UL: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your business?
Sebastian: I am the CEO of Karibu. We are a Vienna based IT consultancy. We help real-estate companies with their technology needs. We help our clients with digital transformation, implementation, and other technology needs to create a modern, efficient and future-oriented self-storage business.
UL: In your opinion which 2-3 customer experience trends should we be looking out?
Sebastian: The first would be online booking of self-storage units on a website. Second, self-service is becoming more important for customer experience and, third, smaller sites in general, across the self-storage industry. I can elaborate on the last point – online booking and digitalization is an option when you have a large site, because you will always have people on site anyways. For smaller sites, it is less profitable to have personnel on-site.
I know it’s a bit different than Japan. However, in Europe, property companies are buying up everything that can be operated traditionally, and then they are facing a problem: they have a lot of small sites but can’t manage them traditionally. And then you’re forced to use online booking, smart locks, all these things that make it more efficient. Self-service is also a way to make it more efficient. Right.
UL: Are companies in Europe innovative enough to keep up or even drive these trends? What about other regions?
Sebastian: The American market, it’s remarkably backward. Because the industry is so old, they’re stuck in the old ways. For many here in Europe the boom of self-storage coincided with the boom of digital transformation. Right. So when you do it, you immediately think about how you could do it in a modern fashion. In Asia, I don’t have detailed insight into the market, but there are interesting operators. Storefriendly is one of them. They’ve done this thing where they have robots. Amazon has logistics robots that will carry a whole rack to the employees. And Storefriendly uses this technology for self-storage. They only have a small room at the front of the location where the customer enters, and his things are brought out. So, Asia leaves a good impression. Software, like Storeganise, that’s also coming from Asia, is really enabling online booking.
UL: What about other regions around the globe?
Sebastian: I’ve also been in touch with consultants and real estate developers who are now entering untapped markets in Colombia or the Middle East. Real estate investors are already going to markets that you usually don’t hear from. But I don’t have a deeper insight.
UL: In self-storage in the European market, is there more of a trend towards smaller independent operators or bigger franchises?
Sebastian: There are some bigger companies that are trying to establish some platforms. For example, there’s a franchise. They have a hundred locations already. However, from what I’ve heard from real estate developers, who looked at these contracts, they don’t quite like the numbers. They don’t quite like how much they’re paid, or they’re not excited about the thin profits that they would make. At the same time, they would be tied in. Traditionally in self-storage, there are many small operators. It is so easy to convert some available space into storage. There are larger companies who are trying to capture the market and who can invest in technology and software. I think, for the smaller ones, it will be a challenge to remain independent. They will need to find solutions so they can go digital, but without needing big budgets.
UL: Speaking of technology in self-storage? What is the potential, and where do you see challenges?
Sebastian: The potential is to save on operating costs, to create a modern user experience. The question is, is it a potential or a challenge? It will become necessary at some point, I believe. When enough have done it, you just can’t compete without. I think what’s holding back many is: you don’t want to be the first one and you don’t want to do experiments to find out what works and what doesn’t. This is where consultancies like Unwired Logic or Karibu tie in because they can help show you how to do this the right way. You don’t have to learn at your own expense. That’s the challenge with digital transformation because a lot of that stuff fails or the projected results aren’t achieved.
UL: Considering this, and also how independent operators are being squeezed by big players – What do you think are key features that self-storage companies should focus on to remain future proof?
Sebastian: It’s software like Storeganise, really. You’re joining a lot of other operators who are going in the same direction. You might not be at the forefront of innovation. Those are the guys who started with it five years ago, or even earlier. But you don’t want to be there because it’s costly. Storeganise, this technology, it’s super cheap in comparison. The more companies support it, the more you have a lobby to get the features you need and catch up with the big operators. And I think you can get on the same level, as in good software and hardware, without spending millions on it, all by using solutions like that.
If you would like to continue reading, click here for Part II.