Americans savor wine. Lots of it. Americans now make up the world’s largest wine-drinking market, consuming 13 percent of globally produced wine and racking up more than $34 billion in wine sales in 2012.
Along with this insatiable thirst for vino also comes a growing demand for wine storage, which may be why more self-storage facilities have added climate-controlled wine cellars to their otherwise traditional storage properties.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a trend that’s swept the industry as a whole, but I have seen self-storage owners in certain parts of the country really get on board with it over the past few years,” said Marc Goodin, a self-storage expert and consultant who owns two facilities in Connecticut and one in Canada. “For those who have the market to support it, it’s becoming a pretty popular trend.”
Whether you’re thinking about adding a complete wine cellar or just a few rows of wine lockers to your self-storage facility, here are a few tips you should consider before jumping into the barrel.
The Right Demographics
According to Amy Fuhlman, marketing communications manager for Janus International, a manufacturer of self-storage doors, hallway systems and building components, wine storage is a waste of time and money if there isn’t a market to support it.
“Your facility’s demographics must support wine storage, and typically you’ll find that in more affluent towns and neighborhoods,” Fuhlman said. “Your rental chances are better in areas where there is more expendable income.”
Consider Big Jim Self Storage & Wine Cellar in Sarasota, FL. In addition to offering traditional self-storage units, the facility also includes a suite of wine lockers inside a state-of-the-art cellar; some of the lockers can store more than 200 cases.
“The plan from the beginning was to offer wine storage, and it had everything to do with the location and the affluence of the city,” said Bud Martini, general manager of the facility, which opened in 2006. “It’s definitely a niche market, but after doing some research, I realized this is what the people around here wanted.”
The aesthetic of Big Jim’s wine cellar certainly reflects the region’s affluent demographic, with tiled floors, dark wood doors and trim, soft lighting, meticulous climate control, and an elegant tasting room that clients can use for wine-sampling soirées.
“If you have the market to support it, wine storage can be a great way to make some extra income from space that’s otherwise going unused,” said Jeff Boucher, owner of Caverna 57, a wine storage and executive event space in Sacramento, CA, that boasts 216 lockers. Rent starts at $39 a month.
When he first bought the property 15 years ago, Boucher used it for traditional self-storage while living in a 1,800-square-foot house on-site. When the recession hit in 2008, Boucher began thinking of creative ways to convert the house into extra rentable space, eventually deciding to transform the home into a business combining executive suites, virtual offices and wine storage. With more than 1,000 California vineyards less than an hour’s drive away, it seemed like a perfect fit for the region.
“The house had a large basement, so I started thinking about what could be done underground, and that’s when I thought about wine,” said Boucher, who opened Caverna 57 in May 2012 and now has occupancy of around 35 percent. “The returns so far have been pretty good, but it all starts with having the demand.”
Consider the Cost
Wine is a temperamental mistress and needs to be handled with care. According to Lara Selva, operations manager at Elmwood Self Storage & Wine Cellar in New Orleans, wine should be stored at 51 to 59 degrees with 70 percent to 75 percent humidity. These precise conditions don’t come without a cost.
“Maintaining the right climate conditions is the number one challenge to wine storage,” said Selva, who’s been managing the property since it opened in 2004. “Wine storage is very different than storing almost anything else, and you need to make sure you have the proper equipment.”
For Elmwood, this includes two climate control systems (one that serves as a backup if the primary one fails) and a $35,000 gas generator that kicks on during emergencies, such as when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
“We didn’t lose a single bottle of wine during Katrina, and a lot of that has to do with having the proper equipment in place,” Selva said. “The most important thing to customers is knowing their wine is being preserved. They’re trusting you with a big responsibility.”
If you’re thinking about adding wine storage to your facility, Goodin recommends seeking out HVAC companies with expertise in wine storage.
“You can’t just leave this up to any old HVAC company,” Goodin said. “It’s going to cost more than the guy who fixes air conditioners in office buildings, but this is definitely not a cost you can skimp on.”
Classy and Convenient
According to Selva, Elmwood was designed to appeal to an affluent, sophisticated demographic. This is reflected in several ways.
The walls include hand-painted wine murals by an artist from Chicago. A bronze door handcrafted in Mexico guards the entrance to the 730-square-foot cellar. Etched-glass panels, a stained-glass ceiling, hand-painted tile floors and 43 mahogany wine lockers accent the cellar’s cozy interior.
“When it comes to wine storage, the environment is more important than it is for a traditional self-storage facility,” Goodin said. “If you’re going to have people driving up in $50,000 cars, you better look the part.”
Finally, in addition to providing a classy atmosphere, Goodin said would-be wine storage owners must consider the location, which should be in a high-traffic, high-volume area.
“It has to be convenient–the kind of place people drive past on their way to and from work,” Goodin said. “People don’t drive back roads for self-storage, and they don’t do it for wine storage either.”
Photos courtesy of Rose City Self Storage & Wine Vaults, Big Jim Self Storage & Wine Cellar, Elmwood Self Storage & Wine Cellar