Putting On the Dog

Jay Sundher Comments
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IN THIS DOG-EAT-DOG WORLD, I’ve discovered the sale of ancillary storage services and products has been appreciated by my customers and profitable for my self-storage center. One successful niche has been the storage and management of hardcopy business records—records management—which we started offering at my facility 10 years ago.

At the time, my father and I saw it as a way to maximize our return on upstairs storage space that just wasn’t selling. Like most mini-storage places, we had our share of small- to medium-sized businesses that were storing their boxes in 10-by-10s and 10-by- 20s. We would see the muttering secretaries, harried managers and sweating executives lugging and going through boxes with varying degrees of urgency.

I began to research the feasibility of converting the upstairs units into warehouse space with 12-foot shelves, and creating a system to store and retrieve boxes for business customers. It was also about the time supermarket scanners and barcoded inventory labels became the norm— technology that could easily be used to locate and track boxes.

No Bones About It

That’s how what I’ve come to call the “Cocker Spaniel approach” to records management began. Spaniels are expert hunting, retrieving and tracking dogs. That became the focus of our records-management services—finding the boxes on our shelves, retrieving them for customers when needed, and tracking their delivery and return to our facility.

To accomplish this, we hired an independent software developer to write a basic records-management program that was tied into our billing system. We created a separate name for the records-management side of the business, and contracted with a telemarketing service to spread the word to companies in our growing city.

We took 24 boxes here and 500 boxes there. We established a system for checking out, delivering, picking up and returning boxes to storage. Soon, we offered file-pulling services, too; and later, we began selling high-quality records-storage boxes. Like the Spaniel, we were bold, keen to work for our customers, cheerful in handling their needs, and excellent watchdogs for their confidential and critical business information.

Another Breed

All that working like a dog paid off. In 10 years, we’ve only had three accounts leave our care, and these were due to an out-of-town move, a business merger and a bankruptcy. Our theory: Success breeds more success. So this year we launched into our “Golden Retriever approach” to records management, the one we recommend to self-storage colleagues who might consider barking up the records-management tree.

The Golden Retriever is a cross-breed that combines the best characteristics of Spaniels, Retrievers and Bloodhounds. This means they are good-natured and extremely obedient, but also superior watchdogs with sharp hunting, tracking and retrieving abilities. And they can swim and do tricks!

Matching and melding all of these top qualities and transitioning our facility into a state-of-the-art, full-service commercial records center was no accident, and it didn’t occur overnight. We spent three years planning and nearly a year building a new warehouse, specifically to hold business records. This phase included careful research on everything from appropriate racking and a specially designed fire suppression system to meeting earthquake and other building-safety codes.

Next, we completed a thorough review of the industry’s most sophisticated commercial records-tracking and inventory-control software, and we engaged a consultant for our entire start-up and implementation of the new system. We also made the commitment to hire a professional operations manager and salesperson whose training includes understanding the emotional and intellectual reasons businesses choose to outsource recordsmanagement storage and services.

Now, like the Retriever, we can excel in efficiently and profitably providing baseline- controlled, managed storage services. And we can do tricks: We are positioned to handle records destruction and certification, index records, offer scan-on-demand services and more—all tied into our tracking and billing system. It’s a golden opportunity for us and our customers.

They’re not muttering or sweating anymore. They e-mail us, and we fetch. It just goes to show, old dogs can learn new tricks.

This month’s guest columnist, Jay Sundher, is owner/general manager of Fortress Records Management, a division of Hollywood Storage Center, in Newbury Park, Calif. He is a client of regular columnist Cary F. McGovern, principal of FileMan LLC. Hollywood Storage Center has been in continuous operation under the same family ownership since 1982. For more information, visit www.hollywoodstoragecenter.com.  For more information on records-storage consulting, visit www.fileman.com

Insights From Fortress Records Management
  • Self-storage facilities lend themselves well to records management because space and security can be leveraged for higher returns.
  • Records management can be profitable, even in small to medium-sized markets.
  • Hiring consultants with experience and integrity in the beginning will save significant costs and headaches in the future.
  • Selling records-management storage and services involves educating potential customers about the value and benefits of outsourcing these functions.

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