Security: The Protective Umbrella

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The tools exist to provide solid security and add tremendous promotional power to your marketing program.

Meet Larry Lurker, Robbie Ripoff and Vicki Vandal. These characters pose a threat to your property and present liabilities for your company. They will do the very things that damage, not only your property, but also your company's good name. But take heart: With proper planning and preparation, you can protect yourself and put the perpetrators in their place--hopefully the county lockup.

Put yourself and your facility under the protective umbrella called "security." Maybe that conjures up pictures of armed guards, guard dogs and razor-wire fencing. Or, perhaps your imagination runs toward the cunning, clandestine, ultra-high-tech tools of the super spies in the movies and on television.

For the self-storage industry, the reality of the situation involves the use of proven tools that will strike a good balance between choosing and using appropriate products, and getting a good return on the investment. The tools exist to provide solid security and add tremendous promotional power to your marketing program.

Take Larry Lurker, for example. He's the kind of guy who hangs around trouble. Or maybe he carries it with him wherever he goes. If he's lounging around the boat dock, things disappear--a trolling motor one day, a depth finder the next. Larry knows the guy who can move the merchandise at the flea market.

Control Who Uses Your Property

To handle Larry, build a fence. A good layout of your facility with proper fencing cures the problems that come with most casual theft. Once you add automatic, computer-controlled gates, you have the convenience of complete access control without having to have personnel on hand to watch who's coming and going.

In the traditional self-storage and RV-storage configuration, a fortress-style construction stands as the strongest defense. Put solid buildings all the way around your perimeter. If the parcel does not lend itself to that type of construction, then start planning early for fencing, convenient gated access and egress, and the software package that allows you to control the access. These programs provide for full delinquency control and a completely accurate written report of the access and egress activity at your facility.

The better access-control systems tailored to the storage industry provide other customer-convenience features as well. Offer multiple units under a single billing account and code number. That's especially useful for a boater or RV owner who needs both outside storage for the vehicle and inside storage for other personal goods. Make available multiple code numbers for a single unit, so that family members or friends can share the space. Take advantage of something called "zoning," available in the software. Use additional control points for climate-controlled buildings or separate sections of the facility.

The new Price Storage in Azusa and Valencia Self Storage, both in California, present good examples of mixed-use storage for recreational vehicles, dry storage for boats and inside storage. Both are designed with perimeter buildings offering a natural barrier to the property. Ivan Cohen, owner of the Valencia facility, moved a plan through the permitting process that includes an attractive, separate, walled area for the RVs with its own gate and gate controls. Keypad zoning and time zoning make it convenient for both managers and tenants, according to Mike Beales, manager of the Azusa project. "We have to have some way to let the RVs in after hours. The people coming back from the lake at the end of the day simply can't get in during regular hours," he says.

Lock Out the No-Pays and Slow-Pays


A good layout of your facility with proper fencing cures the problems that come with most casual theft.

Dockside slips, open bays and locked storage units all are used by people who occasionally forget to keep the bills paid on time. Delinquent tenants can be locked out with a good access-control system. Moving information from your accounting operations to your access-control operations proves to be a simple matter. Fortunately for owners, with a high level of cooperation among the vendors that specialize in serving the needs of the storage industry, a software link allows each program to share information with the other. Management programs tell the access programs which tenant codes should be valid. If a tenant goes delinquent, they're automatically locked out after a user-defined grace period.

Having the security umbrella in place before the storm of complaints from tenants who've been ripped off or had their property vandalized makes good sense. Planning for security should be integrated at the architectural and engineering-design phase. Since that is not always practical, especially for older and existing facilities, good advice from experts helps. Doug West, president of Doug West and Associates based in Asheville, N.C., says, "As an owner, you need to expect a vendor to help you design the types of systems and all the components that will help security tools work for you." Good planning simplifies the process and helps save money, especially for the final installation.

Add Security for More Profit and Less Liability

Security for the self-storage industry has become more sophisticated and much more of a competitive tool. "We're seeing a lot of owners use individual unit door alarms, video surveillance and especially office security displays," comments Tim Calvin, owner of Calvin Access Control Systems in Columbus, Ohio. "It's not unusual to see owners who are building a $2 million to $4 million facility spend $80,000 to $120,000 to protect the property and be able to advertise that they have security."

Individual-unit door alarms nail Robbie Ripoff and his type. They pose as good tenants, but use their access privileges to cruise storage lots for loose items or force entry into neighboring units. A security contact tied to alarm software puts a stop to that. Any intrusion to an armed unit causes an alarm, which can be local or tied to a central monitoring station. Alarm and access-control software validates a tenant code entered at the entry point, such as a main gate or entry door. A good code disarms the unit's alarm. Any other attempt to open an armed unit will sound an alarm, usually a loud siren. Law-enforcement officers will tell you there are two things thieves do not like: noise and lights that call attention to their actions.

Who knows the motivation for Vickie Vandal? She may damage property and equipment by accident. She and others like her may be venting anger or just "having fun." No matter the reason, vandalism can be expensive for an unprepared owner.

Kirt Grant, a partner in Lake Powell Boat and RV Storage in Page, Ariz., related a phrase he heard at a seminar: "Deter crime if you can, but if you can't prevent it, you need to catch it." Grant has an open storage facility with controlled gates. As an added deterrent, and as a tool to keep an eye on activities, he added a complete video-surveillance system with cameras, camera-control devices and a professional time-lapse recorder.

The threat has increased. Customers are more security conscious than ever. Whether it's our trio of bad guys, or you have your own cast of characters bent on doing you and your company harm, the tools to protect you are readily available. Start planning for your protective umbrella early. Use security tools for peace of mind. Show them off to your customers to make your facility even more impressive and appealing to prospects.

Steve Cooper is a member of the marketing team of Digitech International Inc., which has provided self-storage security solutions for more than two decades. For information, call 800.523.9504; visit www.digitech-intl.com

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