UL: What features and options are there currently in Storeganise for automation? Which third-party integrations are available?
Within Storeganise, we support automated move-ins. A self-storage operator can determine how much of the move-in process for new customers they want to automate. They can decide to automate all of it or just a selected part. For example, some businesses want to automate just the reservation and the billing. But they might want to complete the move-in manually if they want the customer to come in and sign some physical documents.
If they’re looking for fully automated operations, they can turn on all the automation settings in Storeganise. So when a storage customer goes to the website, they click on the facility, choose a unit type, input their information, credit card details, and sign the agreement. Then the system will automatically charge the customer and move them into their unit. The system will also email them all the details for that unit. Depending on the business, that could include integrations with access control systems, where we can include the access code to that unit directly in the email to the customer.
Within the customer booking portal, once a customer has completed an order, they are taken directly to view the units within their “booked units”. In that view, they can look at the unit and the location on the sitemap to locate it in the building. We can also surface the access code so that the customer has all that information from their logged-in view. If they ever forget their access code or unit location, they can just log in and view that within their account.
UL: What kinds of access control types/ solutions can you facilitate?
We integrate with more than 10 of the most popular access control systems in self storage. So it really depends more on the capabilities of the access control provider that the company is using. Some companies will use access cards, but the drawback of access cards or little tokens, like key fobs, is that you must physically hand them over. They are not ideal if you’re running automated facilities. Therefore most facilities are still running with PIN codes which can be easily managed. It’s also becoming more common for companies to use systems like Noke that provide mobile device access. It uses Bluetooth and NFC to detect that the customer is near their unit, open the door and let the customer walk in.
UL: Have you observed a trend or shift towards more automated facilities in the past years?
Yes, there’s definitely been a shift for many companies moving towards more automated solutions. During COVID, in particular, companies initially resistant to this model realized they could push many more of their signups online. Customers want an easy solution: Ideally, do everything online and move right in without going through complicated manual documentation processes. So there’s definitely been an uptick.
More and more businesses are building out smaller facilities that don’t need as much capital to get set up but also don’t have the same overheads because you don’t have the same personnel costs at each of those. For these smaller sites, it definitely makes a lot more sense to run them as automated facilities.
UL: When it comes to transitioning and refurbishing existing facilities to a more automated ones, what kind of pitfalls should customers anticipate?
Companies generally need to ensure they have the right access control system to provide that fully automated moving experience. Because without that, it’s not possible. For example, if they’re looking to rent online but don’t have automated locks on each unit,(e.g.NoKe) – then they need a solution that’s going to protect the vacant units from new people coming in, Let’s say, somebody were to sign up online, and they get a PIN code to go through the main door; if you leave all of your vacant units open, anybody could come in and take multiple units, right? So one solution that works well is having unique coded padlocks on each unit. The customer receives a code for the padlock, and then when they get to their unit, they just remove that padlock and put it in a drop box. That padlock can be used again for the next customer. We integrate with a system called Rubik, which helps manage those padlocks. I would say that’s one of the main things. It’s really quite easy to automate the move-in process once you’ve got those prerequisites in place.
UL: I assume the upfront cost of refurbishing all of your doors and everything can come with a steep bill, especially for a large facility?
Yes, and that’s where a solution like Rubik comes in nicely because you don’t need to refit all your doors; you could use traditional padlocks on those units to lock them until the customer is given access to it.
Moreover, access control providers that provide automated locks down to the unit level also have recognized that the cost impact can be significant. They are coming out with more solutions where you don’t necessarily need to change out the whole door, but rather just the lock itself. As the industry progresses, new, exciting solutions will make it easier, and I think it will become more of the norm as we move forward.
UL: So there are many easy-to-implement and low-tech solutions available since some customers can be wary of having to download extra apps or using their smartphone?
We have clients that use a variety of different services. Those who do a new build-out will tend to look at the more fully automated solutions, where each unit has its own electrical lock system, like Noke. And even though you need to download a separate app, from the experience we’ve seen with our customers, there hasn’t been much pushback from the end client. The users see the benefit of having that solution. But there are solutions like Rubik or DaVinci lock, where you don’t need any of that expensive hardware, but rather, you’re just using traditional pad-locks. And the customer also doesn’t need any app to download and simply removes that padlock from the unit. It makes that transition much easier for the self-storage operator and much more affordable.
UL: Can you maybe share an example or two of how that transition process went for some of your customers?
If we’re talking about new facilities, we work with a great self storage company in Australia. They use Storeganise with NoKe and run everything fully automated and remotely. There’s no staff on site. The uptake from the customers has actually been really good. They prefer that kind of solution – that they can manage their access from their phone and don’t need to remember any codes or anything. But that was all through new builds.
Looking at customers who are retrofitting or moving towards automated solutions, we often see partial deployment. They automate part of the facility to see the uptake from the customers. I think that’s a common approach for larger facilities, as they’re trying to gauge the cost-benefit of implementing automated locks on every unit. A lot of facilities already have existing access control systems on the main gates, and the simplicity of adding a padlock per unit means that you can do that right away. I think there’s still a little bit of pushback, probably more so in Asia, compared to Europe, in the US. Some companies still feel like they need to meet the customer face to face. Or they don’t want to make their prices so easily visible online because they feel like they’re going to lose out on the customer. But I think that’s starting to change because they are seeing that it’s already the norm in the more mature markets.
UL: You could say that smart-lock automated access has been almost a disrupter in the industry, changing how things are done. Do you know what could be the next such trend that really changes how things are done in self-storage when it comes to interacting with the user or on the back end?
With interacting with the user, the biggest challenge for new customers is understanding how much space they need, particularly for people that haven’t used self-storage before or where the self-storage market is less developed. In the US, people understand unit sizes better – because storage is more common. But the average customer often doesn’t know how much space they will need.
Solutions like Calcumate or other space calculators are critical in streamlining that process. There’s a company called Swivl, which provides chatbot services specifically for the self-storage industry. It includes AI technology to help the customers in a more automated solution to identify what they need and go through the booking process directly from a chat. So I think those are the next important things companies must consider when moving more facilities online. I think in the future, we will make better use of technologies like AI and augmented reality. The experience could be really interesting.
From a software perspective, I think it’s also about how you can help customers, not just during the signup process but throughout their whole experience with the storage business. So you can upsell the customer on services or automate the move-out. For example, build in more automated flows that help guide the customer, not just to move out of their unit, but to give them alternative options: Maybe they need less space, and you can automate that transfer from large to small units while still keeping that customer.
When talking about automation, there are still a lot of tasks that operational staff have to do manually. There’s a lot more opportunity for software providers to look at how we can automate and streamline the operational flow of managing the other process outside of move-in: Whether it’s transfers, move-outs, upselling customers, or even the billing process.
In regions like Asia, in particular, there’s still a lot of manual payments and reluctance from companies to move towards automated payment solutions. They feel that the credit card fees are detrimental, but they don’t realize the impact of the manual work of taking and managing payments – or the impacts of customer attrition. Even if they have to pay for those transactions, automating the payment flow is a greater benefit to the business and the customer. It is not only a more efficient flow but also a matter of managing non-paying customers. We don’t just give access to the customer but also have to remove access if the customer hasn’t paid. You can automate that and re-enable it after the bill is covered. Say we have a delinquent customer who is behind on payment. You can let the system lock them out from their unit; they can pay the due amount on the phone and regain access without any involvement of manual labor. Automating this process helps reduce customers who are overdue on payments or delinquent on their fees.