I recently sat down with Amy Daniels of storEDGE to talk about self storage industry trends and technology that makes managing a self storage facility easy and cost effective.
If you are currently in the self storage industry, or you are considering getting started in the industry
this interview is a must-read.
Here we discuss everything from population growth, self storage software, SEO, and of course, interactive kiosks. Enjoy!
Nancy Deol: Thanks for sitting down with me today, Amy, to talk about the self storage industry. To start, can you tell us a little bit about storEDGE?
Amy Daniels: Absolutely! storEDGE is a self storage technology provider. We have three main products. First, we create websites for self storage facilities that they can use to market themselves online. We also create management software that they can use to run their businesses. And, thirdly we have a customer rental center that they can use to make renting easy for their customers.
ND: What would you say is your most popular product?
AD: It’s definitely evolved over time. We started with creating websites for self storage operators and that took off. There was definitely a need for professionally designed websites that were exclusive to the self storage industry and that had a sound SEO strategy. It was great for us to watch that take off.
We then evolved into management software and the rental center because, honestly, our customers kept asking about it. The other software out there is fine, and it’s been good for the self storage industry for a long time, but I think users really want more functionality. They want less clicking, less navigating through several menus and tables of content, and less support manuals. Customers want something that makes sense and is more like the rest of the technology they use in their everyday lives.
That’s really how we got into management software, and that’s the product that we’re really trying to get the word out about now. Our websites have been around for a while, and while those are great, we really have something special here with the management software and the rental center. I wouldn’t say they’re more important, but they’re definitely what we’re most excited about right now.
“Customers want something that makes sense and is more like the rest of the technology they use in their everyday lives.”
ND: Wonderful. So we’ve learned that the self storage industry is continuing to grow and all the research we’ve seen shows that there is no sign of it slowing down anytime soon. What are some of the factors contributing to this growth?
AD: So, to start off, one of the most obvious reasons for this growth is the American population continuing to grow, especially in urban areas. Let me run you through some of the trends in self storage over the last couple decades compared to our population.
Most of the self storage facilities that exist today were built before 1979. There were a steady number of properties built throughout the 1980’s, but then when the recession of the 1990’s hit, many of the self storage facilities went into foreclosure. That was when the entire economy took a hit. Construction kind of halted toward 2009, and there weren’t many new developments in the works.
The American population continued to grow, however. In 1990 it was 249.62 million and by 2013 the population grew to 321.19 million. That was a huge jump! And if you look at urban areas, those are particularly interesting because in 2000 they accounted for 79% of the US population. By 2012 that number climbed to almost 81%. Population growth in urban areas is expected to continue to grow even more so.
It’s really no wonder that space is at a premium, especially in America’s biggest cities. It’s interesting to watch as more self storage facilities are being built again. We’re jumping back into that trend of new constructions popping up.
As for the future, I think it’s obvious that the self storage industry is going to continue to be strong because the population is going to continue to grow. As the economy gets stronger, consumers are going to be able to purchase more material goods. What do you think they’re going to do with those when they run out of room in their home? That’s a really big factor that’s interesting to look at.
“As for the future, I think it’s obvious that the self storage industry is going to continue to be strong because the population is going to continue to grow…”
ND: That makes sense. What do you think some of the best functionalities are of storEDGE’s software when you partner that software with an interactive kiosk?
AD: Customers want something that makes sense and is more like the rest of the technology they use in their everyday lives.. So, I’ll start with our management software. As I mentioned before, it made such an impression in the industry really because of its ease of use. Rather than breaking off every task into menus and sub-menus and then sub-sub-menus, and so on, we created things like hovercards, a smart search, one-click functionality, one-click move-ins, and all of these things that allow operators to multi-task. If somebody walks into their office, they can complete that move-in without completely losing what they were working on before. That’s where we started.
