By Rachel Adams
Running a successful self-storage facility involves much more than keeping rates competitive and occupancy high. While operators are consistently seeking new ways to attract customers, the basics of a well-run facility cannot be ignored. And what's more essential than safety and security?
These two components go hand and hand and are critical to facility operation. Your grounds must be free of safety hazards for tenants, visitors and employees. Your staff must promote safety at all times as well as take steps to deter crime and increase security. Following are six key ways for operators to protect their business from crime while keeping employees and tenants out of harm's way.
Security Starts at the Gate
All facilities should have a gate system, cameras and individual unit door alarms, says Jon Loftin, vice president of business development for PTI Security Systems, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based manufacturer of access-control and security systems. "The more bells and whistles you have, the less likely your tenants will be the victim of a crime.
The majority of facilities today incorporate a variety of security components, including gates secured with access-control keypads, video surveillance, wireless door alarms, intercoms, motion-sensor lighting, and even management software that includes 3D site graphics to let managers know whats happening on the property at all times.
In todays tech-savvy environment, self-storage tenants expect lots of security features. Not only do operators face greater risk of crime without proper security in place, they may even lose customers to competitors that offer greater protection. "From a business point of view, a storage business having security will have a competitive edge over a facility not having security," says David Essman, director of marketing for Sentinel Systems Corp., provider of self-storage property-management software and security-access systems.
Enforce Safety Procedures
To protect employees and tenants, facility operators should outline and enforce safety procedures. Gina Six Kudo, general manager for Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif., said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) guidelines are a great tool for operators. "If you read up and follow the OSHA guidelines, you'll find you have most every situation covered, she says. Some examples of safety procedures include marking wet floors with caution signs, designating a spotter for any employee using a ladder or power tool, and wearing proper attire and safety devices when performing various tasks.
Never leave a bucket of water unattended. Instead, post caution signs so tenants are aware of wet floors. [Photos courtesy of Gina Six Kudo, Cochrane Road Self Storage]
Some operators also choose to implement a crime-watch program. Kenny Carlough, president of Denver Storage Consulting in Colorado, monitors crime at his facilities by placing a sticker on each lock. In the event someone cuts a lock to steal from a unit and replaces it with a "decoy," a manager will notice the missing sticker. "The benefit to this is knowing that someone didn't break into a unit on your property and then replace the lock to throw off suspicion," Carlough says. "Without the crime-watch program, a unit can be [raided] months or years prior to the tenant coming back to check the unit."
Monitoring tenants after the move-in can help operators keep tabs on potentially unsafe situations before a problem arises. Carlough uses a program called "Know Your Tenant," which encourages managers to go above and beyond normal expectations to be the "eyes and ears" of the facility. This means walking the grounds when tenants are moving in, paying attention to the types of items going into the unit, checking dumpsters for drug paraphernalia or other suspicious items, and making sure no chemicals are being stored.
JoAnna Goldberg, director of marketing for Storage Village, which has four facilities in Maryland and one in Virginia, monitors tenants via security cameras. While theres no official screening process, tenants who request 24-hour access to the facility must pass a background check. This keeps activity low on the site after hours. "Most tenants only have access during business hours, limiting the number of people who can be on the property when a Storage Village employee is not present," she says.
Maintaining for Safety
Operators agree proper facility maintenance is one of the most important ways to keep a facility safe. From asphalt cracks to leaks to poor lighting to faulty gates, regularly monitoring all aspects of a facility allows owners and managers to keep tabs on potential hazards and address them before accidents happen.
"From making sure downspouts drain and roofs don't leak, to hazards all around your property, maintenance is the key to preventing any mishaps," Kudo says. She recommends operators walk the property daily to make note of potential hazards. If something needs attention, take care of it immediately, she advises. "If you can't rectify a situation on the spot, then you should be marking off the area for staff and customer safety. If you work diligently on preventive maintenance, a hazard should never appear. However, if one does, it will stand out immediately," she says.
Show Law Enforcement Some Love
Building a relationship with local police is another way to cultivate facility safety. "By building a strong relationship with local law enforcement, they are looking out for you and your property even when theres not an issue, helping to prevent issues before they arise," Goldberg says. "In the case of an issue, familiarity with our property and our company allows law enforcement to address the situation as quickly and effectively as possible." Storage Village has established relationships with police by serving them directly as well as gaining recognition through community-service initiatives.
In addition to added security, the presence of officers can deter potential criminals and give tenants peace of mind. An easy and marketable way of gaining law-enforcement presence is by offering storage services, Kudo says. One officer tells another, and then another officer rents a unit." In the event officers stop by to pay rent or use the restroom, tenants will see their presence and gain an extra sense of security in regard to your facility.
Safe Storage Living
Managers who live on site need to take extra precautions to ensure safety at all times, and not only during business hours. The biggest challenge to resident management is ensuring personal safety, Kudo says. "It's the same basics that every homeowner has to consider. Living where you work does add another layer since customers also know you live there.
Maintaining safety for resident managers includes having a plan for emergency situations, being aware of your surroundings (especially after hours), and updating local police with information about the people living on the property, Kudo advises. If you get home after dark, driving around the property in a locked vehicle is a good way to safely survey the site. "If you encounter someone unknown to you on site after hours, you can simply drive out to a public area and phone law enforcement," Kudo says.
At the end of the day, safety precautions create a better environment for everyone and attract customers, which ultimately translates into revenue. "It's no longer enough to provide a clean, dry place for [tenants] to store their valued possessions," Loftin says. "They are demanding a higher level of security and they are willing to pay for it."