The Pros + Cons Of A Fully Automated Self Storage Facility
Everyone knows that I’m a major advocate of automated self storage. But I’m also well aware that every operator has different goals, target markets, and available resources. To help you decide whether it’s perfect for you, wrong for you, or simply not right for you just yet, let me walk you through what a fully automated self storage does, its main features, and its pros and cons.
What is a fully automated self storage facility?
A fully automated self storage facility is one that basically sells, books, and runs itself. The majority of operations and processes are handled by automated self storage systems, reducing the need for extensive human intervention. In these premises, operators use advanced technologies to handle as many tasks as possible across the tenant lifecycle–from initial reservations to move outs and lockouts.
Key features of a fully automated self storage facility
Here are just some of the ways operators automate operations:
Customers can rent storage units online or through self-service kiosks. Automated online sales and rental systems enable tenants to select the unit size, sign contracts, verifying IDs and even make payments without staff assistance, calling for quotes, or the paper chase.
Electronic access control systems are used to manage entry and exit to the facility. Once essential criteria is met (like payment made and contract signed) tenants automatically receive unique access codes or electronic keys that they can use to open the main gate and/or their individual storage units at any time.
Surveillance cameras and sensors monitor the facility and individual storage units. These self storage security systems help protect your premises, detect any unsanctioned access or suspicious activities, and provide evidence in case of incidents.
Automated Invoicing + Payments
Tenants can pay for their units online or at a kiosk with a credit or debit card, or by setting up a direct debit from their bank account. Invoices are automatically issued by the system, and there’s no need to chase late payments because recurring payments are taken automatically from the card or bank account on file.
Automated self storage management software helps you keep track of the availability and status of storage units. These can provide real-time updates on unit occupancy, availability, and move-ins/move-outs, allowing for efficient management of the facility's capacity. Top of the line systems come with an interactive storage unit map that lets you see vacancies at a glance and control everything from the schematic.
Customer Support + Communication
Automated systems can handle customer inquiries through chatbots, automated emails, or phone systems.
The pros of a fully automated operational model
There are several advantages to running a fully automated self storage facility. These are the major wins that I’ve experienced by running my two self storage sites on a fully automated model:
Cost Savings + Increased ROI
Automation can reduce how many staff you need, resulting in lower workforce costs. You can save on wages, benefits, and other personnel expenses. Some facilities run completely unstaffed, with zero outgoings on staff.
In addition, booking and payments automation has been proven to reduce customer friction in the rental process, thereby increasing conversion rates, occupancy rates and, in turn, revenue compared to a traditional quote-based sales model.
Automation streamlines processes, resulting in improved efficiency and faster customer service. Using tech to automate tasks like rentals, payments, access control, and inventory management saves both staff and customers valuable time that they can use in better ways.
Today we enjoy 24 hour grocery stores, gyms, restaurants, pharmacies, etc. Through automation, operators can also offer round the clock self storage– enabling customers to access their storage units at any time. This flexibility can be a significant selling point, attracting tenants who require after hours or emergency access.
Automated systems can include advanced security features like video surveillance, electronic overlocking, access control systems, and alarms. These measures better protect tenants’ belongings and deter theft or unwarranted access.
Reduced Human Error
Automation eliminates the inadvertent mistakes that humans make in processes, such as data entry, invoicing, and inventory management. This can lead to increased accuracy and fewer customer disputes or admin issues.
More Free Time
Many operators who invest in self storage do so as a sideline investment in search of passive income. With the right self storage software and systems, a fully automated self storage facility allows you to run your business 100% unstaffed—from a laptop or mobile phone at home, on vacation, from anywhere—sometimes with as little as two hours’ effort per week.
The cons of fully automating
While the advantages of full automation are extremely compelling, and I believe definitely better for operators and customers, there are a few drawbacks worth taking into account before you decide if it’s right for your self storage site.
Setting up a fully automated self storage facility from the get-go requires a substantial upfront investment. Costs include purchasing and installing automated systems, software, hardware, security infrastructure, and ongoing maintenance expenses (though after four years in business, I’ve personally not experienced any maintenance costs). However, it’s important to mention that you can opt to spread this investment out over time by using a phased approach. I recommend starting by automating your online sales and payments with quality self storage software to reduce rental friction for customers. Then, once occupancy and MRR is good, reinvest profits into automated access systems, followed by automated security systems.
Automated systems can sometimes encounter technical glitches or malfunctions, potentially disrupting operations and inconveniencing customers. Prompt maintenance and IT support are necessary to address any issues promptly. Then again, manual systems and equipment can also fail, staff can get sick, etc, also inconveniencing customers. So I don’t see this as a credible blocker.
Limited Personal Interaction
Automation can eliminate face-to-face interaction with customers. While this is a more efficient way of doing business, some customers may prefer a more personal touch and human assistance for specific inquiries or complex issues.
However, fully automated doesn’t have to mean staffless. In fact, my two self storage sites are fully automated, to cater to customers who prefer to self-serve from start to finish. But I also employ a two-person team that handles customer calls and questions, manages the checks and cleanings associated with unit turnovers, oversees repairs and upgrades, and helps me scout and plan new sites.
Maintenance + Updates
Automated systems require regular maintenance and updates to ensure optimal performance. This can sometimes involve additional costs and a need for technical expertise to manage and troubleshoot the automated infrastructure. This is particularly true with more traditional, old-school solutions. However, if you invest in SaaS automation, updates are usually seamless and at no additional cost.
Customer Tech Hurdles
Some customers may struggle to use automated systems, particularly those who are less tech savvy. However, given the ubiquity of smartphone usage and online shopping today, the percentage who struggle will only be a very small part of your addressable market. And clear communications (on screen and via email) and adequate customer support can facilitate a smooth experience.
Ultimately, a fully automated self storage facility will boost your efficiency, reduce operational costs, enhance site security, and provide convenience to your customers. Hopefully these pros and cons will help you evaluate if and when full automation is the right choice for where you now are in your self storage journey and where you want to get to next.