Now, it’s a lot more than just pretty software. We offer a lot more features that no one else has. We have a customized dashboard. We have integrated customer relationship management between the software on their websites and we have automated texting, which operators can use to answer texts from renters within the software. And one thing we’re really excited about is our interactive facility map, which is a drag and drop builder for their property.
The rental center plays a huge part in that software. Renters can access the rental center online, from a computer, tablet or smartphone. They can also access it through an interactive kiosk at the facility. The software itself guides them through the rental process. It makes it something that is fun and simple. It also syncs the data automatically from the rental center to their website and the management software. It provides that full circle integration that makes their lives a lot easier and the experience that much better for their customers.
ND: How does the rental center work if you’re accessing it on an interactive kiosk?
AD: The rental center is an interface that can be set up on an interactive kiosk. When a customer walks up to a kiosk in a self storage facility, the rental center is a portal that will completely walk them through the rental process. They can do everything that they would expect a manager of a facility to do for them. They can see what units are available. They can view what the different amenities are for that facility. They can see what the different prices are, and they can complete the entire process right there on the interactive kiosk – they choose the unit they would like, they get their gate code, they can sign their lease agreement, they can create their account and save all of this information. It gives them everything they need to be able to be ready to move in right away.
“…they can complete the entire process right there on the interactive kiosk – they choose the unit they would like, they get their gate code, they can sign their lease agreement, they can create their account and save all of this information. It gives them everything they need to be able to be ready to move in right away.”
ND: Do you find that you’re seeing a lot of interest in the rental center for self storage facilities that are open 24/7/365 and who don’t always have somebody there or from facilities who never have anyone onsite?
AD: Yes. We are definitely seeing a lot more interest in the rental center. It’s one of our newer products in the last few years and it’s been really fun to watch that interest grow. It’s just really fun to watch trends in the self storage industry because, like you said, there are more and more facilities that are completely unmanned. They don’t have staff there onsite. The renters can use technology to quickly and easily rent self storage. It makes sense to them.
We’ve definitely seen interest growing and it’s been great to see how differently people can incorporate this technology for their facilities. If they just want to link to the rental center on their website, they can. If they want to set up an interactive kiosk to supplement for the times when the manager isn’t there or is busy with other customers, they can do that. And to your point, some properties don’t have anyone there. They can use the rental center and an interactive kiosk to allow their renters to visit the facility and rent self storage while they are there.
ND: That’s great! Self service technology is continuing to grow and the prediction is that the market for interactive kiosks is going to reach 73.5 billion by 2020. What would you like to see in the future for the marriage of self storage industry and the interactive kiosk industry?
AD: I strongly believe that it all comes down to the customers. I think we’d be a little narrow minded here at storEDGE if we only thought about our customers and we didn’t think about their customers. Their customers are self storage renters who have all sorts of solutions that they’re looking for from self storage, so for anyone to be successful as a vendor for self storage they need to be considering those renters and their different experiences. I’m going to answer that question with renters of self storage in mind.
First, it’s clear that interactive kiosks make self storage better for renters. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that they should expect that kind of functionality in the self storage industry. And why shouldn’t they?
They can use technology to do anything. They can access their bank accounts online. They can go to IKEA and completely serve themselves if they’d like and buy furniture for their homes if they choose to, without any assistance. They can instantly rent a movie from a RedBox at a convenience store, gas station or grocery store. Why should self storage be any different?
“I strongly believe that it all comes down to the customers. I think we’d be a little narrow minded here at storEDGE if we only thought about our customers and we didn’t think about their customers.”
What I would like to see in the future is an even stronger emphasis on what is best for the customer. We know that the amount of mobile users is climbing and we know that renters simply just don’t do business between that 9-5 block of time anymore. They want to be able to rent any time, anywhere and they want it to be easy to use. The users are looking to do everything that a facility manager would do and they want to do it on their smart devices or at a self service kiosk while they’re in the facility – at any time, day or night.
And customers are smart and know how to navigate through technology every single day. I think that the more advanced experience that a storage facility provides, the stronger their competitive edge is going to be.
