Rent a room: Bringing tech to the world of self-storage

29 Nov 201763 Shares

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Jude O’Meara, managing director of Elephant Self Storage. Image: Unique Media

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Jude O’Meara of Elephant Self Storage explains how technology is a key ingredient in her business, with an added sprinkle of family values.

Jude O’Meara is the managing director (MD) of Elephant Self Storage (ESS), a Dublin-based self-storage centre that claims to have serviced more than 10,000 domestic customers since 2005.

As MD, O’Meara oversees all aspects of the small business, including marketing, human resources, operations and business development.

Tech, meet self-storage

Earlier this year, Stephenie Stone of M+W Group wrote an article for Forbes, in which she stated: “Every company is a technology company, no matter what product or service it provides.”

Indeed, as the digital age continues to flourish, it is becoming increasingly difficult for organisations to avoid the siren call of technology. What successful business do you know that doesn’t have a website or Facebook page, for example? You could even argue that certain firms have their heads in the sand when it comes to accepting the fast pace at which the world moves today.

So, how does technology factor into the daily activities at a self-storage company?

O’Meara said: “Technology is key for our business. Security is of the utmost importance to us at Elephant Self Storage as customers trust us to mind their items, and we in turn must ensure that these are kept exactly as our customers have left them. The facility at our base in south Dublin has over 90 CCTV IP cameras, electronic gates which are controlled by staff, individually alarmed units, access-controlled systems (which restrict and allow customers into separate zones) as well as panic alarms for added safety.

“As a business, we are constantly monitoring our operating systems to remain ahead of the curve and provide the most up-to-date systems available. On a day-to-day level, technology has helped us move many administration jobs over, allowing staff to spend more time helping customers.”

As technology continues to evolve and new methods of business practice emerge, companies such as ESS must strive to keep step with the latest trends.

“Attending international self-storage conferences to check the latest available technology available to us is paramount. This ensures that we are always abreast of the current trends and industry discoveries. When it comes to our security systems, overhauling these are costly, so, in order to keep updated and reduce the huge one-off cost, we continuously audit and update our facility, and discuss this with our trusted suppliers for their recommendations.”

‘Growing up surrounded by the family business, I gained great insight into how the world of business works’
— JUDE O’MEARA

Keeping up with the O’Mearas

O’Meara explained that the entrepreneurial streak runs in the family.

“My family originally ran their first self-storage business in 1989 in the very location we have Elephant Self Storage today, followed by a business in Ossory Business Centre. When the family sold the last business, we decided to open a purpose-built self-storage facility, which is the Elephant Self Storage we have today.

“Growing up surrounded by the family business, I gained great insight into how the world of business works. However, after school, my plan was to do something different, so I diverted into nursing for a number of years, which, while challenging, gave me the necessary skills of dealing with people, which is now invaluable to me.”

So, what made her pivot back to a business-focused career?

“Following my time as a nurse, I had gained experience in the self-storage industry in the UK and simultaneously had gone back to college at night to study business. With all of these elements in play, my father asked me to apply for the role of manager and, once I took over this role, I grew the business to 760 customers in the first year and to over 10,100 customers today.”

The family-centred business ethos that was instilled in O’Meara at a young age trickles through to her managerial style.

“We are a family business and staff members are part of this family. To get the best out of my team, I have an open-door policy and listen to my staff. Opportunities are given to staff to grow and develop, which in turn I have found that they give back their best.”

Unlike many leaders who cite Elon Musk and Bill Gates as their shining beacons of business acumen, O’Meara’s inspiration lies a little closer to home.

“My father is my role model – a true entrepreneur who makes things happen. He started his business in London by borrowing £5 and, from here, he brought O’Meara Camping to Ireland, the first camping shop in Ireland. In the years that followed, O’Meara Camping went from strength to strength. My father continued to grow and found (and run) a number of other successful business, including O’Meara Sports and O’Meara Holidays as well as the Business Incubation Centre in Ossory Business Park, Dublin 7, and Richmond Business Campus in Dublin 3.”

Ray of light for renters?

A harsh truth for anyone trying to crack into the Irish rental market is that pickings are slimmer than ever, particularly in Dublin.

Conveniently located in Tallaght, ESS is in a position to provide alternative options to renters.

“The market has changed dramatically over the last number of years. Looking at the costs of rents, both private and commercial, as well as the spike in the cost of purchasing properties, many people are unaware that self-storage can be a cost-effective solution to their needs, whether [you are] a homeowner who needs more space or a business owner who would like to utilise their office space more effectively,” explained O’Meara.

“For start-ups, small companies or companies looking for a base in Dublin without the overheads and long-term commitment, self-storage is an ideal solution. With a self-storage unit, there are no long-term leases, electricity bills or security and maintenance charges, and customers have free access to their unit with a reception area that accepts deliveries on their behalf, which can be the answer to all of a start-up’s problems in those early days.”

Many are turning to Airbnb in a bid to earn some extra cash to grapple with the exorbitant fees demanded by some landlords. As ESS points out, relocating your valuable belongings in a storage unit can assuage some of the fears you may have with opening up your home to a stranger.

O’Meara added: “Similarly, with the rent-a-room scheme allowing homeowners to earn an additional €14,000 per annum tax-free by renting out a spare room … this can be a somewhat simple cash cow. By clearing out this spare space, the financial returns for families are sizeable.”

Tick-tock

As any entrepreneur worth their salt will tell you, time is hard to come by and is therefore too precious to waste.

This is a sentiment that O’Meara is quite familiar with. “Over the years, I have learned that the most valuable commodity I have in running my business is my time, and that my time is valuable and I need to spend it wisely. I can’t be everywhere at once and I need to make a judgement call several times a day on where my energy needs to be.”

She concluded: “However, the team at Elephant Self Storage are fantastic and I hand over responsibility where I can. By doing this, I have an opportunity to focus on the bigger picture while knowing I can trust my team to help me with certain aspects of the business.”

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Shelly Madden is sub-editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com