Choosing an Offsite Records Management Firm

Choosing an Offsite Records Management Firm


In this post, readers will learn an insider’s view of the most important considerations when selecting an offsite records storage firm in Charlotte, NC. In addition to 4 tips regarding operating procedures, personnel, site characteristics, and testimonials, there is a BONUS TIP #5 at the end that is arguably the most important of all.

The reader will succeed in the difficult decision of where to store vital business records assets by following the recommendations herein.

Standard Operating Procedure

Procedure Manuals

Every well-run firm should be systematized, and records management is no exception; in fact, you should ask for a copy of a vendor’s procedures governing every element of your deposit, from intake to storage to destruction.

  • Software should govern or at least track all of the steps to minimize human discretion.
  • It should be clear to you that the team understands the procedures that the records storage operation follows.

Chain of Custody Tracking

In order to comply with many applicable laws, you need to be able to track your business assets that are stored offsite with a records management company.

  • Is your material tracked from the moment it leaves your possession? If so, how?
  • Professional records management and storage firms tend to use handheld scanners that capture signatures and record locations of barcoded deposits, whether they are onsite, on a truck, or offsite.

Record Center Software

Professional records storage firms are generally run by a database that enables them to pull your ‘needle’ from a very large ‘haystack’, quickly and accurately.

  • This software is like a firm’s spinal column, enabling offsite records managers to perform queries, generate workorders, direct records staff, and even generate invoices.
  • There are a number of firms that provide such software; at FileVault, we are partial to the industry leader, O’Neil Software.


If a firm doesn’t have a Service Level Agreement (“SLA”) – and many offsite records storage firms do not – you should consider an alternative vendor. This is because your operation will be extremely dependent on the offsite storage firm, frequently with time-sensitive requests.

A typical offsite records storage provider SLA will make representations about the timeliness of deliveries, for example, and whether or not a customer could expect that same timeliness during off-hours or holidays.

Contract Terms

Contracts tend to govern offsite records storage and management relationships.

  • Terms that can typically be found in such agreements include the duration of service, the conditions for price increases, liability of the parties, etc.
  • Pricing for various a la carte offsite records services – like secure shredding or scanning, for example – can be frequently be found in an appendix to the contract.
  • BONUS CRITERION – see the end of this post for a bonus consideration when choosing an offsite records storage provider KEY CONTRACT TERM that you MUST KNOW ABOUT.

Site Considerations

Security and Access Controls

You might be surprised how few firms who are trying to choose an offsite records management provider actually visit the location that they are considering; however, unless you can verify location’s physical security, you should assume that the features are missing.

  • Most professional records storage facilities have access controls like perimeter fencing and code or badge requirements, and security features like cameras and alarms.
  • To get an idea of the wide range of considerations regarding physical site security, examine this Security Assessment Guide, published by the US Department of Energy.

Business Continuity

You are considering storing something physical offsite; therefore, you must consider how that asset will be physically delivered to you in the event of that access – electronic or physical – is impaired or blocked. This is particularly noteworthy if the items that you would like to retrieve are mission-critical in some way (eg. legal client files)

Wide-ranging aspects of business continuity include everything from road access to location within a flood plain to the specific power grid that serves the offsite storage facility being considered.

Some of the many specific concerns are addressed in this template for a business continuity checklist.


  • Top managers often say, ‘How you do ++anything++ is how you do ++everything++.’ For this reason, the cleanliness of a particular facility is noteworthy.
  • In more than one records management facility, one can’t see the floor because it is covered with so much loose paper.
  • Untidiness like this is not only a fire hazard, but also a good indicator that the offsite records storage firm is not managing the needles in its haystack very well. Hopefully, a client won’t require one of the loose documents scattered on the floor:)


How are Team Members Selected?

  • The people caring for your records are out of sight and out of mind – until you have a vital need. One of the most effective ways to judge an offsite records storage provider is through their selection process for their new team members.
  • We believe strongly in the use of pre-hiring assessments to determine an individual’s suitability for joining our team – if they will be handling cartons of records, do they enjoy using their hands? If they are managing customer service, are they happy, personable people?
  • By using a strong selection and filtration process upfront, a records storage firm can guarantee longevity and quality in its staff, and benefits accrue to customers who need service and sometimes guidance with respect to their offsite records.

