Specialty Storage: 20 Products To Meet Your Customers’ Needs
How very interesting our industry has become. Gone are the days of drive-up only storage developments as we say hello to a multitude of specialty storage products and types. Even amenities have gone upscale as we see an ever-changing landscape of services and products offered to customers that provide solutions to their plethora of storage needs and various uses.
Let’s make a list and then digest what
we know about each one and its success or acceptance and use.
Wine – Wine storage has been around for a while now and brings a premium price per square foot. Controlling the space’s humidity and temperature are key to its success. A constant 55 degrees and 70 percent humidity are required. Redundant HVAC systems are required to ensure maintenance of these conditions as is a backup generator of either diesel or natural gas. Testing these generators is typically done weekly; software is used to monitor the temperature and humidity so that customers are guaranteed not to lose their valuable collection because of fluctuating conditions. Having witnessed several iterations of wine storage, it is best to use upscale materials and entry doors, biometric keypads and/or proximity cards or fobs to maintain security and acknowledge approved entry into the cellar or storage area. It is successful in areas where cellars or basements can’t be built such as New Orleans, Palm Beach, or any coastal area and in major urban areas where only multifamily or high-rise living is the norm. Shown here are photos of Elmwood Self Storage & Wine Cellar in New Orleans. Materials used are mahogany doors, custom tiles, murals, and a custom entry door with both digital and biometric keypads. Sizes range from 2-by-2 to 8-by-4 and all are approximately seven foot tall.
Also shown is the cellar at Store Self Storage & Wine Storage in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. This location has two large cellars, a wine tasting room that can host 20 or more guests, and a sommelier on staff.
Art – Art storage requires a special touch to say the least. At RoboVault in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., one area of the facility is dedicated to art storage and handled by a separate company headed by Susan McGregor. Bellissima handles a variety of services for storing, packing, and also provides exhibition services for its clients. Local museums and collectors in south Florida utilize Bellissima for installations and storage as well as exhibitions throughout the year. Susan McGregor, CEO of Bellissima Luxury and Fine Art, is seen in the company’s vault in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo credit: JOE CAVARETTA / Sun Sentinel)
Robotic Automobile – RoboVault is the only one of its kind, housing both self-storage and automobile storage in its upper floors. It also features a wine vault as well as the Art Vault mentioned above. A crane system takes the automobiles from the loading bay up to their holding spaces. Customers retrieve their cars by entering a code and fingerprint on the system panels. The building is Category 5 hurricane rated and has seven loading bays of which the first two are dedicated to vehicle storage. A local service provider attends to the owners’ needs for servicing and maintaining the cars so that owners know their vehicles are ready to go anytime. The facility is located next to the Ft. Lauderdale airport and close to downtown just off U.S. 1.
Robotic Self-Storage Units – Also at RoboVault are the self-storage robotic units that utilize the same crane system and the other loading bays. The customer has no hallways, no carts, and pulls into the climate-controlled loading bay to load directly into their unit, which are sized from 5-by-5 up to 10-by-20. Once loaded, the crane takes the unit upstairs to be stored. To retrieve their unit, as with the automobiles, they enter their code and fingerprint on the mission panel. Storage prices are comparable to other local climate-controlled facilities, yet these units provide a virtually dust free, climate-controlled space in a hurricane resistant environment with less stress loading and unloading. Each customer is given the loading bay to organize and be comfortable out of the elements while organizing their unit. The facility has many local businesses storing inventory and/or records close by and above sea level.
Safe Deposit Box Vaults – This
author works with two facilities that have safe deposit box vaults; both are
mentioned here previously: Elmwood Self Storage & Wine Cellar and
RoboVault. Both have bank vault type doors and biometric access keypads. These
stores have a multitude of sizes, from the more standard bank size to the
larger boxes that might contain media storage along with the usual valuables
such as documents or jewelry. It is important to note that both at one time
rented these boxes as Swiss Type, unnamed, or blind rentals without identification
requirements. However, both facilities have ended that practice as it is not a
practical method for managing payments as customers moved in this way provide
no means of contacting them for payments or notices of any kind. Each provides
privacy systems for its clients and has multiple controls and log ins with
records of access. These units do not rent up as quickly as wine or storage
units and require various marketing methods to fill up.
Gun Cabinets – The aforementioned Elmwood Self Storage also features mahogany gun cabinets within the safe deposit vault. These are the only one of this type known and are seen in the vault photo above on the left. Each will hold several rifles in the top section and hand guns in the bottom. As with wine storage, safe deposit boxes, or any specialty class of storage, specific leases and terms are required to maintain control and administer sound management practices. And, like the safe deposit boxes, gun cabinets will sell at a much slower rate than more typical storage products. Also similar to those products, renters tend to remain long term as a benefit to the operation.
