Vanette and Gary Christensen, owners of Club Wet Boat & RV Storage in Overton, Nev., have had ample time to mastermind their project. Due to water-pipe installation problems during early construction and eleventh-hour finance changes, the facilitys opening has been postponed more than two years.
Despite delays, 160 would-be tenants are faithfully waiting for spots, and no wonder: The Christensens plan to offer the slew of dream amenities they craved as customers. Of course, selecting a site just 13 miles from Lake Mead didnt hurt either. Vanette shares her insights and inspiration regarding the development process.
Describe your facility and the Lake Mead area.
Our community seasonally attracts flocks of snowbirds who need RV and boat services. The local marina is restricted because Lake Mead is a national park. It has only 50 dry-storage spaces, most of which are filled with trailers from boats in marina slips. Nothing is covered locally, so vacationers are eager for quality covered storage and services.
All of our units are enclosed, with oversized roll-up doors for individual security and access. Driveways are much wider than the norm for easy entry. Our buildings are designed to accommodate larger units: 12-by-30 up to 14-by-70 drive-thrus. Due to extreme summer weather, we opted to build with masonry block instead of metal for better insulation. This also provides more security than simple awning-type coverage, an attractive benefit for long-distance customers.
Whats your business philosophy?
As avid boaters and RVers, my husband and I wanted to fix all the things that bothered us as consumers. Because we offer services that make our customers experience as easy and convenient as possible, they can spend more valuable vacation time doing what they want to be doingenjoying themselves.
What amenities are on the menu?
Club Wet offers boat launch and retrieval, airport-shuttle pick-up and delivery, business services for tenants who fly their personal planes into the regional airport, and engine and cleaning services. Our on-site supply store will be like Camping World on a smaller scale, with fishing supplies, boat-related items, towels, sunglasses, hats, and RV products such as repair parts, shower curtains, tools, etc.
Being the lady in the family, I was especially determined we would offer clean restrooms and showers. Also, a lot of people travel with their dogs, so we plan on having a pet-walk area. Im surprised more facilities dont offer ityou can put in a 5-foot-wide strip with a box in it and a little grass. People really appreciate simple things like that.
How did you decide which services to include?
We sat down at Lake Mead as customers ourselves and talked to fellow boaters and campers. We also looked at the competition, and there really werent any services or recreation-based retail outlets for 70 miles. If someone needed engine servicing or RV and boat supplies, where were they going to go? Regardless of location, facility owners should identify their areas needs and incorporate them into a customer-service plan.
Tell us more about launch and retrieval.
Tenants can call ahead, and well have their boat in the water, ready to go, when they arrive. Well also pick it up and transport it back to storage at a prescribed time. I know a facilitys insurance goes up for this kind of service, but you would be amazed at how many people want it, especially families. It allows them to drive directly to the lake and start having fun.
How can you be sure tenants will buy the service?
W e asked them. People were complaining about how far they were driving and towing, and most were asking for launch and retrieval. We live in a society that is service-based, and whatever makes it more convenient for the consumer makes your facility that much more appealing.
How did you develop your marketing plan?
We identified our target audience by looking at license plates at local RV parks and marinas. That told us how far people would be willing to drive to use us. Top target areas turned out to be Salt Lake City, and Orange and Riverside counties in California. Only two of my customers are local, so Yellow Pages advertising wouldnt be a sound investment. The biggest thing we decided to do was advertise on billboards, in and out of the lake area. People who are towing past our signs have just spent an average of five hours getting here and often would rather not tow back.
How did you calculate pricing?
We evaluated prevailing prices at similar facilities around the Las Vegas/Boulder City/ Lake Mead area. Our storage prices are competitive with the market. Engine-servicing prices are based on those found in the Las Vegas area. Launch and retrieval charges are based on a set round-trip charge based on per foot of boat length; the fee is added to the tenants monthly bill along with other services, such as boat or RV cleaning, supply-store purchases, etc.
How difficult was it to secure financial backing?
Initially, it was extremely difficult for us to find funding because banks traditionally use a formula for storage projects based on mini-storage statistics; the equation uses proposed square footage vs. number of people residing in the area. Although we had highly positive appraisals and feasibility studies, the fact that this is a small, rural town worked against us. We had to show lenders that our customer base is the entire Southwest. If you are storing an RV or boat, especially with rising fuel costs, you want to store close to where you use it. Our current lender understood this concept and has worked diligently, even with rising building costs, to swiftly move our project forward.
Since we are primarily a service-based business that also has storage, weve successfully progressed through the Small Business Administration criteria. The SBA doesnt usually fund storage, but were creating 15 service jobs in a rural area.
Do you have any advice for landlocked marina owners looking to expand their businesses?
Look for property in town and expand to a separate facility. Definitely offer the launch and retrieval service. People jump at it. You want customers to store with you instead of someone up the road, so figure out what you can offer that the competition doesnt. Most things are pretty simple. For example, if Im charging the same price for service as a mechanic in Las Vegas, why would a tenant not use me to save time and mileage? Common sense and great customer servicetheyre dying arts.
When do you expect to open?
We hope to begin construction this year and open for our tenants in the first part of 2006. Now were in the midst of final financing paperwork and, once again, completing the arduous process of forward planning required in Clark County, Nev.