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Vital Records Protection

Van Carlisle Comments
Posted in Articles, Archive

In today’s rapidly expanding and increasingly competitive self-storage market, one of the best ways to increase revenue and boost sales is to offer ancillary products and services. In this industry, retail add-ons are common: boxes, tape, locks, moving supplies, etc. One often overlooked yet particularly profitable extra is off-site, long-term, archival storage of vital records paper documents as well as digital media.

Vital records protection (VRP) is generally defined as the process used and actions taken to protect records that contain information essential to the survival, economic recovery and continued operation of an organization, company or individual in the event of a natural or man-made disaster such as a fire, flood or other catastrophe. VRP is considered by some experts to be a sub-category of business continuity and disaster recovery. The industry has been on the rise over the past few years as companies and individuals become increasingly dependent on the information they store. Simply stated, vital records and documents are increasingly recognized as the key to survival in the “information age.”

Offering VRP to customers represents a lucrative and growing category of a la carte services for self-storage. One of the main drives of this demand is an increased awareness of content protection in general, encouraged by statistics, horror stories and anecdotes about the destruction of irreplaceable documents, backup tapes, CDs and video. Even if you don’t want to provide VRP as an added value for customers, it’s something you should absolutely consider for yourself.

Storage Options

The first step is to determine how your facility will store and protect customers’ vital documents. The easiest approach is to purchase some specially designed fireproof file cabinets and safes and rent this equipment to customers for short or extended periods. Once a customer signs a rental agreement, simply move the safe or cabinet into his designated storage unit.

Another possible method is to designate an out-of-the-way room or storage area, make sure it can be secured and access-controlled, and stock it with the appropriate number of fireproof media vaults and safes. Then determine the costs associated with space, manpower and equipment, and add your desired profit margin. The major imperative with regard to this space is to maintain a stable, cool environment. Sixtyfive degrees with 30 percent humidity is the ideal storage environment for magnetic media.

You need not be constrained by one setup or another some storage operators offer a combination of both. The idea is to consult with each individual customer and devise a solution that best fits his needs. Where the storage takes place is much less important than the kind of equipment used.

Equipment Quality

“The most important consideration is liability from fire damage,” says Rick Sorley, a records-management and storage consultant with Minnesota-based SafetyFile Inc.

Scott Harris of Dana Management Group, a self-storage consulting and management firm, agrees: “We are always looking for ancillary products and services to increase our profit margins in this industry, and UL-rated fireproof file cabinets and safes make it possible for a facility to offer VRP without the high cost of creating an entire fireproof storage area.

Because if you do have a fire, even with a sprinklered facility, the records and documents stored in an ordinary cabinet or file boxes would be destroyed.”

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is an independent, not-for-profit, product-testing and certification organization that checks products for public safety. When offering VRP to customers, it’s imperative to use equipment that is UL-tested. Watch out for products that claim to be “built to” a certain UL-class specification (usually knockoff products manufactured overseas). This leads customers to believe, very erroneously, that they are getting a UL rating; but the truth is UL has never tested it, and how it will perform during a real fire, flood or impact is dubious.

“Standard non-UL-rated filing equipment will not provide the necessary protection from fire or water damage,” Sorely says. Even a fireproof cabinet UL-rated or not designed to protect paper documents will not protect digital media. Since tapes and CDs begin to degrade at temperatures of 125 degrees or in humidity of more than 85 percent, storage operators should use UL-tested equipment rated to remain at or below 125 degrees for at least two hours when exposed to fire up to 1,850 degrees. They should use a media vault specifically designed to protect electronic media, Sorley concludes.

The top suppliers of UL-rated equip-ment offer well-designed, attractive, media-rated fireproof safes and file cabinets for onsite VRP. You can find them at your local office-products dealer, in most office-products catalogs and, increasingly, on the Internet.

Selling VRP

Marketing and selling VRP to customers should be handled as it would be for any other ancillary product or service. Undertake the research and gain an understanding of the issue, and be prepared to present a case for the value of the offering. It’s common to set up something along the lines of an equipment showroom with one or two cabinets and safes on display. The equipment dealers and manufacturers will often provide collateral material and artwork to visually drive home the importance of VRP to customers.

Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of technological expertise in data-backup systems or records management to offer the service. The bottom line for your bottom line is this: Once a customer invests many hundreds or thousands of dollars to store his belongings, it’s relatively easy to convince him he should ensure their safety. Beyond VRP, what you are in fact selling is peace of mind with regard to the security and protection of irreplaceable, vital documents.


Pricing your service is fairly simple. Devise categories of VRP based on the kind of media the customer needs to protect—paper, digital or both—and the quantity of storage needed. Then determine whether the customer needs a short- or long-term arrangement, and bill accordingly.

UL-rated storage equipment, which is specially designed and manufactured, is not cheap. But since the usable life of this equipment is usually measured in decades, once it is rented and paid off (usually in less than three years), the already decent profit margins can absolutely skyrocket.

“Offering VRP services to customers has the potential to be a cash-cow product for self-storage owners and operators,” Sorley says. “You just need to ensure you market it correctly and are able to offer all of the right equipment.” 

Since 1975, Van Carlisle has been the president and CEO of FireKing Security Group, an asset-protection company in New Albany, Ind. For more information, call 800.457.2424; e-mail; visit

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