We are all asking ourselves what we can do in 2009 to maintain or increase revenue. One area in which many self-storage owners are focusing is security. In a weakened economy, property crime and theft tend to increase. One of the best ways to maintain or improve your occupancy during these times is to assure your tenants their belongings will be safer at your facility than the one down the street.
Find a security vendor that can provide you with a complete solution. This is more important than ever because the latest technology in security systems is so advanced that you need to ensure you have total compatibility. Next, provide a self-assessment of the security existing at your facility. An old black-and-white camera connected to a time-lapse VCR is like a black-and-white TV with rabbit ears and no remote control. It works, but you can do so much better.
You can always cut rates and give “free rent,” but that doesn’t help your bottom line. Better security leads to bigger occupancy and more revenue.
Is your security prominently displayed? Do your prospects see cutting-edge, access-control keypads and an array of sophisticated cameras around the facility? What about door alarms on each unit? Does the inside of the office show managers and tenants a snapshot of the facility via video monitors and a digital representation of your site layout? Have you added intercoms or music throughout the facility so tenants can reach a manager instantly, listen to the latest specials, or just feel more comfortable at your property?
It’s true that better security can change the entire demeanor and atmosphere at a site. Let’s take a look at the latest security innovations and what you can do to get your facility modernized with the lowest expense and highest return.
Now is the time to invest in individual door alarms. Market conditions and the increased need for security make this the perfect time to upgrade your facility. There are two types to consider when selecting a door alarm system: wired or wireless.
Years ago, wired alarms were the standard as wireless technology was being perfected; however, the roles have reversed. Not only has wireless equipment dropped significantly in price, especially compared to the ever-climbing copper and labor prices associated with wired systems, but the technology is as close to bulletproof as you can get.
Regardless of which system you choose, be mindful of the overall cost. For wireless, you must consider the cost of the unit sensor, any necessary repeaters to get the signal back to the office, and the office receiver. Wireless units also work off batteries, so be sure to ask your security company how long the batteries last, how long it guarantees them, and how much replacements cost.
For a wired system, there is the cost of the door contact, wiring from each unit to a multiplexer, the multiplexer and the office receiver. With wired, the biggest cost of the system is the labor required to run the wiring to each unit. In addition, you’ll need to allocate additional funds for conduit. Weigh the pros and cons of each system carefully before making your decision.
Access controls have come a long way since the days when a green light admitted tenants and a red light locked them out. Access control at your facility is not only your first line of defense against unauthorized people, it also helps with rent collection. Tenants can’t get in if they’re behind on payment.
Though most owners first think of a gate and keypad, there are other points throughout a facility that can be used to restrict access. For example, if you have a multi-story facility, consider adding keypads in the elevator cars. The keypad ensures the elevator only stops on the tenant’s floor. This helps keep tenants contained to the areas for which they have access and assists you in tracking their movement if an event does occur.
The same goes for access doors. If you have several buildings with interior hallways, consider adding keypads to control access to those buildings. Most access-control systems will allow you to set zones so tenants can only access specific keypads. By simply adding a few strategic access-control points throughout your facility, you can better control tenant access, which could reduce break-ins and other crime.
The more sophisticated systems today have LCD screens to provide feedback to the tenant if he tries to use the incorrect keypad. For example, it might say, “Mr. Jones, you do not have access rights to this location.” Or if payment is due, “Your rent of $75 is past due. Please see the manager.” If a tenant is current, it can remind him when his next payment is due.
There are several innovations in the access-control market, ranging from improved functionality to modern styling. All the features you have come to expect from a high-end access-control system are still there, such as card readers (with payment-at-the-keypad options), pinhole cameras, proximity control and intercoms.
In addition, there are wireless keypads at an affordable price to reduce trenching and conduit costs to the office, and the ability for the keypad to store all of the information so it will have offline functionality and improved lightning protection.
Also, look for modernized keypad housings. You can now find strong polycarbonate housings that are impervious to rust and salt and are non-conductive to reduce lightning damage while still providing a solid vandal- and weather-resistant solution.
Last, but perhaps most important, check with your security company about what kind of warranty it provides. What does it include and for how long? There are many access-control companies, but not all are designed specifically for the self-storage market. For example, does the security software interface with your management software so status changes such as automatic lockouts, move-ins, move-outs, etc., are properly logged without the need for double entry?
Digital Video Surveillance
Digital video is a must at any facility. If you’re still using time-lapse VCRs or black-and-white fuzzy cameras, do yourself a favor and see how much better things can be. Not only is the quality of new digital systems superior to the older ones, but they add several features you will soon realize you can’t live without, for example, remote connectivity to your site from anywhere in the world. Simply enter a username and password on a website and you can view live video, review recorded video or even save events to your local hard drive or CD/DVD burner.
Digital video recorders (DVRs) allow you to easily and quickly search for events by time, camera, date or even detected motion. When you’ve found what you’re looking for, pop in a CD or DVD and record it. Now you can give a copy to a tenant, police or insurance company while keeping the original event recorded on the DVR hard drive. Some digital systems even allow you to trigger sirens or strobe lights when motion is detected on a given camera or during a certain time. This is a great way to add supplemental security for little expense.
After addressing the above main security systems at your site, consider adding in an intercom or music system. These are inexpensive tools that provide value to any facility. Intercoms strategically placed around the facility provide tenants with instant access to your manager when they have questions or concerns.
A music system creates a calming or upbeat ambience for tenants while they are at their units. Create a CD that offers specials on your inventory or truck rentals. Add a microphone to your music system to implement facility-wide or zoned paging.
After the Install
Set up, configuration and training on your newly purchased security equipment are just as important as the equipment itself. Ask your supplier how it handles these items. Does it remotely assist you with setup or provide you with real-time webinars? Does it conduct onsite training at the completion of the installation or a combination of these methods?
Unfortunately, it is all too common to have a system installed by a local company that does not understand the idiosyncrasies of the self-storage industry, so be sure the security vendor you choose does.
In addition to increasing the security at your facility, be sure to take a hard look at your management software. Does it allow you to remotely access your facility, which can reduce commuting time or lower staff requirements? Does it enable tenants to pay their bills online or view transaction history?
A security company that offers software, access control, digital video surveillance and door alarms can provide you with a seamless system that allows you to observe all movement and access at your facility. Strong integration is more important now than ever, letting you know all your systems are compatible and working toward the same goals: secure your facility, protect your tenants and increase revenue.
Paul Brandenburg, commercial sales manager for QuikStor Security and Software, has more than nine years of self-storage experience, including seven years working for QuikStor. The Van Nuys, Calif.-based company is a supplier of management software, access control and digital video products. For more information, call 800.321.1987, ext. 207; e-mail [email protected].