Though access control seems like a simple concept, it’s actually quite nuanced. In self-storage, we immediately think of the entrance gate, but there’s so much more to it than that. In fact, a few, well-planned elements can make a huge improvement, not only in how your facility functions, but in the staff and customer experience. Let’s look at some equipment and technology on the market today.
For overall security and control, most self-storage facilities use a “one-way in, one-way-out” access point, which helps staff keep an eye on traffic. There are, however, some exceptions. Some of these will be mandated, while others are a choice.
Emergency gate. Some local ordinances require self-storage facilities to include a special gate specifically for access by fire trucks and other emergency vehicles. These are often opened by a special key or code held only by emergency personnel and facility management.
Large-vehicle gate. Some self-storage operators opt to have an additional gate specifically for large trucks and trailers, allowing drivers of those vehicles to more easily get in and out of the property.
Exit gate. Some storage properties have a separate exit gate, reserving the main gate for entry only. This often requires a customer to punch in his code when he wants to leave. If you have unauthorized users who tailgate into the property, this method ensures they’re trapped inside until assisted by management—unless they also manage to tailgate out. Of course, the drawback is facility staff must respond to trapped vehicles at all times of the day or night.
Snow gates. In areas that experience frequent or heavy snowfall, some self-storage operators include this in their perimeter to allow a plow to remove snow from the property.
Pedestrian gate. If your management office isn’t outside the entrance gate, you’ll need to install one of these so customers who park in the lot can still get inside.
The position of the main facility gate will vary based on many factors including the size and shape of the property, jurisdictional requirements, building orientation, and more. That said, the standard recommendation is to set the entrance 75 to 100 feet in from the road whenever possible to accommodate vehicle stacking. If cars and trucks are lining up to enter, you don’t want anyone blocking the road.
For self-storage facilities that use a keypad system for access, the placement of the keypad in relation to the gate warrants special consideration. The keypad should be 15 to 20 feet from the gate. If you put it too close, you risk cars hitting the gate when customers pull up to use the keypad. This safe distance also discourages customers from feeling like they need to “race the gate,” which can occur if the keypad is too far away.
Also, consider installing multiple keypads at the gate, at both high and low settings, to accommodate various vehicles. Cars sit lower to the ground, while trucks, vans and RVs sit higher—sometimes significantly higher. You need to accommodate all users.
Just as the right access gate and keypads can add convenience for your self-storage customers, there’s technology on the market that can further enhance the rental experience for users and facility operators. Consider the following:
Mobile access. The elimination of physical keypads in favor of smartphone apps has gained traction in the self-storage industry, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus. Mobile access allows a tenant to type a code into his phone to enter the property without having to touch anything outside his vehicle. This is particularly convenient during bad weather and helps eliminate concerns about hygiene. It also alleviates issues with forgotten codes or keypad malfunctions.
Electronic door locks. Using smartphone technology on individual storage units also has benefits for customers and facility staff. Managers can easily issue lock codes that allow customers to open their units without having to worry about lost keys and forgotten combinations. In cases when rent is past-due, the technology also enables managers to quickly revoke access without a physical overlock.
Intercom and video. Installing digital audio and video connections at the entrance gate adds another layer of security. It also offers a more open channel of communication between customers and staff when issues arise.
The Right Mix
Self-storage access technology can greatly enhance convenience for customers and management, but all the pieces must work well together, or you’ll create problems. For example, the brain of the system—the controller—must translate a variety of codes from the entry gate and individual storage units. It must then communicate with the facility-management software to determine which codes are valid and whether it should open a gate or lock. It’s convenient as long as everything integrates seamlessly. Otherwise, it’s added hassle for everyone.
Facility access may seem like a simple part of self-storage operation, but it requires thoughtful planning and careful integration of the mechanical and digital elements. When done well, it can improve the overall customer experience, make life easier for facility staff and boost the owner’s bottom line.
Matt DePrato is vice president of affiliate services at Automated Security Corp., which offers commercial security and protection products. He has more than 15 years of experience in self-storage development and facility operation. Recently, he’s been heavily involved self-storage security technology. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rod Lockard is vice president of business development for Storage Construction, a full-service construction-management company operating in the mid-Atlantic and New England markets. With more than four decades as a company owner, he’s specialized in self-storage construction since the early 2000s and has overseen development of 80 facilities. For more information, email email@example.com.