Successfully exploit wine storage as part of your self-storage
A well-designed and marketed wine cellar can be a great addition to your self-storage business. In fact, in the cheap, the yield per square foot can be 20 times that of a traditional air-conditioned space. For many operators, it’s a complementary profit center that increases brand awareness and creates great cross-promotion opportunities.
Let’s explore some of the important aspects of adding wine storage to your service offerings and how to successfully operate this part of your business.
Can it work in your market?
If you want to give wine storage a boost, you must first determine if it will be suitable for your market. Start by talking to wine merchants in your area and asking if they have customers who have asked about wine storage. See if they are willing to offer discounts or delivery services to storage customers who buy in bulk. Building relationships with these specialty retailers can be extremely valuable in developing this niche service.One of Elmwood’s wine racks
Next, talk to restaurateurs and ask them if wine storage is a service they need. Some may not have the proper room or environment to properly store their inventory.
If this preliminary assessment is favorable, your next step is to engage a consultant to conduct a proper feasibility study and impartially assess the viability of the project.
Logistics you need to know
For wine storage, design is key. It will make or break your operation, so don’t cut corners on the build. Good construction will maintain good cellar conditions to protect and preserve the quality of the wine.
First and foremost, incorporate a dual air conditioning system to reduce wear and tear on equipment that maintains temperature and humidity. This also provides a backup in case a system crashes. A generator is also essential. In fact, your HVAC and generator systems should be equipped with an alarm that will alert you in the event of a fault. Make sure multiple people receive this alert, such as your facility manager and assistant manager, as well as multiple representatives from your HVAC company.
Along the same lines, install temperature and humidity sensors with a separate tracking system to provide customers with a history of conditions in the wine storage area. Renters will use this information to reassure potential buyers when they go to sell expensive bottles of wine.
Inside the wine storage area at Elmwood Self-Storage and Wine Cellar
in Harahan, Louisiana
Lighting can also affect wine storage. LED options do not produce as much heat as standard lamps and are the best choice for illuminating your wine storage area.
Also, be aware of the floor. Bare concrete can trap moisture and add moisture to the space. Paint floors and walls to help seal the envelope and add ambiance. We have a hand painted mural outside the winery entrance and painted grapes on the floor.
Finally, consider building lockers. Units can be wood or metal, depending on the desired look, but build them from different sizes. We use 2 by 2, 2 by 4 and 4 by 4, which can accommodate from 16 to 64 boxes, depending on the shelving system chosen by the customer. Our units do not include the racks, but we provide resources to order them.
Once your wine storage is complete, a lot goes into proper service management. Among the biggest considerations is promotion. Not everyone collects wine or needs to store bottles outside of their home, so marketing can be a bit tricky. Joining local wine groups in your community is a great place to start and a great way to meet enthusiasts and potential customers.
Do you remember those wine merchants you talked to when you first assessed the market? Maintain those relationships by offering a referral commission for every new customer they refer to you and rent a wine storage unit. Talk to retailers about offering their customers a discount for bulk orders and having those orders delivered directly to their space.
The hand painted mural outside the entrance to Elmwood Wine Cellar
Hosting wine tastings at your establishment or even at local wine shops is another great way to increase awareness. We partner with a local wine store each year to host a “Wine Around the World” event that benefits our local children’s hospital. Attendees navigate our air-conditioned facility using a map, which leads them to vacant units decorated to represent different countries. They can taste each other’s wines and foods. We even dress up and offer a cruise for two!
Wine storage is a specialized service, so team training is important. You don’t need one staff sommelier, but potential customers will want to know that the employees are generally knowledgeable about wine and really know how to take care of it. They’ll expect your team to know that the temperature in the cellar is around 55 degrees, with the humidity maintained at 70%, and that keeping the corks moist prevents oxidation. You can find a lot of wine information online.
Many of your winery customers will be true aficionados, so they’ll enjoy having conversations with team members who share their passion. Sending employees to wine tastings or classes is a fun way to approach teamwork while providing knowledge and experience they can use when engaging potential tenants.
When it comes to storing wine, there is not too much security. Cameras positioned inside the cellar and at each entrance are important, especially if you allow deliveries directly to the units.
We use a biometric scanner on the cellar door. Customers access the space through a private entrance using an entry code and then their fingerprint to access the cellar. Each individual mahogany unit then has a key. You can choose not to install biometrics, but maintaining access control, with the ability to pull access and signature logs from delivery drivers for customers, is an absolute must.
Even with a backup system in place, it’s important to understand the types of emergencies that may occur in your area and develop contingency plans to keep your wine cellar operational. Hurricane Ida knocked out our electricity for two weeks. When our regular fuel supplier was unable to deliver, our team and the HVAC company we contracted with stepped in to keep us going. When hiring service contractors, ask about their emergency procedures.
Maintaining communication with customers was vital. Our tenants appreciated receiving email updates from one of our team members as well as being able to speak to the staff about the status of their wine. We have also provided a graph displaying the temperature and humidity of the cellar over the time our generator has been in use.
As you can see, storing wine takes a lot of planning and requires a significant investment, but it can be a lucrative and rewarding addition to your traditional self-storage business.
Lenorah Durel is the Director of Operations at Elmwood Self-Storage and Wine Cellar, Elmwood Records Center and Elmwood Valet Storage in Harahan, Louisiana. She has over 15 years of industry experience and holds certifications in self-storage management as well as records and information management. She is a board member of the Louisiana Self Storage Association and the Association of Records Managers and Administrators. To reach her, send an email [email protected].