Twenty-plus years ago, Larry Keller of Bakersfield, Calif., built his first storage facility, adding in monster-sized units that he believed would be a dream-come-true for RV owners. He was wrong.
“People didn’t have enough money to store motorhomes back then,” he says.
Keller soon discovered, however, that these spaces were perfect for large construction equipment, so he capitalized on what could have turned into a costly mistake. He eventually sold the 120,000-square-foot property with 650 units to a REIT, pocketing more than just a pretty penny.
Although he was ahead of the curve more than two decades ago, Keller has returned to RV and boat storage in full glory. This time, he knew the market was vastly different, so he set forth to build the best RV and boat storage facility ever, incorporating all the bells and whistles. He’s rounding the corner on finishing construction on the office, with two apartments on the second story (for a full-time manager and a relief manager), and his facility–which stretches 120,00 square feet and houses 650 units–is more than 50% full, solely through word-of-mouth marketing.
In addition to snagging steady rents from an expanding list of tenants, Keller’s crowning achievement, Titan Mega Storage, attracts attention from other developers, with whom he is happy to share advice Moreover, his design and dedication to offering personalized customer service has earned him the Toy Storage Nation Facility of the Month Award, honoring developers/operators for achieving what Toy Storage Nation recognizes as “Executive Class A” status.
Known as the “voice of the RV and boat storage industry,” Toy Storage Nation lists the following as mandatory elements for Class A RV and boat storage facilities:
- Secure, full-perimeter fencing,
- Fully paved driveways and units,
- Canopied/covered spaces, and
- Automated security gate for entering and exiting
Some in the industry believe these are just the minimum requirements and, like Keller, offer a full buffet of amenities that attract tenants like moths to a lamp. Perhaps the most illustrious menu of offerings has been compiled by feasibility expert Jo Beth White, who has built 40 years of development experience (with 20 years in the storage industry) into her business Development Services Inc. (See “Making the Grade in RV and Boat Storage.”)
If you’re interested in building a dedicated RV and boat storage facility, or possibly adding vehicle storage units to your existing self-storage property, going all the way to offer Class A features may be your ticket to ride in this booming industry. To learn more, read on.
Facilities in high-income locales shoot probably aim for a luxury storage experience that tenants will appreciate and, as such, pay more to store their expensive toys, says Terry Andersion of RV Park ’n’ Protect, before adding: “Owners of Class A RVs and boats will store these expensive and pampered ‘Big Toys’ in storage for approximately 341 days a year. They want their RV or boat in shipshape, ready to hit the road.
“They want a Class A facility providing the best security, lighting, ample drive space, well-maintained enclosed buildings and concierge-level amenities, and they are happy to pay for it all,” Anderson continues. “Toy owners are attracted to a ‘brag-worthy’ facility for their prized possessions.”
Owner-operator Chris Koenig couldn’t agree more. “There is a quantifiable and typically significant increase in rent to provide a Class A facility,” Koenig states. “There are not many Class A facilities in most markets, yet there is an abundance of expensive ‘toys’ that demand Class A covered, premium storage services. Unfortunately, many are left to sacrifice and rent in a Class B or C facility.”
Devin Beasley of Cushman & Wakefield brings a slightly different perspective to the benefits of Class A in relation to location. “The benefits of Class A are really dependent on the particular market and what is driving the need for RV and boat storage in that location,” he says. “If you’re building/purchasing in an environment where fluctuations in weather dictate that you need enclosed, heated units, then I would consider that Class A for that market. However, if you’re in a sunbelt state where canopies combined with high-class amenities are sought by the tenant base, then we’d consider that Class A for that specific market.”
One of toughest challenges developers face is getting proper permits from zoning departments, due partially to perceptions of RV and boat storage facilities with gravel lots and ramshackle barbed-wire fencing.
“RV and boat storage has to have high standards to influence tenants for rentals and create a positive image with local jurisdictions for future growth,” says John Bilton of Nokē Smarty Entry with Janus International Group.
“With a bad perception created by poorly managed and junky sites, we hurt the industry’s reputation and growth.
“Communities do not want eyesores in their neighborhoods, especially storage sites,” he includes. “The perception of a clean, secure and well-managed site can go a long way to create a positive image for all sites and owners.”
Top-notch security systems are essential for any rec-storage facility. “The cost of many of these rigs are pretty high, but people want to protect their expensive toys and are willing to pay for it,” begins Terry Campbell of Copper Storage Management.
“Due to the value of these big toys, owners or developers should include not only security cameras, but the camera/speaker systems that allow communication. If the camera detects activity that appears nefarious, the manager can talk to trespassers through the system and state that the police are on the way,” Campbell adds. “This most always scares them away before a crime is committed. Catalytic converters are a target these days and a facility full of RVs is an opportunity that many would-be thieves like.”
Long-time storage consultant Jim Chiswell advises developers to understand the culture of RV and boat storage tenants, who appear to be very social. “Facility owners need to look for ways to cultivate those social instincts in their marketing,” says Chiswell. “Some developers are including meeting/party rooms and/or clubhouses for customers to rent for their own events. Customers will stay longer if they feel like they ‘belong!’”
Future of Toy Storage
Entrepreneurs who’ve jumped on the toy storage bandwagon are excitedly scrambling toward what points to inevitable success. In the words of Marcus Lemonis, host of CNBC’s “The Profit” and currently CEO of publicly held Camping World Holdings, which has expanded its dealer network to nearly 200 storage: “If we believed that the RV industry wasn’t going to continue to grow over the long haul, then there would be no point in us continuing to invest our capital to grow our business. While there may be peaks and valleys with shipments in retail, the viability of our industry, in our opinion, has never been better.”
That sentiment resonates with building expert Roc Hughes of Janus International Group, who recognizes the trajectory of the RV and boat storage industry mirrors that of self-storage decades ago. “The boat and RV sector of storage is still in its infancy. It’s been around for many years, but it’s always been second fiddle to self-storage,” Hughes says. “It’s always been a great ‘value add’ for traditional self-storage sites, but not really the focus. Today, we’re seeing standalone boat and RV sites as the main attraction … and that will continue for many years to come.”
“If you’re on the fence about starting a new business venture in storage, and you’re looking for the next big thing, this is it,” claims Bob Hayworth, founder of Baja Construction, who’s been in the self-storage industry for decades and now has a vested interest in toy storage. “We’re standing at the foot of the way for RV and boat storage,” he says. “This is the best business I’ve been in, and I’ve been in several. The return on investment is greater in RV storage, and we’re building them at one-third of the cost.”
“As the future of boat and RV storage gets redefined with modernity and convenience, a Class A property can be a game-changer,” says Barry Sherman of S3 Partners. “Developing a boat and RV storage site with Class A standards not only meets the future demands of storage, but provides a competitive edge in the market.”
Keller’s award-winning Titan Mega Storage is a clear case-in-point for leaning into Class A standards, especially because it creates a positive experience for tenants, owners and managers alike: “I like to be around happy people, so I designed my site to keep tenants happy as well as managers,” he says. Better yet, “it’s an easy business and throws off a nice income. So, if someone has even just two acres that they’re thinking about developing, I say, ‘just do it!’”
Get a Class A education in RV and boat storage developing, operating and investing!To learn more about developing, operating and investing in RV and boat storage, register for the upcoming Toy Storage Nation Executive RV and Boat Storage Workshop in Fort Myers, Fla., Dec. 1, 2023. This exclusive, one-day workshop provides the A-to-Z compendium of RV and boat storage knowledge you need to accelerate your success in this rapidly growing, prosperous industry. Register today.