How To DO MORE: Effectively Utilizing Your Tenant Portal To Maximize ROI

In this webinar, we continue our How To DO MORE Webinar Series, with Niko Stoenescu, our Product Marketing Manager at Storable, and special guest Frazier Robison, the Owner of Titan Self Storage. This series is focused on giving you concrete actions to increase revenue, reduce cost, and mitigate risk. In this webinar specifically, we discuss effectively utilizing your tenant portal to maximize ROI. Providing a tenant portal on your facility’s website does more than just create a positive customer experience. It also simplifies the day-to-day operations at your facility and has a positive impact on your ROI.

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https://www.storable.com/resources/learn/do-more-webinar-series-session-1/

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How to DO MORE Webinar: Effectively Utilizing Your Tenant Portal To Maximize ROI

https://www.storable.com/resources/learn/utilizing-your-tenant-portal-to-maximize-roi/ 

Date: 8/20/2021

Host: Niko Stoenescu

 

0:19

OK, welcome everyone. We’re excited to be hosting our first webinar in this new series. I’m glad that you’re able to join us today.

For today’s webinar, we’ll be discussing how you can maximize the ROI of your marketing website through the effective use of your tenant portal.

0:34

OK, thank you, everyone, for taking the time to join us today. My name is Niko Stoenescu. I’m a Product Marketing Manager here at storable, and I will be your host for the How to Do More webinars series.

0:54

Before we jump into today’s content, though, I’d like to start with an overview of this new webinar series.

Two weeks ago, we hosted a webinar by Matt Beal, a Product Marketing colleague of mine here. We discussed what we understand to be the four primary market forces impacting the self-storage industry today.

As a reminder, those are a tenant shift to digital, incoming supply crunch, labor shortages, and growth through M&A.

1:19

During his session, Matt introduces these concepts, along with the data that we use to bring us to these conclusions. He discussed the need for operators to begin to re-evaluate how they’re thinking about their business to have continued success.

Historically, many operators just focused on some of the simpler key metrics, like occupancy, to measure the success of their business. And as a North Star going forward, we recommend either focusing on a revenue per square foot, revenue per tenant, or revenue per unit model, to ensure that your operation is growing even when you’re near full occupancy.

1:53

So, if you missed that webinar, you can find the recording of it at blog.storable.com, and I’d recommend you check it out if you haven’t.

2:01

Today, we’re kicking off a new webinar series in which we’ll discuss practical ways that you can respond to the market forces that Matt’s webinar series will discuss.

So this series will be oriented around concrete things that you can do to increase revenue, reduce cost, and mitigate risk.

2:21

In today’s session, specifically, we’ll discuss how providing a tenant portal on your facility website does more than just create a positive customer experience. It also simplifies the day-to-day operations at your facility and has a positive impact on your ROI.

2:37

Joining me today to discuss the benefits of your tenant portal is Frazier Robinson, owner of Titan Self Storage. Frazier, thank you so much for taking the time to discuss this with me today.

(Frazier) Hey, no problem. Thanks, Niko. Looking forward to jumping in and sharing with everyone.

(Niko) Great. Hey, before we get started, would you mind just telling the audience here a little bit about your professional history in the self-storage space?

(Frazier) Yeah, so, I bought my first storage facility back in June of 2018, and then I went on to buy four more for a total of five in nine months. I personally have focused primarily on the management side of things and doing the day-to-day tasks myself. And now, managing several of those tasks, done by other people as well. I bought and I focused on buying value at facilities and improving them physically, as well as the revenue on them, with additional technology and automation into running the storage facilities.

(Niko) Awesome. Thank you, Frazier.

3:39

All right. So let’s go ahead and jump into today’s conversation then 

I wanted to start by making sure that we’re all on the same page regarding what I mean by tenant portal. So, in Matt’s webinar, a couple of weeks ago, he outlined that a tenant shift to Digital Forms of Engagement is one of the forces currently affecting our market.

In addition to being a primary way for you to facilitate this digital engagement for your customers, the tenant port on your website can also reduce the operational burden of your management team. If your managers aren’t having to work with your customers on existing accounts, they can focus on providing value back to your business in a variety of other ways, such as driving new business in the community or optimizing various tasks at the facility.

4:25

In fact, we recently conducted a survey and found that operators who utilize a tenant portal on their website save an average of 11 hours of staff time per facility, per month.

4:37

So there are a few things that you want to make sure your tenant portal experience accommodates. Those are managing account info, like your customer’s address, phone number, e-mail, that sort of thing. There’s no reason that your managers should be spending time on basic data entry, and your customers don’t want to wait on the phone or come into the store to update this either. 

