One of the coolest things about working at storEDGE is getting to bump elbows with other entrepreneurial companies and self storage industry leaders. Two weeks ago I got the chance to sit down with Terry Bagley, President of the Door Entry and Facility Automation Division at Janus International Group. We had a lot to talk about: self storage tech, building trends, security integration, robotics and automated facilities, and the future of self storage development. Check out the full interview below!

storEDGE: From your perspective at Janus, where do you think self storage building design and technology are going in 2018?

Bagley: First of all, I think that technology has been accelerating for the last few years and it’s really been needed in the self storage industry. When I first joined this industry in 2002, I used to joke that it felt like going from the high-tech industry to the “no-tech” industry, or at best, the low-tech industry. But now, we’re really seeing a lot of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, and vendors like Janus and storEDGE are looking at different aspects of the industry and how it works to try to solve issues with technology. Specifically, I think people are looking at how to automate facilities and how to make unmanned facilities work for their business model, which takes superior technology. Right now, the American self storage industry is ahead of overseas markets technologically just because of the size of the market and the amount of money that can be invested. But there is a ton of entrepreneurial technology overseas that’s working it’s way into self storage, and now, we’re seeing a shift toward using technology to improve the customer experience and solve complex issues.

Red storage unit doors. Image by Scott Meyers via Flickr Creative Commons.

storEDGE: Is the shift toward a more high-tech industry shaping the way storage facilities are being built or influencing self storage design?

Bagley: Absolutely. We’re also seeing much more detailed requirements coming from cities and municipalities, and that has a big impact on self storage design. Cities are overwhelmingly saying they don’t want traditional, single-story, large footprint self storage facilities with a bunch of concrete block buildings and roll-up doors. As self storage moves into dense urban areas and large suburban areas, developers are going vertical with building design in order to make it pencil. Essentially, cities, towns, and municipalities are requiring them to build better looking facilities. So some of it is a shift in the materials and the technology being used, and some of it is the architectural requirements.

Certainly, we’re participating in the design shift from a Janus perspective, in terms of making our products better looking, easier to use, easier to install, and easier to maintain in the long run. While you don’t see all of these things from an aesthetic standpoint, we’re certainly working on them in order to support more automation in storage. Because self storage facilities are becoming sleeker and going more vertical, they almost look like beautiful, multi-story office buildings, which presents another challenge: owners need a way to still scream “self storage” with their curb appeal. At Janus, we’ve started creating and installing faux unit doors inside these storage buildings so that storage owners can put in large windows and storage customers will still be able to “see” self storage in the building from the road. It’s matched to their colors, it helps with branding, and it screams self storage.

Moving forward, there is also a high demand for restoring, rebuilding, and replacing facilities to be more high-tech and modern, which is an area we’re really focused on at Janus. We’ve created a division specifically for it called R3: short for restore, rebuild, replace. The business is just continuing to develop and broaden as facilities age out. You’ve got facilities in the west that are 30 or 40 years old, and their doors are damaged or bent, they won’t open, or the springs are worn out, so we’ll do door replacement. Their unit mixes might also be outdated, because the demographics around them have changed, so they might have too many large units or too many small units or not enough climate controlled space, so we’ll work with them to update their unit mix. Or maybe they have high occupancy like a lot of people do around the country, and they don’t have a way to expand or build an addition, or the city or municipality won’t let them add on, so they’ll bring in relocatable storage units and put them in the parking lot or on any open ground to meet that demand.

storEDGE: What do you think are some of the hottest self storage security trends for 2018?

Bagley: For one, I’d predict increasing popularity of individualized door access control, which is an area that Janus is really focused on with our SecurGuard product which we have in partnership with PTI and is integrated with storEDGE, as well as other rental management software providers that integrate with PTI. Electronic door locks bring additional security, automated overlocking, and alarm capability to the door, and that’s really resonating with a lot of developers. They’re building self storage facilities to add these individualized access controls to add additional security or automate the overlocking process.

I also think you’re going to see a blending of both access control and automation coming together. For example, automating not only access control at the gate, the hallway door, and the elevator, but also the unit door and utilities like lighting and HVAC. We’re seeing a lot of these integrated, time-saving technologies come into our homes and in apartment buildings, and I see them coming into self storage, as well.

A fence outside of orange storage units.

Image by Scott Meyers via Flickr Creative Commons.

storEDGE: On the tenant side, do you think there it’s more challenging for the average tenant to rent from an automated facility versus a traditional self storage property?

Bagley: It can be more challenging for the tenant if owners aren’t following best practices. As an owner, you can’t just say, I’m going to run an unattended self storage facility! And open the doors and hope for the best. It’s all about call centers, automated rental centers, communication to customers, and providing them solutions for everything they would normally expect to do at a storage facility that was manned, only it’s not. So having a vending machine that dispenses a lock or boxes and packing materials, or giving tenants the ability to be able to talk to a call agent at a call center and say, I’m not quite sure how all of this works, can you help me? And being available to talk to someone right away. It’s also all about security - security cameras and video surveillance really put the tenant at ease.

Going back to the topic of robotics, we're also seeing automated tools coming in to support tenants and provide additional customer service at automated facilities. There’s a product from Double Robotics which is basically just a mini-segway with a tablet on it, and it’s being tested in self storage now. It can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world, so at an automated facility, a call center agent can actually wake it up, and you can store it in a unit with one of our Pantheon door openers, so the door automatically opens, and the robot drives out, goes and greets the customer, and it can take them to find their unit. Or you can use it for remote monitoring: it can go out and look around the facility, make sure it’s clean, go through the hallways, and look to see if there is someone on site who shouldn’t be on site. The robot can go check it out. It’s pretty wild.

A red kiosk and vending machine. 10 Federal Storage in Durham, North Carolina features a vending machine that dispenses locks and storage supplies to renters at the automated facility.

storEDGE: It seems like new technology and design trends are opening up a lot more opportunities for storage development in areas of cities that were previously unavailable.

Bagley: Absolutely. Today’s technology allows you the potential to build facilities in locations that wouldn’t pencil before. In field locations where there isn’t a lot of acreage, you can build a 25,000 square foot facility that normally wouldn’t pencil because it couldn’t justify a site manager or a relief manager. But now, you can completely automate it, eliminating the headcount or reducing the headcount, and it justifies it. Or, pushing the envelope a little further, maybe you build a 45,000 square foot facility, but you use automated to cut down on how many hours you need to have someone there. It might not be completely unmanned, but you can cut your labor and reduce one of your biggest costs.

Technology has opened up almost unlimited opportunities for self storage development. Whether it’s building a few units at an apartment complex to looking at repurposing malls into storage centers, there’s a whole plethora of things you can do with self storage now that you couldn’t do even 10 years ago. You can build a small, class-A facility in a very high-end demographic and go completely unattended, charge premium rates, and make it pencil. It’s a very exciting time to be in the industry.

We couldn’t agree more! At storEDGE, we love technology and we’re thrilled to be working alongside builders and owners to shape the self storage businesses of tomorrow.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, you may also like: Top 6 technology trends for self storage in 2017, Creative ways to use two-way texting, and 10 Federal achieves record leasing milestone at new fully automated facility.