In the past, the storage industry may not have been viewed as glamorous or worthy of attention, but that perspective is quickly changing. Some of the world’s richest investors are seriously looking at the business. With legendary hedge-fund guru George Soros already trading a share in the market for £40 million, it must have value. And when a company like Mentmore PLC has 53 storage sites in Europe and the United Kingdom, it further illustrates the potential growth and stability of the industry.
The financial security attracting investors to the storage market runs parallel with the physical security operators are selling to customers—both are essential to the industry’s growth. Your facility’s security strategy involves meeting the requirements of your insurers.
Working from the outside inward, you start with fencing and window bars, then add items such as CCTV, police-linked alarm systems, etc. These are excellent for deterring intruders when the facility is closed. When you are open for business, it is the management team as well as individual unit padlocks that stop criminals cold.
Although a self-storage facility provides security for customers’ goods, it operates at a much lower security level than say a bank, particularly in regard to renters and unit control. Storage operators generally do not feel pressure to raise their level of security, and insurers are not demanding additional requirements. Following are some reasons greater security measures should be considered.
The self-storage industry was publicly identified as a target for criminals on Dec. 31, when the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail reported, “Armed officers raided a self-storage unit near Leeds city centre on Monday. They found a collection of homemade 9-mm ammunition along with a machine designed to manufacture bullets.” A news item from the paper’s Jan. 15 edition reported a murderer used a self-storage facility to store his victim’s body for 35 days in a southcoast U.K. town.
The chance these were the only criminal activities in all the selfstorage units in Europe and the United Kingdom in the recent past is unlikely. As these instances come to light, the credibility of self-storage will be seriously dented. The population growth in any given market makes self-storage a leading place to store goods with ease; unfortunately, criminal activity is likely to grow as a result.
The simplest way to open an account at a self-storage facility is with a credit card. It is worth mentioning that last year in the United Kingdom, credit-card fraud totaled £425 million, which quantifies the massive number of fraudulent cards in use. The Association for Payment Clearing Services (www.epolitix.com) is coordinating the “chip and PIN” program to be nationally installed by 2005. But it believes this new system will only cut counterfeiting and stolen card fraud by about 60 percent. Therefore, criminals could still walk through your front door and rent a unit from you with a stolen card.
For those storage operators who want to improve their ability to spot fraudulent credit cards, the Spot & Stop Card Fraud Pack is a free, self-help, card-fraud prevention program. The pack is produced by Card Watch, an organization of the U.K. banking industry that works with police, retailers and organizations like Crimestoppers to fight card crime. The website, www.cardwatch.org.uk, offers a selection of downloadable PDF files to complement existing card-acceptance training materials for retailers, bankers and all front-line staff.
Simply Lock ‘Em Out
The final link in your security chain is the padlock. “Most operators opt for lumping locks with boxes, tape and other retail products to sell for a profit. Locks are not an ancillary product,” says Frank Minnella, president of Lock America Inc. “Security is a necessity, and you cannot market or provide it without a high-security lock system. Lock systems are not a choice to leave with the renter, any more than the option for a door alarm or security camera. The ‘your lock, your key’ school of selfstorage security is like a hotel asking you to provide your own room lock and key,” he says.
A cheap padlock, whether you sell it or the renter provides it, signals to everyone at your facility that you are not serious about security. Fortunately, there are inexpensive but effective alternatives, such as genuine masterkey lock-and-latch systems, tubular key locks, locks with a built-in overlock, and padlocks with additional key schemes.
The majority of locks used in the industry can be best described as low-level security. The world-famous MIT Guide to Lock Picking, by Theodore T. Tool, identifies how vulnerable they are in its first three sentences. “The big secret of lock-picking is that it’s easy. Anyone can learn how to pick locks. The theory of lock-picking is the theory of exploiting mechanical defects.” The cheaper the lock, the more mechanical defects there are to exploit.
And if a written guide weren’t enough, there are lock-picking tools available for purchase. For example, it is no great step for criminals to buy the following padlock opener advertised on the Internet:
This famous SNAP GUN was originally designed for law-enforcement agencies and police officers who were not skilled in the art of lock-picking to open locks with minimal instruction. Rather than opening locks by the traditional raking techniques, a snap gun uses a primary law of physics—the transfer of energy—to compromise locks. It comes with stainless-steel picking needles, tension tool and instructions. Price: £65.
Confidence in the security of self-storage facilities currently runs high, with considerable reliance on CCTV and alarm systems. However, as Lock America’s vice president of sales, Christopher Shope, points out, “The United States used to be lax when it came to storage security until criminals realized the potential.” European and U.K. criminals are no less intelligent.
The message you need to send potential customers, whether legitimate or criminal, is you are in charge of security. Show it with the security systems you employ. You cannot risk criminals being smarter than you and allowing the press to tell your customers—and your investors—they have duped you. Get smart and seek advice from self-storage security professionals.
Brian Bevis, with a wealth of experience in customer service and a background in engineering, is leading the entry of Lock America Inc. (d/b/a L.A.I. Group) to the European market. L.A.I. manufactures a full line of high-security locks, latches, cylinder locking systems and many other custom security products for the self-storage industry. Mr. Bevis can be reached at (0)1202 479 030; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.