Interview: Automated Self Storage with Brad Minsley

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Minsley about his interactive kiosk project for his self storage facilities. Brad is a savvy businessman who has had a very successful career in real estate. After working in the multi-family business world for many years, he went on to Co-Found 10 Federal and to enter the self storage industry. If you are a self storage industry professional, this is an interview you cannot afford to miss. Enjoy!

Nancy Deol: Thank you for sitting down with me today Brad! The first question I have for you is will you please tell us a bit about 10 Federal?

Brad Minsley: Sure. We are a diversified real estate company and our portfolio includes apartment management, development and acquisition, self storage development, as well as general construction and management.

ND: What inspired you to enter the self storage space?

BM: I had previous experience with the self storage industry early in my career. I started my career, in part, with North State Storage out of Durham, North Carolina. I found self storage interesting, but I took a decade long departure into the multi-family world. Then when we formed 10 Federal a few years ago, we started back into apartments, but we also saw an opportunity to bring self storage into the fold. There’s a similar back office and we could overlap some of our footprint with departments. There are some symbiotic relationships there, so we launched our self storage side of the business a year ago.

ND: Wonderful. I saw on your website that you talk about automated storage. Can you describe to me how automated storage works?

BM: Automated storage is the intention to use technology to compete better in the self storage industry. For example with a multi-family we compete very well by using big data and crunching that big data so we can make more intelligent decisions. Using our same comfort and acumen with technology, we apply it to self storage. Where we see an opportunity is in the very suburban market where we are competing against less sophisticated operators who may not have anything more than a phone number over a fence. With our system it provides a fully automated facility, and what that means is that you can rent a unit at our facility 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. You do not need to interact with a person. You can rent through the interactive kiosk or through the website. We do have a call center for those folks who still want the human touch, but they can lease a unit no different than they can rent a movie from RedBox.

Customers can visit the self storage facility and buy locks and other supplies from the vending machine that we have onsite. Then they can access their units immediately. We have Janus doors with a Janus SecurGuard lock on the back of it. When someone wants to enter their unit, they enter their code into the PTI system, and it unlocks the lock that is on the back of their door. That adds an additional level of security. Folks still put their own padlock on the outside, but we have found that they really appreciate the added level of security.

This does a number of back office things for us as well. If a tenant doesn’t pay then it automatically overlocks that unit. When the tenant then pays it automatically removes that overlock. Both of those functions would otherwise require special visits from personnel to the facility. Further, it keeps the facility secure when the units are vacant. We don’t end up with any squatters or illicit activity going on inside of our units. We also automate a number of other features – everything from HVAC control and humidity control to remote access to video surveillance systems to video display systems, and access to Advanced Kiosks, so we can update software and even walk somebody through the kiosk process if they so wanted.

ND: It sounds like automated storage is really multifaceted and clearly there are many reasons why you would select that business model. Was there one reason that stood out from all of the rest and sealed the deal on automated storage for you?

BM: To us it was the opportunity to have a competitive advantage against our peers in the suburban market. None of them can offer what we offer, which is 24 hour leasing, 24 hour access, and an added level of security with the SecurGuard lock.

ND: And when deciding on your kiosk project for automated storage, and we were happy you selected Advanced Kiosks, what was it about us that made you select Advanced Kiosks?

BM: We looked at a number of options. We looked at other competitors to Advanced Kiosks, which are specifically tailored to self storage, and we looked into different technologies such as using iPads. Ultimately what we found was that Advanced Kiosks gave us the most flexibility and control over our system and kiosks, and the kiosks are a commercial grade product. An iPad is really not consumer grade and lacking in many of the features to operate remotely with confidence. The Advanced Kiosks model provides that confidence. We opted for one that came with a commercial, military grade keyboard, a phone handset, a credit card reader, and a receipt printer.

Ultimately what we found was that Advanced Kiosks gave us the most flexibility and control over our system and kiosks, and the kiosks are a commercial grade product.

ND: What can customers do when they visit one of your interactive kiosks?

BM: They can rent a unit. They can add units to their account. They can pay their rent. And if they have any questions, they can lift the handset and be connected to our call center.

ND: Can you tell me about the Call Center and the VOIP solution?

BM: This is a great, seamless addition that Advanced Kiosks offers. The Voice Over IP is routed through the storEDGE property management software system that we have, which records all of the phone calls. That allows us to maintain good, solid customer relationship management. The calls are routed through the storEDGE software to our call center. Currently we have a 5 person call center, which is open 9 am to 9 pm, seven days a week. Our call center attendants are specifically trained to our system. They are familiar with our facilities, as well as the storEDGE management software and the Advanced Kiosks software and because of this, they are very effective at converting sales. I would say about 30% of our customers need a little bit of hand holding through the process, but that number has continued to decrease as we’ve added other things to our facilities such as an instructional video of a mockup of our door lock.

ND: And I know you’ve talked a bit about security measures, seeing as how you are open 24/7/365 can you go into detail about the security measures that you have in place?

BM: So we have some of your basics. We have the vehicle gate that you can’t access without a code to enter the grounds of the facility. We have appropriate site lighting, video surveillance cameras that keep a one week loop of security footage, but where we excel is with the Janus secure guard lock. This is a hardwired lock on the backside of the Janus roll up doors. This lock only unlocks when someone puts their unique code into the vehicle gate keypad or a keypad at any of the buildings. That is the only way that the lock on the backside of the doors will unlock. If a bandit were to come across a fence, and start cutting locks, at any other facility he would be into people’s units and stealing possessions almost immediately. With the Janus secure guard lock he would physically have to rip the door out of its rails to get it to unlock. They’re not going to bother with that. And as an added level of security and comfort with this technology, as people become familiar with it, we’ve included $1,000 of tenant insurance in all of the rental rates.

ND: That’s really wonderful of you to do. Finally I’d like to ask if you have any last thoughts that you would like to share on the interactive kiosks or the self service and self storage industries?

BM: I have a couple things, although I could talk your ear off. Kiosks are here and they are going to be everywhere soon. The North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles has managed to get kiosks into their store fronts, so if they’re in on the game, everyone should be in on the game. And they provide a convenience factor. When I go to the grocery store, I go to RedBox, and people like that convenience factor. They like that they can access the technology at their own pace. They like the brevity of it. With respect to the self storage industry, people need to recognize that there is nothing that requires human contact to rent an empty box. A computer can do that and self storage is just one more industry that is going to have machine replacing man. We’re excited to be at the forefront of that, but we don’t expect to be unique in that venture.

ND: Again, thank you so much for your thoughts on self service, self storage, and interactive kiosks.

BM: My pleasure.


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