New Trends in Building Boat/RV Storage: Enclosed Units, Climate Control, Solar Carports and More

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By Jamie Lindau

Self-storage owners often want to know what other types of structures they can erect on their properties to complement their existing facilities and make more money, for example, large units for the storage of boats, RVs and other vehicles. A popular trend in the self-storage market is the addition of these bigger units, whose 12-by-14-foot doors can accommodate even the largest boats and RVs. Some units are up to 50 feet long.

However, these large units create one disadvantage for the self-storage operator—the rental rate. In the current economic downturn, many of the well-heeled renters who once paid a lot of money to store their RVs in enclosed spaces are now looking to save money by storing them outside. Does this mean an end to these large units? Not exactly. Construction continues; but the increase is due to demand for large storage units from businesses, not necessarily boat and RV owners.

The newest trend in boat and RV storage is large units that include climate control and outside access. These units will typically have a well-insulated sectional door with an automatic door opener. The actual building design doesn’t change much, but must accommodate the additional insulation and liner panel to make sure there are no clearance problems.

Solar Canopies

With the increasing awareness of green alternatives, a development trend that’s getting a lot of attention is solar canopies. These canopies are basically solar generators that also serve as carports for boats and RVs. This concept allows the entire structure to qualify for solar-tax credits while generating income from the parked vehicles, enhancing the income of the property.

The solar canopy design is an attractive business model when the tax credits from the state, in combination with the federal credits, make it financially viable. Not all states have solar initiatives, so you’ll need to consult with your state to see if it is a viable solution.

Outside Parking

A storage trend that’s actually disappearing is the development of outside parking for boats and RVs. Many self-storage owners have realized it’s more profitable to build another self-storage building than to just park vehicles and boats on a paved, open lot. In addition, many cities have forced facility owners to give up their outdoor storage if they want a permit to construct a new building.

For example, in Madison, Wis., the city has forced existing self-storage owners to obtain a conditional-use permit on all new construction. The city will not give them a permit unless they promise to get rid of outside parking. This trend is gaining traction in many townships around the country.

The same basic truths to building boat and RV storage apply today as they have for several years: There’s a nice business in providing outdoor space for parking boats and RVs—as long as you buy a large tract of land at a reasonable price. If you build canopies to shelter vehicles from the elements, you’ll be able to charge double the rent for the same size space, simply because it’s covered. If you go all out and build completely enclosed units, you’ll get double the rent of that charged on the canopy-type parking.

The important thing to remember is not all customers will spend the extra money for enclosed spaces. In today’s environment where people are thriftier than in the past, look long-term at your business strategy so you don’t overbuild in your market.

Jamie Lindau is the national sales manager for Trachte Building Systems in Sun Prairie, Wis. Lindau has traveled the United States and Canada for 23 years helping people plan, develop, build and profit from self-storage. Drawing from his own experiences as a former self-storage owner, he has also led more than 200 Trachte seminars since 1988. For more information, call 800.356.5824; visit www.trachte.com.

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