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Unmanned self-storage provides high-tech and cost-effective solution

Written by Sue Creaser on May 17, 2018 under Success Story & Q&A

Unmanned self-storage provides high-tech and cost-effective solution

Q&A with Ames West Side Storage: A Success Story for the 21st Century

Self-service kiosks give the average person little pause nowadays, and “unattended retail” has popped up at your local airport, restaurant, parking garage and shopping mall. No longer the revolutionary, futuristic business model it once was, unmanned booths now offer everything from frozen yogurt to movie tickets to makeup. So it’s really no surprise self-storage operators are in on the action – which brings us to Ames, Iowa, for a quick peek into a very successful completely unmanned self-storage facility, Ames West Side Storage.

Ames West Side Storage is fully automated, offering everything from mini-storage to RV/motorhome storage. With SiteLink self-storage management software integrated into the INSOMNIAC kiosk from Open Tech Alliance, Ames West Side Storage may have the perfect recipe for an unmanned self-storage solution.

At Ames West Side Storage, tenants can access the facility, rent, and reserve units 24/7 using the onsite kiosk. Completely unmanned facilities incorporate a great deal of technology and may rely more on integrations than a traditional store–technologies that need to work seamlessly to be successful.

We caught up with owner Steve O’Rourke in February, 2018 to find out more about his self-storage business and what technologies help make it so successful.

What made you set up a completely automated self-storage facility?

I was looking for a storage facility and researching options for about 20 years. I had the land. About 3 years ago, I found out about OpenTech and the INSOMNIAC kiosk, and I thought it was a really great idea.

Are any staff at the facility?

No, the store is fully automated, all day, every day of the year. I drive out and check in on the property to make sure everything is in order and of course to keep an eye on things. But there’s no staff onsite.

Tell me about Megan.

Megan is the name of the kiosk at the facility, where people move in, move out, buy a lock, sign a lease including assigning a gate code. SiteLink management software is integrated into the kiosk, so she can basically access the software to run the entire facility. Megan records your fingerprint, your signature, and speaks both English and Spanish. I run SiteLink Web Edition on my office computer, where I can review operations, conduct audits, and make sure she’s doing her job. She’s one of only 3 like her in the state of Iowa, it’s pretty cool.

Why did you choose SiteLink for your management software?

I wanted the best software to manage it, and the best technology to run it. SiteLink was recommended to me simply because it was considered the best. And of course it integrates completely with the kiosk, so it was a no-brainer.

How does SiteLink software work with the kiosk?

SiteLink is fully integrated with Megan. The software notifies me of exactly when to send a late payment notice, when to lock out a customer. SiteLink facilitates all of this.

I’ll give you an example. Because Ames is a college town, units fill up fast by summertime and we’re at 100% usually by the end of July. So every year in the spring, I send out emails to everyone on our contact list to give them a heads up that it’s time to reserve a unit before they all fill up. SiteLink makes this so easy. I just press “send” and out go all the emails. Then I watch the rentals just flow in.

Tenants can make payments at the kiosk – cash, check or credit card, and it’s all integrated with SiteLink. They can also make payments and set up auto-bill online once they’ve set up an account. It’s completely seamless.

Do you use electronic signature capture?

Absolutely. We send out lots of leases to parents of college kids - they’re far away, out-of town and can’t get to the store to sign anything. We email the leases, the parents sign it, send back the electronically signed lease, and the unit is rented. It’s very easy.

How do you communicate with your tenants?

Mostly with emails, and sometimes with a text message or once in a while a phone call. When it comes to managing the day-to-day, it’s all SiteLink. SiteLink, integrated with Megan, automates all the past dues, tells me exactly when to notify a tenant they’re late, or to send out other reminders. Basically, the software tells me what to do and when. I just press the send button.

What are the biggest benefits of using SiteLink in this fully automated environment?

Without SiteLink and all the integrations, whether it’s making a payment online or setting up autobill, the fully automated facility would be much more difficult to manage. I use SiteLink Web Edition on my computer either at home or in the office, and SiteLink tells me exactly what to do every day.

I have a few other businesses as well. Because SiteLink software helps run Ames West Side Storage, I have the time to maintain my other interests.

What’s next for Ames West Side Storage?

We’re in the process of converting a third building on the property into a small unit building. The future’s looking pretty bright.

Thanks for your time, Steve, and good luck in your next endeavor.

You bet.

Ames West Side Storage is located in Ames, Iowa, about 40 miles north of Des Moines.
Update – late May 2018: Steve was pleased to report Stage 3 is now complete and 100% rented 2 weeks after opening.

Read more about the INSOMNIAC kiosk from OpenTech Alliance.

Fully automated self-storage facilities are on the rise. Why? Like all unmanned retail, it’s convenient, cost-effective, easy to use and highly accessible. Advances in technology will only pave the way for more options (robot movers? AI roll-up doors?) and faster, easier service. Only one thing is for certain, automation in self-storage is here to stay.

Read more about kiosks and their role in the self-storage scene in Self-Service for Self-Storage: Kiosks and Websites: Rent More, Boost Customer Experience.

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