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A Slightly Different Business Model: How to Successfully Operate Boat/RV Storage in a Self-Storage Environment

How to Operate Boat/RV Storage in a Self-Storage Environment
Product and service diversity can be a boon for a self-storage business, which is why many facility operators are exploring vehicle storage, particularly for boats and RVs. This is a slightly different business model, however. Read about the nuances of this profit center and how to operate it successfully.

People love their toys, and in recent years, sales of recreational vehicles has skyrocketed. It stands to reason that all these boats, campers, RVs, jet skis, etc., need to be parked somewhere, which means offering to store them at your self-storage facility makes perfect business sense. It can help you differentiate yourself in busy markets and bolster your income stream.

How do I know? At Storage King USA, vehicle storage is prevalent throughout our portfolio. Approximately 70% of our 147 locations offer it, and the square footage dedicated to various forms of parking comprises 19% of the 11.8 million square feet we own. That’s a significant amount of area.

All this said, boat/RV storage is a unique product with a slightly different business model than traditional self-storage. Read on to learn some of the more critical nuances of this profit center and how to operate it successfully.

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Canopy and open boat/RV parking at Storage King USA in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
 

The Need Is Clear

Why is the need for boat/RV storage so prevalent? It isn’t just about the volume of vehicles being sold. For starters, many people live in a communities with homeowners-association restrictions that preclude them from parking their big toys on the street or in their yard or driveway. Even when there are no covenants to consider, RVs take up a lot of space. Finally, with a price that can easily run into six figures, an owner may not want to keep their vehicle on the street where it can be subject to damage or theft.

At this point you may be thinking, but why should I offer vehicle parking, which receives less rent per square foot than traditional storage units? There are many reasons, but here are three of the most compelling:

  • Maximize your market reach. By offering vehicle storage, you’re diversifying and expanding your renter pool.
  • Optimize your available space. If you have unused land, offering vehicle storage is a smart use of the space, generating revenue from what would otherwise be vacant property.
  • Increase your revenue. Offering this high-demand service can be quite lucrative. It’ll draw new customers you may not otherwise have had. Plus, anyone who finds you for boat/RV storage may also need self-storage some day!

Marketing

So, you determined that there’s a demand for boat/RV storage in your market and convincing business reasons to offer it. You added it to your existing self-storage facility or new development. Now what? In many ways, it functions much like your self-storage operation, but there are some nuances to this part of the business of which you should be aware.

Of course, you did your research to determine the viability of boat/RV storage at your location, so you know all about the demographics of your market and your potential customer base. The good news is these renters are often willing to travel from farther distances, especially if you’re near a campground, body of water or other recreational area. That means you can market your service beyond the typical 3- to 5-mile radius.

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Bear in mind that the seasonal demand for boat/RV storage can differ from that for self-storage. Your marketing efforts can—and should—also be different. In fact, it’s wise to build a separate advertising strategy for this niche.

Start by clarifying the brand image you’re trying to portray. What’s your product type and mix? For example, is your vehicle storage enclosed, canopy or completely open? Is it built on dirt, gravel or a concrete pad? What level of security and amenities do you offer? These are the kinds of things you’ll want to make clear in your marketing, as they’ll affect the quality of tenant you attract and the amount you can charge for rent.

Also, position your offering in the market by fostering relationships with vehicle vendors, apartment owners and homeowners associations. Leverage technology, build a quality website and price optimize to generate the best revenue.

Pricing

Like your marketing, the rental rates you charge for your boat/RV-storage service should be based on your product mix, construction type, amenities and demand. When analyzing the competition and setting your prices, compare your property against like facilities. Also, make sure you pay attention to whether these competing businesses are offering amenities with their service offering that you aren’t.

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An aerial view of Storage King USA
 

Amenities

There’s more to offering vehicle storage than just space. Many operators partner this product with complementary amenities. Here are several popular options:

  • Electrical hook-ups: Many RV owners crave this amenity, as larger vehicles can be energy-intensive.
  • Wash station: This allows vehicles to be cleaned.
  • Dump station: This allows RV owners to unload wastewater into a septic or sewer system.
  • Valet parking: This aids in parking vehicles more efficiently, thereby maximizing allowable space and preventing damage to other vehicles.
  • Upgraded security: Some facility operators offer remote viewing of the site’s video surveillance, so renters can keep an eye on their vehicles.

Other possibilities include mechanic and maintenance services, fridge- or cooler-stocking services, washing and detailing services, and more. It’s also smart to sell retail products that may be useful to these tenants such as ice, RV toilet paper, life jackets, trailer hitches, cup holders and many others. You’re really only limited by your imagination.

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More of Storage King USA’s canopy parking

There are many important factors to operating a successful boat/RV-storage service, but it makes good business sense for a self-storage operation. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by its ability to differentiate your facility, help you reach a broader customer base and bolster the bottom line.

Michael Wachsman is director of acquisitions for Andover Properties LLC, an investment firm that owns, operates and develops commercial property in the United States, including the Storage King USA brand. He joined the company in 2015 with a decade of experience in real estate acquisition and asset management. He’s been involved in the acquisition and disposition of self-storage assets totaling more than $800 million. To reach him, call 212.813.0141 or email [email protected].

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