A Unique Specialty Niche

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Dedicated Gun Storage

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

While the national debate over gun laws and safety continues, the fact remains that a large percentage of Americans own guns. Per a study conducted in 2015, nearly one in every three Americans owns at least one firearm.

Many self-storage facilities prohibit firearm storage in their units. However, the national debate over guns may be why it makes sense for some self-storage facilities to offer dedicated gun storage as an ancillary part of their business. A few states, for example, have made it illegal for gun owners to leave their weapons with friends or relatives, even if it is temporary, while they go out of town. This makes storing their guns at dedicated storage facilities an attractive option.

Other states may not have such restrictions but have a large population of gun owners with expensive collections who want to store their firearms securely.

It just depends on where your facility is located and your potential customer base.

Sportsman’s Paradise

Louisiana is known as the “sportsman’s paradise”. Over 44 percent of residents in the state own a firearm, but that isn’t the reason owners of Elmwood Self Storage & Wine Cellar in New Orleans decided to create an upscale gun storage facility as part of their offerings.

Al Gardes, director of operations for Elmwood, notes that hunting and fishing are big in the state, but it’s not your average hunter who wants to store their guns. The typical gun storage tenant has collector guns and pistols they want to keep safe.

Gardes says his company conducted its due diligence on the area before building and opening Elmwood in 2004. The self-storage facility has 215,000 square feet of storage and over 1,500 rentable units. However, the owners wanted the facility to offer additional services that weren’t plentiful in the area.

Located in the Elmwood Industrial Park, which Gardes describes as a “city within a city,” that sees traffic of approximately 35,000 people per day, the company wanted to build a state-of-the-art facility that caters to high-end customers who have pricey gun and wine collections.

Elmwood spared no expense on its gun storage area, which sits inside a $10,000 bank vault door. Mahogany gun cabinets were designed specifically for the facility. The high-end cabinets cost the company another $10,000 to design and build.

The facility opened with 20 gun cabinets, but half of them were eventually removed to make room for additional wine storage.

Each cabinet is designed to accommodate up to 35 guns, including six slots for rifles. Of course, such a facility requires state-of-the-art security with 120 cameras.

The 120 cameras are just the beginning of the extra security. When driving in, cameras snap photos of each license plate. When customers enter their passcode, a camera takes a photo and compares the photo of the person to the tenant. Anne Ballard, president of marketing, training, and development for Universal Storage Group, which manages Elmwood, says the property has key pads and fingerprint biometrics in the vault. The vault is also restricted to tenants only.

The facility is open seven days per week and, for a fee, tenants can gain access to the vault after hours.

A Hybrid Storage Facility  

Stewart Gallagher, co-owner/manager of Colorado Vault & Safe Deposit Box Co. and J.L. Consulting, a company that consults with self-storage facilities on best practices, concedes that Colorado Vault isn’t a traditional self-storage facility, but instead calls it what may be the next generation of the industry, “vaulted storage”.

Colorado Vault & Safe Deposit Box is located inside a retail space in a strip mall. There are no self-storage units. Instead, there is a 300-square foot vault with individual safety deposit boxes and gun storage vaults. On the outside, it looks like a strip mall; on the inside, it looks like a bank. Both he and his partner, Frank Robinson, are former bankers. Gallahger explains that banks don’t want customers to store guns in safety deposit boxes. The partners adding gun storage to meet customer demand.

More than 33 percent of Coloradoans own guns, and Gallagher says there is a high percentage of people who consider themselves survivalists, owning more than one firearm. Mass shootings in recent years, particularly the one in Aurora, spurred Colorado to pass new gun laws, which opened the market for some gun owners to store their firearms in more secure vaults.

Gallagher says gun storage at the facility only accounts for 30 percent of the safety deposit box/vault business, but he admits they do not know how many people are storing firearms at the facility if they are not specifically renting a gun storage locker. They do not monitor what’s in the safety deposit boxes. Nevertheless, they do not permit the storage of perishable, illegal, or explosive items.

The dedicated gun vaults can accommodate 10 and 14 long guns as well as pistols. The facility is monitored with on-site and off-site cameras and, just like a bank, there are two keys for each vault or safety deposit box. An on-site attendant keeps a key and the tenant keeps a key; both must be present to open the box or gun vault.

The facility will open for tenants after hours for a fee.

An Alternative Along The Gulf  

Over 42 percent of Mississippians own guns, and it’s conceivable to believe that many of them live along Mississippi’s Gulf Shore, which is prone to hurricanes. That was the driving reason why John Fayard Self Storage added gun storage when it opened in 2009. Mary Limberg, manager of the 868-space facility in Gulfport, which also has wine and RV storage, says the gun storage was added to meet the needs of the community.  

Of those 868 units, only 39 are dedicated to gun storage. They are located in a separate vault. The cabinets are mahogany and there are additional security checkpoints to access to the room. Limberg mentions that the gun storage area has additional lighting as well as temperature and humidity controls to prevent the guns from rusting.

Gun Storage Considerations
There currently aren’t very many self-storage facilities that have dedicated gun storage, and that may be due to the high cost of additional security compared to the ROI. Gardes says that while his company invested a lot of money in the gun storage cabinets inside the vault, gun storage is a minute portion of the overall business.

If you do decide to add gun storage to your business, Scott Zucker, partner with Weissmann Zucker Euster Morochnick in Atlanta, Ga., says there are special legal considerations. You should know the laws in your state, as well as your local jurisdiction, regarding firearm storage, and know the laws about how to dispose of the firearms should the tenant not pay or abandon their property.

Ballard reminds owners to obtain the necessary riders to your insurance. Moreover, special addendums will need to be made to your lease agreements that release you from liability and responsibility and require your tenants to have proper insurance.

Marketing gun storage seems to be the easiest part of this business. Gardes says the money some people save on their homeowners insurance makes it well worth the cost of leasing the space. Limberg notes the only marketing they’ve done to stay leased is through their social media pages, website, and outside LED signage.

All three of these examples report near or 100 percent occupancy. The key is knowing your demographics. Remember: You must know your market to know how many cabinets you can realistically lease.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a freelance journalist based in the Ozark Mountains. She is a regular contributor to MiniCo’s publications. Her business articles have also appeared in Entrepreneur, Aol.com, MSN.com, and The Kansas City Star.

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