After building an extremely successful data center company where he served as president and CEO, Gary Wojtaszek was ready to follow his dream of traveling the world with his wife. There was just one glitch: COVID-19 had made it impossible to travel even to the grocery store for fear of spreading the virus.
A quick-thinker and resolutions-based businessman, Gary pivoted his original vacation dream into a cross-country excursion in a newly purchased Airstream camper. The decision jigsawed perfectly into Wojtaszek’s love of the great outdoors, but the ride of a lifetime got rocky when they arrived home and couldn’t find a place to store the camper. When Gary discovered his problem was actually more of a universal one–in which countless boat and RV owners were struggling to find a secure place to store their oversized toys–he recognized the problem was actually his next great business opportunity. Before long, he was creating a family-operated business that would quickly revolutionize the RV and boat storage industry under the brand name RecNation.
Toy Storage Nation is grateful for the opportunity to learn more from Gary about his perspective of the RV and boat storage industry, along with his vision for the future of RecNation and the industry as a whole.
You’re new to the storage scene, so what compelled you to get on board? Can you tell us about your past business ventures and how this helps you create strategy for growing RecNation?
Actually I’m not new to storage but definitely new to boat and RV storage. The last company that I ran was a data center storage company called CyrusOne, which stored all the data that Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and all the other big tech companies used to store their computers. I grew that company from a small facility located in Cincinnati, Ohio, and built it to become a global organization with operations in the U.S., Europe, Asia and LATAM. It became one of the largest data center companies in the world and was just sold to KKR for $15 billion.
During the decade that I spent building that company, I learned a lot along the way about what it takes to raise billions of dollars of equity and debt, how to IPO a company, how to recruit a world-class team, how to scale quickly and efficiently, and so many other things that we will apply when building out RecNation.
RecNation is currently in four states–Texas, Kansas, Arizona and Florida. What was your strategy for launching in these states? Are you going to concentrate here, or are you heading north and west?
Our objective is to build a national platform that will eventually have about 500 locations across the country. Over the next 18 months, we are planning to expand across all of the Sunbelt and mountain states and then across to California and the rest of the country. We believe there is a big opportunity to offer high-quality boat and RV storage throughout the country.
Can you tell us how many facilities/square footage now are branded RecNation? Do you have a projected growth plan and/or what will you consider your greatest success in this industry?
We currently have 40 locations spread across four states, and our goal is to acquire five to six new locations every month as we build out the platform. We currently have about 5 million square feet of storage capacity.
What qualifies as a possible RecNation property? Do you pick and choose between the different classes of RV and boat storage facilities (Class A, B and C, with C being the old-school parking-lot style facilities and Class A being canopied, fenced, paved and high-tech security)?
We are focused on acquiring facilities that are near major metro areas with high population densities and higher incomes. We are indifferent to the type of facility we acquire, as our plan is to always invest additional capital improving the facilities that we purchase so that they have the type of products and amenities that our customers are requesting like onsite dump stations, wash down areas, water, etc.
Your brand claims to be “the first institutional grade, specialized storage company.” Can you elaborate on what that means in this industry and the future of RecNation?
We are planning to invest several billions of capital building out our company. When I say “institutional grade,” I mean that we plan to raise capital from professional investment managers such as private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, private family offices and eventually via an Initial Public Offering. To do that, you need to have a well-run professional organization that is focused on producing accurate and timely financial statements, having regularly scheduled investor updates and comply with all the associated regulatory and compliance requirements associated with raising outside capital.
You recently launched RecNation Rental as a white glove rental program. Can you discuss what inspired this?
While most folks think of RecNation as a specialized storage company, I personally see our company more as a lifestyle brand that is catering to the needs of the outdoor enthusiast. Our customers are storing their favorite hobbies with us and those vehicles that they are storing are the primary means by which they get to enjoy those activities.
Our customers’ passions are bass fishing across Texas, jumping on their ATVs and touring through Moab in Utah, driving their RV to Yellowstone in Wyoming and spending a few days camping and fly fishing. When you look at it from that perspective, you can see that they are doing a lot more than just storing their RV or boat with us.
