The "Right" Shelving Selection for Records Storage

September 1, 1998

5 Min Read
The "Right" Shelving Selection for Records Storage

The "Right" Shelving Selection for Records Storage

By Cary McGovern

Abstract: Selecting the "right" shelving for your storage facility is thesecond most important factor that will effect your storage profitability (the first beingceiling height). In this column we will explore many of the issues that can maximizestorage density and minimize retrieval time. The key is to always balance storage densitywith access costs.

It is safe to say that, with the exception of ceiling height, there is nothing moreimportant to a records-storage facility than the appropriate selection of shelving tosupport the customer types and market mix that you seek and acquire. Shelving selectionhas a great deal to do with your marketing plan--that's right, your marking plan. Theshelving design and selection must optimize the storage of your customers' records.Although there are several design possibilities, the key factor is mixing open-shelffiling with traditional box storage.

Open-Shelf Filing Systems

Most commercial records centers market to the healthcare industry; medical records arethe most voluminous records in this market segment. These include both patient files andX-ray files. Healthcare providers have begun the practice of sending more and more activefiles--which have significant amounts of activity--off site. Access to these files isimproved greatly by filing these records in systems that mirror the hospitals own on-sitefiling systems.

The shelving most typically used for patient files is a unit with seven shelf levels,approximately seven-feet high. X-ray files are much larger and significantly heavier thanpatient records and require strong, heavy-gauge metal shelving. The filing methodtypically used for both patient files and X-rays is the "terminal-digit" method.This reduces the need for file shifting by spreading the growth equally over either 100 or1,000 file groups or terminal digits.

Other market segments may require open-shelf filling for more active-recordsmanagement. Currently, customers are generally sending more and more active files offsite. This trend should be considered good for the industry in that the more you're ableto act as a partner with your customer, the more services you can provide for them. Otherrecords candidates for open-shelf filing systems include insurance claims and mortgageloans.

Box-Storage Filing Systems

The more traditional type of filing in commercial records centers is the storage ofboxes. Although boxes range in size and shape from very small to quite large, the standardin the records-storage industry is the letter/legal-size box. This box is sometimesreferred to as a banker's box. It measures approximately 1.1 cubic feet when empty andexpands to 1.2 cubic feet when jammed full of records. Commercial-records centers designtheir racking to accommodate this typical box size as the standard. Although it is themost predominant, it certainly will not be the only box size that you will end up with inyour facility. Box sizes will range from a shoebox to shipping crates. It is common forcommercial-records centers to charge for odd-sized or non-standard boxes by rounding theactual measured size up to the next highest cubic foot; e.g., a shoebox may only be .3cubic feet in size, but would be charged at the one-cube rate.

The most common shelving that is used for box storage is pallet racking. Pallet racksare composed of two components, uprights and beams. Uprights are the end sections of eachunit that range in height from as short as 8 feet to as tall as 25 feet. The secondcomponent is the beam. Each shelf level requires two beams, one at the front and one atthe back of the unit. Two shelving units require only three uprights and so on down therow, since each upright can attach beams in both directions, right and left.

Optimum filing capacity in pallet rack configurations utilize uprights that measureabout 22 feet tall with nine levels of shelving or 18 beams per unit. Across the fourthand seventh levels, mezzanines or catwalks are usually constructed to allow access to thefirst three shelves from the floor, shelves four through six from the first mezzanine, andseven through nine from the second mezzanine.

It is wise to design the optimum-shelving configuration for your facility before youbuy your first rack. You may want to select a mix of open-shelf to pallet racks based uponyour estimates of the percentage of the business that you intend to market to each type.No matter what you do, you probably will be incorrect in your plan. Best estimates arealways very valuable to help you along in the right direction. The reality of the salesmix is very difficult to project accurately in the beginning.

At a recent Professional Association of Commercial Records Centers (PRISM) conference,I witnessed an innovative concept that mixes both types of shelving within the same floorspace. This design has open-shelf filing at the floor level that runs perpendicular to thepallet racking that was structured directly above the open-shelf racks. The pallet racksbegin at the fourth level. The first three levels of pallet racking were blank, and amezzanine ran overhead above the open-shelf racking. I must admit that this was a creativedesign that optimized the shelving configuration with a mix of box and open-shelf racks.

I recommend that you have a professional shelving expert lay out your warehouse rackdesign onto your existing or proposed floor plan. There are many things to consider,including lighting, water lines, sprinkler systems, access, stairways and many otherimportant factors. You may be able to locate and buy less-expensive racks from localsuppliers, but you may not be able to optimize your storage design unless you have aprofessional that understands the industry design the plan for you.


The basis for profitability in the records-storage business deals with a delicatebalance of density and accessibility. There is no magic formula for this balance, sincebuildings vary greatly in size and shape. However, there are many ways to make the most ofyour floor space. I have been asked many times, "Can I make money with this kind orthat kind of building?" The answer is usually, "Yes," but spaceoptimization is the name of the game. Let a professional help you. You won't regret it.

Regular columnist Cary F. McGovern is a certified records manager and owner of FileManagers Inc., a records-management consulting firm that also provides outsourcingservices, file-room management and litigation support services for the legal industry. Formore information about records management, contact Mr. McGovern at File Managers Inc.,P.O. Box 1178, Abita Springs, LA 70420; phone (504) 871-0092; fax (504) 893-1751; e-mail: [email protected] or Web:


Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter
ISS is the most comprehensive source for self-storage news, feature stories, videos and more.

You May Also Like