Before it could become a viable project, Dakota Park Boat and RV Storage in Fresno, Calif., had to overcome a whole bundle of obstacles.
First, the property is an odd shape, which made it difficult to incorporate the number of units needed for the development to succeed. The west and south property lines are adjacent to residential areas, which meant large setbacks and restrictive height requirements. In addition, the east side is cut diagonally by a canal. It was only after several months of cooperative work between the property owners, construction firm, architect and City of Fresno that the undertaking became economically feasible.
Fortunately, the site’s location is exceptional. It sits next to one of the state’s busiest north/south freeways, so no part of Fresno is more than 10 minutes away from the facility. Dakota Park’s signage and structures are visible to more than 120,000 prospects daily.
The facility’s amenities are state-of-the-art. On the security side, it offers individually alarmed and electronically operated doors, complete video surveillance and motion detectors. In terms of services, it provides a fully equipped, covered wash bay as well as access to water, air compressors and dump stations. Owners Rick and Sheila Aaronian spared no expense to give customers the ultimate RV/ boat-storage experience.
We asked the Aaronians to share their story with the readers of Inside Self-Storage. Here’s what they had to say about the boat/RV storage business in general, their struggle to get Dakota Park off the ground, and their facility’s differentiating features.
What inspired you to invest in RV and boat storage?
We had no previous experience in the storage business, but we saw it as a source of retirement income. It requires only low maintenance and has a small employee base. There’s also a significant need for this type of storage. We were attracted to the “infancy” of this specialty type of space as opposed to self-storage. We had owned the land for quite some time.
Why did you choose RV/boat storage over self-storage?
Our decision to offer RV/boat storage over self-storage was multi-faceted. In our city, the self-storage market is rather well-saturated, and we wanted to minimize our competition. We’re one of the few facilities entirely devoted to the storage of RVs and boats. We felt there was a need for this type of facility in our community. In fact, we had the approval and complete support of our local government officials and building departments during the construction process.
In addition, we were never able to find an adequate facility to store our own RV in the manner we desired. The more we spoke to other boat/RV owners, the more we found they wanted the same kind of storage for their own toys. Our purchase of the land several years ago at a relatively affordable price allowed us to construct a class-A facility.
What important steps helped you move from the inspiration phase to the implementation phase?
As we spoke to our fellow RVers and boat enthusiasts, we found a need for this type of specialty storage. When we began preliminary site layouts, our local building department was rather excited to help in the design phase of our project. A unanimous approval by the Planning Commission and City Council gave us the ultimate thumbs up to go from inspiration to implementation.
What type of research did you do beforehand?
Our research included a professional feasibility study by JoBeth White of Development Services Inc., countless hours on the Internet, and our personal questioning of other boaters and RVers. We performed an extensive cost analysis, land analysis and appraisal of the project to be certain we could stay cost competitive in the current market. We also performed several hours of research with Bob Hayworth of Baja Construction Co. Inc. and our architect, Bill Bogdanov.
Both were instrumental in creating the foundation required for development of this project.
How did you choose the layout for the project?
Again, we did extensive experiments with land use and design/layout to maximize building space and minimize driveway space while still adhering to local lot line, landscape and setback requirements.
How did you choose the company to build your project?
Mr. Hayworth was instrumental in the design phase of our project. Our decision was simplified by considering cost competitiveness, the proximity of the Baja office to our location, and Baja’s previous experience with the fabrication and building of this type of facility. We also considered the ease of working with the various personalities on the Baja team, and the ready mobility of the company’s work crews.
What features make your facility special? What distinguishes it from others in the area?
First and foremost, we are an exclusive boat/RV storage facility—although any client in need of our type of storage (“mega storage”) is more than welcome. We have a dedicated, covered wash facility, on-site dump station, compressed air and water dispenser, on-site detail service, extensive video surveillance, perimeter motion detectors, remote motion detectors, 14-by-14-foot roll-up doors with electronic door openers, interior lighting, and 110v and 30amp electrical service available.
In addition, we are within minutes of all boat and RV dealerships in the area and can access any of the local freeways quickly and easily.
How did you reach out/advertise to your customer base?
We have networked with all of the local boat and RV dealerships and service-related industries. We’ve also used Yellow Pages advertising, professional Web design and all manner of local advertising: newspaper, magazine and TV/radio. We’ve participated in area boat/RV shows. We make each and everyone of our customers feel special and are rapidly building a strong referral base built on customer satisfaction. The absolute best (and least expensive) advertising has been large banners placed on our building. Some 120,000 potential customers per day see them while traveling on the freeway.
So far, are you pleased with how your facility is filling up? How long has it been open?
We’ve been open since May 11, 2007. As a matter of human nature, any storage owner would like to have 100 percent occupancy on the day of opening. As a matter of practicality, that simply does not happen. We’re leasing up twice as fast as the national average and at about 150 percent of our projected feasibility study. Generally, we’re quite pleased with our lease-up. At just over two months of operation, we were 20 percent occupied, and we anticipate complete lease-up within a year from opening.
What issues arose during the pre-approval, design and construction process?
The most difficult issue we encountered was simply the amount of time it took. It was 10 months from the initial application of the Conditional Use Permit to the City Planning Commission hearing, and another four months until final approval by the City Council.
Plan check and permits required an additional six months, and bank approval another three months. Other issues such as weather and the city requiring additional firewalls that were not anticipated during the planning phase added another five months of delay to the building and construction process.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I wish I had purchased more land than the original 10 acres at the price I paid. I also believe a different mix of large and small units may have been more beneficial than what was originally designed, as we have now found a need for spaces half as deep as our larger units. We will be undergoing a small remodel soon to help affect that change, and it will not disturb the daily operation of our facility. Otherwise, all other facets of our facility have turned out better than anticipated.
What distinguishes you from other storage investors?
The storage business is not our primary occupation, and the income produced from this facility will not be used to provide for daily living expenses. As a result, we should be able to reduce debt at an accelerated rate once lease-up has occurred. Also, we wanted to be leaders in an emerging industry and not followers (self-storage has been around for some 40 years).
What else would you like the readers of ISS to know about you or your facility?
Ours is a state-of-the-art facility with all the bells and whistles. People not only know our quality, they have grown accustomed to it. They are willing to pay a little more so long as they perceive they are receiving more. Our philosophy is that we have 300 very special customers who are to be treated as kings and queens. We strive to make everyone feel extraordinary. Good luck to all those future boat- and RV-storage facility owners!