Running a Profitable Boat/RV-Storage Operation: Service and Amenities Drive Success
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
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Posted on: 06/30/2013



 

By Rachel Adams

At any self-storage facility, tenants pay attention to customer service, superior security and amenities. Facilities that excel in these arenas will attain a high occupancy. Those lacking will likely drive customers away. For facilities that provide RV and boat storage, these qualities are particularly crucial to attract and maintain tenants.

Edward Heil, former owner of Lake Havasu RV & Boat Storage in Lake Havasu, Ariz., points out one obvious reason why these tenants are very different. Unlike most self-storage tenants, unhappy boat- or RV-storage tenants can pack up and flee a facility in 15 minutes. There’s no packing and moving involved, making it easier for them to make their getaway. "If you make them mad, they just drive up, grab a hold of their stuff and they're gone," he says.

To keep tenants happy and prevent this from happening, operators who specialize in RV and boat storage must master the challenges in this niche market, which can include higher hard and soft costs, the need for advanced security, distinct marketing avenues, and even unique amenities.

[Photo courtesy of Lake Havasu RV & Boat Storage]

Under the Umbrella of Customer Service: Amenities and Security

Customer service is a crucial component for the success of every boat/RV-storage facility. These high-end toys often bring high-end tenants who have high expectations and different needs. "If you were a person that can afford a $1.2 million motorcoach, you're going to expect to be treated a whole lot differently than somebody that's taken half the junk out of his garage and stuck it in a storage space," Heil says. "It's a completely different mindset."

A wash area enables RV and boat owners to clean up their vehicles before storing them. [Photo courtesy of Ted Deits, owner of Eucalyptus at Beaumont in California]To provide the ultimate customer service, many facilities offer additional services that apply specifically to this niche. Such amenities include vehicle wash bays, showers, electricity hookups in units, dump stations, water-filling stations and enhanced security. For example, Jeff Jensen, owner of North Plains RV and Self Storage in North Plains, Ore., offers a dump station and water-filling station that can be used to fill RV water tanks or wash down vehicles.

Amenities like these do come with additional upfront hard costs during development and soft costs to keep the services running. However, the price tag is usually worth it because they contribute to good customer service, which equates to happy tenants. 

Heil, who developed his Lake Havasu facility with wash bays, a shower and bathroom, included these perks as a customer benefit and to attract high-end clients. While the wash bay was expensive to build, it was not designed to be a profit center. "It did two things: It helped with customer retention and it also helped with marketing," he says.

Security is another amenity critical to boat/RV-storage tenants. Gregg Sherwood, president of AZOH Storage Group, which manages Power Ranch RV, Boat & Mini Storage in Mesa, Ariz., provides enhanced security features such as individual keypad access, security cameras, individual unit alarms, personal key fobs for tenants who choose not to use the keypad for entry, and video monitoring that tenants can access online at any time. These features allow Power Ranch to provide 24-hour access to the facility, which Sherwood says is a key component of the facility's customer-service model. "[Tenants] do expect a great level of customer service, but mainly in the form of access to their stored RV, boat or jet skis," he says. "As a result, we offer 24-hour access 365 days a year."

Some facilities include a clubhouse where tenants can relax and socialize. [Photo courtesy of Ted Deits, owner of Eucalyptus at Beaumont in California]Like extra amenities, advanced security can be a big expense, but it pays off for tenants who want assurance that their expensive toys are secure. "We spent an awful lot of money on security, but it was an amenity that differentiated us in our market," Heil says.

Location Is Key

Most successful RV- and boat-storage facilities are built near a recreation destination that supports the tenant base, such as a lake or state park. Other ideal locations include communities in which these types of vehicles are prohibited from being stored outside in a driveway or in the homeowner’s yard, or places that simply lack space for storage of large vehicles.

Lake Havasu RV & Boat Storage is not only close to a lake, it’s in a resort town. "We chose to be in an area that had a very huge attraction to RVers," Heil says. "There are probably about 10,000 people that come to Havasu between October and April, and that's huge, so we built the facility to cater to those people."

North Plains RV and Self Storage is in a smaller city that borders the Portland-metro region. The lack of excess space in the larger city draws tenants to store there. "In the Portland-metro region, lot sizes have been constricted such that there's really no room for people to park boats, RVs and large toys, so they're somewhat forced to find a facility like ours to store their toys and equipment," Jensen says.

Marketing Strategies for Unique Tenants

RV- and boat-storage operators reach out to potential tenants using many of the same techniques used to connect with traditional self-storage customers, including referrals and online marketing. However, the the market does require some additional and inventive promotion.

"We have multi-faceted marketing, from going out and setting up relationships with vendors and condo associations and apartments to Internet marketing," Jensen says. He also reaches out to storage facilities that lack RV and boat storage to form a referral partnership.

Sherwood focuses on referrals and building relationships within the community to build his tenant base. "We build relationships with the local dealers and end users of these types of vehicles, including seasonal housing sources for the Arizona winter visitors," Sherwood says. "We go into those communities and create relationships with the companies who manage them. This gives us access to their clients through group presentations and being in their newsletters."

Finding Success Without the Bells and Whistles

Even facilities that lack the perfect location or all the extra amenities can still capitalize on boat and RV storage if there’s demand. Located in a rural town, Arcata Bay Self Storage in Arcata, Calif., is the only facility in the county with outdoor vehicle storage. The facility currently stores about 80 cars, RVs and boats. "While a couple other facilities may store a car or two, none have the capacity I do for storing vehicles outside," says Geraldine Goldberg, facility manager.

Most successful boat/RV-storage facilities are built near a recreation destination that supports the tenant base, such as a lake or state park. [Photo courtesy of Ted Deits, owner of Eucalyptus at Beaumont in California]A local university and small airport bring vehicle-storage tenants to Goldberg, who offers rates lower than the airport for travelers leaving for extended periods and can accommodate students who need vehicle storage between semesters. Goldberg has also marketed to boat- and RV-repair shops, and has built connections with local tow-truck drivers who often refer tenants to her facility.

Even without wash bays, showers or a dump station, Goldberg maintains a high occupancy, which she attributes to excellent customer service. "Every one of my tenants gets the best in customer service—that could be why my facility is full most of the time," she says.

Facility operators agree: Whether it's an expensive RV sitting in an individually alarmed unit or grandma’s antique furniture in a traditional self-storage unit, good customer service is good for business. “We treated everybody like they had million-dollar rigs sitting on our property, even if they were just renting a 5-by-5 space in a climate-controlled building," Heil says.

Rachel Adams graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish. Her passion for writing and culture propelled her journey through college and have continued to inspire her endeavors with VIRGO Publishing, where she contributes to "Inside Self-Storage” and "Professional Door Dealer" magazines. Contact her with questions, comments or ideas at radams@vpico.com.