A Modern Guide to Choosing Software
A Modern Guide to Choosing Self Storage Software
There is no such thing as a software that is perfect for everyone. This is especially true in a diverse, vertical market such as self-storage. Originally born of the idea to simply manage units and keep track of payments, management software rapidly evolved into the central hub of countless operations that now goes far beyond basic management processes. Advanced revenue management, tenant communications, marketing automation – there is an unbelievable number of features and partners offered by these once basic systems.
Along with additional features, however, can sometimes come unwelcome changes as well. The management software you fell in love with even a few years ago may now not look, feel, or even cost remotely close to what you originally purchased. Changes such as negative software updates, company mergers, and rising costs are problems that can afflict software consumers of any industry but being prepared to assess your operational needs and re-evaluate your options can save you months (or years) of headaches down the line.
Whether you have become disenchanted with your current software provider or just a fresh face to self-storage, here are some important factors to take into consideration when choosing self storage software:
Starting Simple: Cloud or Standalone
The most fundamental question in choosing a management software is how you would like your system to operate.
Standalone software though Windows or even DOS was the original benchmark for software and is still used today, though significantly less commonly. Through standalone systems, your software and all of your data is hosted locally on your computer. Backups are usually done manually and stored on the local hard drive or an external hard drive. The reason for the decline in standalone software use is in part due to its inherent vulnerabilities to malicious online attacks and potentially losing data in the case of natural disasters, but mostly the decline is attributed to the ease and options that are available through Cloud software.
Cloud software, as the name suggests, is software hosted online. Most modern software providers offer some type of Cloud software at this point, as it has the greatest potential benefits for the end-user. For example, most reputable providers choose to host their data on proven and reliable data networks. This allows for your data to be stored at a location near you, which provides for a fast and reliable software connection. This also allows for your data to be duplicated on multiple servers, so your data is safe in the event of corruption or natural disasters. Since the software is hosted online, it’s also easier for partners to integrate their features into the software for use, opening up many different options for users.
In the end, modern technology definitely favors Cloud software, however in the case of an unreliable internet connection or simple operational preferences, there are still providers that offer a modern standalone solution.
Know What Features You Will Need
You know better than anyone exactly what features you will need in a software. The software you choose should fit your current needs and the future goals for your business. So as you make your choice for management software, consider whether you’d like to expand your business in the future, automate operations as much as possible, or include any specialty types of storage such as RV, boats, or valet storage.
Expanding into Multiple Facility Operation
If there is even a possibility of operating multiple facilities in the future, you need to evaluate each potential software’s multi-site functionality. While some software providers have adapted work arounds for their software to clumsily operate for multiple locations, you may want to keep looking until you find one that seamlessly transitions through your properties. This will not only help train new employees easier at each of your locations but will also diminish the potential for human error due to an improvised user interface. Operating multiple facilities, you may also want to limit parts of the software from onsite management via administrative controls. Used to restrict vision from certain financial reporting or rate and discount manipulation, user permissions can be a great first step in protecting your business while your attention is spread thin.
Automating Your Business
Too often, repetition, waste, and unnecessary steps slow down a self-storage business’s operation. The truth of the matter is that depending on the tools in place, there’s a lot of work that actually goes on for an onsite manager and if you are unwilling to look at the options available through your management software you may be hindering your overall potential. When considering a management software’s automation tools, we are well beyond gate integrations at this point.
- Streamlining rentals through kiosks and online rental tools help in order to boost rentals and improve the overall experience for your customers.
- Automated reputation management not only helps with a boost in local search engine optimization but has a proven impact on rental conversions.
- Dynamic revenue management balances your online rates by occupancy demand and can also be used to automate future rate changes for existing customers by rental trends.
- Bluetooth operated unit locks used alongside other rental tools provide a complete lead-to-lease rental solution with absolutely zero manager interaction necessary.
Automation tools can be a powerful force in self-storage, so make sure your management software can meet your operational needs.
Operating in a traditional storage setup, you may be used to people asking for your cheapest or smallest unit on a regular basis, however offering specialty types of storage usually carries with it a different type of clientele.
One thing to acknowledge is that RVs and boats can cost anywhere between a few thousand dollars to upwards of $300,000 on average, depending on the style and features. Storing these vehicles can be an amazing revenue generator if done correctly, but you should also make sure the management software you choose is up for the task as well.
Most management software packages will be able to handle the simple sale of onsite merchandise, but not all of them are equipped to handle sales with variable pricing such as propane and electricity hookups. Additionally, make sure that you can add unique items such as dumping stations, air compressors, and wash bays.
The amount of data you are able to gather and store within your software is important as well. Outside of the traditional information that you receive from a traditional renter, you will want to make sure to be able to include information such as:
- Valid Registration
- Car Insurance
- VIN Numbers
- Vehicle Images
Valet storage, on the other hand, requires more flexibility than traditional storage. You may have customers that don’t want to store things on a monthly basis, and for that you will need a management software that can also have a flexible billing setup to cater to a customer with a faster turnaround. Additionally, you may also want to look into a management software that supports the ability to have unit inventories to minimize liability and to keep better track of the stored items.
Ease of Use
When purchasing a new management software you should always expect at least some learning curve, but that’s why software providers will at most times provide a demo so you can try it out for yourself. Doing so is the fastest way to tell if that curve is going to be a burden that will force you to go through the selection process again down the road or if this will actually be the software that you are looking for.
This doesn’t mean you should be able to master the entire software by trying the demo over the weekend. Realistically, identify what the 5-10 situations most expected of your software. Then when you’re going through the demo, be sure you play out those situations to test whether the software makes sense to you. Also consider what learning tools they offer to better assist your future learning such as:
- Training Videos
- Live Support Availability
“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”— Benjamin Franklin
Not that I’m endorsing overpaying for software in the slightest, but I do strongly caution against buying management software solely on the merits of a smaller price tag. I am admittedly skeptical by nature, but when I see a prominent price difference between competing products I don’t think, “Wow, what a great deal!”. I think, “Is this missing something that the others have?” I wonder “Does this include everything I’m going to need?”. Most importantly, I wonder “How long is this going to stay this price?”.
In order to get to the bottom on pricing, I advise to get a written quote including all of the features you are going to require to do business from each of the providers and compare. Hunt down any of those pesky asterisked sections and ask questions. Go ahead and ask their users if they have a history of raising costs as well, because while I personally believe that cost should be the last thing to be considered – it should definitely be considered thoroughly.
The size of your business, the types of storage you offer, and your overall business goals are key to determining the right software for you. While there may not be a “one size fits all” solution to choosing management software, I hope this gives you the foundation to make an educated decision on the matter.
Want to see how Storage Commander Cloud measures up to the competition? Contact us anytime to see for yourself!
Originally published by Inside Self Storage, Special Technology Edition 2019.