Considering Vehicle Storage

October 1, 2001

6 Min Read
Considering Vehicle Storage

Considering Vehicle Storage

Incorporating boat or RV storage into an existing self-storagefacility

By Tron Jordheim

Are you considering the addition of boat and RV storage into yourexisting self-storage facility? Perhaps you have some unused land you are tiredof mowing. Maybe you are planning to add another self-storage building in twoyears and would like to bank on your vacant land in the meantime. Maybe yourcommunity just passed a restrictive covenant or zoning ordinance that prohibitspeople from parking boats or RVs in front of their houses or in their driveways.Or perhaps you do business in an area with a large concentration of retirees,known for their affinity for recreational vehicles, or one with goodsport-fishing opportunities. Any of these scenarios could mean success for boat-and RV-storage operations.

Proceed With Caution

To offer this service, you are naturally going to have to deal with land-usepolicies. In some areas, you can offer outdoor, uncovered parking withoutdisturbing any ordinances, which makes it easy to convert extra land intopotential revenue. You may think if zoning allows you to put a building on apiece of land, you should be able to park vehicles on it before constructionwithout issue, but that may not be the case. In cities where boats and RVs arebeing restricted in residential areas, they are also being restricted citywide.You may not be able to secure the approval you need.

If you are convinced there is a market in your area for boat and RV storage,forge ahead. But first, you will have to get creative in determining the localneed for this service. Kevin Bowman, of Millstadt, Ill.-based JKB Consultants,conducts self-storage feasibility studies around the country. When folks ask himabout the prospects for boat and RV storage, he shrugs. Though he has done thedue-diligence research on vehicle storage, he has had a difficult time compilingsolid numbers to work from. Determining a benchmark for a good ratio of vehiclestorage to to self-storage on a particular site isn't easy. Information islimited on average rental rates, return on investment, or determining theappropriate unit mix (covered vs. uncovered spaces, spaces that provideelectricity vs. those that don't). Bowman recommends proceeding with caution.

Ways to Proceed

If you are doing a brisk business in self-storage but your boat- andRV-storage effort doesn't fly, one possibility is to use the land to build a newphase of self-storage. In any case, you need an exit strategy in the event theventure fails.

One option is to phase in boat and RV parking the way you might buildself-storage in phases. Pat Porter manages the Sunbelt Discount Boat and RVStorage Center in Baton Rouge, La. He says Sunbelt's owner, John T. James,experimented with phasing in the development of his facility, allowing time toevaluate each phase before moving forward.

Start slow. Perhaps begin with mostly open parking on limestone with somecovered spaces. The biggest threat to a recreational vehicle is the sun and thedamage it can cause, so a covered space might be enough added value to attractmany RV and boat owners. Make sure your canopies are tall enough. With the radartowers and air-conditioning units found on many RVs, you probably need canopiesat least 15 feet high.

Another consideration is whether to offer spaces with electricity. Try addinga few spaces with 20-amp electric outlets so tenants can charge their batteries.A nominal monthly surcharge should cover your electricity costs. You may havesome tenants requesting larger amperage--be wary. Adding more amperage mightencourage people to live in their RVs on your lot.

In the next phase, offer some concrete spaces and units that are fullyenclosed with large roll-up doors. You will find there is a market for"good," "better" and "best" service. Do someexperimenting and talk with boat and RV owners to determine the best mix foryour facility. If your plan is to bank on the land before putting inself-storage, you may want to have only enough premium parking to maximize yourreturn. On the other hand, you don't want to construct any structures that willhave to come down or be converted to self-storage later.

You will need aisles large enough for people to maneuver their RVs and boattrailers. Forty-foot-wide aisles are not going to provide enough room to move.This also creates questions about profitable land use that you will have toanswer for yourself.

Be prepared to offer 24-hour access. Fishermen get their boats at all hoursof the day. RVers are on their own clock and may come and go at the strangesthours. Some folks like to be on the road when there is the least amount oftraffic and pull into their storage space at 4 a.m.

Security is, of course, an issue. Your perimeter will need to be secure. RVand boat storers will likely require video surveillance on the premises toensure no one breaks into or vandalizes their homes-on-wheels or prizepossessions. Be sensitive to these tenants' needs, particularly those storing inunenclosed spaces. Their valuables are obviously more vulnerable to tampering.

Other Considerations

How seasonal is the boat- and RV-storage business? That depends where youare. Some areas may have year-round boating opportunities, but only winterbusiness for RVs. Get a feel for the seasonal patterns before you make too manydecisions you can't change later.

One benefit to adding boat and RV storage is you can attract some long-termtenants. In self-storage, you get a lot of tenants who need a unit for severalmonths and then might not need a unit again for a long time. Boat and RVenthusiasts usually stick with their passion over time and always need a placeto leave their "toys."

Will you be satisfied storing strictly boats and RVs, or do you think avalue-added service is called for in your area? For instance, some storagefacilities have sanitation hookups so RVs can purge their systems. You may findthere are many services you could perform that would add revenue. Or you mayfind it doesn't make sense to get into new businesses unfamiliar to you.Becoming an expert usually takes time and money.

Those with extensive knowledge of boats may find it profitable to offerdry-stack marina storage. This is a different animal than a boat-storagefacility. You must ask yourself if you want to create care and custodyobligations. Stacking boats in racks increases your revenue per square foot, butit also creates labor costs, racking costs and the potential liability ofdamaging an expensive boat. I have seen dry marinas overflowing with boats. Isit the right business for you? There are many operators offering stack storagesuccessfully. You'll want to do some careful research before draining time andresources away from your core business.

Finally, execute some inspired marketing to fill up your facility. If yourlocation and Yellow Pages ads are prominent, you should generate phone calls,but there may also be some boat- and RV-specific markets on which to focus. Doesyour area hold a sportsman's show? Do you have RV parks or fishing tournamentsnearby? Any way you can get your name in front of boat and RV enthusiasts willhelp you. If you build on the right location, you might experience the"build it and they will come" phenomenon. It is more likely, however,you will need to shake the bushes to make the tenants come.

Tron Jordheim is the director of the PhoneSmart Call Center. PhoneSmarthelps storage owners turn after-hours calls and missed phone calls into rentals.Mr. Jordheim can be reached at 866.639.1715 or [email protected].

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