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Is Dedicate Gun Storage A Good Fit For Your Facility?

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 own 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 of 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.

“Hunting and fishing is very big in Louisiana,” explains Al Gardes, director of operations for Elmwood. “However, it’s not your average hunter who wants to store their guns, but some may have 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. “We discovered there were gaps in the areas of storage for guns, wine, and safety deposit boxes,” says Gardes.

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.

Gardes claims Elmwood has the only public wine storage facility in New Orleans and spent over $300,000 just on the wine cellar operation. Elmwood spared no expense on the gun storage, which sits inside the same $10,000 bank vault door.

“Our company philosophy is doing top of the line only,” says Gardes. “I found a company that makes mahogany gun cabinets, and they were designed specifically for our facility.” The high-end cabinets cost the company another $10,000 to design and build. “It wasn’t inexpensive, but that is part of the appeal to the eye, we want our customers to feel the security here and get the feeling of high end with the custom wood,” says Gardes. “They spent the money for a certain appeal and felt it was the right way to do it.”

The facility opened with 20 gun cabinets, but half of them were eventually removed to make room for additional wine storage. “We are leased up all of the time,” says Gardes. “If we could put those 10 back in, we would still have them full.”

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. “One of the biggest things the principals wanted was ultra-high security,” explains Gardes. “We probably have more cameras than any storage facility in the United States. You can’t go anywhere on the property except the bathrooms and not be on camera.”

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 passcode restricts where each tenant can go,” says Gardes.

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 and, on the inside, it looks like a bank,” explains Gallagher. Both he and his partner, Frank Robinson, are former bankers. “Banks don’t want you to store guns in your safety deposit boxes; they kind of frown on that,” laughs Gallagher. “We kind of stumbled into adding gun storage because people approached us about it; we’re just meeting customer demand.”

A little over 33 percent of Coloradoans own guns and Gallagher says there is a high percentage of people who consider themselves survivalists and own 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 exactly how many people are storing firearms at the facility if they are not specifically renting a gun storage locker. “We modeled our business after banks in that we don’t monitor what’s in the safety deposit boxes,” says Gallagher. “Our only rules being that it be nothing perishable, illegal, or explosive.”

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. “We’ve consulted with a few self-storage facilities that do it without an attendant, but we find it a security concern,” explains Gallagher.

The facility does open for tenants after hours for a large fee.

Alternative For Gulf Gun Owners

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. “We felt a gun storage room would meet the needs of the community who live along the bayous and waterways,” says Mary Limberg, manager of the 868-space facility in Gulfport, which also has wine and RV storage.

Of those storage spaces, 39 are dedicated to gun storage in a separate vault. The cabinets are mahogany and greater security limits access to the room. “There are several security checkpoints and cameras monitoring the area,” says Limberg. “There is also additional lighting, temperature, and humidity control, which is so important when storing items like guns that are prone to rust.”

Gun Storage Considerations

There currently aren’t very many self-storage facilities that have dedicated gun storage; 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. “It is meant as an adjunct to the overall business, but we wanted to give our customers a one-stop shop for storage,” says Gardes. “We show all of our customers around the entire facility, and many rent all types of storage.”

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 also special legal considerations such as knowing the laws in your state and your local jurisdiction regarding firearm storage, as well as knowing the laws of how to dispose of the firearms should the tenant not pay or abandon their property.

Ballard reminds owners that you will need to obtain the necessary riders to your insurance and there will need to be special addendums to your lease agreements releasing you from liability/responsibility and requiring your tenants to have the proper insurance.

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

All three of these examples report near or 100 percent lease up. The key is knowing your demographics. You must know your market and know how many cabinets you can lease. “You’re not going to need 50 or 100 cabinets; I doubt they would lease up,” says Ballard.

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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