Why You Can't Manage A Self Storage Facility From Just A Kiosk

There is urban legend going around, created by some "gurus" trying to sell their books, that you can manage an entire self-storage facility from a "kiosk", basically a walk-up automated teller like an ATM machine. Although the concept of having a "robot" manage a self-storage facility is attractive from a cost-savings and low management perspective, it is, unfortunately, a fantasy with about as much practicality as the photon torpedo out of Star Trek.

The reasons you cannot manage a self-storage facility from a kiosk are numerous:

A kiosk only works if the customer knows what they're doing

The reason that ATM machines can function smoothly is that just about everyone knows how to work one. But can you imagine what would happen is nobody had used an ATM before. They'd try and put their card in upside down and break it off trying to shove it in. They'd forget to pull the cash out on time, and have it sucked back in. In their frustration, they'd beat the machine to a pulp.

The kiosk concept for self-storage facilities is new and different, and nobody knows how it works.

Somebody has to manage the kiosk

Just as an ATM machine requires constant, daily management, such as re-stocking it with cash and catering to break-downs, so does any other type of kiosk. Banks have staff on site all day to make the repairs and watch over the kiosk. No kiosk can work in the absence of human intervention.

The concept that you can leave a kiosk alone and come back periodically and take the money out is crazy. Just ask the folks that manage vending machines - something that is incredibly simple yet breaks constantly.

Kiosks are prone to vandalism

Some people like to break things. And what is a more attractive target than an unsupervised kiosk in an out-of-the-way location? Do you think there is any teen in America who would not have fun with that toy?

Ask the owners of self-service car washes their top 10 stories of vandalism to their equipment.

People demand human interaction

Would you entrust your belongings to a self-storage facility that has no human supervision, or even a human to explain the rental system? Well then, who would? There is too much competition out there that provides real, live managers to walk you through the process and give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. You might buy a Dr. Pepper without human interaction, but rent a self-storage unit? I don't think so.

But there is some truth to the story

There are successful self-storage owners who use kiosks. But they only use them after-hours, when the manager is off-duty. The manager then checks them each morning as he opens up for business. He makes sure they are working and re-loads them with supplies. That is what kiosks are for in reality. But never as a replacement for a manager, just an after-hours supplement.


Successful self-storage facilities must have managers and a kiosk is not a manager. It is a tool used by managers. If you are planning on using a kiosk as a full-time manager -- as attractive as that sounds you'll soon find that your robotic manager will have to get fired for doing a lousy job. Until the Jetsons looks as primitive as the Flinstones, you better stick with a human for managing your self-storage facility.

Frank Rolfe has been an active self-storage investor for around two decades, with self-storage units in many states throughout the U.S. His nuts and bolts knowledge of what makes for a successful self-storage facility has led to a three-decade career without a single failed property.