Not so long ago, only the bravest independent operators risked their sanity by installing self-storage management software to run their facilities.
Today? You’d be crazy not to.
While there are still plenty of ways to mess up your move from the 20th century to the 21st century, overly complex software is not one of them.
“Today, it has to be simple,” said Matt Van Horn, vice president of Cutting Edge Self Storage Management. “You have to be able to train your managers so they feel comfortable using it and, in many cases, train your owners as well. There are many people who are tech-savvy, but then there are people who are scared of it and aren’t very good at it.”
Most self-storage software packages incorporate several of these seven functions:
- Property management: Typically, a color-coded rental counter facility map opens to reveal occupancy status, tenant details, rents and discounts, payment status, late fees and lockouts on any unit. The software enables an operator to generate real-time performance and status reports.
- Move-in/move-out: This automated reservation and sales feature lets an online customer rent a unit, schedule an appointment to visit a unit or arrange to vacate a unit.
- Billing and accounting: This automates tenant billing and integrates financials into your accounting program.
- E-commerce: This enables tenants to manage their accounts and pay their rent online.
- Automated access control: This enables an operator to remotely control locks and alarms.
- Remote facility oversight: This provides detailed operational analysis of one or several facilities in real time, issuing alerts about excessive concessions, discounts, or waived rents or fees.
- Customer relationship management (CRM): This organizes and synchronizes your sales, marketing, customer service and technical support functions.
Self-storage software typically comes with free technical support, updates and initial training. Some products also offer ongoing training on a subscription basis.
Major software programs designed for the storage industry include:
- Store Enterprise by Centershift
- RapidStor by Centreforce
- Storage Commander by Empower
- District Manager by QStrom
- SWAMP (Storage & Warehouse Asset Management Program) by Quayles
- WinSen by Sentinel
- Space Control
Web-Enabled vs. Web-Based?
Tom Garden, president of Syrasoft Management Software, said one major data storage decision that often perplexes newbies is whether to go with a “web-enabled” solution that lives on your own computer and server, or a “web-based” solution that lives in the “cloud.” The former has advantages during Internet outages; the latter may be handier for managing a growing company with several facilities.
“There is a percentage of end users who absolutely want to own their data and don’t want the outside world connected,” Garden said. “The other side wants to own their own data, too, but their poor Internet service may interfere with things like customers paying their bill online.”
Van Horn said society’s trend toward mobility favors a web-based solution.
“Being cloud-based is going to be huge,” he said. “In the future, you’re going to be able to access this directly through your smartphone and tablet. That’s something you can do now through intermediate steps; it’s just a more direct model of it.”
The Importance of CRM
Zach Katkin, president of Atilus, an Internet advertising agency, said he would cast his vote for a web-based system as well, largely to boost a facility’s CRM.
“While these systems do a good job at the operational stuff, they don’t typically do a good job from a marketing perspective,” Katkin said. “We’ve seen this trend across all industries, from insurance to real estate to self-storage. They’re not designed with CRM in mind.”
If you plan to add separate CRM software anyway, Katkin said, putting the cart before the horse can pay off, especially with pre-leasing before a facility opens.
“You could do the CRM first, then select your backend system and integrate the two,” he said.
Reducing Human Error
Van Horn said software eliminates one of the biggest money drains on any self-storage facility: human error.
“The more manual stuff you do, the more human error you’re going to have. You’re going to forget a decimal place or invert a number that a computer just doesn’t do. It’s just human nature,” Van Horn said. “Invest in something that can save you both time and hassle—let the machine do it.”