VRCs and Self-Storage Facilities

Moving Up. It’s Easier Than You Think.

VRC behind a door.Owners and developers looking to build or upgrade self-storage facilities today are deluged with details, decisions, permits and many other concerns. To be successful, they are rethinking their operation and overall facility design and looking for a competitive edge that will attract new rental tenants. One solution that is becoming increasingly more attractive is to expand first-floor units for recreational vehicle storage which includes boats, trailers, motor homes, collector cars, golf carts, all-terrain vehicles and more.

With larger main level units providing increased revenue, a second level can be added to a portion of these facilities to provide safe and convenient access to smaller, more affordable rental units. Adding a second level can be very cost-effective since it utilizes existing real estate and can also offer the increased security that comes from key-controlled access.

Many facility owners, however, cringe at the thought of moving up because of all the hassles and costs associated with an elevator installation. The reality is that none of that may be necessary.

For many years, suppliers like Wildeck, Inc. have provided customized self-storage VRCs (vertical reciprocating conveyors). These freight-only or material lifts offer a lower-cost alternative to elevators for easy access to a second level. The total cost of VRC ownership can be up to three times less than an elevator and can be installed in a fraction of the time.

Since people cannot ride on a material-only lift packed with materials, the VRC becomes a safer and more cost-effective solution for transferring a tenant’s belongings to the second floor where rental rates are typically less than ground level units. Today’s VRC controls also make operation virtually foolproof with intuitive, easy-to-read lift status lights and built-in safety features.

There are several things to consider when comparing VRCs and elevators (see chart below).

Description VRC Elevator Advantage
Total Cost of OwnershipMuch lowerHigher than a VRCVRC
Installation TimeTypically 1-5 days7-10 days (or more)VRC
Installation CostsMuch lowerHigher than a VRCVRC
State Permits and LicensingSimplerMore complexVRC
Cab Sizes / CapacityLarger (typically)Smaller and more costlyVRC
OperationIntuitive control with key lock and status lightsFamiliar up and down pushbutton controlsEqual
Equipment ConstructionRugged (industrial grade)Lighter (designed to move personnel)VRC
Equipment Room / PenthouseNot requiredRequiredVRC
Operator ControlsRobust / industrial design (lower cost)Complex / expensiveVRC
Car-top ControlsNot requiredRequiredVRC
Over-speed GovernorNot requiredRequiredVRC
Power ConsumptionLowerHigherVRC
Required MaintenanceLower (routine maintenance only)Higher (costly maintenance contract required)VRC
Fire-rated Shaft-wayMay be requiredRequired (with load bearing walls)VRC
Shaft-way Lighting, Electrical Outlet and Sprinkler SystemNot requiredRequiredVRC
4 ft. Pit / SumpNot requiredRequiredVRC
Annual State InspectionsTypically not requiredRequiredVRC


Tenants typically arrive at a facility to carry boxes or bulky items to their unit. Moving their materials to a second level 10 ft. x 10 ft. or 10 ft. x 20 ft. rental unit is straightforward. After checking in at the front desk and acquiring a safety key, they can unlock the VRC operator control, which on Wildeck’s EZ Pro™ Operator Station, has a bright green LED light that glows when the lift is “ready-to-load.”

Wildeck’s ArmorCar™ VRC cab or carriage interior is lighted and fully enclosed with rugged diamond-plate wall and floor panels that can take just about anything the user can dish out. The interior is virtually maintenance-free and once loaded, a roll-up gate safely secures the tenant’s belongings. The hinged outer door is then closed which signals the user that it is safe to send the loaded VRC up to the second level.

The tenant can then unlock the stairwell access door and go up one flight to meet the VRC for unloading. When two users are involved, the second individual may already be stationed at level two and can push the ‘up’ button to call the VRC. The person at level one can also ‘send’ the VRC up.

Whether one or two individuals are available, a VRC typically has a larger capacity than an elevator which means that more materials can be moved at one time. The VRC transfers material only so the risk of injury from falling boxes in an elevator car is also reduced. When safety, efficiency and cost are compared, installing a VRC instead of an elevator can show up quickly on your bottom line. Just ask Jim Gearhart at AAA American Storage.

According to Jim Gearhart, owner of AAA American Storage in Groveland, Florida, “Adding a VRC that is both functional and looks good was very important. It gives our newly expanded facility a competitive edge and costs a lot less than a large elevator. It is also secure and well lit, which customers like.”

Gearhart’s 87,000 sq. ft., multi-level self-storage facility was completed in November 2006 and is one of the largest self-storage operations in Florida. It boasts some of the latest innovations and equipment available today for safe, secure and efficient material handling and storage.

“The Groveland area continues to grow and expand,” says Gearhart, “as many people are realizing the affordability, accessibility and quality of life that is evident here.”

With people either on the move or just settling in, the area really needed an up-to-date self-storage facility that could provide both temporary and long-term secure storage for their personal property. After considerable site research and discussions with local community officials, Jim selected a location just off the main thoroughfare that conveniently connects Groveland with surrounding communities.

Jim had previously been involved with building 8-9 other self-storage facilities having some 600 to 700 rental units each and this experience was instrumental in helping his plans for Groveland move forward.

“Partnering with experienced suppliers was essential,” States Gearhart, “because it allowed us to achieve the quality and state-of-the-art facility that we needed to attract tenants.” AAA selected U.S. Door & Building Components of Orlando for self-storage facility construction and purchased a new VRC material lift from AME Vertical in Troy, MI, a longtime representative of Wildeck products manufactured in Waukesha, WI.

Initial work on the Groveland facility began in June of 2000 with site preparation and construction of three buildings, including offices and on-site living quarters for Jim. Work soon proceeded on some 200 rental units positioned for easy access around the perimeter of the site. Rentals of these standard units moved quickly so plans were finalized to build additional units and to build up, not out.

The addition of 400 new rental units in the center area of the facility included a second level with 200 units served by a handicap-accessible elevator, two stairways and a 2,000 lb. capacity vertical reciprocating conveyor (material lift) from Wildeck with a 6 ft. wide x 8 ft. long x 7 ft. high carriage.

During the construction of the final center section, which was completed in November 2006, AAA installed the VRC lift first and used it to move building materials up to complete the new second level. “The VRC worked great,” states Jim, “and saved us a considerable amount of money on crane rental. I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking to add a second level.”

Attracting new tenants also meant offering deluxe, climate-controlled rental units that are in demand throughout Florida due to the warm climate. Units in the interior of the lower center section are ideally suited for climate control since they are more insulated from the sun’s rays and therefore less expensive to cool.

“We have three buildings that are now air-conditioned,” states Gearhart, “and the largest units are 10 ft. x 45 ft. They can store rooms of furniture, cars and even a nice fishing boat.”

The self-storage industry continues to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs like Jim Gearhart to expand, and as he proved, moving up was easier than you may think. There are some 10,000 facilities in the U.S. today and Florida ranks #3 behind Texas and California with the most establishments.

“I enjoy the business” states Jim, “and am satisfied that we are providing an essential service for families and companies who are looking for safe and secure storage. Do I want to build another? I have no immediate plans except to service my Groveland customers the best way I can and to spend a little time with my six grandchildren.”

With some nice fishing lakes just down the road, we know where to look for Jim.

For more information on the advantages of Wildeck’s VRCs, read our blog post: Three Benefits of Vertical Reciprocating Conveyors (VRCs).



Editor’s Note: This content was originally published as a whitepaper on www.wildeck.com but has been revised to reflect more current information and republished as a blog post.

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