Thoughts From the Road

When I talk to owners across the country about security, the discussion usually turns to video cameras, gate operators and software. We all need to expand our thinking to include all operational aspects of our facilities.

Customer records, for example, should be integral to your security equation because identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. The customer information we collect is extremely valuable, and we must continuously guard it.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have specific written policies and procedures outlining how customers records are handled?
  • When do you typically use customers information such as home and work addresses, phone numbers, copies of government-issued photo IDs (drivers licenses), credit card information, Social Security numbers and emergency-contact names?
  • Do you have locking file cabinets?
  • Do you conduct criminal background and/or credit checks on prospective customers?

Using my ESP (extra storage perception), I am mentally receiving your answers to these questions, and you are scaring me! Some of you were stumped on question No. 1 because you still dont have any policies or procedures in place at all! That is a topic for an entire article.

After the customer rents a unit, you should only access his information if a problem arises, but not on a day-to-day basis. So why do I walk into most offices across the country and find customer files sitting in unprotected file cabinets?

The level of detailed information we keep is exactly what identity thieves are looking for and are willing to pay big money to get. Many store this information electronically, and a data breach by hackers is just an easy click if you have Internet access on your system. For some security tips, check out the Federal Trade Commissions website for excellent guidelines dealing with a data breach at:

I realize a collective consciousness says, It cant happen to me. But can you really afford to be the one owner I write about in six months as the fallout for a massive theft of customer information or a data breach comes to the medias attention? Take the time and steps to make sure it doesnt happen because you were prepared to fight the battleand won!

Pollution Liability Insurance

Polluting the environment often conjures up thoughts of the Exxon Valdez or Erin Brockovich. Yet, anyone in self-storage faces the prospect of cleanup costs for a pollution occurrence.

Until now, obtaining an affordable insurance product for peace of mind on environmental pollutants has been difficult. Have any large RVs parked on your property? If so, you have maybe a 55-gallon fuel tank along with 35 gallons of grey water and another 30 gallons of straight sewageadding up to 120 gallons of environmental damage in just one vehicle!

If leaks develop, you may have some recourse against the customer, but only if you have a properly prepared RV- and boat-storage agreement. Otherwise, be prepared to suck up the full cost of a cleanup, which could completely drain your checkbook and life savings.

Even good-ol Fred, who repairs copy machines and has rented a unit since you first opened, could be leading you to potential environmental nightmare. Those cleaners and toner products he uses for his business but stores at your site all appear on the EPAs Hazardous Materials List. The landscaper, Matt & Sons, may have three 10-by-30 units, but when the lawn-equipment trailers are backed in with a 55-gallon barrel of gasoline mounted on the side, do you turn your back and try to forget about what the repercussions could be?

Good news: Randy Tipton, president CEO of Universal Insurance, has announced the creation of a unique buying group to provide pollution liability coverage named PLUSS (Pollution Liability Underwriting for Self Storage). According to Tipton, the coverage will provide:

  • Onsite cleanup of pollution
  • Legal liability for pollution
  • Legal expenses and defense
  • Business interruption for 30 days, with a $50,000 limit
  • Microbial matter protection of $50,000, with exclusions for thirdparty coverage
  • $1 million coverage for each loss

The underwriters for PLUSS rank A+15 (superior, with $2 billion or more in assets). This rating indicates the companys financial ability to pay out future claims and benefits.

Of course, were all concerned about facility security. Providing adequate protection for your investment should not be overlooked. This is a new product, but I urge you to examine it to see if the cost is worth the peace of mind to protect your business and quickly mitigate potential pollution. For more information about PLUSS, call 800.844.2101, e-mail [email protected], or visit

Package Pandemonium

If a mountain of packages arrived during the week, could you possibly remember how many and which ones belong to each of your client-tenants? Yes, but only if you keep a Chain of Custody log for all customers.

I know you probably have tenants sign a Waiver of Liability letter before you receive their shipments, but after discussing this with industry legal expert Jeff Greenberger, I now realize you can never totally free yourself from possible negative consequences if you agree to receive packages.

There are several high-tech and expensive solutions, but if you dont want to pay for maximum protection, invest in a notebook and label it Tracking Log. Each time a shipment arrives, write down the customers name, carrier tracking number, and date the customer was informed of the delivery.

Finally, leave space for customers signatures and dates of pick up. This wont eliminate legal issues totally, but the system (along with a specific set of written guidelines given to new customers using this service) can go a long way if a client is ever asked to swear: The testimony you are about to give is the truth and nothing but the truth

Words to the Wise

Many owners still fall into the Security Word Trap when designing Yellow Pages ads, fliers and brochures and talking to prospective tenants on the phone. Greenberger and I have talked many times about word choice in rental agreements and advertising.

If you missed his ISS webinar about using the correct words, visit his website, Once there, click on the Industry Insiders icon. On the list of great articles, about halfway down the page, youll find Watch Your Words. You can download and print the article free of charge. I urge you to take his admonitions to heart and implement them in your facility operations.

ISS Summer Session at Reno-Tahoe

Theres still time to make reservations for Inside Self-Storage Expo in Reno-Tahoe, Nev., July 24-27, 2007! Once again, Im honored to a part of this family-focused conference. For information and to register, visit See you there!

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates, which has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry since 1990. He has served for a number of years as a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board and is a co-founder of the new Self Storage Education Network ( providing online-based manager and owner education. He can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit

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