Unlocking Efficiency: Evaluating Smart Locks for Your Self Storage Facility

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Electronic locking technology is not a new concept, but the self storage industry is the latest to experience the significant transformation that comes with its adoption. Demand for simple and secure access is on the rise, and operators who want to streamline their operations and enhance the customer experience should consider investing in electronic locks for self storage.

While traditional locks have long served the industry, the benefits of electronic locking solutions increasingly outweigh the challenges for many operators — namely the ability to provide a customer-centric storage experience that benefits their bottom line.

Traditional locks are an inexpensive and convenient option for both operators and self storage customers, but they also add to the operational steps and costs required to successfully manage any facility. For example, it’s common for operators to lock vacant units with a “green” lock and remove it once a unit is rented. When a tenant’s account becomes past due or delinquent, operators may keep a “red” lock the door until the customer pays the balance. While this model can work for storage facilities that have a full-time manager or onsite staff to manage these tasks, the process has several downfalls:

  • If a tenant wants to rent a unit when the office is closed or the manager is offsite, they cannot access the unit until the manager removes the “green” lock: a challenge considering most customers these days want instant access to their unit.
  • If a delinquent tenant has a “red” lock on their unit and pays online, via a kiosk or over the phone, the tenant will still not have access to the unit until the manager removes the “red” lock, creating unnecessary friction in your customer experience.

Manual processes, while a viable solution if you have no other option, don’t create a great customer experience, allow your tenants to rent or pay at any time of day, nor make the best use of your managers’ time.

Smart Locks for Self Storage Redefine Efficiency and Security

As the self storage industry evolves, the operational limitations of traditional locking solutions outpaces their usefulness. Relying on manual processes for lock management proves inefficient and restrictive, and often leads to dissatisfied customers and wastes managers’ time and resources. Electronic locks, on the other hand, offer a multitude of benefits that cater to the evolving needs of both operators and tenants.

A photo of an authorized dealer installing an Electronic Lock for Self Storage on a white unit door.
SmartLock O being installed at pilot location.

Despite the operational benefits of electronic locks for self storage, integrating them into a facility comes with its own set of challenges that operators must carefully navigate. The adoption of smart locks for self storage demands a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies involved — from the lock’s durability to how well it addresses outstanding security concerns associated with implementing an electronic system. By overcoming these challenges, self storage facilities can harness the full potential of electronic locks and elevate their operational efficiency, security and overall tenant satisfaction.

Challenges of Electronic Locks for Self Storage

Some general challenges and considerations associated with electronic locking systems for self storage units include:

  • Reliability and Durability: Self storage units are subject to heavy usage, varying environmental conditions, and potential tampering attempts. The locking system should be robust enough to withstand these challenges to ensure the security of the stored belongings.

A gif of a SmartLock S being tested for water durability.

  • Integration and Compatibility: The system should integrate into the facility’s existing unit doors to ensure proper functionality and ease of use for both customers and facility operators. Compatibility with management software and access control systems is also crucial for efficient operations.
 
  • Access Control and User Management: The system should allow authorized customers to access their assigned storage units conveniently while preventing unauthorized access. Self storage facilities are known to have bad or inconsistent data connections. Imagine a tenant in the basement of a facility that needs internet access or a strong cell signal to operate the electronic lock on their unit. They will struggle to open their unit, leading to a poor customer experience. 
 
  • Maintenance and Support: A reliable support team is essential to address any issues promptly and ensure the uninterrupted operation of your locking solution.
 
  • Security and Encryption: The communication between the locking system and any associated software should be encrypted to prevent unauthorized interception or tampering. Strong encryption protocols and secure data storage practices should be implemented to safeguard customer information and system integrity.
 
  • Power Backup and Redundancy: Electronic locking units that are battery-powered must provide long life and reliability in different temperature ranges. Redundancy in the system components can also mitigate the impact of hardware failures and ensure uninterrupted access to storage units.
 
  • Cost and Affordability: The cost of implementing an automated locking system can be a significant factor for self storage facility owners. The system should provide a balance between security features, functionality and affordability. The return on investment (ROI) should be evaluated first based on the potential for operational efficiency, second on increases in security, and lastly, the opportunity to charge more for units.

Critical Operational Decisions to Consider Before Installing Smart Locks for Self Storage:

  • One size doesn’t fit all. Make sure that you have options. You need smart locks to fit any self storage hasp, door, unit, property and portfolio you design, develop or acquire. It is also essential to be able to retrofit existing hasps to gain operational efficiencies while allowing tenants to keep their own locks. Make sure your options also include the ability to perform a complete hasp replacement and remove the need for tenants to utilize their existing lock.

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  • Backhaul communication is critical. Make sure that your locks can communicate with each other and access points across your property. This allows you to report, control and get alerts on the status of the unit door. If the access points require hardwiring to facilitate communications, you need to account for a significant increase in installation costs.

  • Self-healing communication is essential. In short, this form of communication makes it possible for a lock or access point to send information to a software system regardless of interference or device fault.

  • Authentication. If the customer’s mobile app requires an internet connection to operate, both the lock’s functionality and the customer experience will be poor. Self storage facilities typically have bad cellular connectivity, and the cost and expense to provide publicly available Wi-Fi throughout the property is normally cost-prohibitive.

  • Battery life. Battery life is critical for any device, especially for devices designed to secure someone’s valuables. The longer the expected battery life of your electronic lock, the better. Look for devices with an average expectancy of 5-6 years of battery life. It is also important to consider the advantages of devices that use common, off-the-shelf batteries. Rechargeable batteries can create logistical complications, while special-order batteries can increase your ongoing system costs.

  • Battery chemistry. The type of batteries that are used in the electronic locks at your self storage facilities is important. Your smart locks will likely be installed in many different types of environments. Lithium batteries, for example, have been known to start explosive fires when they get too hot. They also have a faster decay rate. This basically means when the battery begins to deplete, it will deplete very fast — sometimes with little or no notice and not enough time to purchase and replace the battery.

  • Key sharing/access. Is it easy for a person who doesn’t have a mobile device, or whose mobile device is dead, to access the unit? Is it easy for a tenant to share access to the unit? A touchpad on the device can offer a better customer experience and ensure that your tenants can gain all of the value from a smart lock.

  • Priced correctly. The ROI for smart locks for self storage largely comes from the operational efficiency gained from automating the management of your move-in and overlock processes. Ensure that the price of the smart lock solution you’re considering and its ongoing support provide a positive ROI from operational efficiencies. The ability to charge more for units equipped with smart locks is just an extra perk.

Explore INSOMNIAC® SmartLock™, an Electronic Lock Purpose-Built for Self Storage

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Conclusion

Smart locks for self storage can play a pivotal role for operators who aim to enhance operational efficiency, bolster security measures and elevate the overall customer experience. Despite the initial implementation challenges, the benefits of electronic locking solutions have become increasingly apparent and outweigh the potential drawbacks, setting a new standard for the industry. 

With an emphasis on compatibility, security, durability, and customer convenience, smart locks have revolutionized the industry, paving the way for a more seamless, secure and customer-centric approach to storage management. As technology continues to advance, the role of electronic locks in self storage facilities is set to become even more indispensable, solidifying their position as a cornerstone of operational success in the modern storage industry.