In 2016, the storage industry saw more and more facilities converting to become automated, unmanned facilities. While this trend will undoubtedly continue in 2017, the self storage industry has mixed feelings on unmanned facilities. Some operators are excited about the change, while others share concerns. If you’re concerned about the unmanned facility trend, or just curious about how unmanned facilities operate on a day-to-day basis, read on!

A kiosk rental station at a self storage facility.

Image by Scott Meyers via Flickr Creative Commons.

1. They have to have a kiosk on site.

Not necessarily. While some facilities do indeed utilize on-site kiosks in place of a manager, other facilities simply use a well-placed sign displaying their web address and phone number. Then, the customer uses their smartphone to go to the facility’s website, browse unit sizes, move-in, and e-sign lease documents. Using a self-service rental service, customers can fully complete the move-in process, gate code and all.

When I spoke with unmanned facility owner Mike Castleman for a recent client spotlight, he noted plans to get rid of the on-site kiosk at one of his automated properties.

“To me, the kiosk is just more hardware. In my opinion, the modern day version of the kiosk is the smartphone. It’s the ‘kiosk in a pocket’ idea. The only thing smartphones can’t do is spit out a lock. It’s just like when you go to take a flight. You book your flight from home and you get your ticket through your phone. You can do it all from your house and you don’t have to wait in line to talk to a person or use an airport kiosk.” Mike Castleman Castlerock Interests, LLC

A fence outside of orange storage units.

Image by Scott Meyers via Flickr Creative Commons.

2. They have more security issues than manned facilities.

Because break-ins, vandalism, and theft are more likely to happen at night when facilities are closed and managers have left for the day, unmanned facilities face similar security challenges as more traditional properties. Like a manned facility, location and security are vital to the security of an unmanned facility.

Unmanned facility owners can curb illegal activity by installing security monitoring equipment throughout the facility, keeping the facility well-lit at night, utilizing gates and electronic access technology, keeping empty units locked, and carefully monitoring the crime and illegal activity in the area. Extra security measures should be put in place if the area is prone to criminal behavior, such as establishing routines with city police officers.

Red storage unit doors.

Image by Mike Mozart via Flickr Creative Commons.

3. They miss out on a lot of opportunities from walk-ins.

Castleman also conducted his own case study to determine whether or not walk-ins were a common occurrence when choosing whether or not to make his facility in Addison, Texas completely automated. During the case study, he worked as the property manager.

“I structured my time to be in the office at the Addison facility every day for thirty days. I was trying to figure out how valuable having an on-site manager was for this facility. During that thirty day period, only one person walked in off the street who had not called in ahead of time or visited the website first. In every case except one, someone interacted with the website or made a phone call before they came in.” Mike Castleman Castlerock Interests, LLC

While this may not be the case for every facility, the trend of online-first is definitely growing. The trend is especially popular with the millennial market and consumers who are used to making online purchases. If your storage facility is in a market of consumers who have high engagement factors online, your customers are more likely to prefer renting a unit and paying their bills online, rather than making a phone call, sending a check, or setting up an appointment.

A sign for self storage being held by a robotic man.

Image by tinyfroglet via Flickr Creative Commons.

4. Tenants want to talk to a person before and during the rental process.

While we can’t speak for every tenant, and certainly there are tenants who do want to talk to a manager throughout the rental process, research into unmanned facilities shows just the opposite. A recent study by Gartner found that businesses with fully-automated websites typically see a 10% or greater increase in revenue in six to nine months. Customers are able to complete the move-in process at their own convenience 24/7 using online tools, which is much easier for them than calling and setting up an appointment. Plus, the human element is still available to customers who desire it by providing phone numbers and contact information on the facility website and signs placed throughout the facility.

Security cameras against a yellow wall.

Image by Kevan via Flickr Creative Commons.

5. They’re expensive to operate.

Actually it’s quite the opposite. Eliminating on-site managers has helped many owners save thousands in overhead each month. Without a manager, storage owners are able to save on salaries and staffing costs, as well as building costs for new developments (no bathroom, office, or public utility costs). With this savings, owners are able to provide upgrades to deliver class A facility features and amenities like climate control, premium security, and superior building and layout design. These upgrades allow them to price their units at the top of the market, bringing in customers who are willing to pay for premium upgrades. Paired with online rental services, these operational efficiencies often contribute to growing revenue and high occupancy.

An arrow painted onto the pavement pointing to a block of storage units.

Image by Roadsidepictures via Flickr Creative Commons.

6. Tenants need someone to help them figure out what size unit they need.

There’s a simple solution to this problem. Using high quality web marketing services, potential customers can use an interactive storage unit calculator on the facility’s website to visualize their stuff in the space and determine the exact size they need. Using facility management software tools, facilities are also able to provide new customers with a detailed facility map, so no matter how large the facility is, customers will always be able to find their storage space. For the customers who still want a little help from a manager or owner, providing a phone number for additional assistance ensures customers don’t go unanswered.

A gate keypad at a gated facility.

Image by Scott Meyers via Flickr Creative Commons.

7. Unmanned properties must be gated.

Also a myth! Many unmanned properties are high-functioning and very secure, even without gates and fences. While gates certainly add an additional level of security, several factors play into whether or not a facility needs to be fenced with gate access. Security goes beyond fences and gating. If the facility is in a well-monitored, low-crime area, where competitor facilities also lack fencing and electronic gate access, then the facility may not need to be gated. Additionally, if individual units are very secure - perhaps with new technology like Janus International’s and PTI Security Systems’ SecurGuard Electronic Locks, as utilized by 10 Federal Storage - a security fence might not be necessary. Electronic locks, keypads, lighting, and surveillance can make all the difference in providing top-notch security to tenants.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, you may also like: 10 Federal Skyrockets to Success with Fully Automated Facility, Client Spotlight: Castlerock Interests, LLC, and Top 6 Technology Trends for Self Storage in 2017.