Uniformed? Friendly? Competent?

  • Do the team members wear uniforms? Why do you think this is important?
  • The couriers from the offsite records management provider may be visiting your facilities daily or even twice per day – like any routine vendor, they will be interacting with your team frequently and will be in your halls. They ought to make a good impression.

Background & Drug Checks

Because of the critical nature of your offsite records, it is imperative that the possibility of human mismanagement or error is minimized in the provision of records management services. While this possibility can never be eliminated, it can be mitigated by background and drug testing.

Such checks – background before hiring, and random drug tests periodically during their employment – help to ensure a professional team and a consistently high level of service provision.

Recommendations from Peers

Who else uses them?

  • One of the easiest ways to select a professional records storage firm is to ask people with similar needs in your industry.
  • Be particularly concerned with how closely that firm’s requirements match your own – if you will need a lot of rush deliveries, for example, then a peer who mainly depends on offsite storage for archival preservation will not be an ‘apples to apples’ comparison.

Best Part of Working with them

  • Of particular interest would be the high points of your reference’s experience with them – what do they like about a particular records storage vendor?
  • You might hear things that you weren’t expecting – from the friendliness of the courier to the clarity of the invoice – and it’s all important to consider.

Reconcile actual performance with SLA

  • An effective investigation of a records storage firm will try to determine if what the vendor promises is what they actually deliver, month-in and month-out.
  • Do they deliver items within the turnaround time promised in their SLA?
  • Do they store away items within the timeframe expected? Or do items taken offsite wait on a loading dock floor until someone gets around to putting them in a long term storage location at the facility?
  • Actual performance history often tells the truth about an offsite storage provider.


Are they Trustworthy?

By far, the most important criterion for choosing an offsite records management service provider is whether or not you can trust them with your critical records: to store securely, to deal with you considerately, to retrieve items quickly and accurately, etc.

There are some straightforward ways for you to tell if this vendor relationship is for you.

Hostage Fees

‘Hostage Fees’ are a term in an offsite records storage contract that typically allows the vendor to charge you if you want to permanently remove your records from their care. They are called ‘hostage fees’ because typically these charges are very substantial and often trap a customer with a vendor from whom they want to leave.

If the firm you are considering has such fees in their contract, that alone is suspicious. If you ask them to remove that condition, will they be willng to do so?

If not, that should raise a flag – we believe that these are your records, and you should be able to move them whenever you want. We don’t believe is such fees.

After Hours call

Try calling the company that you are considering after normal business hours and see what happens:

  • If the phone is answered by an automated system, this is a potential red flag, as you will typically only make a call at this time for something that’s time-sensitive and requires the quickest response.
  • If it’s a human being, do they seem to know how to triage your need? Or is it an answering service that could not care less?
  • The winning records storage company will have a full time employee always answering inbound calls and able to address the wide range of requests.

How do negotiations work

In the real world, certain contract terms can come under pressure after the contract has been signed and well into the term of service delivery – what happens in the event that, for example, a customer has a need that they did not foresee?

While it’s difficult to know in advance the range of issues that could arise, you should try to assess if you are dealing with a prospective vendor who wants to be your partner in the stewardship of your offsite records and one who values the durability of the relationship. Frequently the best way to know this is by speaking to longterm clients of the vendor.

Biggest mistake made?

Ask the prospect you are considering about sensitive or embarrassing mistakes that they have made over the years. Every firm has some stories to share. You will learn a lot about them when they answer this question and display their vulnerability.


At FileVault, we have been operating North Carolina’s premier records management operation for more than 20 years, and we know what it takes to bring the best-in-class records storage, shredding, and scanning services to the Charlotte area.

Managers tasked with selecting a records storage firm should keep in mind 5 critical criteria – procedures, people, the site itself, and peer reviews in order to choose the best possible relationship for their own company.

Please let us know how we can help you further.

Photo: Nana Smirnova