By Katie Self
Wine sales in the United States have continued to climb over the past two decades, leading some self-storage owners to add wine storage to their business as a niche offering. While this service isn’t ideal for every market, operators have found success by building a dedicated area at an existing facility or adding it during construction of a new property.
Wine-storage rooms require a special touch during development and construction to ensure the contents will be properly preserved. The location of your facility as well as correct design of the storage area is imperative to success. If you’re thinking about adding wine storage, this article will help you determine if your site is right for the service and offer guidance on how to build it.
Wine enthusiasts who amass expensive, rare and vintage wines sometimes look to resources outside their home to ensure proper storage. Restaurateurs and commercial sellers often require additional space for their wines as well. Self-storage operators with the right environment can fill these special storage needs.
However, not all facilities are suitable for wine storage. It takes a specific type of market to be successful, as the common denominator among collectors is high income. “We’ve done wine storage in many markets across the country. The common thread is demand is better in the higher-income demographic areas,” says Bruce Jordan, president of Jordan Architects Inc. in San Clemente, Calif.
The average yearly household income of customers linked to high-end wine storage is $125,000, and the average age for these tenants is 45 years old, according to Tom Maxfield, national operations manager for Move It Self-Storage LLC, which operates 44 facilities in Maine, Tennessee and Texas.
“You need to have a niche market of high income, affluent clientele,” adds Drew Feinberg, director of marketing for STORE Self-Storage & Wine Storage in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Despite the need for wealthy tenants, wine storage is no longer secluded to areas saturated with vineyards, such as Napa Valley, Calif., and has expanded to other parts of the country. “Certainly, there are exceptions in highly dense, urban markets,” Maxfield says. “But generally, wine storage has the most appeal in established, high-end residential areas.”
Throughout urban markets, some self-storage facilities have renovated their property to add this service. A designated area can be repurposed for wine storage, Maxfield says, though he advises caution when converting existing units due to the precise climate-control needs of wine collections. “Essentially, you’re constructing a ‘box within a box’ to fulfill the important temperature and humidity-control components to successful wine storage,” he says.
When it comes to building a wine-storage area, it’s critical to create and maintain the correct temperature and humidity. In general, the proper climate for storing wine is 55 degrees and 60 percent to 70 percent relative humidity. Because even the slightest variation in temperature can reduce the value of a bottle of wine, a properly designed system with consistent moisture and temperature control is vital.
However, there are other construction tricks to help maintain this delicate environment. The wine-storage area should be properly insulated with a well-designed perimeter that prevents air movement and condensation. “Normally, we construct the walls from concrete block and use 12-foot-high ceilings,” Jordan says. “The concrete block works well in that it’s secure and also has a lot of thermal mass, which means the temperature remains stable.”
Wine storage also requires a backup system in case of a power failure. “We have nature-gas backup generators tied into the city gas lines. The walls are double-enveloped, so even if the generators went down, the temperature would stay the same for about a week,” Feinberg says. Temperature and humidity controls should be monitored by facility staff and tied to an alarm system. If levels ever exceed preset limits, the facility manager will be alerted. When the facility is closed, the system can be monitored by an outside service that notifies a designated person or company if there’s an issue.
There are other considerations as well. STORE Self-Storage and Wine Storage uses special flooring as well as 25-watt sensory lights because wine is sensitive to heat and light. “The tile floors are super smooth to minimize vibrations, as wine does not like to be shaken up, especially older vintages,” Feinberg says.
The space designated for wine storage and the size of the lockers are additional construction components to address. “Generally, for every square foot of wine storage, a developer should allow an additional four square feet for aisles, staging and ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act] access,” Maxfield says. For instance, 300 square feet of wine storage should be housed within an approximately 1,200-square-foot blueprint, according to Maxfield.
According to Feinberg, wine-storage lockers can range in size from 2-by-2 feet, which holds 12 to 15 cases, to 8-by-11 feet, which holds up to 400 cases. However, since most customers seek wine storage for case quantities, larger units are most popular, Maxfield adds. “Most developers overestimate demand for small wine lockers and underestimate demand for medium to large wine-storage lockers,” he says. “Within a footprint area of 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, generally, we would design 300 to 360 actual square feet of wine storage.”
Wine lockers can be single-, double- and triple-stacked, or use a simple side-by-side layout. They can be constructed in a range of materials from exotic woods to metal and will vary in cost.
Beyond construction, there are design and security factors to consider. Many facilities offer tasting rooms as part of the customer experience and boast visual aesthetics such as mahogany doorways, vaulted ceilings and chic glassware. Special touches include wine barrels, vineyard murals and decorative furniture.
“Coordinated staging, decorations, art, music, tasting tables and especially lighting are features these customers prefer,” Maxfield says. “Most of the time, the customers aren’t in a hurry when they come to the facility [and] want a long-term experience.”
STORE Self-Storage and Wine Storage has added yet another high-end perk: a sommelier on staff for wine-locker members.
Security is another key factor in developing a quality wine-storage area. A well-designed property will allow access to wine customers only. A simple way to ensure this is to add an electronic keypad at the entrance and assign each customer an individual access code. The wine-storage area should also include video cameras that are integrated with the facility’s security-monitoring system.
“Wine thieves are patient, methodical perpetrators,” Maxfield says. “Not only should the storage operator provide an aesthetically pleasing area, but it must have high-quality mechanical systems and state-of-the-art surveillance systems.”
By building facilities that feature proper climate and humidity control, ease of access, customer perks, and proper security, the wine-storage market will continue to flourish. “Storage operators who provide an attractive, easy-to-use, low-key environment create a high level of trust with these customers,” Maxfield says. “It’s not unusual for a typical wine customer to also have a conventional storage unit in the facility. It pays to take care of these customers, who are normally high-quality individuals.”
Katie Self is studying journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with a focus on print. Look for more of her articles on www.insideselfstorage.com.