4:59

They should be able to view their unit info or other documents, in case they want to double-check unit information, or review the documents such as leases. Logging in to do that online is much more convenient than having to drive into the facility, to see that on file.

5:17

To allow your tenants to sign new documents. So maybe you updated your lease, or you need them to fill out an auto-pay agreement. Whatever it is, it’s important that you have a way for your tenants to provide their signatures without having to come into the facility to do so.

5:33

Then speaking of auto-pay, this is another huge value add for both operators and their customers. Some benefits, like convenience, are obvious, but there are some not so obvious benefits as well. For example, automatic payments are typically significantly more secure than processing payments otherwise. So by eliminating the middleman between you and your customer, you can significantly reduce your risk. We want you to get away from writing down credit card numbers on pieces of paper and accidentally using them.

6:04

Then finally, you need to be able to add units, merchandise, or services. So, if you offer various merchandise or services, like tenant insurance to your customers, then you want to allow your tenants to engage with these offerings via your tenant portal, which will provide you with some additional passive revenue.

6:21

If you can help a tenant realize that they’re going to need something before they need it, there’s a significantly higher chance that they’ll then purchase that from you. So that’s a convenience for them and revenue for you, which is a win-win.

OK, excuse me.

6:39

So, now that we’re all aligned on what we mean when we say tenant portal, let’s go ahead and jump into today’s discussions.

So, Frazier, you and I spoke last year. You were enjoying self-storage and the numerous benefits of using management software to help you run the business. We also spent some time discussing the benefits you were able to reap from using a tenant portal specifically. Would you mind sharing a little bit of your story of that first facility you bought and what your experience was with it?

7:07

(Frazier) Yeah, definitely. So, the first facility that I bought was built by an older gentleman on the same property, at his house, and he had been running it by himself for about 20 years, Mom & Pop style management, as I would call it.

7:20

The facility was clean. It was well taken care of, but there was little to no technology involved at the facility at all. There were maybe one or two web pages on some sort of website, if I can remember [correctly]. And then a phone number to call on the sign outside, posted on the facility.

The man and his wife had the tenants sign paper contracts, in person, when they moved in. When it was time to pay, the tenants would bring their payment in person to his house, or the payment mailbox that sat on the property. When the couple recorded the rent payments from the tenant, it was written down on a manila card stock, with the date and the amount paid, and then the card stock was filed away, stating that they had paid for that month. The leases were kept in folders and organized that way. And then, when they had to write down notes, they put them down on an extra sheet of paper with the date, and then put that back with the lease.

8:14

When I first took this over, you can tell it was just a very time-consuming and very inefficient way to run this. There was just so much unneeded time spent to record payments all by hand, making sure it all balances out, which I think is one of the worst ways to try to make sure payments are all taken care of is by hand. And then, anytime we had to look up information for tenants, if they had a call, you’d have to look through all the folders, try to find theirs. Then pull up their note sheet, read through all the notes, and pick them out like that. Once we got the management software setup, then we were able to connect it to something like a tenant portal, and then all of that stuff can be done by paying online. We can now accept credit and debit cards, that wasn’t something they could even do before, and so there’s just so much at a time when you’re having to run everything by hand and run it the old-style way.

9:09

(Niko) I’m sure that was probably a bit of a shock for you when you acquired that facility, and that switching things over to the management software, probably made a night and day difference. As you implement these changes, how did you drive adoption of the customers at the facility to switch them over to this new way of doing business with the facility, via the tenant portal management software, versus coming in with pen and paper, that kind of thing?

9:38

(Frazier) One thing that’s kind of a huge relief, when you’re going into taking over a storage facility like this, is that a lot of tenants have credit or debit cards, and they’re more than happy to pay that way, because one, it’s easier for themselves, they don’t have to come, bring their payment anymore. 

At that specific facility, actually, right now 87% of the tenants pay online, or over the phone. So that means they go on to the tenant portal, log into the website there, and pay. Either it’s set up on auto-pay, or they’re logging in, but they don’t even have to talk to me. They can just do it so much more conveniently instead of having to drive over to the facility. You know, they may live really far away, but they don’t have to do that anymore. So super simple.

10:22

(Niko) There was a pretty drastic shift in management style at the facility, but you’re saying it was actually a pretty easy shift for the customers to make since they had pretty much everything they needed in place to be able to utilize that effectively.

10:34

(Frazier) Right, you’re going to have some of those people that no matter what, like to do things a certain way, they just don’t want to change. But you can always help guide those people to change. As long as you just walk them through the steps, then it can be pretty simple, and you’re not gonna lose tenants. In fact, you’re adding more value and I had a lot of people appreciate what we were doing.