Enclosed RV/Boat – These are
unique and much in demand in markets with high concentrations of affluent
customers owning RVs and motorhomes, some of which are quite valuable. We have
developed several sites where these were limited in number and captured a very
high rental rate with little turnover and a waiting list. When no one else in
the marketplace offers this storage type it is a unique product and garners
renters from a much wider area than typical storage units. This is true of almost
all specialty type storage; we find customers will travel a much farther
distance for a specialty product. One owner in Arizona told me he pulls from a
200-mile radius for his large RV storage facility, which is located just off an
feet wide by 50 or 60 feet deep, we have included lights and power in the
rental rate. Oversized roll-up doors with remote controls are included and a
special deposit is usually taken for these controls. Doors are 10-foot wide by
12-foot high and are motorized. There is an abundance of these types in the West,
especially in Arizona, California, Texas, and Nevada. These properties usually
also offer extra services such as dump stations, RV wash bays, power taps,
concierge services, and dual height keypads. As most subdivisions in affluent
areas will not allow RVs or motorhomes to be parked within the subdivision,
this makes storage almost a requirement for these owners. Wide driveways are a
must to make leasing and use of the units easy to use and maintain.
RV storage in Birmingham, Ala.
RV Storage at Storage Works in Vancouver, Wash., as shown on their website.
Shed RV – This is a covered but not enclosed
space typically with roof and side walls but an open face, sometimes fenced for
each unit. These are very common in resort and most metropolitan markets and
garner a bit lower rate than the fully enclosed but higher than covered only. Shown
below are shed RV/boat units at StorageMax in Jackson, Miss. These are also
found with gravel but, as this photo shows, a paved floor is more desirable.
Covered RV – The first iteration of vehicle storage to bring higher rental rates over open parking spaces. As with enclosed or shed parking, these spaces bring a long-term customer from a farther radius than self-storage units. Canopied with lights and power taps, inside an access control system or gated access with cameras and adequate property lighting; wide driveways and additional services are common. One could calculate the rate for these as double that of open parking and for enclosed double the rate again. Shown below is a typical covered parking building from Baja Construction.
Boat, Automobile – Large buildings repurposed for indoor parking
and self-storage conversions are popular across the country. Some of these
offer valet parking to maximize the space and reduce customer stress. These
properties will be fully lighted, have access control systems for controlled
entry, and lots of cameras for surveillance. Customers will pay a premium for
these spaces that keep their vehicle out of the elements and in a controlled
Contractor Bays with power and lights – These are
becoming more popular and are typically 20-by-30 with oversized roll-up doors
and a three-foot walk-in door with some of them having the ability to drive
through and exit on the other side or, as in the photo below at Storage Worx in
Ontario, open onto the climate-control hallway. Used by contractors, landscape
companies, and others wanting to pull their vehicles in at night and recharge
their tools. The new units shown below have a taller building height to
accommodate the oversized 10-by-10 doors.
This building shows contractor units with oversized doors.
Drive-Through Buildings – Whether a
part of the conversion process of former big box spaces or in a purpose built
location, a drive-thru works well to provide customers something unique for
loading and unloading indoors. This can be particularly important in areas of
extreme weather conditions such as heat and humidity in the south or snow and
extreme cold up north. These areas can also be multifunction and serve as an
event space when used for on-site parties or events. Store Self Storage in Palm
Beach Gardens hosts the city’s Green Market every Sunday from spring to fall; last
year they had over 9,000 visitors just for this event. Drive-throughs should be
wide enough to allow for simultaneous loading and through traffic; 40 feet is
Man Caves – Large RV-sized spaces with a bathroom
and “hangout” area. Just Google “self-storage man caves” to
see the wide variety that exists. There is a lot of mixed emotion surrounding
these units within the self-storage industry. Zoning issues, plumbing,
lighting, bathrooms, and other amenities are common in these, and most
operators don’t really want to deal with the host of issues arising from this
use. There is even a facility in Tennessee called ManCave Storage. Working out
these details and having special rental agreements and qualifications for
renters are paramount to operating this special product type. Bands also would
use these to practice in, which may or may not be something you are willing to
support. Given the extensive fit out that some have achieved in these units,
one thing is for sure: They won’t be moving out any time soon.
Incubator Offices – Small
spaces for running a business combined with common or shared business services
such as a conference room, break room with kitchen equipment, network
printers/scanners, and package delivery programs are common. Spaces will range
from an 8-by-10 up to a 12-by-20 and utilize a commercial lease as opposed to a
self-storage lease. Rentals may be month to month or annual leases. Zoning
varies around the country for this use. Some spaces also come with a storage
unit attached and can be rented together or each rented separately.
just starting out or even downsizing and utilizing self-storage for warehouse
or showroom space do very well in these spaces as they provide more flexibility
than traditional office rental. Trades people, manufacturer’s reps, district
sales, and many other groups find this to be a winning alternative to working
from home or having to rent traditional office space. We find that making sure
each space has a window or glass sidelight improves the overall feel; these are
typically located within a hallway with a separate entry and keypad.
