Ferris Solomon can hardly believe the success of the boat and RV storage business his family started just two years ago in Jacksonville, Fla. The Solomons were well known around town for their other businesses, primarily freight salvage. Over the years, they’d also invested in various land parcels. The idea of launching a storage facility was virtually an afterthought.
“We’d been operating our freight business out of a 75,000-squarefoot building on 6 acres we’d bought on Beach Boulevard here in Jacksonville,” Ferris explains. “Some adjacent property came up on the market a few years ago, and we bought another 7 acres. The property was kind of wooded, and kind of just sitting there. I said, ‘You know, we ought to be able to come up with something to do with this property that would at least pay for the property taxes.’”
A friend who owned a flourishing marina casually mentioned to Ferris how busy he was, and how he needed a place to refer customers with boat trailers and RVs to store. “It was like a light bulb coming on,” Ferris recalls. “I thought, daggumit, this would be a great location.”
The Solomon trio—Ferris, his brother, George, and nephew, Douglas—looked into costs and, armed with a few issues of Inside Self- Storage for guidance, jumped into the storage business. Ferris’ assessment of the property as a great location turned out to be an understatement. The parcel was on a main road in a high-growth area, close to the inter-coastal waterway, a major public ramp and the interstate.
Ferris believed offering both RV and boat storage would be the fastest way to fill up. Several marinas were in the area and an RV dealer operated down the road. “We were really new to it,” Ferris says. “We thought we could get by with a grass lot, and found out quickly that wasn’t going to work—we got tired of calling wreckers to pull the RVs out of the sand.”
Crushcrete, a byproduct of concrete, solved the surface problem. The Solomons enclosed all 14 acres of the storage area with an 8-foot, welded-steel fence from a German manufacturer. Ample lighting and video-surveillance cameras were added, along with an area for customers to wash their boats and vehicles. Having pulled a boat in the past, Ferris knew the difficulty of backing up boats and RVs, and decided to sacrifice some storage space to include wide roads in the design.
Before beginning their storage project, the Solomons had to win the proper zoning. In a public hearing, nearby homeowners voiced concerns over the possibility of viewing unsightly broken-down trailers and boats from their backyards. They were pacified with promises to construct an attractive 50-foot berm, heavily landscaped to screen the area. “Everyone was very pleased and happy with what we did,” Ferris says.
Solomon’s RV & Boat Storage features 400 units, nearly all uncovered. Monthly rates vary according to size. The $100 spot is 40-feet deep and allows renters the luxury of driving through. Cost for a 40- foot space requiring drivers to exercise their parking skills is $75. Interior spaces, which are 12-by-25 feet, go for $69 per month.
“Actually, in this area, those rates are a little bit below market,” Ferris says. “I’m sure we could get more money, but I like the lot being full. We stay 100-percent leased out, and I have a list with 10 to 12 names on it. As soon as somebody moves out, we get on the phone and have people waiting to get in.”
Rewards Rain Down
Fate did its part to help push Solomon’s RV & Boat Storage to success. In booming Jacksonville, marinas are fast being snatched up by developers who replace them with high-dollar condominiums. Though a few of the condos are including wet slips, average boat owners are increasingly priced out of the market and left with nowhere affordable to store their watercraft. Also, decades-old ordinances prohibiting homeowners from parking boats and RVs in their front yards suddenly began to be enforced—six months after Solomon’s opened its doors.
“That generated a little bit of traffic,” Ferris says. “We’ve always had a good reputation in our other businesses, so we knew a few people in boat and RV sales who sent us customers too.”
Creative leasing of other parts of the expansive property provided even more storage income. Boat King, a boat retailer, leased 30,000 square feet for operations and reserved some rental spaces as well. “As they sell boats to people, those who don’t live on the water or have access to a marina are also storing their boats with us,” Ferris says. “We have a lot going for us.”
Another chunk of the former freight-business headquarters is leased to World Gym. Ferris estimates 25,000 square feet of warehouse space is left; the family plans to convert it to a climate-controlled, records-storage facility next year.
Future enhancements include the addition of covered boat/RV units. Ferris’ research indicates the metal, three-sided covers will cost $4,500 each. If the right contractor is found, the Solomons would like to construct 20 to 50 in the near future. In the meantime, Ferris has conceived an economical way to slowly make improvements. Tenants who desire covers may erect them at their own expense, with the caveat they meet all city specifications on wind load, etc. The structure stays with Solomon’s, and in exchange, the tenant receives a free year’s rent.
“It enables me to get some covered storage without having to pay for it, and at the same time get future higher rents,” Ferris says. Seven patrons have participated in the offer so far.
With storage-space rentals thriving, the Solomons could have sat back and taken it easy for once. Ferris says he figures it’s not in their blood. Now in the works are plans to develop a waterfront marina in nearby Palm Valley with boat storage, a bait and tackle shop, and a small restaurant. Again, the family will exploit a piece of speculative property that has been sitting idle, this time for 10 years.
“The county is building a boat ramp next door, so we thought it would be an ideal situation for us down there,” Ferris says. “The biggest problem is zoning—we’re going to have to get it changed or file a PUD. Hopefully, everything will go well. If not, we’ll have to change our plans and look at something else.”
Once zoning is procured, other requisite hoop-jumping will come—courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers and other governmental departments—regarding offsets, retention ponds, etc. Ferris is optimistic the family can once again mine gold from boat storage. “I like to crawl before I walk, so we’ll start off with open storage, expand into dry storage and then some wet slips, depending on what the corps allows us to do.”
A small home will be built on the property for an on-site manager, so Ferris won’t have to be there every day. Even at the Beach Boulevard property, the Solomons have enjoyed running an enterprise that is far less labor-intensive and time-consuming than past endeavors. Ferris says the storage business has vastly exceeded his expectations. Most important, the reliable income stream and light workload motivated him to make a major lifestyle change.
“I was hoping this would just bring in enough money to pay taxes on the property, but it’s allowed me to semi-retire with the freight salvage business we’ve been in for 30 years,” Ferris says. “Now, instead of working 10 hours a day, six days a week, I’m down to six hours a day, five days a week. I’m taking some time off and doing things with my wife and family I should have been doing years ago, but couldn’t. It’s really worked out well. I’ve been very fortunate.” For more information on Solomon’s RV & Boat Storage, call 904.223.0888; e-mail email@example.com; visit www.solomons.net.