What we also noticed was that while everyone would like to spend every weekend pursuing their passions, we know the reality is that not everyone has the time to do so, and the result is that a lot of these vehicles are not used as frequently as they otherwise could be. So we thought we’d ask customers if they would be interested in renting their vehicles out to other folks who don’t want to buy a RV but want to take their families on vacation. This way, our customer and RV owner can earn a little extra money along the way.
Well, the response we received from customers was very strong with so many people wanting to earn some extra money. That’s what caused us to create this new company, RecRental, and we partnered with RVShare and Outdoorsy to scale that business nationally.
How does RecNation Rental work?
The concept is fairly simple. We have asked all of our customers if they want to put their RV into a rental pool. Once they agree, we run a detailed inspection on each vehicle to make sure it’s in great working order and ready to be rented out by a new customer. After we determine the vehicle is worthy to be in our rental pool, we then start marketing the RV rental to potential customers who are looking to rent the RV for a trip. We contract with the customer, and handle all of the walk-throughs and explanations with regard to how the RV works, how you set it up, and everything that’s required for them to enjoy their trip.
When the RV trip is completed, we do walk-throughs of the vehicles to make sure everything is fine, we launder and clean the RVs, fill up the tanks and put it back in storage getting ready for the next rental. It’s a much more involved process than the storage business, and it’s required us to hire a new team and invest in processes and procedures, but we are confident that this is something that will be well received by our existing and future customers.
Has there been a lot of interest among your RV clients to participate in this exciting new opportunity? Who is best fitted to utilize this service, and what can they expect to gain from it?
Yes. We have had a big response from customers wanting to participate in the program. We are doing this in a way that makes it painless for them and they get to earn some extra money, and additionally it makes us that much more valuable to our customers.
Are there any other ancillary businesses that you’re investigating?
We will be launching several other ancillary services. This past week we have launched a resale service to help sell our customers RVs on their behalf. Similar to the rental business, this will be a painless process for customers to help them sell their vehicle. We handle all the marketing, sales, customers walk throughs and everything else associated with trying to sell your RV. We also plan to launch a RV service repair business and a RV trip planning service.
You’ve gone on record about your opinion that RV and boat storage is a great investment. How do you think it compares to other sectors?
I think self-storage is a great investment in general. I like boat and RV storage as it’s more aligned with my personal past times. I don’t really golf, but spend all of my free time fishing, camping, hunting, ATVing and just about every other outdoor activity you can think of.
How do you think the current economy will impact the future of the industry? And, if history repeats itself, as it usually does, do you think the industry, and the RecNation brand, can withstand the ebbs and flows of the economy in the years to come? Why or why not?
The economy is definitely a challenge. Given the unprecedented increase in interest rates over the past year it has negatively impacted boat and RV sales, which have dropped pretty dramatically. We expect 2023 boat and RV sales to be about 40-50% less than they were in 2022. The increase in interest rates has also caused more debt lenders to pull back and not be as willing to provide funding, which will reduce the potential supply of new storage facilities. We are keeping a close eye on how things are developing but expect that we will be able to weather the current downturn.
The storage industry was built by mom-and-pop shops. Do you think there’s still room in the RV and boat industry for individual owners?
Absolutely! The self-storage industry is dominated by smaller mom-and-pop operators and we don’t expect that trend to change anytime soon. This applies to boat and RV storage as well.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to others who are considering entering this industry?
Like in all new business ventures, just make sure you fully understand how much time and effort and capital you will need to be successful and then triple it. Things always go slower and cost more than you estimate, and going into that with eyes wide open is the best way to avoid all surprises.
Do your facilities have solar canopies and/or is this something you are interested in pursuing? Are you making any steps toward serving EVs?
A few of our facilities currently have solar but it’s not something that we are implementing broadly at this point.
Lastly, and more for fun, are you an outdoorsy type family and are you planning RV trips and boating adventures to kick back in the future?
We are currently planning a trip up to Glacier National Park in Montana as well as Banff and Jasper national parks up in the Canadian Rockies.
To learn more about RecNation, visit recnation.com.