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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lock 'N' Roll!

Greetings! Rebecca here, although I must confess that this particular blog was the inspiration of my business partner, and occasional muse, Brian. So... you're getting a double dose of genius. Or at least, we'd like to think so!

Today's topic: Locks. Seems like a simple enough thing, and something that we don't think about particularly often, but one that's as integral and important to our business as the very things that they keep secure and protected.

Let's go on a quick journey of locks, discussing the cutting of them, the acquisition of them, and tips and tricks for a collection of locks that any auction hunter should have. We're starting to sound like some kind of Discovery Channel documentary, so before this gets any cheesier, we'll move on.

First, the lock cut. 
Lots of people have asked this question to us both personally and professionally, but also a ton on this website and in these forums. We know it's been answered (also in these forums) but we thought it worth repeating, at least briefly. It is NOT fishy if you do not see a lock cut off of the unit at auction. It is NOT peculiar if you see a lock removed from a unit up for auction with a key, or if there is a metal (wire) tag hanging on said unit. It's actually a safety precaution for you, and I'll explain quickly. Let's present a situation where we have a tenant, Joe, a facility manager, Bob, and an auctioneer, Mary. Joe defaults on the unit. Bob knows this, and has made the proper efforts to contact Joe. Bob knows Joe's unit will be going up for auction. Bob makes arrangements with the auctioneer, Mary, for the upcoming auction. Mary (or one of Mary's employees), comes to the facility and cuts off Joe's lock. With Bob, they do a quick inventory (with the eyes, not the hands) of Joe's stuff. They take pictures and sometimes even video of this process. They make a file in the office with all of this information. Bob puts a facility lock on the unit, and Mary puts an auctioneers tag on the unit. She writes the serial number of the auctioneer tag (they each have individual serial numbers and cannot be reused after broken) in the file inside the office. Mary leaves, Bob returns to business as usual.

facility lock.jpg
The red lock in the picture is very similar to what a facility might use to lock out a tenant.

What the auctioneer seal will look like

Now, consider the checks and balances system that the law has put in place to protect EVERYONE! Joe is protected, because not one person, but several people, have been involved in the process to repossess his stuff. This is not often always true in the smaller mom and pop facilities, unfortunately, but 98% of the time, it is. He does not have to worry about paying for his unit before it goes to auction only to have his items pillaged. Bob does not have to worry about Joe showing up, taking his lock off, removing his items, and fleeing without paying the bill. Neither Bob or Mary can go into Joe's unit without the other. Mary does not have a key, and Bob cannot get in without breaking Mary's seal. If that tag has been broken, the serial number will NOT match at auction. It's genius. So, to reiterate, at auction, you should see the auctioneer break off the tag and record the number in the file. You will see the key inserted into the facility lock and it removed neatly. And you will see the doors roll open. Exactly the way it should be, to protect you. And keep in mind, also, that if for some strange twist of fate you win the bid on the unit, peek inside, get into the office and have Joe show up and pay-- he CANNOT accuse you of tampering with his unit, because his unit was photographed before you got to it. It's totally brilliant.

Enough of that. Let's get to the locks, and the tips on the locks:

Bring your own locks to auction - Obviously the facility has locks, but you need to have your own locks as well. Again- BRING YOUR OWN LOCKS TO AUCTION! We cannot stress, enough, how many times we have had some idiot at auction ask for a lock AFTER they purchased a unit. No one wants to lend out a lock. Not only is that one less lock for you, and one less unit you can buy, but you're helping someone who bid against you. Not a fun feeling. Not to mention that by asking someone to lend out a lock, you may be asking someone for a key that could potentially fit a lot of other locks. But we'll get to that later. That's a great deal to ask of someone you just met. It's bad form. Not having a lock is just as bad as not bringing money to auction. Equally as embarrassing. Trust me. You also don't want to have to buy a lock at a facility- they are usually in the $6.99 to $12.99 range. That might be fine for a tenant who only has to buy one or two at that rate, but it's not great for someone who may need upwards of five-ten available locks at all times.

Invest in a variety of locks, all shapes and sizes - We learned this the hard way: Not every storage locker door has the same lock mechanism on it. I can remember sitting in the hallway watching Brian try to rip the rubber insulation off of a lock for 20 minutes because it wouldn't fit through the tiny hole in the door with it on. I remember how frustrating it was. Bring large locks for heavy duty doors, long locks for awkwardly placed doors (corner doors, for example), baby locks for the tiniest of openings in the door. Trust us.

lock sizes.jpg
You never know what type of door you will encounter in a unit.

