By Jamie Lindau
The biggest concern self-storage operators have when adding boat and RV storage to their existing site is whether it will make money. In many cases, they've already received calls from customers requesting boat/RV storage, so they know they can probably rent units. The real question is, do they have the space necessary to accommodate the units, and if they do, will they be profitable?
Rental rates are a major factor in determining whether a boat/RV-storage project will make economic sense. The rent per square foot will be less than what you would charge on a traditional 10-by-20 unit, so you wont be making as much money. So why build it then? The answer is typically that your customers want it!
In communities where local ordinances prohibit outdoor boat and RV storage in residential areas, demand is higher. If you have a site with a lot of extra land, it may make sense to add these units, especially if you dont feel you could fill the entire site with traditional self-storage. Before you move forward, however, consider the types of storage you can build, the space required, and the design options available.
Types of Storage Structures
First, lets take a look at the different types of boat and RV storage. Typically, there are four, and each has advantages and disadvantages for the self-storage operator and his tenants. The more substantial the structure, the more expensive it will be to build, and the more protection and security it will provide to stored vehicles.
- A fully enclosed unit with a door. This is basically a large garage that is secure and may be accessed only by the renter. The unit is typically 15 feet wide by 45 to 50 feet deep, each with a 12-by-14-foot door. The door must be this size to accommodate the largest RV on the road. The cost to build this type of structure is more expensive per square foot than traditional self-storage because the buildings require more structure to support the large door. Additionally, the doors are more expensive. A power operator is also commonly used, further increasing costs.
- A three-sided canopy. This unit has one sidewall open, but the building is enclosed on the other three sides. The units are mostly protected from the environment but are not individually separated from other units. These are often used in areas prone to snow, as they provide more protection than open canopies.
- A standard canopy. With only a roof, this structure will protect the vehicles from the sun, but it may not protect them from rain, snow or wind.
- An outside parking stall. This is just an outdoor parking space. The only security for the client is the initial gate access onto the property.
Layout and Design
The layout of your boat/RV storage project is critical to ensuring future success. If your site is difficult to navigate with a large vehicle, customers may decline to rent, or worse, they could damage your buildings or their vehicle. As anyone who has provided this type of storage will confirm, the general public isnt very good at driving in any direction other than forward.
Make sure you provide plenty of access space to the boat/RV units, but without wasting too much land in the process. Youll need to make sure theres a nice flow to the property, where the RVs can easily get in and out without ever having to back up. This may require a second exit gate if there isnt adequate turning distance around the buildings.
Driveways should accommodate larger, heavier vehicles. In front of your large units, allow at least 50 to 60 feet to allow for the large turning radius needed to maneuver an RV. To minimize the necessary driveway, you can put the units on a 60-degree angle. This specialized design is normally used with canopies. If you use this approach, the driveway could be as small as 40 feet.
Return on Investment
The rental rates for canopies are typically much lower than for fully enclosed units, but the construction cost is also lower, consuming fewer materials and labor. The decision between canopies and enclosed units should come down to which will provide a better return on investment.
The fully enclosed building is typically the design of choice, as the additional cost to build is offset by higher income. Another benefit is you might attract other types of renters who desire large spaces. In many situations, when you build large units for boats and RVs, as many as 70 percent of the units will be rented by customers requiring bulk storage for other items.
Outside parking is the least expensive storage alternative since all thats needed is parking area. The only requirement is to ensure you have good access to the spaces. The area can be finished with concrete or blacktop drives, or just gravel in some rural situations.
If you plan to add parking spaces to your site, check to see if city zoning will allow the use. In many municipalities, outside boat/RV storage is prohibited because it is viewed as undesirable. In many instances, theyll want parking areas located at the back of the facility so vehicles are not seen from the road.
The return on outside parking is fairly small, but the infrastructure outlay is fairly minimal, so there is profit to be made. Most facility owners will use their land in this fashion until they know they have enough demand for more expensive units. Then they'll convert the space.
The biggest concern many owners have when adding canopies or outside parking are the prospects of vandalism and theft. Its imperative to increase the security of the site by adding cameras and other measures. Your rental agreement for boat/RV-storage tenants will also be different, just in case the customer goes into default and youre forced into a lien sale.
If you have available land, there is money to be made in adding boat and RV storage to your existing site. Just choose your storage type and style wisely, taking into consideration cost, customer requirements and potential return.
Jamie Lindau is a self-storage owner and the director of marketing and product development at Sun Prairie, Wis.-based Trachte Buildings Systems, which designs, manufactures and erects a full line of pre-engineered and customized steel self-storage systems, including single- and multi-story, portable storage, interior partition and corridor, and canopy boat/RV. For more information, call 800.356.5824; visit www.trachte.com.