StoreEase Inc. has taken two major steps towards its goal of deploying its “virtual management” technology in 1,000 self-storage facilities within the next five years.
The Birmingham, AL-based StoreEase recently received $2.8 million in seed investment led by New York-based Bienville Capital. StoreEase plans to use the funds largely for continued development of proprietary technology that it says allows self-storage owners to operate facilities without full-time, on-site employees.
Meanwhile, StoreEase also announced last week that it’s selling a nine-property portfolio of self-storage facilities to a fund controlled by Liberty Investment Properties.
The Orlando-based Liberty Investment will continue to use StoreEase’s unmanned facility technology at its newly acquired sites and has agreed to form a strategic partnership with StoreEase, according to a company announcement.
Tech-driven third-party management
Josh Boyd, CEO of StoreEase, said the two moves are tied to his company’s push to deploy its “virtual management” technology to facilities across the country.
“We see opportunity over the next 10 years for massive consolidation within the industry via a lower cost operational model,” said Boyd, adding he intends StoreEase to be at the technological forefront of those industry changes.
Before the Liberty Investment deal, the 25-employee StoreEase had owned 12 self-storage sites across the country while also holding third-party management agreements at about 12 other sites, where its technology is also deployed.
StoreEase’s platform is used at facilities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
Though it owns and develops facilities, StoreEase describes itself ultimately as a “company that third-party manages self-storage properties.”
Boyd, who co-founded StoreEase in 2019, said he envisions his company mostly expanding the use of its technology via third-party management contracts and licensing agreements, not necessarily through acquisitions or new construction of storage facilities.
He added he’d like to see the technology used at 1,000 storage facilities nationwide within the next five years.
Meet the Virtual Manager
The properties owned and managed by StoreEase have allowed his company to effectively test and prove its technology in the field, Boyd said.
The most noticeable feature of StoreEase’s digital technology is its lobby monitors, which allow the firm’s “virtual managers,” all of them currently based in Alabama, to digitally greet customers as they walk into any facility around the country. All transactions are ultimately handled digitally, he said.
Customers can use a touchscreen at the facility to choose a unit and complete the move-in process on their own. Units are equipped with smart locks that are opened using the tenant’s smartphone instead of a key.
“We produce the experience of someone being on the site, even though the experience is through a virtual manager,” says Boyd. “There’s actually no one at the site on a day-to-day basis.”
He said there are vendors, such as cleaning and maintenance personnel, who regularly visit facilities. There also cameras at facilities that are remotely monitored by StoreEase employees.
But he said actual company managers don’t have to go to facilities on a day-to-day basis.
Expanding the vision
As for the Bienville Capital seed investment, Boyd said funds will largely be earmarked technology upgrades and operations.
“We have to get the technology right,” said Boyd, whose company recently hired some tech workers in the Silicon Valley area. “We need to make the technology scalable on a national level. We’ve grown rapidly as a company, but we’re now going to a whole new level.”
In a statement, Brandon Pilot, a partner at Bienville Capital, made clear his firm is a believer in StoreEase’s “virtual management” vision for self-storage.
“StoreEase has brought together a unique team, combining experienced software developers on the West Coast with industry veterans in the Southeast,” he said. “It is an exciting example of technology fueling real estate investment opportunities in a large and growing asset class.”
Adam Mikkelson, president of Liberty Investment, said his firm is also excited about StoreEase’s new “virtual management” technology.
“The self-storage operational model is ripe for change, and we believe StoreEase will be an accelerator to a market shift in the industry,’ Mikkelson said in a statement.