Meeting Demand

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Boat and RV Storage
The wave of the future

By R. David Mattiza

Having been involved in the self-storage industry for more than a decade, I have seen it evolve from mini-storage to self-storage, multistory facilities, document storage and climate-controlled facilities. Now, there is a new chapter being added to this constantly developing industry: Boat and RV storage is not only coming of age, but is an area all self-storage developers should be looking into as a viable part of their development plans. The following article will briefly discuss the pros and cons of boat and RV storage, construction, management and project development.

Meeting Demand

Because of the increase in boat and RV ownership, the need for additional types of storage facilities has been created. These cannot only be an excellent companion to an existing standard facility, but, when in the right location, become entirely self-sufficient. The demand for this particular type of storage has continued to increase for several reasons.

Currently, many municipalities are instituting stringent regulations within their communities. Specifically, these regulations prohibit parking and/or storing of personally owned RVs in driveways or on city streets.

Also, it is rumored, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an interest in governing long-term water-storage of boats within waterways that are used as water supplies, watersheds or habitats for endangered species. Should action be taken with regards to these concerns, the self-storage industry will have the opportunity to play a large part in supplying alternate storage facilities.

In the early years of self-storage, city requirements called for more parking spaces than necessary--one space for every unit. When this was a criteria, normally several parking spaces were positioned in the front of the complex, while the remaining spaces were at the rear of the project. This allowed the project owner to lease these spaces to owners of trucks, trailers, boats and whatever else seemed feasible. It was also at this time that the concept of boat/auto and RV storage first attracted attention.

Storage Options

There are currently three major types of storage available to the marketplace. The first of these options--which is also the least expensive--is outside storage. This type of storage area can add income to an existing facility by utilizing vacant property that is either planned for future use in an additional phase of building or land that does not conform to a standard building design. Also, if an owner is leasing property, this would be a solution to recouping the lease payments.

In any event, an outside storage facility will only be successful when used in conjunction with existing property or storage units. Although there is not enough income generated for it to be self-sufficient, if an owner is planning to build a project in phases, outside storage is a good way to defray some land costs, turning what would have been a temporary liability into a low-maintenance cash-flow operation.

Currently, the average range for outside rental space is between $35 and $50 per month. Typically, you cannot expect to receive the same square-footage price from outside storage as from the typical storage building. Although it is recognized that the need for boat/RV storage is growing in the marketplace, it will take some time before it will garner higher prices. Needless to say, it is inevitable that rental rates will rise, especially as neighborhood and city codes tighten and property owners are informed that they may not store boats and RVs in their backyards or driveways. As in the early days of self-storage, it took time before rental rates could evolve to where they are in today's marketplace. Likewise, education and good customer service is needed in order to make this type of storage a good profit center.

Covered outdoor storage appears to be a bit more popular with boat and RV owners than uncovered. This type of storage has the advantage of giving better protection from wind and rain, but the main protection is from the damaging effects the sun has on plastic, vinyl, paint finishes and electronics. The configuration of covered storage can be compared with covered parking outside office buildings and apartment complexes. The major differences are that boat and RV storage spaces are longer and higher, generally 14-feet clear height, which is necessary to accommodate most motor homes and travel trailers.

The building systems I work with most often are the cold-formed type and the clear-span rigid frame. The decision of which system to use depends on the specific project and the types of storage required. The cold-formed-system widths are normally 12 feet to 15 feet, allowing only one RV per bay. The rigid-frame-system width, between column to column, ranges from 24 feet to 25 feet, allowing space for two RVs to be stored side by side. The rigid-frame system is more expensive to construct, but in some cases design requirements--especially "wind loading"--call for the additional rigidity offered with this type of system. The current average rental rates range between $70 to $120 per month.

Closed-in storage is very popular with boat owners because of the security factor. The security concerns are not only with the boat itself, but also the equipment accumulated for that boat, which can--in some cases--exceed the cost of the craft itself. Many boats are equipped with depth and fish finders, radios, fishing gear, ski equipment, trolling motors and more. Because of the amount of money invested in such accessories, the owners prefer their vehicles to be locked and out of the public view.

For completely closed-in units, bays usually have a minimum width of 12 to 12.5 feet, thus allowing enough room to walk around the vehicle while it is stowed. The width of the unit door should be at least 11 feet wide, with the height being determined by the type of boat. The door heights of lake boats normally range from 8 feet to 10 feet, with 12- to 14-foot heights necessary for offshore boats and RVs. Therefore, boat and RV storage can be designed to blend with an existing project, except that the height and width of individual bays will be different.

