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The Nuances of Vehicle Storage: What to Know When Operating This Product as Part of a Self-Storage Business

Adding vehicle storage for cars, boats and RVs to an existing self-storage facility can be a great way to leverage unused space, draw a wider customer base and earn extra revenue; however, this offering does a require a different business approach. To succeed, you’ll need to grasp the following operational nuances.

Gary Edmonds

January 11, 2024

6 Min Read
The Nuances of Vehicle Storage: What to Know When Operating This Product as Part of a Self-Storage Business
Storage King in Spring Hill, Florida

My cousin retired from her career a few years ago and took a part-time job with a seamstress, scheduling alterations and fittings. She absolutely loves working there because every customer she talks to is happy! The owner is well-known for her work on wedding dresses, so the patrons are excited to be there and looking forward to getting married. Life is great!

Boat/RV-storage customers also tend to be very happy. After all, they have a wonderful, prized toy that helps them enjoy life. It may only be a $2,500 jon boat, but they can tell you a story about the fish they caught that special day on the lake. For some, it may be a $500,000 RV they take to football games with friends year after year. For many of these tenants, the item they’re storing brings joy. That certainly isn’t always the case with traditional self-storage, where renters are often dealing with stressful life circumstances.

But a more cheerful customer base isn’t the only thing that’s different about boat/RV-storage. This product requires a different operational approach and mindset. If you’re angling to add this product to your self-storage business, following is some advice to help you succeed.

Similar but Different

There are generally three types of vehicle storage: open parking, in which vehicles are fully exposed to the elements; covered or canopy parking, in which there’s some protection from the sun and weather; and fully enclosed units. Open parking is the easiest and cheapest to add to an existing self-storage facility. Fully enclosed storage involves the largest initial investment, but the resulting revenue often offsets the additional cost.

On the surface, adding boat/RV storage to a self-storage facility may seem easy. If you have around 10,000 square feet of unused land, why not put down some gravel and mark the area with parking spaces? But the business is more nuanced than many think. For example:

  • Your insurance policy may not allow you to store vehicles on site. This has become more common, perhaps due to the recurring theft of catalytic converters. If you decide to offer boat/RV storage, consult with your carrier, so you don’t risk losing coverage.

  • Vehicle storage usually requires a different lease than self-storage due to unique regulations and legalities.

  • Trailers and RVs require a tremendous amount of space to maneuver, and many of their owners aren’t all that experienced in driving them. You may think you have a large enough area to add vehicle storage, but it shrinks rapidly when you start laying out adequate driveways and turning spots.

Following are additional considerations for operating boat/RV storage as part of an existing self-storage business.

Marketing

It’s important to understand that the marketing for each of your services—in this case, boat/RV storage and self-storage—needs to be different. You can’t simply advertise ABC Storage and expect that prospects will know they can store their large vehicles with you. You’ll need to spell this out through pointed efforts.

Keep in mind that not everyone in your market is a prospective vehicle-storage client. In fact, this product has relatively few potential tenants compared to traditional self-storage. But the good news is this allows you to conduct much more specific marketing campaign. For example, you can focus on certain keywords such as boats, camping, RVs and other related terms. You can also geo-tag places future tenants might visit such as camping stores, marinas, boat dealerships and similar businesses. Your marketing can be much more effective this way because you know exactly what the storage need is for your target customer.

When promoting your site, don’t underestimate the power of facility design. Again, large vehicles like boats and RVs can be difficult to move around. If you’ve created your site for easy access, with plenty of room for drivers to pull off of the street while entering and keypads that are appropriately positioned for higher driver windows, it’ll go a long way toward attracting the clientele you seek.

In traditional self-storage marketing, it’s common to display pictures of clean units and hallways. For boat/RV storage, make sure you focus on your easy access, wide drive aisles and generous turn radii. Take pictures of these things to illustrate just how large and convenient your site is. That’s your best advertisement because ample room is the No. 1 priority of these customers.

Rules and Regulations

For me, enforcement of good curb appeal is critical at any self-storage facility, but particularly if you offer vehicle storage. This is why, at most of my properties, we limit the age of any cars, boats or RVs that can be stored outside. The last thing we want is 30-year-old junkers with broken windows visible on the lot.

Tenants will sometimes violate this rule, however, which can create a quandary. After all, it can be difficult to evict a paying customer who’s current on rent. The upshot is it typically isn’t too hard to replace them with a tenant who owns a newer, more attractive vehicle.

Of course, just as with traditional self-storage, there can be delinquent tenants; but how you deal with them is very different. The legal mechanics of selling a titled vehicle are more complicated than taking a regular storage unit to auction. Consult your state statute to confirm what’s allowed.

The good news is these instances tend to be rare. It’s been several years since our company had to auction a stored vehicle. In contrast, we hold self-storage lien sales every week. It’s a massive and enjoyable difference, but simple to understand. After all, how often is a tenant likely to let go of a $20,000 boat or $200,000 RV?

Amenities

Another factor that separates boat/RV storage from traditional self-storage is the amenities you offer customers. These tenants are looking for conveniences such as a dump station and fresh-water hose. Both are important assets for these owners and relatively inexpensive additions for you as the facility operator. Compressed air for filling tires, car-wash bays and electric outlets are also a nice touch. In addition, propane and ice sales are becoming more common.

A Specialty Service

Not all storage services are the same. Whether you offer wine, document or vehicle storage, you must adapt to the nuances of each. Boat/RV storage is a specialty. It requires a different operational approach. It’s also a positive experience to work with customers who appreciate the opportunity to store their prized possessions with you.

Gary Edmonds is owner of Pike Co. Storage, which operates 17 facilities in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. In 2020, he launched The Storage Manager, a third-party management company specializing in remote operations. With nearly 20 years of industry experience, he has extensive knowledge related to running unmanned properties. To reach him, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Gary Edmonds

Owner, Pike County Storage

Gary Edmonds has been the owner, manager, janitor and lawnmower at Pike County Storage in Pittsfield, Ill., since 1999. He and his wife, Diane, also own All-Star Mini Storage and Puro Mini Storage in Peoria, Ill., and U-Store-It in Macomb, Ill. With a background in banking, financial services and construction, Gary strives to be surrounded by people who are smarter than he is. He can be reached at [email protected].

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