10:58

(Niko) Yeah, that makes sense. So what were some of the biggest changes that occurred then as a result of you making that switch?

11:06

(Frazier) So, one of the biggest things that we’ll continue to implement is, actually starting next month, is that 100% of our tenants will be paying online and over the phone. That’s made possible by having that tenant portal through the management software and having it all set up. 

So that’s going to be huge, we’re going to save so much time by not having to go pick up the checks, the money orders, and the cash that has been mailed in or dropped in the door slot. It’s huge for us because when we have to take a payment, we have to get the payment first. Then, we have to put it into the computer, whether they’re trying to [pay] in person or they’re bringing it in. And then after we do that, we take pictures of the checks to make sure that we have a record there. Then we have to drive it to the bank to deposit it – finally all that’s done, and now we have the payments in the bank. 

Whereas, now we will have everybody 100% [making payments online or over the phone]. All it is is a quick phone call. Which a phone call payment takes less than a minute, and done – it’s in the system and it’s processed,  so we get paid. Or it’s done online, or through our app – and then, boom, it’s right there, it’s paid and it’s all taken care of. So that’s going to save us a ton of time, as well.

12:18

The other part that it pushes is that it pushes us a lot to do online rentals through the tenant portal, that’s all connected. So, somebody can rent out online 100%. It probably takes them five minutes. So, we’re speeding up the process for service, for tenants to be able to rent out a unit as well, and speeding up the process of receiving money, all by doing that on the tenant portal. That, or, it could be a phone call, or through our app – but either way, they have 100% of the way to be able to do that. So, it’s a much better experience for the customers, a much faster way to take money – that’s the biggest thing that we are seeing. So, somebody can rent a unit in the middle – that’s the other thing, too, I want to mention with the tenant portal, is that it allows us to do things in the middle of the night when we’re not awake and we’re not technically open for our office hours to take the phone calls. I’ve had it before when you wake up, the next morning, somebody had rented a unit, and they can do that all through the tenant portal, So, that’s huge for us – it maximizes our revenue even more.

13:29

(Niko) Yeah, that makes sense. You know, one of the things that stuck out to me from our conversation last year was that by implementing the tenant portal, it saves you time, but it also ended up making you money through the ability to more easily collect late fees, and not having to worry about negotiation with your customers on the phone or in-person with that. Right?

13:49

(Frazier) Right.

13:50

(Niko) So if you had to remember how much time it saved you, how much extra revenue goes in as a result of those, you know, easier late fees – how would you classify that?

13:59

(Frazier) So, one of the biggest things that I look at, with the tenant portal, and being able to have that is – one, I’ve kind of touched on it, you can start to build up how much time it takes to record all payments and to finally get it to the bank – just so much time. So by cutting all that out, it’s huge for us. We don’t have to waste time on those things that are not needed to waste time on. You shouldn’t need to count up checks and all of that – take that out of your business and have it set somewhere else. 

The other thing, too, it’s huge, is renting out units. When we rent out a unit, in person – or when we used to – I would notice that it would take, you know, probably at least 20 minutes, maybe 20 to 30 minutes, to rent out a unit to somebody. That’s a lot of wasted time. It’s not that I mind a conversation with people, but when we’re in a business, we want to get that part done really quickly and go on. When you’re in person, renting out a unit, they may want to go see the unit, or you may feel more obligated to walk them to the unit after you’re done. And then you walk through and you have this long conversation about renting the unit and going through all that speel. When it’s on the phone, we can do that all over the phone, you know, it takes about 10 minutes. So that was already a huge cut down to be able to have the ability to do that on the phone. And then when they do rent online, it’s no time for us at all. Pretty much, we noticed, you know, maybe 30 seconds of our time to a minute. We noticed that the tenant moved in, we made sure that documents were signed, and we’re done. So you’re talking – I don’t know what that percentage is, less than 30 minutes down to one minute – is huge, on our time.

Especially, when you think about how many tenants are moving in, you can maximize how many tenants you can rent out to in a day. It pretty much takes away the cap of how much time you can spend on renting out units to unlimited, because of the ability for tenants to just do it all themselves. So that’s huge, tons of hours are saved and will be saved continually by having the system be pushed more, and market it out there more for people.

Then the other part is just the revenue. We’re able to receive revenue quicker. When tenants are paying, they can pay three ways – they will be able to pay three ways starting September first, and that will be online, through the tenant portal, over the phone, or through our app. And so the app, again, is, essentially, an extension of that portal. The phone is the phone, and then the portal there. And so the people paying through the app, and also our tenant portal, allows them to not have much of a conversation if they’re late. There’s not really any conversation around awaiting late fees, so we’re able to realize more late fees there. We are able to connect and collect the revenue faster with our collection services, and things like that. It automatically sends them the direct links and all that. They can click on it and it gets paid immediately. And so we’re just collecting rent a lot faster and that’s through having that portal. So that’s huge for us as well.

