By Caesar Wright
Boat and RV owners love to relax and travel with their "toys," and this mode of recreation appears to be on the rise. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, RV ownership in the United States is higher than ever, with the number of RV-owning households growing to 8.9 million in 2011 from 7.9 million in 2005. A whopping 8.5 percent of U.S. households now own an RV. This is good news for operators of self-storage facilities.
Because many communities have restrictions against parking boats and RVs on the street or in driveways, storage operators have an excellent opportunity to meet the resulting demand for space. If youre looking for ways to bring in new revenue, consider adding storage buildings or parking for boats and RVs.
Smart facility operators not only provide storage for these massive vehicles but a host of complementary services. Before you can reap the rewards of this market, however, youll need to think about the type of storage to offer, the costs involved and the amenities youll provide. Following are considerations for a smooth ride into the world of boat/RV storage.
Unit Type and Size
The economics of the local area are a significant factor in deciding the type of storage you should provide. Your offering can be as basic as large, outdoor parking spaces or as comprehensive as fully enclosed units. It might be something in between, such as an open or three-side canopy. But most of todays vehicle enthusiasts want to protect their investment with covered structures.
Keep in mind that in addition to the vehicle itself, many customers desire space to accommodate add-on fixtures such as motorcycle racks, tow bars, air-conditioning units, etc. They may also want to store other expensive toys they use when they go on adventures such as jet skis, snowmobiles and others. While some customers will be willing to rent another unit for these items, many will only rent storage that can meet all their needs in a single unit.
When determining the best unit size, consider the cost to build versus potential income on a per-square-foot basis. For example, a 14 -by-40-foot unit consumes 560 square feet of land. You could use that land for several traditional storage units, so youll want to gauge market demand to determine if boat/RV-storage buildings will be more profitable for your business than basic self-storage.
The Four Types
There are four main types of storage for boats and RVs, and each has advantages and disadvantages for you and your tenants. Its fair to assume the more substantial the structure, the more expensive it will be to build. It will also provide more protection and security to the very expensive vehicles stored within.
Fully enclosed building. This is basically a large garage. It's secure and may be accessed only by the renter. Typically, the minimum unit width for boat/RV storage is 12 feet, with most units being 14 or 15 feet wide and 45 feet to 50 feet deep. They'll usually have an eve height of about 16 feet and a 12 -by-14-foot door to accommodate even the largest RV.
The per-square-foot cost of building this structure is more expensive than that of traditional self-storage because the buildings require more support for the large door. A power operator is also commonly used to operate the door.
Three-sided storage canopy. This unit has one open side but is enclosed on the other three sides. It is mostly protected from the environment, but is not individually separated from other units. This type of storage is often used in areas prone to snow, as it provides more protection than open canopies.
Standard storage canopy or outside parking. Operators who have extra land can consider adding a standard storage canopy or simply designating an area for outside parking. A standard canopy is open with just a roof. This type of structure will protect vehicles from the sun, but there is little protection from rain, snow or wind.
Outside parking is just thata parking space. The only security for the client is the initial gate access to the property. Also, theres zero protection from the elements, as the vehicles are simply parked in an open area. Although minimal, this type of storage can still be lucrative for operators in markets where theres a high demand for boat/RV storage.
Construction Costs to Consider
Taxes. When it comes to weighing costs, many business owners forget to consider whether their storage canopies or three-sided RV-storage units are considered buildings by their local tax authority. This will have a significant impact on the tax assessment, so be clear before you make a decision about unit types to build.
Sprinklers. Fire sprinklers, which increase construction costs and ongoing operational expenses, are another overlooked outlay. In some areas, even canopies of more than a certain size require sprinklers.
Building components. The additional structural strength required by these oversized units also increases the cost of building components. The total price of RV storage usually ends up being slightly higher than that of traditional self-storage but significantly less than climate-controlled storage.
A traditional self-storage structure is built on a 5-by-10-foot grid with 4-inch, 16-gauge Cee studs, girts and Zee purlins. Cees are vertical supports, girts are horizontal supports, and Zees are the roof members. To expand the building to the greater heights or widths needed for RVs while maintaining structural strength, the builder must use more Cees, girts and Zees, or stronger members (6- to 8-inch and 14-gauge). Additional strength can also be obtained by building with clearspan or rigid-frame buildings.
