On the Record

As I write this article, Ive just returned from the Inside Self-Storage Expo in Las Vegas, where I participated in two seminars, Why Records Management Is Hot and Mining Gold in a Gold Mine, both focusing on records management. These sessions were well-received and generated a lot of questions. So what were the 10 most popular inquiries?

1. Why is records management hotter today than previously?

Weve covered this topic in several recent articles, but its still the question I hear the most. Why today? Why now? The simple answer is the business climate is changing, and organizations of all sizes must take greater care of their business records. New legislation means that mismanaging records leads to disastrous consequences, both to a business and its directors. Many small companies dont know how to respond to the challenges. Thats where you can help, if you decide to expand into records management.

2. Do I need to purchase a new building?

Many times, the space already exists! You can allocate several of your units for records storage and see how the business grows. You cant beat a 10,000-square-foot building with 30-foot high ceilings, as this will give you a large capacity for storage. But you dont have to start this way. Just remember you charge for self-storage by the square foot, but in records management, its by the cubic foot, so height is an important factor moving forward.

3. Why is the correct equipment so important?

When I think of equipment, the first thing that springs to mind is racking. The correct racking can make an enormous difference when running a records center, but you surely dont want them to collapse. Even 1,000 boxes scattered across the floor are going to give you more sleepless nights than you need. Also, questions about sprinklers are best addressed with your local fire authorities. Most self-storage units dont have sprinklers, but theyre required by law in records centers.

4. What software tools do I need?

Never overlook the beauty of the humble barcodeit will make your life so much easier. The software tools you choose should support barcoding. The next two most important features are reporting capabilities and Internet access for customers. The software you purchase must be accurate, flexible, robust and offer support services and consistent upgrades. This is because the industry is constantly changing, and you must meet new challenges without having to change systems later.

5. What should I charge?

It depends on your costs and the profit margins you wish to return. Many newcomers make the mistake of looking at existing companies price lists and simply offer the same. But look at what you have to offer. Examine the costs of your services and mark them up accordingly. If you dont make money, theres no point being in business.

6. What services should I offer?

OK, maybe I was a little harsh with my answer above. So lets look at the minimum services you need to offer:

  • Storage: Remember, you mix customers materials in units to gain maximum capacity (charging per cubic foot, not square foot).
  • Retrieval: If you pull a box or file out of a unit, charge a fee.
  • Put-Away: After a customer has finished with a box or file, hell need you to return it to storage. Charge for this too.
  • New Adds: Charge additional fees for cataloging new items and storing them.

These four simple services are based on the customer visiting you. If you have a vehicle or work with a courier, you can also offer scheduled pickups and delivery. Both can be supplemented with additional charges for priority delivery/pickup, such as a same-day service. Finally, by working with a certified shredding company, you can offer secure document destruction, proving the boxes or files were indeed destroyed per customer request.

7. What services could I offer?

You can offer as many services as you like, but be careful to select ones you can actually deliver. Most commercial record centers offer the services above in addition to selling materials such as file folders and boxes; providing records management consultancy; fax, photocopying and imaging services; providing viewing rooms for customers; and offering onsite labor. There is no limit to the possibilities, but the best way to start is by keeping it simple.

8. How is this different from self-storage?

There are similarities, but records management is fundamentally different. In self-storage, you rent the unit by the square foot and hand over the keys, but you dont hold custody. In records management, the customer hands custody of records to you. You then handle storage and management of them, and never give customers direct access.

Joint custody does not work. Therefore, you must provide manpower to retrieve or put away records on your customers behalf and bring a service mentality to the mix. Records management is all about providing a solution to a customers problem.

9. How can I compete against the big players?

The big guys have a different model. They sell in a radius of up to 100 miles around their record centers and are looking for organizations that, ideally, store thousands of records. Sales representatives are typically rewarded on volume of sales.

You sell in a smaller radius, which can be as little as 5 miles, and are looking for customers who typically use your facility but need a higher service level. More than likely, you probably already have customers storing records. You offer local, responsive service at a place where the customer is already doing business.

10. How do I get started?

Review the articles in the online archive of this magazine written by Cary McGovern as well as myself and several others, who give sound advice on getting started with records management in a self-storage facility. (To access the archive, visit www.insideselfstorage.com and choose Articles on Demand from the left menu.) Use these to create your business model, or adopt one already createdsuch as Carys RS-lite modelbut be prepared to put in some considerable effort at the start.

In closing, let me share with you a very interesting and telling bit of information: Forrester Research Inc., an independent technology and market research company, projects the records-management market to grow at compound annual growth rate of 84 percent to $1.3 billion in 2008. So is the time right for you to consider this thriving, profitable industry? You bet it is!

Ian Thomas is vice president of business development for ONeil Software. For 25 years, ONeil has provided software and hardware solutions for more than 850 records centers in more than 60 countries, ranging from startups to multinationals. ONeils software solutions manage multiple types of data including traditional storage boxes, file folders, documents and tapes. ONeil also provides barcode tracking, portable printers, laser scanners, wireless handhelds and web technology featuring RSMobile software. For more information, visit www.oneilsoft.com.

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