Studios – These have been featured in recent
news stories, especially in urban markets, and can be a part of an overall
multilevel development, often a conversion of a large building into self-storage.
These would be larger spaces where artists, sign companies, specialty textiles,
or other creative uses would be needed. Providing power, some common area
services like restrooms and business center, make this an attractive
alternative to showroom space. Again, zoning will dictate whether this use will
be permitted. Rental agreements will be specialized for this use as well since
it is not just storage but an active work site. Insurance requirements will
also be unique to this use and would be necessary to protect owners from
Manufacturing Bays – These
arecommon in Florida as self-storage
properties renting larger spaces up to 1,000 square feet and allowing
individual signage on each unit with the customer’s business name on it.
Manufacturing and other repair and production work is found in these bays.
Insurance and special lease provisions are key to this type. Most storage
operations do not allow any work to be performed with a storage space, nor any
habitable occupancy, so having the right documents and insurance is key.
Valet Services or Storage – At a
recent SSA meeting, one speaker noted that the jury is still out on these
providers as many have popped up in recent years. Valet services offer pickup
and delivery of various personal items; some require use of their bins or
containers, others will take anything from bicycles to boots and charge a fee
for each service plus the base storage fee. While this may be a much-needed
service in large urban markets, it is not likely to impact the average storage
user who wants access anytime and controls their own handling of goods. These
companies will be taking care, custody, and control of these items which is
contrary to the very premise of self-storage where there is no care, custody,
or control. Will consumers support these entities and produce big payoffs for
the venture capitalists investing in valet services? Only time will tell, but
several self-storage operators around the country are working to find ways to
have some version of this service added to their existing offerings. Clutter,
Red Bin, MakeSpace, and StorageBlueNow are all active within the New York metro,
and the list is growing. The product seems a perfect fit there where there are
fewer car owners compared to the overall population or as seen in most suburban
Records Storage – Records
storage, or records management as it is known, requires dedicated spaces,
racks, barcoding equipment, software, and scanners with vehicles to transport
and deliver or pick up files or boxes to clients upon demand. Since the average
length of stay per box is approximately 16 years and customers have to pay each
time they retrieve or pull a file, this can be very lucrative. However, the
sales cycle is very long and manpower is required above and beyond that of an
average self-storage facility. If there is space that will not be absorbed by
self-storage and manpower is available, this can be a great fit for the
operation. Learning the particular ins and outs of records management is a must
for anyone getting into this business. Many facilities offer record storage light,
meaning the business puts the boxes into a storage unit without barcoding or
inventories being made such that maintaining the inventory of what is stored is
left up to the business to achieve. For full-service records management, each
box can be inventoried if the client wishes and individual files or documents
can be retrieved or scanned for clients upon demand. There is a schedule of
fees for each and every service, and companies are usually billed monthly for
their storage and any services. To handle medical records one would need to be
Mobile Storage or Portable On Demand – POD storage has
been around for a while and is particularly useful after disasters or other
situations requiring everything to be stored temporarily. Most likely you have
seen the commercials offering to deliver a box to you where you fill it up and
it can either remain on your property or be stored in a warehouse and, for some
companies, shipped across the country or to your new address when you are
ready. Although this is a successful business, it has not had a meaningful
impact on self-storage. It is believed that these are two separate customer
groups and categories. Often self-storage operators will offer a mobile storage
option in addition to their self-storage business. There are many types of
containers, transport vehicles, and sizes available, so research is needed to
determine if there is a perfect fit for your business.
Lockers – These are usually half the height of a
regular storage unit and stacked two high with a small unit size like 3-by-3,
4-by-5, or even 5-by-5. These units do very well in college towns where there
are lots of students with just a few valuables to store. Urban markets can also
support this product type, but many self-storage operators may not have demand
for this size or type. We have seen the average size storage unit growing in
recent years for our portfolio, so making sure there is demand for these prior
to including them in your unit mix will be important. Make sure they are easy
to access without the need for portable stairs or other devices since we see
units requiring stairs or without elevators get little attention or desire from
Whatever product type or specialty
product you are considering, ample research is needed to determine its viability
at your location. The Internet is a wonderful tool for looking around the
country to find the many ways these products are offered. Talking with
operators and visiting their operations may also save you from making an
expensive mistake or give you a million-dollar idea for your next project.