17:06

(Niko) Yeah. Yeah, true. So, it was probably exciting, I guess, then, to see such a difference like that from implementing something that was pretty simple to implement. Right?

17:17

(Frazier)  Right, it’s super simple. 

17:19

(Niko) Yeah. So, at the time, I remember you telling me that you owned the day-to-day operations at the facility, right? So, what were you able to do then with that time that you’ve saved by implementing a tenant portal with your facility management program?

17:34

(Frazier)  Well, the less time that I have to spend on trying to do all those in-person activities, the more time I can focus on the automation, the business, as well as more time I can spend with my family.

So having everything automated, having the tenant portal, having those things online, allows me to run my business from just my phone, essentially. My phone and my laptop, really, are what I mainly use for business. Having the tenant portal, having my management software, all of that setup – allows me to hire out the other processes as well.

There’s no way you can connect a call center or a collections service, or all the other parts of it -including our lock system – connect all of that in there, and have your business start to be more automated, and weigh less time on all these nitty-gritty things if you don’t first have your management software setup and connecting that tenant portal. You can’t do any of those things, You’re stuck like the older gentlemen – which, I guess it was fine for him to do that – But you’re stuck like the older gentlemen that’s writing everything down on paper, and spending all of his time on that. If I’m an older guy and I’m running my business, I want to be able to go and spend time with my grandkids. I don’t want to be spending time doing all these minute things. And so, that’s one of the biggest things, is it saves more time for me. I can spend more time with my family. I can spend more time growing and expanding my business and being able to do this efficiently.

The other thing as well is that there’s kind of a cap to how much you can really do yourself to grow your business. So, if you’re wanting to have more than one facility, or even more than a few, you’re going to be limited on what you can do if you don’t establish management software, and a tenant portal, all those things, right away.

19:28

(Niko) Yeah, and I can attest to the fact of your ability to run your business when you’re not at the facility. Because I accidentally texted you while you’re on vacation about this webinar. So, appreciate you answering me and not holding that against me. 

19:44

(Frazier) No problem. Well, that’s it, the other nice part is that if I have to travel, not just, you know, hours away from my facility, but states away or anything like that, is that I’m able to run my business, the same as if I was, you know, on the property, or if I was in China, essentially. So, that’s the other ability that it gives me as well. I can run it from anywhere in the entire world, as long as I have a network connection.

20:10

(Niko) So, talking about the time savings that you had, it’s great. It lines up with what I was saying about this, that I mentioned earlier – it sounds like for you though it probably had even more of that time-saving direction, because you are coming from a pen and paper facility like that.

So, since we last spoke, what are some other ways that you’ve relied on the tenant portal to help you run your business? Maybe talk a little bit about, you know, your plans for implementing some changes in the future.

20:37

(Frazier) Well, hugely, automation and technology, that’s what I’m all about. I think it’s important to have that in your business, and in my business, specifically. And so, another thing that we’re able to connect in, that tenant portal management software, that sort of thing, is an electronic gate. He just had a manual gate that he would physically open every morning, and every evening, and it was like 8 AM to 8 PM. Well, one, that’s not a super long amount of time – it’s a good amount of time, but we’re able to have our gates go from 6 AM to 10 PM. So we’re able to extend the amount of time that tenants can go in there. Two, it allows the system to connect in there to lock people out if they haven’t paid. He can’t do that, unless you’re going to like literally, stand by the gate, close it, when someone who hasn’t paid shows up. And then open it again for the next person. You would have to, literally, sit by the gate all day long to stop people from going into that facility.

It allows us to connect our locks into the system as well, for vacant units. A person,] when they rent out through the tenant portal there, they can rent out the whole system, they get their gate code, and then they also get the lock code – and it’s texted to them automatically. All of those things are made possible by management software – the tenant portal. Having that all done, it’s amazing. So, there’s a lot of nitty-gritty things I can go into, but you can pick apart every single part of the business, and we’re able to set up more automation within technology, based back to having that management software first, and then getting that tenant portal connected in the software. So I just push so much on the automation of it and saving time – those are the biggest things.

22:17

(Niko) Yeah, it makes sense. Well, hey Frazier, this was, this was great. Thank you so much for speaking with us today about this experience with acquiring and implementing these changes at your facility. 

Everyone on the call, I wanted to quickly recap what we, what we covered today.

