Self-Storage Security: From Technology to the Human Touch

Every crime puts your self-storage operation on the defensive, even if your renters have insurance and no one is hurt. Following are some must-haves for site security, from technology tools to staff resources, plus a few ways to promote your best safety features to current and potential customers.

By Rich Morahan

Every crime puts your self-storage operation on the defensive, even if your renters have insurance and no one is hurt. Your business always has more at risk than any individual tenant. Following are some must-haves for site security, from technology tools to staff resources, plus a few ways to promote your best safety features to current and potential customers.

Automate for the Future, But Keep the Human Touch

Boston Seaport Self Storage is a gleaming glass and steel presence on Boston’s recently revitalized harbor. It not only looks state-of-the art, it is. Renters from anywhere in the world can secure a unit online. They can print their rental agreement from their personal computer or at an onsite kiosk. The facility boasts motion-activated lights, a spacious lobby, flat-screen security monitors, a business center, free Wi-Fi and more.

With all these great technology tools, why does Boston Seaport still have onsite staff? According to Jim Dinardo, owner of J. DiNardo Consulting, which manages the property, there are three reasons:

  • Technology always needs human intervention.
  • You need a person to sell boxes and other packing supplies, which is an income source and customer amenity for almost all storage facilities.
  • You need a human presence to help with rental choices.

Even the flashiest tech-driven facility needs a human touch. Moving into an empty facility can create anxiety for a customer. A friendly, professional manager underscores the security most tenants need and want. You can market your facility and its tech-based sizzle, but you heighten the experience with a personal connection.

Veteran self-storage consultant Jim Chiswell echoes Dinardo’s assertion about human presence. Though the industry now enjoys the convenience of high-tech devices, such as phone apps to open gates and Web-enabled video surveillance, “The best security is a diligent manager,” Chiswell says.

Show a Gleaming Fortress, But Educate Your Customer

Clean, well-lit facility access that opens into a bright lobby dominated by a 40-inch, split-screen monitor can go a long way toward getting a prospect’s name on a rental agreement. Just make sure that in front of that monitor is a polite, knowledgeable, uniformed staff member who can quickly and clearly outline the security and convenience features of your site.

When it comes to educating the customer, don’t let your manager “wing it.” Give him specific talking points, including a brief outline of what sets your facility apart from the competition. For example, he could say, “We provide a secure disk lock [or a deadbolt cylinder lock] with each unit, and provide you with a unique key code for the gate [and/or the building]. You can see our monitor behind me. We have 24-hour, motion-activated digital cameras that transmit to our offices, and motion-activated lights.”

Demonstrate Features, But Never Overpromise

The key to marketing your security features is to show as much as tell. You want to showcase what you have without making any promises or claims. Every storage operator wants to promote his site security, but you never want to suggest protection that’s beyond your control, warns Jeffrey Greenberger, a partner with the law firm Katz, Greenberger & Norton LLP in Cincinnati. Keep your message clear and quantifiable, to staff as well as to tenants.

Your fences, gates, cameras, lights and locks can all be compromised. That said, it may be wise to add a disclaimer to your rental agreement that acknowledges the security features on the site but reminds the renter that it’s ultimately his responsibility to protect and insure his property, Greenberger says. Consult with your local attorney or state self-storage association for the best wording, but make it clear who’s responsible for tenants’ goods.

Stick to the Key Components

These are exciting times for technology of all sorts. The newest technology helps to provide the security and comfort self-storage renters expect, says Jim Del Sordo Jr., co-founder and owner of Goodville, Pa.-based Automated Security Corp. Swipe keys were once the flashiest way for tenants to get through the facility gate. Now there’s an app for smartphones.

Worried about site surveillance? Some facility-management software offers Internet-enabled surveillance apps. And it certainly increases a renter’s sense of security when he sees a 40-inch flat-screen monitor in the facility lobby displaying views from property cameras.

At the very least, protect your facility with disk locks. Offer tenants a lock with more than a cut-rate keyway, which is really just a “round padlock” with a cheap, easy-to-pick keyway and flimsy body. Before you buy an economy disk lock, compare it to a quality one. Your renter can do the same.

If you set the level of security at your facility higher than the rest of your market, you can stay out of the newspapers and blogs. Give away a quality lock, write off its retail cost as a promotion, and give every door the same uniform, secure face. Your facility will look more secure, and it will be more secure. You can tell prospects about your security, but it’s even more impressive to demonstrate it with a hardened keypad, cameras and monitors, and a cylinder lock-and-latch system.

Enjoy the Return on Investment

Monitors, access controls, cameras … Almost all these products are dramatically less expensive than they were a decade ago, and storage renters expect to see these signs of security; but they also want to see a personal touch. “You can’t replace the human mind’s ability to sense danger,” says Norm Kotoch Jr., president of Security Self Storage, a family-owned and -operated business serving Northeast Ohio. It may a cost little more to screen and train your staff to be security-minded, but the return on investment is likely much greater than that of any piece of hardware.

Rich Morahan writes frequently on security and marketing for the self-storage, information destruction and restaurant industries. You can reach him at 617.240.0372, rmwrite@comcast.net, or go to his website, www.rmorahan.com.

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