How Moving From Paper to Digital Can Save You Time
By James Smallenberger
When Jillian and I decided to get into the self storage industry in 2012, we knew that managing the business through a paper or generic accounting program wasn’t sustainable for us. We were both working full time, with no availability to staff a facility for walk-in customers.
I’m a software developer, so for me, working from a paper-based system was not part of our long-term plan. Digital is my language. In addition, the generic accounting programs available just didn’t hit the mark for what we needed to run our facility efficiently.
Nevertheless, many self storage owners start with a paper management system because it seems easier at first.
A Busy Daily Workflow Creates a Big Paper Clog
Even though we planned on developing our own solution, we first needed to know the actual workflow and the time involved in managing a self storage business to understand what we needed from the software.
So, in the beginning, we ran the business using a manual (spreadsheet) approach. This turned out to be a great way to collect research on what features we would need to make the business run efficiently and smoothly.
Our days filled up quickly with:
Assisting customers - Tenants required attention regularly, asking questions about lease agreements, account balances, payment methods, etc. Phone, email, or texting kept us busy and often distracted. We knew that simplifying these interactions would make an enormous difference in how much time we would spend running the facility.
Following-up on inquiries - We regularly received calls from potential customers, too, and we knew it wasn’t feasible to wait to call them back until we were available. If we couldn’t talk to them, they’d find another facility in the area that could.
We met other self storage owners like Country Strong Storage owner Quinn Pierce Turnmire, who also struggled to keep up with new and existing customers.
"My business was getting big really fast. And I'm struggling to remember all my customers’ names. I couldn't just put this in my calendar every month for who paid and who didn't pay like I used to." - Quinn Pierce Turnmire, Owner, Country Strong Storage.
The need to keep customer files organized, well-maintained, and easily accessible was clear. Rent collection, account status, and unit availability were also a big part of the job we struggled to keep up with.
Designing a Self Storage Software System
Finally, we’d had enough of the manual process. We now had a good idea of what the typical self storage owner (us) would want in self storage management software. But before we designed a software system of our own, we wanted to be able to answer three crucial questions:
1. Does it save us time?
When we considered the amount of time spent physically filing or searching for all of our customer information, I knew we could make a solution that would help us access what we needed right when we needed it.
2. Does it make our day easier?
Going through a manual process was an excellent way to know what we wanted out of a software solution as self storage owners. Creating a user-friendly interface with simple-to-use features that met those needs would be a priority.
3. Does it fit the way we run our business?
Like most small business owners, we had a unique management style. Ensuring the system would complement our current workflow was a priority. We also needed it to have the flexibility to accommodate future growth or changes in how we needed to run our facility.
A Cloud-based Approach Would Save Time and Money
We love to travel, and so we knew we wanted to be able to run our facility from anywhere in the world. Breaking down our workflow showed us that a cloud-based system was the way to go and would provide self storage owners like us:
Access anywhere - We could reduce the number of trips we made to the facility as well as ensure there were no lost rentals from missed calls or texts.
Increased efficiency and productivity - Online customer forms would accelerate the input and organization of our customer information and speed up tenant move-ins and move-outs.
Automated processes - Creating real-time financial oversight with flexible reports and quick payment processing would gain us hours every week.
Maximized Time. Maximized Business.
Running our business online became an essential part of our success. In 2014, after our initial opening, we developed Unit Trac, a cloud-based self storage management system. Another local owner heard about the software we had developed, asked for a tour of it, and asked if he could become our first customer. In the end, Unit Trac saved us time and quickly grew legs to support other local owners.
One of our early customers, Rob Huschen, began his business much as we did, using a paper accounting ledger. After transferring his files to Unit Trac, he was more than pleasantly surprised by all the time he saved.
"I can take a phone call, and I can create a lease for people and get them into the unit within five minutes now that we have Unit Trac." - Rob Huschen, Co-Owner R and B Storage.
We are proud to say that Unit Trac is now a thriving company helping many others manage their self storage businesses. Currently, we serve clients in 43 states and eight countries worldwide.
Author: James Smallenberger has been a software developer since 1996. He is the Co-Owner and Founder of Unit Trac, an efficient self storage management software written for self storage owners by self storage owners.