22:33

So we defined what we meant by the tenant portal – outlined the most important capabilities it should have.

So, as a reminder, your tenant portal is a primary way for you to facilitate digital engagement for your customers, which then, in turn, reduces the operational burden of your management team. You should make sure that your tenant portal enables your tenants to manage their account info, view unit info or documents, sign new documents, make payments, and set up auto-pay, and then also purchase units or merchandise or services.

23:08

We also discussed some of the practical benefits of using a tenant portal. Our survey found that operators saved, on average 11 hours, per facility per month after implementing a tenant portal on their website.

Frazier then discussed how the time savings that he made by implementing a tenant portal helped him to do more around this facility. And he also mentioned that implementing a tenant portal had the surprise benefit of increasing revenue due to tenants being more likely to accept the late fee without trying to negotiate a discount in person.

23:42

So, Frazier, again, thank you for joining us and sharing your experience.

23:47

(Frazier) Yeah, no problem. I appreciate, Niko, the opportunity to share and I hope that the information was helpful to everyone. If you guys have questions, you can hit me up on social media and that sort of thing – TikTok, yeah – anyways.

24:00

(Niko) That’s true. Yes, find Frazier on TikTok. He has a lot of good content on there, self-storage related. Alright. So we do have a couple of minutes left. So I wanna get to look through some of the questions that we’ve got here. 

24:12

Um, alright we got, this is a good one – Frazier, how much has the tenant portal affected the positive customer service aspect of your business?

24:24

(Fraizer) So people love the fact that they can just do everything on their [tenant portal]. They can look it up. It doesn’t mean that I don’t ever have to look up a payment for someone or look up their account information if they don’t log on, but they’re able to just go on there. I hope I’m answering this correctly, but it just makes it a lot more simple and puts it more in their hands. It gives them all the needed information so they can just look it up anytime.

24:49

(Niko) Yeah, I think that’s a huge aspect of customer service. I know one of the things that people are concerned about when you do this automation or the offsite payments and rentals, and that kind of thing – is missing that touch in-person with the customer, and having the manager make that connection. I do think that you know, in Matt’s webinar, talking about this tenant shift to desiring to interact with businesses, and this is across most industries, right, not just self-storage, but it plays a huge role in self-storage as well. And I think that providing these opportunities for tenants to interact digitally aligns with what their goals and needs are. And so, that in and of itself is providing a positive customer service aspect to the business.

Now, Frazier, you and I also talked, and you mentioned that you know, you’re still available by phone for your customers, and you talk to customers over the phone when they have issues. So, you’re still able to provide that customer experience, a piece of it, right?

25:47

(Fraizer) Right, yeah definitely. So, we’re still there, no matter what they need, phone call, text, all of them.

25:55

(Niko) All right, we have this question: How do you go about auctioning or selling unpaid units, Fraizer?

26:05

(Fraizer) Everything I do is online. And so, I don’t do any auctions in person, I use Storagetreasures.com. That’s the website I use, but there are a lot of auction sites out there. So, basically, when we do the auction process, we go in and cut their lock, take pictures of the unit, we lock it out with DaVinci Locks, because they connect into the system really easily, and then we just post everything online. I let it sit there for a few days, and then it gets auctioned. then they get a temporary code for the gate to that unit. It’s a really simple and fast process to do auctions. So, having everything connected, a lot of that is based through the management software. Not as much as the tenant portal, but getting that established allows you to do all that and save way more time than trying to post an ad in the newspaper. So, yeah, I would do that way as well.

27:02

(Niko) Yeah. Makes Sense.

27:03

(Fraizer) As long as your state allows it. Follow your state laws, whatever those are.

27:11

(Niko) That’s true, yes, follow your state laws. 

All right, we have a lot of really good questions here. We don’t have time to get to all of them, but we will follow up with all of you. So if you have any more questions, we have a couple more minutes, go ahead and drop them in the chat, or feel free to e-mail us and we’ll follow up with you. 

A quick reminder before I let you all go, though, on Friday, September 3rd, we will be hosting our next installment of Matt Beal’s Do More webinar series on the topic of the Supply Crunch. Specifically, we’ll be discussing how these trends are playing out in various regions across the US, measuring the effectiveness of your financials and operations when you’re not competing for demand, and then also best practices that you can use in situations like this.

27:52

So, that concludes today’s webinar. If you have any questions that come up throughout the week, please don’t hesitate to reach us at webina[email protected]. And for those of you that joined later and would like to rewatch today’s presentation, the recording will be live on our blog on Monday.  For all of you out there, stay healthy, stay safe, and we’ll see you in two weeks for our next webinar. Thank you for attending and have a great day!