The Self Storage Association of Australasia recently held their annual convention at the Gold Coast. New to the industry I thought this was a fantastic opportunity for me to attend and meet other people in the business and to more importantly learn more about the industry and where it is heading.
As part of the convention, there was an opportunity to visit other facilities that show cased new innovations in the industry. There was one that was built on Eco friendly and sustainable principles and another introducing the latest in self storage technology.
It was the later that really got me thinking about the future and the direction the self storage industry is heading. Self service storage kiosks is one emerging technology that enables people to rent a storage unit or pay a monthly storage fee 24 hours a day. The machine looks similar to an ATM machine with a touch screen computer and automated prompts and are very popular in the US and are now being introduced in Australia, the first at a site in Helensvale, Queensland.
The kiosk can generate a lease and take payment for a unit, like most self storage web bookings. However unlike website bookings, it can go through the entire sign up process and also scan ID, issue a secure and unique gate PIN, print off a map with directions to your unit and can even dispense padlocks. The kiosk I was introduced to can take a fingerprint scan and a photo of your face as you sign up. The machine demonstrates all of the administrative skills and processes that a self storage employee performs and it can perform these tasks as efficiently and effectively as any human. The kiosk also outshines web bookings by completing the whole process and allowing a tenant to move in immediately – with most web bookings the tenant will still need to attend the facility before moving into a unit. It allows a facility to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This convenience and flexibility could give a facility the competitive boost it is looking for.
In order for these to be effective, businesses need to use them as an assistant to staff, especially during peak times and to service customers after hours. The self storage industry is a customer service industry and I believe it is one of the most important skills your staff can have, so to introduce a self storage kiosk as a substitute to staff could be detrimental to your business. People still need people to listen, sympathize and tend to varied needs, all of which a machine cannot do. If used in combination with your staff, it could potentially raise occupancy and decrease late payers which in turn would increase revenue.
When I first trailed the kiosk at the site at Helensvale, I was a little skeptical. I believe as a self storage manager, it is important to know who is storing at your site for stringent security practices and to deter any illegitimate activity. Peoples behaviors, body language and sometimes aura can be a give away as to a persons character and I am a big believer of the “gut” feeling you get from people when you meet them. Usually you can trust your gut feeling to stop you signing up any persons that may turn into trouble tenants. The kiosk cannot do this. The kiosk does not have instincts or gut feelings to go off of. At the end of the day, someone may sign up on the kiosk and you may not see them again. As much as I am all for increasing customer convenience and making your business operable 24 hours a day, I believe that by having a kiosk that allows 24 hour sign up could generate an increase in bad storers.
Although there are drawbacks to the kiosk, I think that it is smart for businesses to integrate new technologies with current practices. Kiosks make 100% sense if you wish to generate business 24 hours a day. There are many other technologies that could be used as well and as new technologies are created, there will be more need to have these machines in the self storage industry to stay competitive. A kiosk may not be the answer to this but I am sure more technology will be introduced to partner staff in the self storage industry.