Self-storage in the United States has always been closely tied to the abilities and proximities of the location’s store manager. Since the emergence of the self-storage industry dating back to the 1960s, these locations were predominately managed by their owners or a small local team most often living on the premises as a layer of extra security. As we continue to see the emergence of new technology, it’s undeniable that there has been an incredible shift in the role of the self-storage manager.
To fully appreciate how far the industry has evolved from its original business model to the likelihood of a new future focused on automated facilities, it’s insightful to go back to the beginning and see a high-level annotated version of how far we’ve come.
1. The Good Ole Days:
Managers or property owners lived in an apartment or home in the physical self-storage location. This ensured that there was 24/7 surveillance and provided the manager with the additional benefit of housing covered by their employer. Originally, these tended to be older retired couples and evolved into a more modern approach of single individuals.
2. Introduction of the Hub and Spoke:
As the industry continued to evolve and interested entrepreneurs picked up on the asset class, growth was certain. To keep up with the demand for space and not fall behind in labor, the hub and spoke model took root. Many companies and portfolios chose to have a team of managers or call assistants central to one location answering for and overseeing the day-to-day operation of multiple facilities throughout a core area.
3. Kiosks and Managers:
To keep up with the high demand for storage throughout the turn of the century, the introduction of kiosks was pivotal in allowing businesses to remain open longer and still convert rentals. The main usage of the kiosk at this time was as a supplement to the manager to stand in place of an in-person rental after-hours, over holidays, or late at night. The kiosk also played a huge role in the COVID-19 pandemic as a safeguard for those in need of storage to rent without any human contact.
4. Remote Management and Automation:
The most recent trend we have seen throughout the country is the introduction of remote management and virtual assistants. With the introduction of two-way video conferencing and the foundation of expectations of managers on site, remote management has become the new ‘it’ thing for self-storage portfolios allowing owners and operators to hire outside a certain radius and put one individual in charge of multiple locations therefore cutting overhead costs and ensuring longer retention with a higher threshold of pay.
Arguably the most interesting component of the acceptance and implementation of automation and technology in our industry has been the fact that the store manager role has evolved significantly. The inception of our asset class included a manager on site 100% of the time and has slowly dwindled to totally remote facilities operating without anyone in the office at all. Applying remote management tools has allowed for budgets to be cut significantly in payroll and expansion to continue to rise as owners are able to grow quickly without the added cost of labor.
So what can self-storage managers expect moving forward as the industry faces new challenges, increasing competition, and developing customer expectations? They must adapt. Self-storage managers in today’s environment will be expected to understand online marketing, automation tools, improved customer service, and a solid foundation of emerging technology services such as mobile applications, virtual conferencing, and more.