ND: It makes a difference when you keep the end user in mind is really how you grow your business the best. Making everything as easy and as efficient as it can possibly be is the way to success.
Has storEDGE determined what the ROI is for self service technology in the self storage industry?
AD: I think it really depends on how far a facility wants to go with self service technology. Some facilities offer self service in the form of online functionalities. Some also have an interactive kiosk at their property. And others, though there aren’t as many yet, are 100% self service and unmanned.
We can look at this in tiers. If storage operators use the right provider, adding options to their website shouldn’t cost them anything, really, apart from the web design services themselves. Adding a self service kiosk can definitely vary in price. If they want to buy a kiosk, I’ve seen that the cost can range anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the kiosk provider. It’s really about what they want to do.
As for the returns, there are the obvious returns of more rentals and more customers, and having the competitive edge over other facilities in town can help them gain more customers. We’re really interested to see how many of the renters are using this technology to rent storage units over the next few years. I’m really curious to see what those trends are going to look like over time.
ND: I am as well. Do you know what percentage of customers rent on their mobile devices versus desktop or laptop computers versus interactive kiosks?
AD: I’ve got some numbers. Percentage of customers using mobile has steadily been climbing over the last several years. And actually, I love SEO, so for me it’s fun to watch how Google has changed their entire approach based on the rising number of mobile users. For years, a lot of people were predicting that mobile users would soon beat out desktop users looking for businesses, and the number of mobile searches actually beat that of desktop searches in 2015.
In terms of percentages I know that in May of 2013 the amount of internet searches that was conducted from mobile devices was 16%. Then only five months later, in October of 2013, that number jumped up to 20%. Less than a year after that, in August of 2014, it grew to 30% and then, finally, in December of 2014 it was 34%. That more than doubled in less than 2 years.
ND: That is quite the jump.
AD: It is. That’s why a lot of SEO experts expect most business searches to be done on mobile.
Now let’s talk about interactive kiosks. In 2011, there were 1.4% of storage facilities using kiosks. Not a big number, right? Then in 2012, the number jumped from 1.4% to 9%. That was a massive jump in just one year. And then in 2013 there were roughly 1,000 facilities that had installed kiosks. I don’t have numbers more recent than that, but I would not be surprised at all if we saw that same kind of trend. If we were to graph that out – 1.4% to 9% in one year, well that is just an insane jump. That’s even faster than mobile.
“Now let’s talk about interactive kiosks. In 2011, there were 1.4% of storage facilities using kiosks. Not a big number, right? Then in 2012, the number jumped from 1.4% to 9%. That was a massive jump in just one year. And then in 2013 there were roughly 1,000 facilities that had installed kiosks. That’s a 540% increase in just one year!”
AD: In light of everything we’ve talked about, I predict that number will continue to rise because of how much people love self service and being able to use technology to rent self storage.
ND: Definitely. Any final thoughts on self service and self storage?
AD: We’ve definitely talked about a lot of things today! For me it boils down to the fact that the self storage industry is catching up to a lot of other industries out there who take advantage of self service technology for their businesses. Keep in mind, though, that there is nothing wrong with customer service. People still like to be able to talk to someone when they need to. That being said, a lot of customers like to do things for themselves because they’re smart and they are used to technology. I mean, we’re having a meeting over the phone, recording this audio file on a server that you’ll download later and listen to when you write up our conversation. We’re in completely different time zones. All of this is normal for us. After this you may pull out your smart phone, and you can do all sorts of things with that. The amount of technology we use every day is increasing because of all of the great things you can do with it. Now self storage is catching up to that and hopefully, over time, it can become an innovator. I think interactive kiosks and mobile technology are a really big part of that future. Giving the renters choices in how the rent – face to face, through a computer, on a kiosk – it’s all about offering a choice for renters. Self storage operators are going to see that offering this kind of variety is going to grow business and create happier customers.
ND: Thank you so much, Amy!