One would believe the rise in the cost of gasoline and, most recently, diesel fuel would slow the production and sale of larger boats and motor-homes, but it’s just not the case. Recent conversations with experts from the boating and RV industries indicate the RV- and boat-storage business is still on the rise.
The old adage, “Bigger is better” is definitely true for boats and RVs. The single constraint on size seems to be controlled by the Department of Transportation. There are maximums for manufacturers to consider for a vehicle to be legally driven on public thoroughfares without an oversize permit. The length should not exceed 45 feet and the width 102 inches. Height should not exceed 13.5 feet. A motor-coach pulling a boat should not exceed 65 feet combined length in California. Other size requirements vary by road classification and state.
Boats that can be towed are typically designed to have less than a 9-foot beam. Boat manufacturers such as Formula, Fountain and Cigarette have been making boats that appeal to the “go faster” crowd for years. These boats range from 30 to 45 feet in length with an 8-foot, 6-inch beam, and can be pulled with most large pickup trucks. The dry weight can be as much as 11,000 pounds.
The prices of these toys are as impressive as their looks. It’s not uncommon for boats to cost $200,000 to $400,000. A larger motor-coach can easily be more than $1 million. As a starting point, $100,000 seems to be the price for a low-end diesel-pusher motor-home or 28-foot boat.
As an RV/boat-storage owner or operator, you’ll have to market your facility differently than for self-storage. The customer is acutely aware of the value of his property and will have insurance. His income level will no doubt be higher than you would expect from an apartment renter needing a little extra space.
Boat/RV tenants will probably have a lien holder that will be more than happy to repossess the vehicle if the tenant defaults in the payment. Tenants typically won’t risk loosing a $100K vehicle to an impound lot if you evict the property.
All of this means you’ll have a higher-caliber tenant and fewer late pays. Your tenant churn should lower because the RV and boat clientele seem to stay once they find a place that meets their needs. RV and boat tenants are likely to have Internet access and will shop and bank online. They are typically travelers who don’t mind driving a few extra miles for creature comforts.
Planning Your Facility
A profile of the ideal tenant will aid you in choosing the amenities to offer. Every location will have a unique set of demographics, influencing how you build. If you’re close to a lake, you should be influenced by the boating crowd; the larger the lake, the larger the boats.
If you’re in an area populated by seasonal visitors (“snowbirds” and the like), you may want to plan on catering to the RVer. Angled spaces allow you to narrow your driveways while easing the parking chore for tenants. Fully enclosed spaces seem to be more desirable for tenants with expensive vehicles.
If you plan a mix of different length spaces, plan for a higher number of 30- to 40-foot spaces than for 50-foot-plus spaces, especially for boating enthusiasts. Even at 38 feet in length, RVs need at least a 42-foot space. Many RVs have a ladder down the back that sticks out at least a foot, plus mirrors that stick out in front, requiring extra room.
In the Lake Havasu area, the most popular space sizes are 30 and 40 feet. In retrospect, I should have built 35- , 45- and 55-foot spaces based on inside measurements for my own facility. Use caution when choosing an architect, because I found (after the fact) that building sizes were outside measurements, leaving units several feet short of what I advertised.
Plan your door height or roof to be 14 feet. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that a 14-foot door will not measure 14 feet when opened. The door will hang below the opening a few inches, so you will be closer to 13 feet, 8 inches when the door is hung. If your pad is raised to create a rain lip, you’ll loose another inch, making it tight to climb up for a look when a fifth-wheeler enters. Even some of the 22-foot ski boats have ski towers on them and get to be 13 feet on the trailer. Pontoon boats also sit high on trailers and typically have tall bimini tops, which will push their height to over 13 feet. I would also have planned for doors to measure 14 feet at the final opening position, allowing room to spare for vehicle owners who cheat on the DOT restrictions.
Amenities and Marketing
If you offer RV storage, a dump station is desirable for tenants. Wash bays can generate revenue while reducing the cost of hose bibs throughout the property, plus you have greater control of tenants’ water use.
In a destination where people drive a distance to get to their chosen storage area, bathrooms with showers are a welcome amenity. Tenants like to come off the lake and wipe down their boats before storing them. On hot days, a shower is a nice way to cool off before the drive home.
Know your tenants’ behavior before you build so you can focus your facility design and marketing tactics on their needs well in advance of opening. Broaden the scope of your marketing efforts by building a quality website to track construction progress and grand-opening specials; after opening, the website will allow tenants to pay online.
Advertise in RV and boating magazines, especially ones that cater to your area. Create a referral program that encourages complementary businesses to participate. It will be easy to track and will give you the highest rate of return on your marketing dollars.
With all this in mind and in action, you’ll quickly learn the most important lesson of all: Your satisfied tenants can be your greatest asset.
Ed Heil is manager of operations and security Lake Havasu RV & Boat Storage in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. For more information, call 877.764.1961; visit www.lakehavasustorage.com.