Unit Trac is cloud-based lease management software that can be accessed from anywhere, any time on any device, allowing self-storage facilities to serve customers quickly and professionally.
James Smallenberger, co-founder, has more than 15 years of software development experience in a variety of industries, finding his niche in the building industry. Upon completing her MBA, co-founder Jillian Smallenberger supported her family’s outdoor power business in a variety of capacities, including service, sales and marketing. Amongst their professional responsibilities, they have both worked for a local leader in self-storage buildings.
James serves as the lead developer, with a singular focus on product enhancements. Jillian is the client champion, staying in close contact with clients and representing Unit Trac at self-storage association conferences nationwide. Nicole Roberts leads sales and marketing efforts and provides client support to help facilities operate more efficiently.
What makes your product unique or different from other solutions on the market?
The software allows an owner to manage leases and payments, process credit cards, create and manipulate a custom facility map, and view business financials. Unlike some of the competitor products, James and Jillian understand the responsibilities, joys and challenges of being self-storage owners, which provides a unique perspective to developing and enhancing Unit Trac.
What is your company’s “elevator speech”?
The success of Unit Trac is based on three values: do great work, be incredibly helpful and keep on getting better. Since Unit Trac is cloud-based, self-storage owners and operators can manage their storage facility efficiently from anywhere. Many owners manage their facility while holding full-time jobs and caring for families, so Unit Trac has a built-in capability for the owner to choose how involved he or she wants to be in daily operations. This may mean the owner meets each potential tenant at the facility to sign a lease—or it may mean complete payment automation, online rentals and e-signature lease signing.
Unit Trac prides itself on extremely quick responses to client questions; when an owner or operator calls, he or she speaks with a real person without being charged support fees. Lastly, the ability to quickly enhance and adapt the product to customer needs means Unit Trac is continually evolving and improving. Customers receive all those updates as part of their monthly subscription, with no additional fees.
What was the catalyzing “aha” moment which led to your startup?
James and Jillian purchased their family’s storage facility in 2012. While researching lease management software solutions, no software quite offered the features they were looking for, motivating James to design software of his own to manage the facility. As with so many self-storage owners, both James and Jillian were working full-time while managing the facility, so the software was built for efficiency.
Word traveled, and a local facility owner approached the Smallenbergers to ask if he could use the software to manage his facility. That owner loved its simplicity and efficiency, and recommended it to several other owners in the area, who soon became clients as well. James and Jillian realized there was a market to help other small and midsized storage facilities—specifically in the area of technology. Nationwide, we see a shift occurring as the next generation begins taking over a family business that has been primarily managed by paper and pen, and desires to use technology to more efficiently manage the facility.
What key milestones has your company achieved so far?
Since acquiring its first client in 2014, Unit Trac has seen steady growth. After launching an online marketing campaign, the first non-local client from South Carolina signed up with Unit Trac. In the spring of 2015, Unit Trac began offering international support and today serves clients in 29 states and seven countries around the world.
It has been a joy to watch owners utilize the full product offering: the owner who has completely automated payment processing; the owner who bought a second facility solely because she knew she could handle the extra business using Unit Trac; the owner who once took three days to generate tenant invoices and now can do it in less than five minutes; the owners who were intimidated by the idea of creating a business website and now enjoy a maintenance-free web presence as part of their Unit Trac subscription.
Did you have assistance from local entrepreneurial resources, or were there other key individuals who helped you launch?
Unit Trac was given the opportunity to present at 1 Million Cups in February 2017. Additionally, Unit Trac was selected as the first Travel Grant recipient through Startup GP to attend the Maine Self Storage Association conference. Additionally, Ross Miller, director of technology commercialization at the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship, was instrumental in providing target market insights, as well as practical advice on product development.
What key milestones do you hope to achieve in 2018?
Continued growth with the goal of a presence in all 50 states by the end of 2018. Practically, we continue to look for places to enhance our product’s competitiveness: reducing credit card fees for customers, a more complete and automated tenant notification offering, and more flexibility handling partial or late payments.
What has been the biggest challenge so far on your startup journey?
Connecting with potential clients. Since so many self-storage owners don’t staff their facilities, it’s difficult to find them in person for a cold call and software demo. Likewise, since many of them work full-time jobs, they often carry out the day-to-day procedures of running a business (logging payments, starting and ending leases, looking for new software) in the dark hours of the night from their home computers. Getting the software in front of a potential client is the hard part; once they’ve seen it, converting them to a customer tends to be the easy part.
What advice do you have for other prospective entrepreneurs?
In creating a product or business, focus on what you know and/or have a passion for. We’ve gained tremendous credibility with potential clients because James and Jillian own and operate a facility—they know the business thoroughly and can trade stories with owners.
Be willing to work really hard to get the business up and running. At the beginning, it will probably involve all-nighters, uncertainty and maybe some tears. Remember: if what you are doing was easy, everyone would be doing it. Hang in there—it will get easier.
If you find support that you can trust with your business and clients, make the investment to take care of them. We absolutely could not do what we do without Nicole, who has become one of the most important assets to our business, as well as a personal friend. We try to take care of her so she understands how much we value her. iBi
For more information, visit unittrac.com.