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Document Storage Services Buying Guide

Brown Bankers Boxes Stacked on Metal Shelving Units in A Records Storage Facility

After more than one hundred years in the business of helping clients store, manage and protect their information, Vanguard Archives has developed a deep understanding of our clients, our competitors and the industry we operate in.

Oftentimes our clients or prospects will ask us questions about our industry and about what separates us from our competitors. This Document Storage Services Buyers Guide is intended to help buyers of our services better understand how our business works and what types of things they might want to look for when selecting a vendor.

The safety and security of your records will likely be an important factor when selecting an offsite records storage company. You may wish to visit prospective vendors to get a feel for the physical environment your records will be stored in and to understand how your records will be transported back and forth to your offices.

Physical building

Ensure that your records storage provider will store your documents in modern buildings specifically configured to store records. The facility should have a clean, well-lit environment free of dust and pests. The roof should be updated, in order to prevent water damage to your records, and adequate fire and security protections should be in place. Ideally, the facility should not have external windows, which can present a security risk. Facilities that share space with other companies or conduct business other than records storage may have difficulty maintaining tight visitor control and ensuring privacy. Moving and storage companies that store items such as couches, office equipment or storage PODs risk inadvertently allowing unwanted things like rodents, pests, drugs or hazardous materials into their storage environments.

Transport vehicles

Your vendor's vehicles can give you an indication as to whether they take seriously the protection of your records. Vehicles should not have windows, and cargo areas should be armored, double-locked, alarmed and self-arming to deter break-ins. More security-minded records storage firms track their vehicles by GPS to ensure they know the whereabouts of their vehicles, and your records, at all times.

New privacy laws and regulations expose your company to significant financial penalties, not to mention embarrassment and reputational damage, if you don't use reasonable care to protect the personal information you collect from your employees and customers. Because of these exposures, it is important to ensure that document storage vendors handling information on your behalf are focused on eliminating the possibility of data breach.

Operational controls

Your vendor should have detailed, written operational procedures that are strictly enforced and audited on a regular basis to ensure compliance. Make sure chain of custody is thoroughly documented each time your information is handled, with barcode scanning at every point of contact, and that you have online access to chain of custody histories for each item.

Employee screening and training

Your vendor's employees should be background checked and drug tested, and each one should sign a confidentiality agreement. Employees should receive regular training on both information handling and privacy.

Customer service can and should be an important consideration when selecting a document storage vendor. When interviewing vendors, you may wish to ask questions upfront that will help determine whether your experience will be a good one after you become a client.

Startup assistance

If you need help organizing your existing records before sending them offsite, find out what your prospective vendor is willing to do to assist you in getting organized upfront and then staying organized. Some companies will help you pack up your records into boxes, label and move the boxes to the records storage facility, and then data enter your box details into a searchable database. Your account can then be set up so that in the future all new records submitted are required to be data entered with the same informational fields - enforcing consistency across all of your records. If you need help setting up records retention schedules and figuring out which of your records can be destroyed, your vendor may be willing to provide assistance on this front as well.

Ongoing support

Find out if there are multiple ways to place orders for service: for example by phone, fax and email, as well as online. Some companies don't offer online orders, while others will only accept online orders. Make sure your vendor will allow you to place orders the way you want to place them - and that you won't be charged extra. Find out if the vendor handles customer service through a call center, or if you will have a single point of contact who will be directly accountable to you. If your vendor will route your calls to a call center, find out what the issue escalation process is. Most of the time call centers deliver satisfactory service, but when something goes wrong and needs fixing you will want to be able to quickly get to someone who can solve your problem.

Most records storage centers will provide online access allowing you to manage your inventory of documents and request related services such as deliveries and pickups. When selecting a vendor, you may wish to request a demonstration of their web access system.


Look for user-friendliness. The interface should be modern-looking, navigation should be intuitive and terminology used should be easily understandable to somebody seeing the website for the first time. Get a sense for whether a new user in your organization will be able to figure it out on their own, or whether you will have to train each new user.


Find out what the capabilities of the system are. If you plan on using retention schedules, understand how to create and manage them. If you want to be able to create printed box labels rather than hand-writing descriptions on your boxes, see if that capability exists. Have your vendor show you how to create a report of your entire inventory, and make sure the process isn't too convoluted. If you want to use the system to manage your documents internally before they go offsite, make sure the system allows you to create your own locations and manage the check-in and check-out process with a barcode scanner.

In general, the cost to use an offsite document storage company will depend on the quantity and sizes of the items you have in storage, as well as the amount of service activity you have relating to your stored items. However, pricing among vendors varies considerably. When comparing vendors, it is important to consider several factors that can impact your overall cost.

National company versus local company

Logic might suggest that you would enjoy better pricing with a national company that enjoys larger operations and efficiencies of scale. However, in the document storage industry this is often not the case. Competition is not very fierce for national accounts since there are only two national vendors. The efficiencies of dealing with only one vendor throughout the country can be outweighed by the lack of competitive pricing pressure. On smaller accounts, national vendors aim to make the same high profit margins that they do on their larger accounts. In order to achieve those margins, they charge high monthly minimum "administration" charges - including both monthly minimum storage charges and monthly account maintenance fees. These two fees taken together can make a national vendor more than twice as expensive as a non-national vendor.