Keep your keys on your key ring - Sounds like a silly statement, but it's pretty useful. Lots of people tend to keep their keys to the locks somewhere else, and they can easily get lost. Not to mention, you'd be surprised how many times you return to a unit for the 3rd or 4th trip in a day, and exhausted, have forgotten your dig bag. Or perhaps you switch vehicles (going from truck to van because of rain, or to a car with a toll tag, for example)-- it's not safe to keep your lock keys in there, either. You NEVER want to forget the key to a unit, and you should always have those keys with your other keys you need, like your car key and house key. You'd notice if THOSE were missing, right?

If you can, try to get your locks re-keyed or buy a few that use the same key - We definitely advocate different sizes of lock, to be prepared, but the majority of your locks should be keyed with the same key, if possible. This eliminates your need to remember which key goes to which lock for more than 4 or 5 different key/lock combinations, and it also cuts down the number of keys on your keyring (see above). You can also use rings, masking tape, or permanent marker to code each lock/key combination, making it easier for you to remember for the ones that have odd keys out.

color coded keys.jpg
Keep your keys straight.

Don't underestimate the value of a combination lock - There have been VERY few times where we've not been able to clear out a unit in just a couple of trips. Every once in awhile you get that one pesky item (usually a couch or a fridge) that's left in a unit, and occasionally rather than going back to get it you'd rather give it away to a friend, or fellow auction buyer. In this case, it's SO much easier to have that person pick the item up themselves (as long as it's okay with the facility management to have other people on property and as long you double check after the person to make sure they've done what they said they would, less you leave facility management with an unwanted gift). In this case, it's so convenient to give someone a combination, rather than one of your keys, or worse yet, have to drive with them all the way to the facility just to open a lock for them. They can use the combination and take the one item out, bringing your lock back to you at a later point. Occasionally we've also had situations where tenants needed to retrieve personal items FROM the unit (too large and heavy to move, like a 75 pound truck of nothing but photos and yearbooks), and if we trust the facility manager we can just give them the combination provided that they assure us that the tenant will take only that item. They can then re-lock the unit behind them. (Not recommended, but again, it's useful when absolutely necessary). You can also use combinations if multiple people are helping you unload the unit (workers) and you don't entrust your keyring to them. The list of possibilities goes on!

combination lock.jpg
Combination Lock

Most locks come with two or three keys. Use them. - We recommend making a set for you, a set for a spouse or business partner, and a spare set in case of emergency (this you can leave at home, in your truck, etc). One day I was at a funeral 45 minutes away from home and a facility manager called me to ask me for access to a unit we purchased for housekeeping reasons (water leak, perhaps, I don't remember). By odd twist of fate the funeral was in the same city, 2 blocks away, from the storage facility. I could have had Brian drive 45 minutes and back, but I was able to (after the funeral) drive two blocks and let the manager in, because I had a spare key to that lock and because I had it with me on my keyring. 

Lockout Hasps are great way to double protect your goods or to go in half with another bidder If you don't know what a hasp is, the picture says it all, but it's a super cheap and easy way to ensure security on a unit if you want to use more than one lock. It's also a creative way to split a unit with another buyer-- just like the auctioneer/facility checks and balances system of repossessing a unit, the other buyer cannot get into that unit without you and vice versa. Also, if you goof up and bring a lock that doesn't fit the lock hole for whatever reason, an asp will remedy the situation. 

lockout hasp.jpg
Lockout Hasp

Do not underestimate the value of a free lock We find locks in storage units all the time. Most are cut, but every once in awhile there's the career tenant who has moved from facility to facility and has hoarded locks on the off chance their lock will be cut another 3, 4, 8 times. There's usually a stock pile near the door, on the ground, so be sure to look there. Additionally, lots of people keep locks around their home, garage, shed- so when they pack those places, they pack the locks as well. If you find a lock without a key or a key without a lock in a unit, hold onto it until you process the whole unit. We make a shoebox full of them, and then when the dig is over, compare keys to locks and throw away the non-matches. Make SURE to throw away the non-matches, promptly, or you'll accumulate hundreds of keys and drive yourself crazy in weeks to come with "does THIS one have a match? I'm not sure!" Trust us again. Just like other supplies found in storage units (cleaning, office, etc) - you can save hundreds of dollars in locks by finding them in storage units and taking advantage of that. And you can never have too many locks!

locks and keys.jpg

That's it for now! Hope you enjoyed this lock, stock, and barrel. We're so cheesy!
If you enjoyed this or have any questions, please drop a comment below. And feel free to friend us at There are fun stories there, pictures, items for sale, and videos.  We try to be as entertaining as possible.

Until next time,

Storage Heroes

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