Mobile innovation in the self-storage industry
The self-storage industry is often out-of-sight on a day-to-day basis, however do not let this fool you regarding the industry’s size. An estimated one in ten households in the United States rent a self-storage unit, with a total of 2.3 billion square feet for rent.
At its core, the industry’s main product – storage space – is about as far from technology as you can get. Often, these companies operate as a large warehouse that is simply divided into accessible units between 50 to 400 square feet with a shared, central help desk. A help desk employee registers new customers, manages customer accounts, and deals with the occasional lost key. Customers visit their unit, unload their items, and then leave. The entire customer experience is often quite removed from the digital world.
However, some startup companies, such as Stashable, are looking to disrupt the self-storage industry by integrating mobile app solutions into the everyday operations of self-storage companies. In this piece, we detail mobile features that your self-storage company must offer in order to remain competitive among new market entrants.
An in-app storage experience
Innovative self-storage companies now offer a mobile-enhanced, visit-less experience. Instead of the customer having to pack their items, bring these items to a self-storage unit, and unload these items, the customer can now complete these tasks with just a few taps on their mobile phone. All within a mobile app, the customer can arrange the storage company to come to their home or apartment, pack their unwanted items, and store these items. Retrieval is simple as well, as the company saves photos and inventory lists of what is inside each box and these photos are accessible to the customer in the mobile app. When a customer wants to retrieve one of their stored items or even an entire stored box, the company can locate, retrieve, and deliver this item or box back to the customer’s door.
This model is beneficial to the customer not only in terms of convenience, but also in terms of cost. Often, users do not have enough items to fill an entire 50 square foot space. For many urban users, such as apartment-dwellers who simply want to remove clutter, several boxes may be all they need to store. As storage-company employees are the only individuals with access to the storage units in this business model, storage units can be shared. This passes on savings to customers, as customers can now pay for a limited, 10 or 20 square foot space rather than for an entire 50 square foot unit.
A digitally enhanced on-premise experience
Other users need a larger space, such as a 400 square foot unit. For these users, it can be cost-prohibitive to hire an on-demand moving and storage team. However, this does not mean that this customer segment cannot be served by innovative technology solutions.
One way in which these customers can benefit from mobile solutions is via in-app, on-demand micro-services. For example, perhaps a customer needs help just with the offloading of their vehicle. Within the self-storage company’s mobile app, the customer can schedule and pay for this service. Additionally, perhaps the customer needs to place an order for boxes or bubble wrap. The customer can place this order and select for the order to be waiting for them inside their storage unit.
Customers also benefit from a mobile solution via the digitization of standard operations at the self-storage company. For example, every self-storage company has dealt with a frustrated customer who misplaced their key or forgot their password. This is especially frustrating for customers who arrive at the facility after hours and cannot call a company employee to change their lock. To fix this problem, a self-storage company can provide an integrated mobile app that allows customers to use their smartphone as a “digital key”. With this technology, customers can unlock their unit via their smartphone. This digital key can be digitally passed to the customer’s family members or friends who may need to do a quick pickup of stored items.
The self-storage industry is ripe for disruption with mobile technology. While, admittedly, many of these mobile solutions take the "self" out of "self-storage", they provide an amazing service and experience for their customers. Several startup companies have realized this, and they are placing big bets on the digitization of the self-storage industry. To stay competitive, we recommend existing self-storage companies must invest heavily in their mobile strategy in order to continue providing maximum value to their customers.
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