Today, floppy disks are gone, a kilobyte of memory wouldn't even hold one smartphone photo, and "the cloud" rarely refers to a puff of water vapor in the sky.
Rather, the cloud is our common parlance for various networks of high-speed, high-capacity computer servers packed with terabytes of memory, which we can access through broadband internet connections to make our modern digital lives possible.
We almost take the cloud for granted now. It serves as a virtual safety net, allowing us to store everything from videos of grandma to PDF copies of grandma's estate-planning documents in cloud-based storage services like Apple's iCloud, Box, Dropbox and many others.
The cloud also enables us to work on a host of shared documents and projects, through platforms like Google Docs and Microsoft Office Online, collaborating with colleagues halfway around the world with our edits automatically saved almost instantly-as long as our internet connection remains live.
The Storage of Everything
With all this digital largesse available, you might think we no longer need storage for physical items-stuff made of molecules rather than an intangible code of ones and zeroes. But, no, we in the developed world have become a people who depend on storage in all its forms, with an endless appetite for as much cyber and tangible space as we can get-especially when the price is right.
Not long ago, you had to seek all that space from different providers: a self storage facility to store your boxes of last year's tax files, and an online service like Google Drive to store your digital copy of those tax files.
Thanks to an outfit called VaultDrop, though, our physical and digital worlds are converging. VaultDrop provides self storage companies with cloud storage they can position
to current and prospective tenants as a high-tech amenity.
"The self storage owner/operator can offer it as a free benefit, or they can mark it up [to generate ancillary revenue]," explained Stephanie Farber, VaultDrop's marketing consultant.
Why would a tenant want VaultDrop's cloud storage instead of just using, say, Dropbox? Because it is the only service that syncs directly to a tenant's self storage facility
account, which VaultDrop achieves with the help of integration partners like SiteLink and Storage Commander.
"VaultDrop integrates with SiteLink to make delivering their service easier for the store managers and their tenants," said Chuck Dion, marketing director for Raleigh, North Carolina-based SiteLink.
"VaultDrop uses the SiteLink API to be alerted when a new customer moves in, and within 20 minutes it automatically emails them a link to receive their unlimited secure cloud storage," he added. "The SiteLink integration also lets operators automatically upload their customer invoices into tenants' respective VaultDrop Unlimited Secure Cloud Storage accounts."
Kevin Kerr, marketing manager for Empower Software Technologies Inc., in Murrieta, California, said the Storage Commander integration with VaultDrop is fairly new-finished
in time for SSA's Spring Conference & Trade Show in Orlando-but is going well so far.
He does have a word of advice for owner/operators who consider offering VaultDrop's service: "Be familiar with the technology," he said. "A lot of people are surprisingly unaware of what the cloud is and what security brings to the table. If they're going to offer the service, they need to familiarize themselves."
Attracting New Customers
VaultDrop has been attracting a growing number of self storage operators in the U.S. and Canada. One of the most recent-Real Storage in Calgary, Alberta-just launched in April. Real Storage's managing partner for operations, David Demchuk, described the experience of working with VaultDrop as "phenomenal."
"The vision of VaultDrop, and the ease of implementation and integration, aligned very nicely with our strategic objective;" Demchuk said. "Initial interest and adoption rate from our existing client base has exceeded our expectations."
Demchuk said demographics are driving Real Storage's interest in offering cloud storage as an amenity, to help appeal particularly to millennials as well as to the increasing number of urban dwellers in Canada from migration and immigration.
"New storage buyers, and their needs, are changing as they continue to look for the enhanced convenience [of] one-stop shopping on their terms and in their time frame;" he added. "Unique amenities enhance the value proposition and differentiate [us] from the masses, assisting in the consumer's perception of value ... versus current discounted price pointing for a commodity."
Devon Self Storage, which is based in Emeryville, California, piloted VaultDrop at 13 of its 49 facilities. During a webinar about the company's experience, Jim Mooney, Jr., Devon's VP of operations, said using the cloud service to attract new renters made more sense to him than offering a month's free rent.
"You're automatically behind when you give away rent, but this benefits your revenue," he explained. "We've been tracking this since day one, and we're getting leads from
it. People have actually rented because it's different."
In Texas, Houston-based Right Move Self Storage drew in three to five new tenants per month and boosted "revenue over $500 monthly through a related rent increase justified by providing this new value to customers," according to Right Move Storage, LLC, President Darren Kelley in a VaultDrop case study.
The bet on our continued hunger for cloud storage is probably a safe one. An estimated 1.75 billion people worldwide used personal cloud storage in 2017, according to Statista, with more than 2.31 billion likely by 2020.
A key question for the self storage industry: In what other ways besides cloud storage might technology present opportunities to help customers bridge their digital and tangible lives-and thereby keep self storage valuable and relevant for new, ever more tech-savvy generations, while adding ways for future owner/operators to generate revenue?
"We as vendors and people working in the industry have a responsibility to help educate people on what technology is out there and how it can help them increase employee productivity, revenue, and enhance the customer experience," said Jon Loftin, vice president at OpenTech Alliance.