There is much debate on the subject of determining the proper depth of a bay. I base my dimensions as follows, using a 16-foot ski boat as an example. Although the boat is 16 feet long, the tongue of the trailer extends 2 feet to 3 feet past the bow. Likewise, the motor/outdrive extends 1 foot to 1.5 feet past the stern. This now changes the measurement from 16 feet to 20 feet. In order to allow for walk-around room, it's probably best to add another 2 feet in the front and back of the boat. Now we have a depth measurement of 24 feet, which we round off to the nearest 5-foot increment, equaling 25 feet. This formula has worked well for both boats and RVs, which normally require a depth of 30 to 40 feet. The rental rates for closed-in storage are based on linear feet as opposed to square feet in self-storage, and range from $3 to as much as $8 a linear foot, depending on the market area.

Documentation

Now that we have touched on the three major types of storage facilities, let us move to other considerations. One subject that demands attention is date documentation on stored vehicles. The project owner is best protected when receiving a copy of the registration and proof of insurance, as well as confirmation that the license tags and inspections stickers are not only current, but also issued for the appropriate state. Most importantly, a copy of "proof of insurance" enables the project owner to feel secure, because the vehicle has been shown to have value and, presumably, is less likely to be abandoned. Because an automobile's value can sometimes be less than any accumulated rental debt, autos are more likely to be "dumped" than either boats or RVs. Undergoing the abandoned-vehicle process can cost hundreds of dollars and take a long time. Taking the precautions described above can help eliminate this undesirable alternative.

Ancillaries

There are many products and services needed by boat and RV owners that open the door for additional income opportunities for the project owner. Wash and dump stations are two items for which a premium can be charged. Projects can also offer to sell boat and car covers, trailer hitches, light kits, propane, batteries and battery chargers.

Some boat owners may also want the VIP treatment, for which the storage owner can charge top dollar: The boat owner calls ahead to inform the manager that he will be arriving to use his vehicle. The project owner then has the boat pulled, oil and fuel levels checked, gas tanks filled, coolers filled with ice, and then taken down to the launch. In this way, the boat owner may literally jump into his craft and be on his way. When the day's activities are concluded, the owner of the facility can then have the boat picked up and returned to the facility where it is washed, its motor flushed, cleaned and checked, then placed in its storage bay.

Each one of these services, including ice for the coolers, carries a potential fee that many individual boat owners would be willing to pay for because of the convenience. While this may seem like a lot of responsibility and liability for the project owner, the income derived from such services will more than likely offset any costs incurred. Another advantage is that you have more control of how the boats are stored and restored in your bays, causing less chance of damage to your building.

Construction

Now let us turn to the construction of covered and closed-in storage. This article is concerned with steel construction only, but there are other types available, such as wood frame and block. Project owners should examine all of their options before deciding which type best applies.

Covered storage, like self-storage, has driveways, building foundations and exterior lighting; yet, building costs are lower because the construction involves only framing and roof sheeting. On the other hand, completely closed-in construction costs are comparable to a standard self-storage project. What is saved with wider bays can be spent on a higher eave height.

A Note on Security

Unlike for a self-storage facility, when a project owner specifically advertises boat and RV storage, he is basically advertising to the public the fact that these types of vehicles are stored on the premises. This does cause additional security concerns because boats and RVs become more of a target for break-ins. An easily achieved security precaution would be to install a separate keypad entry system available for authorized use only. Surveillance cameras, additional exterior lighting and individual door alarms can be installed for even greater security.

The Next Wave

Boat and RV storage will, in the near future, play a major part in the self-storage industry, developing into an industry of its own. With the volume of boats and RVs being purchased every day, storage availability is even more in demand. One advantage that has yet to be covered is the fact that this type of renter is long-term. In most cases, once in your facility, they remain as long as the individual owns the vehicle. By offering this type of renter the things needed in buildings and services, this industry will grow to be not only a "wave of the future," but a tidal wave for the developer and project owner.

R. David Mattiza is general manager of Rigid Building Systems Ltd., a Houston-based company that designs and manufactures self-storage facilities, including boat and RV storage. Mr. Mattiza began his self-storage career in Texas more than 12 years ago. Since his introduction to the industry, he has taken part in the design and development of more than 6 million square feet of storage. He has been involved in every phase of development, from conception to design, construction, marketing, renting and even resale of facilities. Mr. Mattiza has developed boat and RV storage sites through the Gulf Coast and along the Colorado River from Lake Powell to Yuma, Ariz. His focus is on using innovative, state-of-the-art design and architectural practices for cost-effective and easy-to-maintain projects. Mr. Mattiza may be reached at Rigid Building Systems, 18933 Aldine Westfield Road, Houston, TX 77073; (281) 443-9065.

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