Since starting Red Dot Storage in 2013, I have been a vocal proponent of automated management solutions in the self-storage industry. For Red Dot, automation created a highly scalable management platform that facilitated rapid growth from a single property to over 180 locations, throughout 16 states.

Red Dot’s ability to quickly integrate assets into the platform to create a consistent and standardized customer interface was critical in supporting the company’s growth trajectory. During my position as CEO of Red Dot, I benefited from economic expansion, low unemployment, and strong wage growth. Given these factors, I had the luxury of focusing almost exclusively on growth and gave little thought to defensive management. Unfortunately, those favorable market conditions have changed in the blink of an eye.

As a result of COVID-19, our nation has been challenged with some extraordinary circumstances. Unlike the Great Recession of 2008-09, which was rooted in our financial system, we are now facing a threat to health and safety. In an attempt to mitigate the impact of this pandemic, our nation has been tasked with social distancing, which presents a myriad of obstacles and challenges as evidence by the temporary closing of all “non-essential” businesses, along with schools, museums, sporting events, and so on. The pain being inflicted on small businesses across the country is unfathomable.

This new challenge requires storage operators to utilize a different set of tools and strategies. By implementing social distancing, owners must rethink customer interaction. For the time being, office hours are essentially non-existent, which means rentals, payments, and customer communication are being forced into a remote format. Furthermore, owners must be prepared to rethink the role of their facility managers, the tools they need to do their job, and how to measure their success.

This could prove to be an almost insurmountable challenge for operators that have relied on a traditional on-site manager model, however, I encourage every storage owner to consider incorporating some level of automation into their operations as a solution. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to challenge our industry, I am gaining first-hand experience of how automation can help owners navigate through the most challenging circumstances.

In February, concurrent with the acquisition of nine properties, I launched StoreLine, a technology and automation enabled management platform. My intention was to focus on scale, efficiencies, user experience, and other familiar concepts. Immediately after taking ownership, I converted the properties from a traditional on-site manager model to fully automated. As a part of this effort, we utilize kiosks, a mobile optimized website featuring online rentals and reservations, access control mobile app, and an off-site call center to manage customer service.

Needless to say, I had no clue we were weeks away from a pandemic fueled crisis, which would result in the most challenging operating environment our industry has ever faced.

Fast forward to the middle of March, new COVID-19 cases seemed to be growing exponentially, social distancing has been implemented across the country, and non-essential businesses have been forced to close. I focused on communication with my team to ensure we were prepared for whatever crisis was coming, however, the crisis never arrived. In fact, our daily operations through the COVID-19 pandemic are no different than pre-pandemic. Automation has allowed our tenants to seamlessly rent units, make payments, retrieve gate codes, and interact with our customer service team.

Since onsite personnel are not part of our operating model, we were able to satisfy the health and safety needs of our tenants and employees without compromising any aspect of our daily operations. Proudly, we have received feedback from tenants that their overall customer experience improved during this time.

Self-Storage is a solid business and the industry is full of truly great owners, many of whom rely on their stores to provide for themselves and their families. It is my belief that automation can provide additional support to those owners who need help weathering the figurative or literal storm. Whether we are dealing with a health crisis, natural disaster, or some other unforeseen event, automation can provide supplemental support to owners and serve as the backbone to facility operations.

By establishing a resilient operating platform, owners are better equipped to serve their customers, manage their employees, and ultimately protect their livelihood in the most challenging times.

Seth Bent