology is essential. It helps to initiate discussions about the reasons behind the adoption of new tech and improvements to current systems. Creating a team environment is key. In this environment, staff continually seek and value feedback. This can help them adapt to change in a positive way.

The second strategy involves careful and measured implementation. Rather than trying to overhaul all systems at once, a phased approach is better. It starts with non-critical areas and allows for a smoother transition. This method allows for adjustments and feedback. It ensures that the changes are indeed helping the facilities.

The third strategy involves collaborating with tech companies. They specialize in self-storage. Customizing technology solutions to fit specific needs is crucial. These companies can offer expert guidance. They will instill confidence. The changes will help operations, customers, and our market.

Change can be daunting, especially in technology, but embracing it is vital for the growth and future success of the self-storage industry. As tenants continue to integrate technology into their personal lives, it is imperative for the industry to evolve in parallel. This approach ensures competition. It also fosters innovation and long-term success. The world is increasingly driven by technology.

Jesse Harmon is the vice president of marketing and commercial strategy, self-storage admin at Cedar Creek Capital.