Long considered a niche market in the self-storage industry, boat and RV storage has emerged as a facility differentiator in crowded markets. High-end sites with amenities designed specifically for boat and RV customers are popping up in strategic locations across the country. Storage owners looking to expand their existing sites are also considering this add-on service.
What does it take to tap into the growing boat/RV market? Inside Self-Storage talks with Caesar Wright, president of Mako Steel Inc., a design/build company specializing in storage construction, about why the niche is thriving, what makes a good boat/RV site, and how operators can market the offering.
Why is boat/RV storage a hot topic right now?
For storage investors and developers, boat and RV storage represents a niche that still has some great momentum in a lot of markets. In areas where self-storage is overbuilt or at capacity, boat and RV units are still in demand. The flip side of that is, for the consumer, these types of larger units can still be hard to find.
What are some of the trends in boat/RV storage?
We’ve seen developers’ plans run the gamut from your basic canopy or roof-only structures to individually climate-controlled units with motor-operated doors and storage mezzanines. Many developers recognize that the target market for a boat/RV storage site is measurably different from that of self-storage. They’re focusing on the needs of the RV customer by offering wash bays, dump stations, valet service and club-house-type amenities that appeal to his sense of security and accessibility.
What do you need for an ideal boat/RV storage site?
As with any real estate investment, location is key. Land adjacent to major freeways or arterials leading to destination areas can be good build sites in the right markets. Equally important are the size of the parcel and the cost of the property. Developers used to self-storage rules-of-thumb will need to look for cheaper dirt and bigger parcels.
Tell us about running this kind of facility. How does it differ from traditional self-storage?
One of the great attractions to this type of development is your business does not see the turnover in units or the delinquency rates typical to self-storage. While a highly secure site is an amenity that crosses over into self-storage as well, the RV customer storing a half-million-dollar motor coach on your property is going to be more discerning when it comes to potential theft.
Are there sustainable applications in building boat/RV storage?
As with self-storage, RV/boat storage offers a great opportunity to incorporate solar panels. By nature, this type of development offers a ton of rooftop space, and if you’re in the right market, this can also be an ancillary money maker. Some municipalities will buy back excess energy production, and some will let you bank it for future use. If areas where either of these is an option, we’re seeing an average three- to five-year return on investment with this type of green building.
What are the building basics for boat/RV storage?
I refer to boat/RV-storage buildings as self-storage on steroids. We’re using the same basic principals in structural design and construction, but increasing the height and width of the units. As for the overall site design, drive aisles and turn radius need to be increased exponentially, and traffic flow in and out of the site needs to be heavily considered.
Tell us about the condo trend.
We’re seeing more developers looking at the option of storage condos to own, minimizing the need for rental spaces. This is an interesting change, and one that is still in its relative infancy. Developers are really tailoring their developments in this instance to the high-end consumer. They’re appealing to a target market that isn’t interested in throwing money away on rental space but looking to invest in and build value with ownership.
Who are boat/RV-storage customers? How does a self-storage operator market to them?
There are an estimated 8 million RVs in the United States, about one for every 12 homes. Over the last 25 years, RV and boat ownership has increased 58 percent, with the largest gains being in the 30- to 45-year-old bracket. With the introduction of CC&Rs and HOA rules about boat/RV parking, we’ve seen a spike in need that developers have not yet tapped. While in many markets, there are self-storage facilities to cater to the needs of the population, the boat/RV storage market is still lacking.
While there are no hard and fast rules to marketing this product, a good tip is to keep the consumer in mind. RV and boat spaces will draw tenants from a larger pool than the 3- to 5-mile radius standard for self-storage, and the consumers will likely be more concerned with accessibility, security and access.