April 25, 2018

Technology, Digitalization, and Tough choices! | ISS Expo

Who was at ISS Expo

ISS Expo is the event of the year for the Self-Storage world. I expected to see representation from every level of the self-storage ladder. Owners, Operators, Managers, and, of course, New-to-the- business folks like me. What I didn’t expect was to see so many in the latter position. It seems the recent construction boom brought a lot of new people into the self-storage world. Many of them, like me, are gaining knowledge, vendors, and everything needed to get a facility going.

Hot topics

With so much content available, I missed out on several topics. (Of course, I plan to get the DVD from ISS and get caught up!). Until that arrives, here were the topics that saw the most discussion during the sessions I sat in on:


Wow. This one had a lot of debate. Technology was its own track, but the conversation bled into several other sessions. Most owners of smaller sites (100 units or less) agree: kiosks take away from the experience and efficiency of their sites. The big guns (300/400 units) saw kiosks as an opportunity for efficiency and higher rental rates. Both saw the opposite impact based on facility size.

Insurance/Protection Plans.

This was big. Owners are more concerned than ever about the ramifications of a lawsuit. The price of having an incident (natural disaster damage, theft etc.) at their facility is too high. The consensus was: the higher number of tenants protected, the more savings possible. This is especially true for customer goods legal. There were discussions around what was actually covered by both sides of the coin. Including hot debates on cash value vs. replacement cost. From the sound of it, no one can agree on where cash value actually lands. The average drop is at 5-10% depreciation yearly. In contrast, replacement cost means the tenant get the same general level of quality with the same features even if the brand is off. That makes a huge difference in Tenant satisfaction.


Whew. So many managers made it clear they aren’t treated well. Across the board, it seems the Self-Storage Manager position is undervalued. Some of the experts, like Stephanie Tharp, explained why treating your managers well is a financial benefit. When paid well, trained well, and incentivized they’ll make your facility (and money) work for you. Bottom line, if you treat your managers poorly, you’ll be the one staying poor. Even if it means paying more for better manager hires, its worth it because they bring a higher ROI.

Upgrading and Digitizing.

One of the biggest things going on right now is new development, and the close runner-up is the refurbs. Older facilities are being forced to catch up or fall behind. There was a lot of talk about how to make this happen. Retrofitting initiatives is on way to upgrade. For example new security systems, electronic locks, (again) kiosks, newer/ more energy efficient doors and more. Of course, the aesthetics also come into play. Refreshed landscaping, new paint etc. goes a long way for facilities looking to revitalize.

Mobile units.

This discussion point was for owners like myself. It’s a very tantalizing idea to get mobile units to start bringing in the income while you’re getting ready to build on your site. For those of you at the early stages, it’s a smart consideration. Once the facility is running, you can still use the mobile units! Rent them while you build a second site. Or, start a delivery type service for the ‘modern’ tenant who wants flexibility in location.

Where to go from here

With so much to discuss and learn from vendors and speakers, there has been a lot to soak in. I’ve learned to ask questions to the experienced members of the industry. It seems everyone at the expo was happy to share their knowledge and “industry secrets” with fresh faces like me. I’ve also learned that each situation is unique. There is no industry standard “cookie-cutter” approach to Self-Storage that guarantees success. I took a lot of knowledge home with me. It’s been a wild ride! It’s encouraged me to pursue a new idea. I’ll be running a “new owner’s circle” board on LinkedIn where those of us trying to get going can share our journey! Comment if interested so I can add you to the list!