Specialty Storage: 20 Products To Meet Your Customers’ Needs

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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 interstate.

Usually 15 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.

Enclosed RV storage in Birmingham, Ala. 

Enclosed 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.

  1. Indoor RV, 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 environment.
  1. 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.

  1. 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 optimum.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Businesses 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.

  1. 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 various liabilities.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 markets.
  1. 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 HIPPA certified.
  1. 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 consumers.

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.

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