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Between the Lines: How Vehicle Storage Can Benefit Your Self-Storage Business

Small dwellings and neighborhood restrictions have helped increase demand for vehicle storage. Here are some options and considerations that can help drive additional income at your self-storage facility.

Kevin Edwards

June 21, 2020

7 Min Read

Is it just me, or does it seem like our neighborhoods are getting more congested? Streets don’t seem as wide as they used to, and homes seem smaller.

Though some folks learn to live with less and enjoy more time away from the house, the move toward smaller spaces can be difficult for those who own toys like RVs, campers or boats, and small business owners and independent contractors with work vehicles and trailers. Some gated, private communities don’t allow large or commercial vehicles after certain hours, even if you live there! And don’t even think about leaving the vehicle in your driveway overnight. In these instances, vehicle owners have little option but to keep their rigs off-property. Some newer developments have started to include small parking or storage areas in their designs, but they tend to have drawbacks, such as limited availability, no security, bad construction or maintenance, and waiting lists that are months or even years long.

These are all reasons why offering vehicle space at your self-storage property can be a sound, lucrative opportunity. If you don’t currently offer it but have room to expand, it’s a project that doesn’t require too much building or renovation but can generate extra revenue. Let’s take a look at some viable options that might be suitable for your site.

Outdoor Lots

Simple, outdoor parking spots, either on grass, gravel (crush and run) or pavement, are usually perfect for local contractors and landscapers. These customers spend most of their time off-property during the day and just need a safe, secure place to park their trucks and trailers overnight or during the weekend.

Boat and RV hobbyists who tend to be gone for a few days every week or on weekends tend to gravitate to outdoor lots as well. Hassle-free and affordable, they make a sensible choice for busy professionals and weekend water worshipers. Keep in mind that many contractors will rent a standard drive-up unit for their tools and equipment, too, which adds bonus income from your outdoor-parking tenants.

Covered Parking

Covered parking, either with or without electric hookups, are very popular with long-term visitors or part-time residents who tend to stay in a community for a few months, travel some and then return. Owners of larger RVs and boats also tend to lean toward covered-parking options to protect their prized possessions.

An added convenience from a canopy is shade from the sun or shield from rain, particularly if tenants are servicing and preparing their vehicle for its next adventure. A trickle-charge option can also keep their air-conditioning (A/C) running to help prevent interiors from becoming moldy or musty.

While these are premium rentals spots, consider a weekly rate as well as monthly as a convenience to travelers in your area. Definitely perform a comparable survey to help determine the best angle for rent, but remember that these spaces should be in high demand and can generate some very strong revenue. As few as 30 spaces, if priced properly and maintained, can generate $100,000 in revenue per year, if not more.

Enclosed Space

Enclosed, climate-controlled units are something to consider for classic or collectible cars. The attraction of a secure, lockable, drive-up unit, with options for electricity, overhead lighting and plenty of space for accessories, is palpable.

These spaces also provide opportunities for add-on revenue. Just adding A/C and lights to existing units can add up to $150 per month of income per unit. When intentionally built from the ground up, with electricity and proper insulation, they can fetch a quite a bit more. They also present additional retail opportunities with items like oil-absorbent floor mats, trickle-charge kits, converters and adapters for foreign cars.

Avoiding Pitfalls

Of course, for every positive action you implement at your self-storage facility, there’s always the possibility for an equal and opposite reaction from tenants in the form of criticism or behavior. Vehicle-storage customers need to be closely monitored to avoid confusion, aggravation and potential move-outs as a result of perceived mismanagement.

One frequent problem is folks using your vehicle-storage spaces as public parking. These might be people who show up as temporary labor for a tenant, truck-rental customers, or someone just visiting his stuff in a unit, but they will invariably park wherever there’s an empty or convenient spot. Murphy’s Law more or less ensures the paying tenant will arrive while someone is parked in his space. He might then choose to park in another seemingly vacant space, displacing yet another tenant. It’s a domino effect.

Treat your parking areas and vehicle-storage spaces as you would any other part of your property and be attentive to every detail. For every space, you must gather a description of the vehicle or trailer assigned to it, the license-plate number, copies of registration and insurance, and whatever else will be helpful in case there’s an issue.

Keep any tenants who are contractors and landscapers in the loop. People quit, get fired or move away all the time. For their security and yours, tell those customers who have multiple employees that their gate code can and should be changed as turnover occurs.

Just as you walk your hallways and buildings every morning or afternoon looking for missing locks and other oddities, watch out for unfamiliar cars, trucks or trailers. If a tenant rents a space for a large RV, you may want to note the make and model of any vehicles they might leave in its place as they travel. That way, if it shows up, you’ll know it belongs.

Take pictures of anything that looks out of place, and inform the tenant ASAP! Simply noting it on a list won’t cut it. Flat tires can lead to bent boat propellers, damaged hulls or broken trailer hitches. A wasp or hornet nest under a rolled-up canopy or inside an open RV vent can be a nasty surprise for tenants arriving from out of state. Work trailers with loose equipment or cables can be dangerous and lead to accidents. If tenants know you’re watching out for the well-being of their property, they’ll know you’re watching out for them, too.

One of the biggest challenges with vehicle storage is keeping spaces neat, tidy and attractive. Some tenants arrive on the property very early to pick up their work vehicle and then return late in the day. Cleaning up after themselves isn’t usually the first thing on their minds. Bits and pieces of their workday activities can and will build up quickly. A parking space for a hardworking tenant can go from a pristine, organized space to a 10-by-20 landfill in less than a week.

Sending e-mail reminders about parking policies and guidelines (just as one falls a bit behind) helps tenants monitor each other and encourages them to keep their areas looking nice. If they know the policies are as much for their benefit as yours—helping to keep costs down and rents reasonable—they’ll understand and work with you.

Get the Word Out

Marketing your vehicle storage should be a cinch nowadays. Social media groups for camping and RV enthusiasts, boating fanatics, and classic-car lovers are all over the place. Visit some of the gated communities around you, or at least try to subscribe to their newsletters. Grassroots marketing doesn’t hurt either. In addition, make your presence known at boat, RV and car dealerships, apartment complexes, and anywhere space is at a premium.

Vehicle storage can be an easy, low-maintenance way to increase revenue and exposure for your self-storage operation. The marketing is simple, the upkeep low-tech, and demand has never been higher. Any or all of these options can entice new tenants and provide additional income for future improvements, repairs or expansions … even if it’s more parking!

Kevin J. Edwards has worked in the storage industry since 2014. He’s a site manager for the Bradshaw Group of Hilton Head Island, S.C., and a licensed property manager in the state.  His experience includes site management, manager training, maintenance, digital marketing and advertising, and audits for multi-facility owners and third-party management companies in the Southeast and Washington, D.C. For more information, call 843.422.3461; e-mail [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Kevin Edwards

Property Manager, Southeast Management Co.

Kevin J. Edwards joined Southeast Management Co. in 2016. He and his wife, Donna, are property managers for Plantation Storage and Plantation Wine Cellars in Bluffton, S.C. To reach him, call 843.815.8000; e-mail [email protected].

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