Records Storage

Cary McGovern Comments
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I grew up in the 1950s in South Louisiana where everyone was Roman Catholic. We hardly knew there were other religions. Our nun teachers taught us religion from a catechism. I presume they thought we were not qualified to read the Bible.

I remember with vivid detail a picture in the section regarding “Sin.” It showed three milk bottles. One bottle was pure white and represented a pure soul. The second was spotted with black dots of varying size and represented “venial sin,” namely the lesser sins, like white lies. You wouldn’t go to Hell for committing a venial sin, but you would likely roast in Purgatory for eons. The third was a black milk bottle, representing mortal sin, for which you would go straight to Hell.

So what does this liturgy have to do with records storage? Let’s talk about it from a business-practices perspective.

Software

Question: Is it necessary to start your records-storage business with a software product designed for commercial records management?

Most people would consider it a “black milk bottle” for me to answer “no,” but let me explain. I was recently approached by a self-storage operator in a very small market who wanted to add a simplified records-storage operation to enhance his existing revenue. This is what I told him:

Before PCs were generally available, the most common method of inventory control was Cardex, a method of keeping track of inventory using index cards. There were entire operating systems designed for many different applications including purchasing inventory management, warehouse inventory management and records inventory management. Incidentally, the system worked well. In the 1970s, when I was assisting corporations in building record-storage systems, that is exactly what we used.

Cardex systems still work, but they’re prone to human error. They require diligence and careful posting. It would work for a small record business, but I’d never use it for a large center. I recommend this system coupled with an Excel spreadsheet application and bar codes designed to eventually convert to a pre-selected software product. Caveat emptor: This should be done carefully and should always be transitioned to software at a relatively low number, perhaps 5,000 boxes.

Racking

Racking in records storage is normally considered an absolute and certainly recommended in all cases.

Question:Can you use pallets instead of racking?

The purpose of racking is to provide dense storage. However, every commercial records center (CRC) uses pallet storage as temporary storage while boxes or files are being worked on during the implementation process or for project work. One operator leased a temporary warehouse of 5,000 square feet and placed boxes three high on pallets. He transitioned to racking at about 8,000 boxes.

Although this practice would normally be a cause of concern, in this instance it worked out quite well and amounted to a good business decision. In fact, this would be designated as a “white milk bottle” in records storage.

Caveat emptor: This method requires you to limit the amount of boxes to a reasonable number and only use pallets as a temporary solution. Bin location markers can be designated by placing a road cone on the top of each pallet. Each cone would have a temporary bin location label designating the location code in the system.

Sprinkler Systems

Sprinklers are recommended for CRCs. Generally, it’s purely a code issue in your community, but 16 feet is the recommended ceiling height to apply sprinkler codes.

Question: Do you need to put sprinkler systems in your records-storage area?

Although I always recommend following all safety, confidentiality and security measures, some records-storage operators don’t have sprinklers. The ones that are installed are set up as zoned sprinkler systems and water is directed only in areas affected by fire.

Several CRC fires have made the news, including two in Iron Mountain facilities last year. According to Storage Technology News, “The facility, in Bow, east London, was 126,000 square feet in size. It was a modern building, built in 2002 and fully equipped with ‘fire suppression system.’” Having no sprinkler system would probably be considered a “spotted milk bottle.” Always try to sell to your strength not your weakness when making these and other important business decisions.

Caveat emptor: Fire-detection systems are paramount; intrusion alarms, confidentiality and offsite monitoring of smoke detectors and ionization detectors are essential. Sprinkler systems fail like other mechanisms. Use the prudent man rule: Do what you would do to protect your own records.

A Word to the Wise

Always follow best business practices regarding commercial records storage and management, keeping in mind there are always caveats to rules and circumstances that create opportunity. Use these suggestions very carefully. Remember each has potential peril assigned to it.

I was educated by the Jesuits in high school and graduate school. They are great educators and founders of renowned universities such as Georgetown, Boston College, Loyola, Fordham and Creighton as well as dozens more. They always teach students to have integrity, which is the virtue of good business.

So, whatever you do, never lie, exaggerate or use half-truths and innuendos in marketing and selling your service. You can be proud of your small record center if you run it with integrity. Moreover, you’ll steer away from Purgatory and head straight toward great success, morally and financially. 

Cary F. McGovern is the principal of FileMan Records Management, which offers full-service assistance for commercial records-storage startups and sales training in commercial records-management operations. For help with feasibility determination, operational implementation or marketing support, call 877.FILEMAN; e-mail fileman@fileman.com; visit www.fileman.com

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