Pricing tactics to look out for

While most document storage companies appear to use very similar pricing structures, minor differences in the way charges are applied can have a big impact on what your total costs will be. Look out for pricing based on "cubic feet". If you pay based on the cubic foot volume of your boxes, then you will need to multiply every amount on the rate sheet by the cubic volume of your boxes (note that all standard document storage boxes are larger than 1.0 cubic foot). Further, it is not enough to simply measure the cubic volume of your boxes, since some vendors "mark up" the cubic footage of boxes - disclosing this only in the fine print on their websites.  If your vendor charges by the cubic foot, find out exactly how many cubic feet they will charge for your particular boxes and then compare with other vendors. Also look out for hidden charges such as fuel surcharges, which can add as much as 10% to your monthly invoice. Minimum service charges per order are another  tactic being used to increase the amount you pay each time you request service. These minimum per order charges can be craftily designed to ensure they apply to almost all orders.

Many companies first consider storing documents offsite when they begin to run out of space in their own offices. Outsourcing storage to a company that specializes in records management is one solution to this problem. Other solutions include renting more office space, establishing company-owned warehouse space, and renting self-storage units. Because outsourcing allows companies to share resources with other companies having similar needs, it usually results in lower costs than the alternatives while at the same time providing access to resources, security features and expertise that would be difficult for individual companies to develop on their own.

Lower costs

Document storage vendors consolidate their customers' buying power to obtain attractive rates on large volumes of storage space outside of expensive downtown areas. Those spaces are then custom engineered to maximize storage density and minimize per-box storage costs. Further, whereas companies storing their own records often must rent extra space to allow for growth, outsourcing allows them to pay only for the space they actually use.


Outsourcing allows companies to take advantage of their vendors' online inventory management systems to organize and keep track of their documents, and to order document services like deliveries and pickups from the convenience of their desks. And using a specialized document management company provides peace of mind that the latest technologies and techniques are being applied to protect documents from physical damage and unauthorized access.

If you are currently storing your documents on-site in your own offices, you may wonder how quickly you will be able to get your documents back once they are stored offsite. For many companies, it is important to be able to retrieve records quickly if necessary.

Retrieval options

Most document storage centers will offer three delivery options: Next day, Same day and Rush delivery within a few hours. Next day delivery is the least expensive option because it allows your vendor to retrieve and dispatch your documents on a route together with other clients' documents. Rush and same day deliveries are more expensive since they require one of your vendor's employees to make a special trip directly to your offices.

Self pickups and deliveries

If you need to visit your records center frequently to drop off or pickup records, the proximity of your records center may be an important consideration when selecting a vendor. If you do choose to do your own transportation, find out if your vendor has minimum service order charges that would apply in these situations.

Companies just beginning to work with document storage companies often have questions about their box sizes. This is an important question to answer since, with vendors who charge by the cubic foot, the size of your boxes can have a significant impact on your costs.

Standard sizes

There are three standard box sizes used for storing documents. Letter/Legal boxes are approximately the size of a copy paper box. These boxes, which are by far the most commonly used, will hold letter documents width-wise or legal documents length-wise. The dimensions of these boxes are roughly 15 x 12 x 10 inches. Large Letter boxes are for storing letter documents only, and are roughly 50% larger than a Letter/Legal box. The dimensions of these boxes are roughly 24 x 12 x 10 inches. Some records management companies that bill by the cubic foot charge these boxes as 2.4 cubic feet even though their actual measurements are closer to 1.7 cubic feet (a 40% markup). Large Legal boxes are for storing legal documents only, and are roughly twice the size of a Letter/Legal box. The dimensions of these boxes are roughly 24 x 15 x 10 inches. Some records management companies that bill by the cubic foot charge these boxes as 3.6 cubic feet even though their actual measurements are closer to 2.1 cubic feet (a 71% markup).

Bankers Boxes® There is often great confusion over the term "Bankers Box®." This confusion arises because Bankers Box® is a brand name, and the company that manufactures them, Fellowes®, makes boxes of all shapes and sizes. Often, people referring to Bankers Boxes® mistakenly believe that this term refers to boxes of a particular size. In fact, a Bankers Box® can be any one of the three standard sizes listed above, or can even be a non-standard size.

Permanent withdrawal fees are a peculiar feature of the document storage industry. It is important to know what they are, why they exist, and how they can impact you.


A permanent withdrawal fee (or permanent removal fee) is a fee that applies when a customer retrieves a box from storage with the intention of never sending it back. After a box is permanently retrieved, a customer no longer pays for storage space on that box. Note that some companies also have "Account Closing" fees, which may be in addition to permanent withdrawal fees. Make sure to find how each fee works before signing up with a vendor.


Permanent withdrawal fees have been around as long as the document storage industry itself.  These fees cover such activities as providing proper accounting  and reconciliation of permanently withdrawn boxes, palletizing and shrink-wrapping the boxes and loading the boxes onto a truck for transportation. In addition, in order to attract new clients it is common practice for document storage companies to absorb most of the upfront costs of accessioning new boxes into storage. Such upfront costs include the labor costs of transporting boxes to the records center and placing the boxes on the shelves, as well as the cost to acquire new shelving for box placement.  Permanent withdrawal fees allow document storage companies to recover, at the end of the storage life of a box, some of the investment they made at the beginning.

Switching vendors

While permanent withdrawal charges can add up quickly, in order to win your business away from your existing vendor, most document storage companies will work with you to offset the permanent withdrawal fees charged by your existing vendor when you close your account.

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