Looking at the Technology Making Self Storage Better

Jon Fesmire | Jun 21, 2021 @ 12:24 PM

The self storage industry has been around since the 1960s, so naturally over the last half a century or so it’s seen a lot of change. You may wonder, how much technological change can storage experience? We’re talking about putting our stuff in rooms at a facility to keep them safe. Is there anything else to it?

Of course. There’s security, climate control, management, ease of use, and more. Computers made management systems easier in the 1980s and 1990s, but now, with all the connectivity the internet allows, hand-held devices, and the widespread use of cloud computing, the capabilities of such systems have exploded.

Plus, these days people expect technology to make their lives easier, including when they make purchases or even rent a storage unit. Millennials grew up with it, but Gen-Xers, also a digital native generation, are always ready to adopt new ways of doing things when computers are involved. The industry is not only improving for the sake of efficiency, it’s responding to public demand.

Now, let’s talk about several parts of the self storage technology puzzle.

Signing Up Online or at a Kiosk

It used to be that to rent a storage unit, you would have to go to a facility, perhaps one that you discovered simply by driving around town, and work with someone in the main office. You’d fill out forms, get a brief tour of the facility, purchase a lock, and you’d be set.

Most of those things are still part of the process, but now, you don’t have to talk to a person. You may not even have to go into the office.

Most facilities these days have attractive websites, or even apps, designed with usability in mind. You can find a unit via your phone, tablet, or computer, fill out the paperwork, including getting monthly storage insurance, sign everything digitally, pay your first bill, and move boxes or furniture into your new unit. You may need to stop by the office, but only to pick up or purchase your lock.

Many also have kiosks outside the office, some of which you can dive up to. You’ll go through the same process as you would online, but the kiosk may also dispense a high-quality disc lock or cylinder lock for your new unit.

Tenant, Inc.'s B2C websites allow tenants to complete the rental process, including ID verification, entirely online on your home desktop or phone. Tenant’s PMS, Hummingbird, which you’ll find on the counter in many facilities serves the same functions as a kiosk, but you can be in the comfortable, air-conditioned office while you sign up. You may not need to ask the desk clerks questions, but if you do, they can help, and they can sell you the ideal lock for your unit.

Once you have a unit, you can pay your bill online, set up automatic payments so you don’t forget, and even switch to a larger or smaller unit if your needs change.

Advancing Access

Today, most facilities issue a digital code you can use to get and out through the gate and to enter the building your unit is in, if you have an indoor unit. However, more advanced methods are coming into use.

For example, some businesses are using facial recognition technology, where tenants can gain gate and unit access by allowing the system to scan their faces. This is part of the science of biometrics, using unique physical identifiers to allow access. Other things biometric technology can use to identify individuals are handprints, fingerprints, retinas, and a person’s voice. One company working in the biometrics sector is Innuvo, and they provide these security solutions for self storage and other industries.

Janus International, which has provided locks to self storage for years, has a system that is growing in use called Noke Smart Entry. This system allows tenants to use their smartphones and an app to access facilities and their units. That makes the units much harder to break into than if they were using a traditional lock, and customers don’t have to worry about forgetting their key.

Management and Monitoring

Today’s sophisticated facility management systems use cloud storage and computing to connect everything in a self storage business. From such a system, a facility manager can do the rounds of checking the units in the morning, check off each without using a clipboard and papers, and can immediately contact maintenance if there’s a problem, like a dented door or a ceiling leak. Often, they can take photos on their smartphones to include in reports.

They can see what tenants have recently moved in or out, get notifications when a tenant is late paying a bill and action must be taken, create many reports that help them understand who their customers are and how to better advertise, and so much more. Of course, everyone who works for the company, from someone who manages maintenance on all facilities to a desk worker at a single site, can use different aspects of the software in the course of their job.

One issue facilities experience is the HVAC systems in climate-controlled units sometimes failing. During freezing winters or broiling summers, this can be a big problem. Today’s systems will alert facility managers and maintenance so they can fix the issue quickly.

Ultimately, how groundbreaking a facility’s technology is should be just one consideration when you look for a unit to rent, but it is worth looking into. What sort of new technologies is your facility using? Do they plan to upgrade? It can’t hurt to ask..