Archie Allen never imagined his love for sailing would lead to the construction of his own boat and RV storage facility. Although he owns a boat, Allen did not picture himself in the storage business until two years ago. The Hampton, Va., resident stored his boat at a dry-stack storage facility in Florida.
“In the winter, we flew down each year to go sailing,” says Allen. Storage cost about $500 a month. Later, he moved the boat to a facility where the owners towed clients’ boats to the water; the cost was considerably less— only about $140 a month. He noticed this 6-acre facility, although not on the water, was always full.
At the time, extensive business commitments prevented Allen from using his boat. He moved it home, only to realize there were no boat-storage facilities in Hampton, even though watercraft are an integral part of the lifestyle. Allen’s entrepreneurial spirit quickly seized the unique opportunity.
Allen began looking for a site in May 2001 and opened the gates of Hampton Boat & RV Storage in April 2002. Within three months, the facility was 110 percent full. “We’re parking them in the aisles,” Allen kids.
How did he achieve this success in a town where the concept was so new even the zoning board did not have a classification for it? Allen’s own need coupled with a keen entrepreneurial sense made opening a boat/RV storage facility a natural choice. He knew the ideal site needed to be close to a public boating ramp, have good street visibility and be previously fenced and graveled.
Permitting, approval of site plans and site improvements took just under a year. During the permitting process, the city of Hampton asked him to pave and stripe the site, but Allen calculated this would limit the number of spaces he could use. He negotiated with the city to waive the paving and striping in lieu of a city-required 10-foot easement for landscaping in front of the facility. This compromise allowed him to increase the number of storage spaces from 57 to 88. The small amount of land he gave up for the street-side landscaping paid off with more spaces and higher revenue. “If I’d stuck with the original site plan, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he says.
Allen leased a modular building for the office, and installed utilities and a handicapped parking pad. Customers can clean their boats at the facility, and a dump-station pipe is available for RVs. “I had to build on a shoestring,” he says. “I didn’t know how this would fly.”
Compared to the Florida rates Allen paid, his own rental rates are reasonable. Based on a minimum 30- day stay, rates range from $20 to $35 month. RVs longer than 25 feet are charged by the foot. Discounts for multiple-month payments are offered. “One customer from North Carolina wanted to come to Hampton for a weekend of fishing,” Allen says. “Although he only wanted a couple of days of storage, he realized he could get in a couple of weekends of fishing by leaving the boat for the month.”
Allen originally promoted his facility through radio, local newspapers, the Yellow Pages and local cable television. The cable contract included a crawl that runs during the local weather program, which turned out to be the most effective marketing tool. By the third month of advertising, Hampton Boat & RV was full, and Allen cancelled all cable ads except the weather crawl.
An incentive to store at Hampton Boat & RV involves personal tax savings. “Hampton does not have a personal- property tax on boats,” Allen says. “Property tax is based on where the property is located. If the boat is stored in Hampton, owners do not pay tax, and RV personal-property tax is minimal compared to surrounding communities.” Customers living in other areas save enough in personal-property tax to cover the cost of storing their boat or RV. Allen heavily promotes this advantage at regional boat and RV shows.
Because of demand for storage from potential customers, Allen is planning a second facility that will feature covered storage. Located on 3 acres, it will have more than 150 spaces and triple the number of storage spaces offered by the Hampton site. The new facility is expected to open by early 2004. Allen plans to market this facility through the cable-network weather crawl, newspapers and regional boat/RV shows.
Allen has a varied entrepreneurial background that ranges from several years as a car salesman to nearly 20 years in data processing. Several years ago, he purchased laundromats and dry-cleaning establishments. These varied experiences have one thing in common—service to customers. And it is that experience on which Allen is capitalizing to successfully run his business. He may have started on a shoestring, but long hours, hard work and customer service have paid off. “Now I can go out on my boat once in a while,” he says.
For more information, call 757.726.0900; or visit www.hamptonboatandrv.com.