Every Question You Had About Self Storage Access Control – Answered

What are your options in access control, and what does each solution mean for you?

someone managing access control system

Access Control is critical for the security and functioning of your property, with as many strategies and approaches as operators on the market. We have seen it all, from a nighttime guard with a large chain of keys to a futuristic, fully automated facility. What are the benefits and advantages? What will an upgrade or retrofit cost? Is it even worth it? We will answer all these and more.

What Are the Options?

There are many doors at a self-storage. The first question you as an operator must decide for yourself is: which will have access control?

  • Main gate only?

  • Main gate and main doors?

  • Main gate, main doors, and individual units?

  • Co-working or office spaces (if available?)

  • Facility management office and restrooms?

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As the name suggests, access control is how you decide who goes where and when. If your manager still locks the front gate overnight, there is no access after-hours under any circumstance. Some operators have separate doors on floors with air-conditioned units to prevent heat dissipation when a unit’s door stays open for a more extended period. The geographic locale also dictates some of these decisions. It is not uncommon to see self-storage facilities with no front gate at all in Japan. In Europe, on the other hand, this would be a rare sight.

The primary purpose of access control is security. The secondary is data collection, but we will get to it later. First and foremost, your tenants want the assurance that their belongings are safe. This includes safety from accidents, fires, and break-ins — every additional level of access control adds an extra level of security. Facilities with state-of-the-art electronic access control can attract customers and justify a price premium. While it might sound counterintuitive, an unmanned self-storage with modern access control can be more secure. The risk of human error – such as someone forgetting to lock a gate or door – is lower. The systems also keep logs with the name and timestamp of each access, which in the case of a crime can help law enforcement.

Digital Access Control – A Closer Look

Access control has come a long way since padlocks and keys. There are, of course, still many facilities that use them – padlocks are cheap and easy to replace. Good old keys are also among the more accessible solutions, especially in areas where most renters are elderly or less tech savvy. But if a customer loses the key, a locksmith needs to come to rectify the situation. Retrofitting or upgrading existing doors to newer lock types can be a steep investment that puts off some operators. This is, however, a very short-sighted way of thinking about the business. An upgrade to modern access control is an investment that can pay off very soon

Types of access control

There are plenty of different types of access control. This list contains some of the more common ones, but it is by no means exhaustive. Creativity has no limits, after all.

Pin pads and pin codes Not the most secure method. A truly randomly generated 4 or 6 digit pin can be difficult to remember. Often users make their pins easy to guess instead (dates, years, addresses, and similar).
Access cards and key fobs Cheap to produce and replace and easy to lose by the user.
QR codes Usually, work in conjuncture with an app on the tenant’s phone. They scan a QR code and receive authorisation to open the door and enter. Won’t work well in facilities located in basements or areas with poor phone reception or weak internet networks. This solution will only work with smartphones.
SMS The user receives an SMS pin to unlock the door. This method won’t work well in facilities located in basements or areas with poor phone reception. Can work with older phones.
Biometric Formerly an expensive technology that is increasingly becoming cheaper. Most modern smartphones have a fingerprint sensor. The technology is not 100% reliable and needs a backup access control method in case it fails.
Phone-based – NFC or Bluetooth Experts think phone-based access control is the safest. Smartphones are very personal devices with plenty of confidential information stored on them. Users typically take great care of their phones. Operators can issue new accesses or delete old ones with the click of a button.

Security and human error

Digital or smart access control sits right in the middle of the presumably contradicting needs of a tenant for more security and more convenience. A facility with smart access control can guarantee that there is no compromise on security while providing customers with longer access hours or even 24/7 access in some facilities. Eliminating the need for a human to lock up also eliminates human error and the resulting risks. Smart access control systems have multiple redundancies and safety checks to alert the manager or user of potential errors or problems. One such example is sounding an alarm when a door stays open for too long.

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A particular case can be made for smart locks that work with biometrics or smartphones. They are significantly more secure than those with NFC cards, keys, or pin-pads. Users are less likely to lose their phone than a fob or a key. As an operator, you can also control how many can unlock any given door, reducing the risk of illegally made key copies.

The effect on the bottom line

Smart access control systems directly affect your bottom line. The initial investment can be pricey, but novel technologies bring down costs. It is possible to upgrade your existing system to a smart lock for under 100 Euro per door. After the investment, facilities can recover it quickly. Automated access control reduces the need for human staff presence, cutting costs. You benefit from efficiency improvements, too. With just the click of a button, you can issue a new key for the new tenant or an additional key for the existing tenant. Similarly, when a tenant falls behind on the payment, the manager can immediately lock/unlock the unit door. Operators who use Storeganise to manage their self-storage can even automate lockout to lower credit risk.

A modern digital or smart lock is not only pretty to look at; it is a sales proposition for price premiums. Access to the facility becomes more accessible and more convenient. The user no longer has to stick to opening hours, but can come whenever needed. As an operator, you can monetise this. In other words, digital access control lowers your costs and raises your revenue, resulting in an overall higher profit margin and a better customer experience. If there ever was a win-win scenario in business, this is one.

The value of data

As mentioned before, a secondary benefit of access control is obtaining information on your users’ behavior. An informed business is a successful business, and digital access control generates so much valuable data. There are legal limitations due to data security and privacy control. Nevertheless,  the collected data can provide valuable insights into how your tenants interact with your facility. Just to name a few examples of data that you can collect and interpret: Peak visiting hours for 24/7 facilities, average time spent in a unit, or the number of visits per week;. Particularly innovative self-storage operators already experiment with the data and the strategic decisions they can derive from it.

Solutions and Storeganise integrations

Storeganise is a powerful self-storage management software that lets you have more control over your facilities and units. You can manage your running contracts, billings, bookings, and many other aspects – all from one space. Our software integrates with several modern access control providers and opens the doors to more automation in your facility – pun intended, including:

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The Take-Away

The future of self-storage lies in automation and smart access control, and there is no denying that. The benefits – larger profit margins, higher security, and reduced risk, outweigh the initial investment cost. Whether you upgrade fully or partially, it will benefit your business and your customer experience.

Related Article: The basics of self storage security