Adding height to a building also increases the need for greater wind resistance. In canopy units, the roof will catch the wind like a kite, so it must be appropriately anchored. The more walls the structure has, the less uplift there is against the roof. The amount of reinforcement required depends on the height and width of the building and wind-load regulations for the area. These factors are normally determined by your structural engineer or metal-building provider. Some building companies also offer free engineering and design services and will gladly help you determine the requirements for your RV-storage project.
For enclosed units, doors must also meet higher wind-load requirements. Roll-up doors larger than 14 by 14 feet tend to catch wind deflection that could make them jump their tracks. Any door larger than 100 square feet should have a chain hoist or other door-opening mechanism.
Optimize Your Space
The most important element in determining the viability of adding boat/RV storage to your facility is space. RVs take up a lot of it, and the requirements for drive aisles and turn radiuses are twice those of a typical self-storage property. Youll need to provide plenty of access space to the boat/RV-storage buildings, but you don't want to waste land in the process.
Whatever size vehicle your customer wants to storewhether its a 20-, 30- or 40-foot RV or a boat with a trailermake your drive aisle a minimum of 45 to 50 feet wide to allow safe access to each unit. Drive aisles for open-air storage should be 50 to 60 feet wide for perpendicular spaces, and at least 35 feet wide for spaces angled at 60 degrees.
Youll need to ensure theres a nice flow to the property, where the boats and RVs can easily get in and out without having to back up. (Backing into a unit in tight quarters is an invitation for disaster.) This may require a second exit gate if there isnt adequate turning distance around the buildings. Pull-though access is often promoted in advertising for boat and RV storage because operators recognize the value of easy maneuverability. If your site is difficult to navigate with a large vehicle, your customers will look elsewhereor worse, they could damage your buildings or their vehicle.
RVs and boats can cost anywhere from $500 to well over $1 million, so security is paramount. At a minimum, youll need perimeter fencing, which can consist of anything from chain link and razor wire to solid block walls.
As 24-hour access is often a requirement of this type of storage, camera surveillance and key-coded entry gates are often employed. Ingress and egress keypads should be positioned at 42 inches and 66 inches from the ground to accommodate the window heights of cars and RVs. Its wise to have a camera aimed at vehicle license plates as they enter and exit the facility. You can also use proximity-card readers, adding limited-access zones for only those tenants with stored vehicles.
More sophisticated security measures can also be used, such as infrared beams with silent or audible security alarms. Table-top motion sensors can be rented for tenants to place in their vehicles.
Finally, good lighting is essential for security and safety. When planning your lighting, consult local codes. Many municipalities are adopting dark sky ordinances, which prohibit lights from aiming into the sky. To avoid costly renovations in the future, follow dark-sky standards even if theyre not currently mandatory in your area.
The ancillary products and services you offer in conjunction with RV storage also depend on your customers. People like to stretch their vacation time to the max, so the more convenient it is to store at your facility, the more likely you are to earn and keep tenants. And since boat/RV storage tends to appeal to higher-end clientele, it makes sense to add amenities such as wash bays, propane stations, etc. Some facilities even offer a clubhouse where tenants can mingle.
The most desired services are utilities such as electricity and water. Water is usually offered for free, and electricity can be metered or offered for a flat fee. Other popular add-ons for boat and RV storage include dump, wash and propane stations. Some facilities offer vehicle prep and clean-up services for additional fees. Others also offer the sale of commodities such as ice, coffee, glass wipes, air-fresheners, etc.
Whatever storage type or amenities you offer, the key to success in this business is always supply and demand. The great news is, in most markets, supply hasnt caught up with the demand. Its not too late for you to capitalize on this lucrative service. If you have space and want to make the most of it, consider adding boat/RV storage. Youll find it to be a high-growth, high-margin opportunity.
Caesar Wright is president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Mako Steel Inc., which designs, supplies and installs steel buildings for the self-storage industry nationwide. For more information, call 800.383.4932l; visit www.makosteel.com .