Choosing The Right Locks For Your Storage Business
Who sets the
security level for your self-storage facility: you or your customers? Your
first response is probably, “I do, of course.” You’ve invested in sturdy fences
and gates to discourage prowlers, lights and cameras to repel thieves, and
maybe even electronic entrance locks to ensure only your customers come in and
But if you
let customers secure their units with a cheap padlock that can easily be cut
open or picked, you’re giving them control over their last line of defense
against burglars and risking the
reputation of your business. A thief who rents your least expensive unit in
order to wander around your property in the dead of night can easily snip the
U-shaped shackle on an everyday padlock with a pair of bolt cutters. Even an
honest customer using a commonly-sold lock with a limited number of key
combinations might accidentally open a neighbor’s unit with their key, sparking
safety concerns among renters at your facility.
are no fun to deal with,” says Martin Lorch, CEO and president of BPI Capital
Management, a management group based in Phoenix, Ariz. “Your reputation goes
down, regardless of what happened,” or who was truly at fault. Operators at top
self-storage facilities strongly encourage customers to choose highly secure
locks for their units.
locks cost more, but the added protection is worth the price. “Quality security
can often justify the premium price and attract a better level of customer,”
says Rich Morahan, marketing consultant for Lock America in Corona, Calif.
Morahan writes about and makes presentations on security for the self-storage,
information management, propane, and petroleum industries. He suggests
conducting a market survey of other nearby competitors to help you determine
the level of security to offer. “You want to exceed the level of service of
your competitors to justify your premium price. You want the criminals to go
down the street to that poorly secured facility rather than try to break into
The truth is: Locks that anybody can buy in a hardware store or neighborhood
superstore offer limited defense against criminals. Chain locks, combination
locks, and keyed padlocks with a sliding and pivoting shackle are easy to cut.
While manufacturers may claim that a given lock has thousands of potential key
cut combinations, they may only truly make a few hundred variations in order to
save money. That makes it easier for crooks to pick the lock and increases the
odds that one renter’s key might open his neighbor’s lock. The keyways of less
expensive locks are easier to pick or simply snap open with a metal tool.
an executive with U.S. Storage Centers in Irvine, Calif., says his company has
concluded that cylinder lock latches are the most secure. The firm always uses
cylinder locks when building a new facility. Cylinder locks are constructed
with a round piece of metal that slides into a hole in the unit door. The bolt
prevents the hasp from sliding back and forth until it is unlocked and removed.
“There is no shackle to cut, no exposed handle on the top, so no one can come
in with bolt cutters and get through the lock to gain entrance to someone
else’s unit,” Brady says. The company requires tenants to use cylinder locks at
those facilities, and it sells the locks on site. “In our mind, ideally, that’s
that BPI Capital also has facilities that use the more secure cylinder locks.
“People don’t know how to get into them; they can’t drill them or use bolt
cutters,” he says. Cylinder locks are not readily available to the general
public, so operators generally sell them to customers or include the lock cost
as part of an administrative fee. However, the customer has the only key. So if
a renter abandons their unit, the company has to drill through the lock to
regain access. “We’ve drilled enough of them to know how to do it without
damaging the hasp or the door,” says Lorch, adding that not all locksmiths can
do so successfully.
For facilities with doors that are not designed for cylinder locks, the best
option is disc locks—preferably those with a dimple-key lock. Disc locks are
round with a smaller shackle that slides around the hasp as it locks. These
locks provide the least amount of room for a criminal to access the shackle and
cut it. Most storage unit break-ins occur when crooks cut the shackle or drill
the lock. However, a lock using a dimple key provides added protection against
burglars who can compromise a typical padlock. Standard padlocks have tumblers
in the keyway and grooves on the key that open the lock. Dimple key locks do
not have tumblers, therefore their keyways are constructed differently. The
dimple key is a flat piece of metal with indentations, or dimples, on the side,
so these locks are not easy to pick.
serious about the best locks for your self-storage business,” Morahan says,
“forget about padlocks and start at the bottom baseline for security: the disc
lock and dimple key.” A standard key can break or bend, he adds, so operators
should compare different brands and select one with a heavy-duty dimple key.
Storage locations without cylinder locks, tenants can use whatever lock they want.
“However, our recommendation is the disc lock, and we only sell disc locks,”
says Brady. Although the company does not require disc locks, they encourage
that option because the disc lock offers the most security. “We won’t lose a
customer because they refuse to pay for one at our facility,” he adds.
BPI Capital facilities do not require disc padlocks, but, according to Lorch,
managers “strongly urge customers to use them.” The company typically offers
two options: a higher quality lock it sells for $14 to $15 and another for
about $12. Sometimes they offer a half-price promotion on the less expensive
lock, which covers the cost of that device, to encourage a customer to use the
disc lock. Facility managers periodically tour their units to check the locks
that customers are currently using. If the locks seem insufficient, they talk
to renters about upgrading.
BPI encourages the use of disc locks is through its insurance program. All
renters are required to have coverage on their stored property. If they are not
covered through their existing homeowners, renters, or business policies, they
can buy insurance over the counter at a BPI facility. Customers who buy
facility-provided insurance and use a disc-type lock will have their deductible
waived if a claim is filed.
Once you settle on the type of lock that best fits your facility and your
market, you need to shop around. All locks may look the same on the outside,
but not all are built with the same high grades of metal. Morahan suggests
examining several brands before choosing a lock, as the quality of workmanship,
number of key codes, and keyway construction vary. “Look at the weld, look at
the steel, test the mechanism with the key,” he adds.
BPI purchases locks from reputable vendors as well as buying directly from
high-quality manufacturers in China. “We periodically rotate among different
vendors to give us a little variety,” he explains. “There are only so many key
combinations, so it is possible to find duplicate keys out there.”
years, the industry has been continually working to develop a practical system
of electronic door locks. Some of these are linked with the access management
software that control gates. While these systems do provide a high level of
security, Morahan still sees the need to “stop the criminal at the door with a
piece of secure hardware such as a quality lock.”
burglars out of your self-storage operation “is even more important for your
business than it is for your customers,” Morahan says. When a self-storage
facility is robbed, renters typically recoup their losses from their insurance.
However, “There is no payoff for the operator whose reputation and market
credibility are degraded,” he adds. “Cheap security is no security at all.”
Bobby L. Hickman is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Georgia.