This month we’re bringing back our client spotlight series with a local client, Smithville Self Storage.
Located in the KC Northland, Smithville is just far enough outside the metro to offer an escape from the busy city life, but still close enough to commute downtown for work. The area has a booming housing market, making self storage a higher demand than ever.
Last week I got the chance to meet up with the owners of Smithville Self Storage, Jim and Doris Esser, and resident operators, Doug and Annissa Esser, to learn more about what makes their business unique. Check it out below!
Smithville Self Storage opened in 1997. Jim and Doris built the business from the ground up, and since then, they’ve always been family owned and operated. Prior to building a self storage facility, the Essers owned apartments and were experienced working with renters. Jim worked at Ford Motor Company while Doris managed the apartments. Doris managed Smithville Self Storage for about four years before Jim retired from Ford Motor Company.
“I ran into a little bit of everything the first four years, out here all alone managing the property,” said Doris.
At that time, the facility had six buildings and a makeshift office in a storage unit at the front of the facility. When the time came to expand the facility, Jim and Doris built a residency on the property. They planned to only live on the property for a short amount of time while they built another home, but they ended up staying for almost five years. The convenience of the location and being able to keep a close eye on their investment were extra motivation to stay.
Today, the house doubles as both an office and a residency. Doug and Annissa live on the property with their two boys, Cole and Kade, and have transformed the space into a digital office. With five acres and 538 units, the facility has also more than doubled in size.
Doug and Annissa became managers of the facility when Jim and Doris retired. Doug was a school teacher for 13 years and wanted a change of pace, so he got involved in the family business. Doug and Annissa took on the challenge together and became the resident managers of Smithville Self Storage.
“Being a homegrown business, we’ve been very blessed. Mom and dad are hard workers and they’ve been very generous,” said Doug. “As young as they are, they’re still very active in the business. Dad works in the office on Saturdays and we talk on an almost daily basis about the business. Mom was out here over the past two weeks painting. They’re hard workers and they instilled that in me.”
The most recent expansion took place this past summer, when Smithville Self Storage started building three new buildings in April 2016. Jim and Doris opted for larger units with wider doors in the new buildings to allow more space for storing small campers, vehicles and boats. The facility now has 12 different storage sizes. The only downfall? The new expansion left the facility too large to quickly walk through, so a golf cart became necessary to show tenants around and check on things around the facility.
One of the most unique features of Smithville Self Storage is their real life storage size calculator. Many years ago, Jim transformed a large unit near the office into a storage size calculator to help new customers figure out how much storage space they need. New customers walk in and can move around the space. The various unit sizes are marked off on the floor to show unit sizes and prices, and curtains can be drawn or opened to show the depth of various units. Doug says he uses the size estimator almost every time a new customer walks onto the facility wanting to rent a storage unit.
“This was all dad’s brainchild, and I applaud him for thinking of it,” said Doug. “You’ve got to do it early on to get a unit near your office, and it takes some time to set it up. But just having the different sizes all outlined here really helps new customers figure out how much space they actually need. Most people are visual and do better with being able to see exactly how large , say a 10x10 unit, really is.”
Of course, Smithville Self Storage’s real life storage calculator only works for walk-in customers, not customers who call to reserve a unit or want to move in online. That’s where the storEDGE website comes in:
“When you’re renting to a new customer, you’re constantly just thinking, ‘okay, what questions do I need to ask them so I can find what’s best for them?’”, said Doug. “When a new customer calls I often ask, ‘how much stuff do you have?’ and they usually say ‘I don’t really know.’ That’s when our storEDGE website comes in handy, because the storage configuration and arranger is tremendous. It’s a really great thing to have.”
When Doug began managing Smithville Self Storage, he had a long wish list of technology upgrades for the business. Upgrading their basic website was at the top of the list.
“We had a website, but it was just something simple. It wasn’t interactive and it didn’t function with all devices,” said Doug. “Now we have tenants that pay online and new customers using our online storage calculator.” The upgrade also bumped them into the top ranking search results for self storage in Smithville.
“We hadn’t had the website up two weeks and I had customers calling saying ‘this is great’ and ‘this is wonderful,’ so there has been nothing but praise since we upgraded our website,” said Doug. “It’s awesome. Nonstop happiness, lots of compliments.”
After the website transition, the decision was made to upgrade their software. Prior to making the switch to storEDGE management software they had been using a more dated self storage software. The dated software didn’t integrate well with their website and made moving to a paperless office nearly impossible.
“It helped a lot with day to day operations. The first thing I do is log on and see if anyone has paid, then I look at past due reports and scheduled move outs,” said Doug. “I’m hoping to use the texting service in November to remind people to pay for November, December and January to get a jump on the holiday season.”
What’s next on Doug’s wish list? Getting an iPad for the office and upgrading their gate software.
“We have an older version of DigiGate right now, but the new DigiGate will give customers the option to open the gate with their cell phone. Then they won’t have to roll down their window,” said Doug. “And I know that would make a lot of people happy, including myself. Especially when it’s raining and cold.”
For Smithville Self Storage, the focus has always been on providing their customers with value and excellent customer service. Doug is excited to keep moving forward with his technology wish list and growing the family business while providing the excellent value and customer service their customers have come to expect.
Jim and Doris’ business savvy, combined with their best in class technology and marketing tools help them stay ahead of the constantly changing market. They plan to continue to update the facility and grow as their family grows.
“The boys are getting bigger, they’re getting more involved in the business,” said Doug of his sons. “Kade helped hand out waters this past summer. He’s a great help with customers.”
Thank you Smithville Self Storage! At storEDGE, we are proud to work with clients like Jim, Doris, Doug, and Annissa who excel at what they do and care about their customers.