In the amount of time it takes to read this article, a number of things are in motion. As you contemplate that first sentence, you quickly notice that your computer just made a noise, “Oh look, a new email”. If you have focus you will ignore that email, but a majority of people will run to that email. The email is just a vendor asking you for a conference call to discuss a new product, “Great, now I can get back to that article I was reading”. You scroll your mouse, or finger for you tablet/smart phone users, and try to figure out where in this article you stopped reading. While you are doing that a text comes through, then a Facebook message, someone mentioned you on Twitter, your LinkedIn app just made a noise, oh my another phone call, then 5 more emails. This of course doesn’t count the items on your desk including a stack of papers, 2 month end reports you forgot to read, 3 trade magazines, some random mail, a Diet Coke from yesterday, and a book you may have purchased from Amazon. By the way, you need to pick up milk on your way home tonight. This represents a five minute sub section in the life of today’s self storage managers, investors, and owners.
Over the last 30 years technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. This major change started for consumers in the mid-1980s with the adoption of the personal computer. Fast forward 30 years and now technology is the epicenter of our daily lives. No longer are people forced to carry a cell phone that is the size of a brick or use a computer the size of a file cabinet. Consumers can now buy a refrigerator with internet access and HI FI speakers or control their home’s thermostat with a smart phone. In addition, communication is now almost instantaneous and that new smart phone in the store has more processing power then a personal computer had just 10 years ago. This new technology will open more doors for the self-storage industry than ever before. The ability to be in constant contact with customers, existing or potential, is an almost overwhelming wave of potential. The changes in customer service will revolve around three items, product quality, communication, and information storage.
I began myself storage career, 12 years ago, at a smallself storage facility in Salt Lake City, UT. This facility was about 25 years old at that time. My facility had no climate controlled units, an office the size of a 5x10, and my onsite apartment was two converted 10x40’s. I used a DOS based self storage management software, dot matrix printer, and an electronic gate system (that I had to manually update each morning). Every month I would put together a “Monthly Package” of reports that were sent to my home office. By the time I finished printing and copying all of the information, the report was 1”-2” inches think and took me about 2-3 hours to complete. We didn’t have a website or an email address and the yellow pages were still our best marketing tool. What’s not so nostalgic about this story is that some self storage facilities still rely on the same procedures and technology I mentioned above to complete their day to day operations.
The internet has changed everything. The idea that you can have the world’s knowledge at your fingertips in an instant is overwhelming to say the least. With all of this technology available how do we hope to integrate it into our day to day self storage operations? The answer is that we pick and choose the technological options that work best for us. With that being said, you don’t need to become an Apple Genius or understand the algorithm that powers Google’s search engine. What you do need to understand are the basic frameworks of technology, how to implement it, and what you want to accomplish with this new technology.
First, let’s start with basic hardware. Everyone needs a computer, printer, scanner, and a high speed internet connection. There is no getting around this, you need the basics first. Once you have this you are a ready to begin setting up your system.
One of the most effective ideas/tools available in the market place right now is the idea of cloud computing. I am sure you have heard about cloud computing from a television advertisement, college/high school student, or a computer magazine. So what is it? Cloud computing is using a device (i.e. computer, smart phone, or tablet) to access information stored in an online database...that’s it, pure and simple. For example, I personally use Gmail for all of my email correspondence. Gmail is Google’s email product. You can sign up for an account at www.gmail.com. I can access my Gmail account through my computer in my office, my smart phone, or my Samsung Android tablet. If I send an email through my Gmail account I have access to that email on any of my devices. If I delete an email through one of my devices, it will remove it from all of the devices because every device pulls the information from the same email database. I also have a calendar application through Gmail that works in the same fashion so I can keep my schedule straight across multiple devices. No more telling clients “let me check my schedule when I get back to my office”. I always have an updated schedule with my cloud based Google Calendar.
Another example would be online self storage management software. As an operations manager my job is made much easier with online access to each of my self storage facilities. I no longer have to wait for my facility’smanager to fax or send me reports. I just launch the internet browser on my computer, smart phone, or tablet and review the reports I need instantly. If I need to make a price adjustment, update a special, or change access I can accomplish this from anywhere. The costs associated with online management software will be between $45 to $200 per month, but well worth the cost if you have multiple locations or just like to look at the progress of your self storage from home.
Do you need to make daily notes or keep a journal of your daily activities? Try using Evernote, www.evernote.com. Evernote allows you to access your notes no matter your location or device. Evernote will also allow you to share your notes with other Evernote users. Let’s say you are working on a project and one of the participants in the project is located in Seattle and another is in New York. How do you keep everyone on the same schedule and keep all of the information flowing between each of the participants? Create a notebook in Evernoteand share it amongst the group of people working on the project. Any note input from New York will instantly be available in Seattle and vice versa. If you are looking for something even simpler, how about creating a grocery list. Why carry paper anymore, when you can just carry your smart phone or table to the grocery store and have instant access to your list?
How about file sharing or accounting? Do you need to share that excel file, power point presentation, or have access to yourself storage facility’s P&L? Consider file sharing services such as Jungledisk (www.jungledisk.com) ,Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) , or Sugarsync (www.sugarsync.com) . Consider online accounting software such as Quickbooks online (www.quickbooks) or Peachtree (www.peachtree.com). Most of these programs are also available as apps for smart phone and tablet operating systems such as Apple’s IOS, Android, Blackberry, or Windows Mobile
The beauty of cloud computing is that you can now share items with your family, conduct business, or review your self storage facility’s reports and financials from anywhere. The self storage industry is extremely slow in adopting technology and we need to change this. You can install most of these technologies for under $1000.00, including hardware. Include a smart phone and a tablet; the cost will be about $3000.00, including hardware and service contracts. There are so many “cost effective” technological tools in the market place today, that there is no excuse not to upgrade your existing self storageoperations.
Matthew Van Horn is Vice President of Cutting Edge Self Storage Management and well known for finding hidden profit centers in self storage operations. For a complimentary “Hidden Profit Discovery Session” please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Cutting Edge Self Storage Management is a full service management company specializing in Management, Feasibility Studies, Consulting, and Joint Ventures within the self storage industry. For more information, contact our main office at 866.970.EDGE or visit our website at www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com. Follow us on Twitter at CuttingEdgeMgtand on Facebook at Cutting Edge Self Storage Management.