As the self-storage landscape becomes ever more competitive, site operators are exploring all options for increasing business and market share, seeking ways to produce a better return on investment. One idea is to add the lucrative option of vehicle storage, namely for boats and RVs.
More than 355,000 RVs are sold each year in the United States, including travel trailers, motorhomes and folding-tent trailers. Boat sales are also on the rise. All these vehicles need a place to park, and many of their owners don’t have the space to accommodate them at home, particularly as most homeowners’ covenants and associations don’t allow it. Often, the best and most secure option is self-storage.
Vehicle storage offers distinct advantages to self-storage owners:
- Being able to rent larger units ranging from 10-by-20 to as big as 15-by-50 can dramatically improve revenue, commanding anywhere from $120 to $500 per month.
- These renters tend to stay longer.
- Boat/RV owners often make great tenants. They have a lot invested in their vehicles and, as such, they typically take good care of the vehicle and storage unit. They can’t afford to be delinquent on their payment and risk losing the vehicle to repossession or auction.
- Your facility can serve as a “one-stop shop” for those needing both vehicle and traditional storage. Robert Johnson and Dave Tsai, managers of North Plains RV and Self Storage in North Plains, Ore., say close to 20 percent of their boat/RV-storage clients also rent a standard unit.
Let’s look at some other aspects of this add-on profit center to help you decide if this ancillary business could work at your self-storage facility.
With the addition of vehicle storage, your facility may see increased traffic. In the summer months, Safeguard Self Storage in Kent, Wash., often has 30 to 40 vehicles coming and going each day, according to facility manager Paul Pankow. This means facility staff needs to be extra vigilant for security issues and unit blocking.
Cleanliness should always be a focus at your storage site, but it’ll become even more important once you add boat/RV storage. Why? High-end vehicle owners are likely to be more scrupulous than the average tenant. Trash, oil spills, building disrepair and broken blacktop will cause them to worry about whether their vehicle is safe in their absence.
That said, it can be difficult to keep vehicle-storage spaces clean. Some renters attempt to store things like barbecue grills, bikes, coolers, etc., around their vehicles, which can get out of hand. To curb this behavior, provide specific instructions to each tenant regarding your facility policies and procedures.
It’s also paramount to keep up-to-date, accurate paperwork for each of your vehicle tenants, according to Johnson and Tsai. Having proof of ownership and insurance documentation is critical should anything happen to the vehicle while in your care.
These days, it isn’t enough to offer simple vehicle storage. Many customers want additional amenities to help care for their investment. For example, if you’re renting to RV owners, consider offering a dump station. A campground might charge $30 to $50 per dump, so this can be a really nice selling feature and make the difference between a customer storing with you or at the facility down the road.
Water access is also important. Pankow’s facility brings in fresh city water, allowing RV and boat owners to fill their on-board tanks and wash their vehicles.
Sentinel Self Storage in Sherwood, Ore., offers a propane and diesel fill-up station so customers can gas up on the spot rather than visit a gas station. The facility also features electric roll-up doors and electrical hookups in its fully enclosed spaces.
High-end customers typically expect a boat/RV-storage facility to offer 24-hour access because they often start their trips in the middle of the night or early morning. They also demand a higher level of security. Sentinel has 15-foot-high walls around the entire property in addition to its numerous video cameras and LED lighting, which give vehicle owners peace of mind.
While this profit center has many positive aspects, there can be a few cons associated with vehicle storage. If you’re trying to maintain a certain price per square foot, boat/RV storage will likely bring down your average. These are big spaces, and trying to hold to the same price per square foot as your traditional self-storage units would put these out of reach of nearly all customers.
Additionally, these customers typically expect more individual attention. They pay a lot each month to store their toy with you, and they want you to cater to their needs. This can be a challenge for facilities that have inexperienced employees or a small staff.
Taking the Leap
If you’re thinking about including vehicle storage as part of your unit mix, consider the following:
Space requirements. If you’re going to offer the service, you need enough space to do it well, say Johnson and Tsai. You should have room to install a variety of options, whether it’s pull-through spaces, angled parking or fully enclosed units, so you’ll have a solution for every type of vehicle. Plus, you want to install wide drive aisles so renters feel comfortable maneuvering.
Unit size. Pankow recommends spaces in a variety of lengths including 20, 30, 35, 40 and 45 feet, plus a few 50-foot spots. His facility contains 170 units consisting of all these sizes, and he wishes he had more. The minimum width should be 12 feet, he says, because many RV clients are older and seem to have difficulty navigating into tight spaces.
Unit type. A good vehicle-storage ratio consists of 75 percent covered units to 25 percent uncovered, Pankow says. The uncovered spaces are good for targeting the budget customer, whereas the covered spaces will cater to the average tenant. You may also want to add some fully enclosed spaces to target high-end customers who want to fully protect their vehicle. If you do this, Johnson and Tsai recommend 15-by-50 spaces for the large coaches and fifth-wheels, and 12-by-35 spaces for smaller RVs, boats and cars.
Partnerships. Consider partnering with RV dealers and offering a finder’s fee to those who refer business to your facility, Pankow advises. Word-of-mouth is also very big in the RV community, he says. By keeping your customers happy and their vehicles safe and secure, word will spread quickly.
Vehicle storage can be a great addition to a new or existing facility. By considering the pros and cons, you can determine if it’s the right solution for you.
Derek Hines is a writer for West Coast Self-Storage, a self-storage management, acquisitions and development company with facilities in California, Oregon and Washington. He writes extensively on all subjects related to the storage industry. For more information, visit www.westcoastselfstorage.com.