Get a Facelift
Every day, consultants help self-storage owners plan their security upgrades. The service is free and extremely rewarding, as facilities gain the marketing resource they need to remain the competitive leaders in their area. The typical operator in this scenario has a 250-unit site with two five-year-old access keypads and DOS software. The site usually has four black-white cameras attached to a simple multiplexer and a time-lapse video recorder. This site can be improved with a miserly security budget of just $5,800. Furthermore, complete payback can be expected within the first year.
Drive-up keypads are your tenants' first and last impression of your security system. Even if your current keypads are running trouble-free, they may soon need servicing. But these keypads are several years old and have probably been discontinued. A system upgrade would almost equal the cost of a complete system replacement. Why wait for trouble?
Trade in your outdated keypad system for a model that supports every feature you and your customers desire. Modern access keypads provide a sophisticated appearance and offer instant feedback to your tenants. Today's keypads require fewer service calls and are extremely well protected against vandal and weather hazards. The best systems include illumination around the keypad, a bright information screen and battery backup, and allow tenants to use pay-at-the-gate convenience.
Take the worst-case scenario and assume you cannot incorporate any component from your current keypad system. In this case, expect to pay about $3,000 for two keypads, Windows security software, a system controller and a computer interface. You should also expect complete do-it-yourself instructions and free technical support from the security vendor. If your existing keypad wiring is suitable for the new system, installation should only take a few hours.
Be wary of security vendors that charge extra for telephone-installation support. If you need on-site assistance, you may be able to exchange your older access system for a few hours of an installer's time. If your site does not have an electric gate operator, you should plan on another $6,000 to pay for that product and its installation.
Integrating an intercom system with your access keypads ensures your customer service is only a call button away. For a two-way conversation through the keypad, you will also need an intercom master station in the management office. Aiphone makes a high-end master station that allows a tenant to conduct a hands-free conversation with your site manager. Expect to pay less than $300 for an integrated keypad intercom, master control station and the required power supply.
Keypad and intercom systems use low- voltage power and, except in extremely rare cases, do not require wiring permits from the city. The entire process of replacing keypads and adding intercoms can be a one-day job for your facility handyman. Likewise, video- surveillance equipment is simple to install and also uses low-voltage wiring.
During the 1990s, black-white cameras ruled the surveillance world because they provided the sharpest images; but the rules changed with the arrival of color cameras. These modern wonders automatically compensate for any lighting condition, allowing you to see clearly, even in subtle moonlight. They provide an impressively sharp 410,000-pixel resolution image--twice that of a typical television program. The best of the best cameras use the unequaled "Sony chip set" with built-in digital signal processing to enhance image contrast and quality. Your surveillance is only as good as the cameras you choose, so don't settle for less. If cost is a major factor, follow the advice of this article and you will never overpay.
The same camera technology will range in price from several hundred to thousands of dollars, based on nothing more than the shape of the camera and who you select as your vendor. Consultants and security vendors can package one of these high-resolution cameras with a long-range lens, automatic iris-shutter, vandal-proof housing, sun shield, wall mount and power supply for $2,000. However, the best consultants have the resources to acquire the same camera package for under $500 (retail).
The "standard" facility mentioned earlier has four black-white cameras attached to a simple multiplexer and a time-lapse video recorder. We'll exchange three of the site cameras with high-end color cameras and reuse the existing camera wiring so installation is a breeze. The three black-white cameras we just removed should be placed in new locations to provide coverage at additional access points. Consider monitoring an elevator lobby, the cart-return area, RV parking area, main tenant corridor or an unprotected driveway.
For a simple yet professional appearance, string your camera wires neatly along your ceiling or roofline. Use plastic wire ties every few feet to bind your new camera wires to the existing conduit lines. You may not need to use a protective wire conduit, since any attempt to cut the camera wiring would result in a video record of that crime. Expect to spend $300 for a few rolls of power and video wire, plenty of video connectors and a few boxes of wire ties.
Integration and Marketing
At this point, our newly modernized facility offers interactive access keypads and superior video surveillance. We can integrate these two technologies by upgrading the access keypads to include a hidden color camera. This allows you to record an image of everyone who enters an access code at the keypad, including all nontenants entering random codes. To ease installation, the covert access camera uses a spare pair of existing keypad wiring to transmit the image, and the camera draws its power directly from the access keypad. Add $500 for a complete keypad camera kit.
You now have a total of eight surveillance cameras, each providing a high-quality image. Replace the 4-port multiplexer with an 8-input video sequencer. A good eight-camera color sequencer will cost you less than $200. I recommend the ProVideo PR-SQS8B for $120 (store price). You can donate the old multiplexer to charity for a tax write-off.
Here is a summary of the do-it-yourself access and video security upgrade for $5,800:
- $3,000 New keypad system with controller, software and computer interface
- $300 Drive-up keypad intercom system
- $1,500 Three high-grade color surveillance cameras
- $300Camera-installation kit
- $500 Hidden color keypad camera
- $200 Color-camera sequencer
Our sample site has 250 units, 90 percent occupancy and a $60 average monthly rent. The new security system will be quite visible and extremely appealing to prospective tenants. A 2 percent increase in the site occupancy would increase revenue by $6,000, covering the cost of the upgrade. If the site is already 100 percent full, rental rates could easily be raised $2 to accomplish the same revenue gain. The end result is a rapid one-year payback on the security investment.
Add door alarms to each of your units and rent electronic door monitoring for a monthly fee of $5. This can yield another $15,000 in gross annual revenue. If you are on a tight budget, just purchase a handful of wireless door alarms and place them on storage doors when the tenants choose this added service.
Another great investment is to upgrade the site's time-lapse VCR to a high-quality digital video recorder and offer remote viewing to tenants. The better digital systems allow tenants to use any Internet connection to visit a website, enter a password and have access to the surveillance camera aimed toward their unit or RV. Tenants can only view the cameras that have been assigned to them. Day or night, a nervous tenant can see his storage unit or vehicle. This service can be offered for an extra $1 per month, or can be provided free as a marketing tactic.
An owner's password allows you to replay video segments from any previous day or remotely watch your employees' work with the click of a mouse. If a tenant makes a claim of theft, a manager can quickly view the event in question. The video unit should support recording at 640 x 480 resolution or better to preserve the image quality of the cameras. A complete high-end digital video system with Internet viewer will cost $5,000 and work with all the cameras just added to the site.
The competence and knowledge of security consultants and vendors varies widely. It takes several years, and hundreds of installations, to become a true security expert. This article has provided a list of the features to ask for and the prices to pay. You should consult an expert to help guide you past the pitfalls. If one vendor cannot provide the products and services you want, search until you find the solution that works best for you.
Doug Carner is the vice president of marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a California-based company specializing in access control, management software, video surveillance and call-center products for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.quikstor.com.