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Building Boat/RV Storage: Site Selection, Design, Types and More

There are many U.S. markets hungry for boat/RV storage. If you’re thinking about building a new boat/RV-storage facility or adding this service to your existing storage site, here are some things to consider.

October 20, 2015

6 Min Read
Building Boat/RV Storage: Site Selection, Design, Types and More

By Caesar Wright

According to a March 2015 business-trend report from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), RV ownership has reached record levels, and demand for manufacturing is at its highest in almost a decade. Similarly, RV storage has been in high demand, and for good reason: Many of the major metro markets are grossly underserved.

If you’re in one of those markets that has an appetite for vehicle-storage services, there are several things you should know. If you’re thinking about building a new boat/RV-storage facility or adding this type of storage to an existing storage site, here are some things to consider.

Site Selection

One key difference between the development of boat/RV storage and traditional self-storage is the parcel size required. While an average self-storage project needs three to five acres, a boat/RV-storage site needs seven to 10. Part of why this type of storage is so land-intensive is the drive-aisle space needed to achieve the best and easiest access to the units. RVs and boats can be difficult to maneuver. The more space you can give tenants, the better their experience will be, and the less likely your buildings will be damaged.

It’s important to note, however, that there are facilities that do succeed on much smaller parcels. Location and market demand are key drivers. The key is to do a comprehensive analysis of building costs vs. return-on-cash and make sure you have a clear understanding of your market and the propensity to rent. Proper due diligence will help you assess how much you can afford to pay for a piece of dirt based on the amount of rent per square foot and anticipated construction costs.

As with any real estate investment, it’s best to find a visible and convenient location. That said, boat/RV-storage customers are willing to go a greater distance to store than traditional self-storage tenants, who travel a typical three to five miles; so an infill site in an established neighborhood, while probably an excellent location, isn’t essential. Finding a site at the right price in an underserved market and close to major thoroughfares with convenient access may make up for some lack of visibility.

Site Design

Site design is one of the more critical phases of boat/RV-storage development. Make sure there’s ease of access—to units, around your property, and in and out of the facility. Entrances and approaches should be long enough to accommodate “stacking” (a few vehicles waiting to enter), and drive aisles should be as wide as you can make them.

I recommend a 50-foot drive aisle for fully enclosed units and a 45-foot aisle for canopies constructed at an angle. Some operators have built even larger aisles, and customer feedback has shown that aisle width is a huge decision-making factor for prospective tenants.

The type of boat/RV storage you plan to build will also affect the design process. There are several ways to offer this type of storage, and each comes with its own rent structures and construction costs. The right mix for your site should be based on the demands of your specific market and determined during the feasibility and site-planning phase.

Open Storage

Less than a decade ago, most boat/RV-storage sites were situated on “barely developed” land, with property owners using vehicle parking as a mere placeholder while waiting for something bigger and better to come along. While this is still a productive way to launch a vehicle-storage enterprise, many customers today are taking strides to safeguard their boat/RV investments and appealing to storage operators to provide security.

Open parking is still the cheapest way to offer boat/RV storage, but it doesn’t appeal to the discriminating tenant. It’s readily available in many markets and provides the lowest cash-on-cash return. It can be a great option if there’s a need in your market and you have bare land that can be easily paved. It’s a low-maintenance way to get into the business.

Canopy/Roof-Only Structures

Sentinel Self-Storage in Sherwood, Ore., offers covered and fully enclosed units.Canopies continue to be one of the most sought-after products in the boat/RV-storage industry. The roof-only structure deters most corrosive aspects of weather and provides some long-term protection from the elements. While not innately secure, this type of storage can be constructed economically in most areas using a light-gauge welded “cee” design.

When designing canopy storage, one of the most important considerations is in the roof. Because this product is open by nature, I suggest using a “thru-fastened” roof so breaches can be easily identified and repaired.

For the most economical approach, space posts about every 24 feet, which accommodates two side-by-side, 12-foot parking stalls. The clearance height should be about 14 feet. This type of construction ranges from $20 to $25 per square foot for turnkey projects. It’s a small investment to lure a more selective tenant base.

Enclosed Storage

Fully enclosed boat/RV storage is the crème-de-la-crème and should be designed with the most discriminating tastes in mind. This product for high-end boats and RVs will attract a more affluent and judicious renter.

A typical enclosed building will consist of units 14 feet wide and ranging in depth from 30 to 45 feet. Typical units should include a 12-foot-wide-by-14-foot-high roll-up door, which should accommodate the tallest vehicle on the road today.

An enclosed boat/RV-storage building is essentially a single-story self-storage structure on steroids. It’s bigger, fancier and more expensive to build. If security is paramount and convenience a draw, consider adding these upgrades:

  • Motorized door operators on the units

  • Individually metered electricity in the units

  • A wash bay for customer convenience

  • A dump station

  • An ice machine

  • RV supplies for sale in the management office

  • 24/7/365 access

Condo Storage

Eucalyptus at Beaumont in California offers condo storage.If enclosed storage is the crème-de-la-crème, then condo-style storage has bested the best. This type of storage provides all the amenities that would be considered standard for an upscale boat/RV-storage center and but offers opportunities for unit ownership rather than rental.

These facilities often provide a larger selection of spaces, more attractive services and intensified aesthetics. Most offer customizable units with mezzanine structures, a clubhouse, insulated or climate-controlled environments, and easy lease-to-own financing. The condo model might be an expensive and, at times, arduous endeavor, but it’s proving to be profitable in some markets.

The Future

A forecast by RVIA Vice President Robert “Mac” Bryan reveals RV shipments are expected to set a new record in 2016. “Expansion of the potential market for new RVs will raise the floor on RV sales over the next decade. We’re going to see higher sales during both cyclical lows and highs,” Bryan said.

If these projections hold true, they’ll continue to feed the ever-growing demand for boat/RV storage. If your market is ripe for this kind of service, take the time to create a well-designed facility. Before you build, make sure the land is big enough and determine the type of storage that will perform well in your market. Once the facility is built, add unique amenities to ensure success.

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.

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