By Erica Shatzer
When COVID-19 first became a concern in the United States, many Americans canceled or postponed their vacations due to government enforced stay-at-home orders and the mandated closures of numerous forms of entertainment. However, those who decided to keep their plans made alterations in attempts to avoid potential exposure to the virus. Instead of staying in hotels, many opted for Airbnb accommodations. Rather than utilizing public transportation, including airplanes and buses, people chose to hit the road in their own vehicles.
Obviously, for those with the means, recreational vehicles (RVs) became the most logical solution to both of those traveling concerns. And this year, well-to-do travelers and outdoor enthusiasts have flocked to RV dealerships to purchase their own mobile “home away from home.”
According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA), the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the huge uptick in RV sales in 2020. In fact, RVIA projects that 424,400 units will be delivered in 2020, which would be the fourth best annual total on record and a 4.5 percent gain over the number of units shipped in 2019 (406,070). In September 2020 alone, RV shipments hit 41,509—a 31 percent increase compared to September 2019. Moreover, continued growth is expected for the coming year; 507,200 units are projected to be shipped in 2021, which would represent the best annual total on record for the RV industry.
All Eyes On RV Storage
As consumers buy up RVs, boats, and trailers at breakneck speed, droves of developers are naturally inquiring about RV storage, because all these new RV and boat owners will likely need a place to store their high-priced toys. Caesar Wright, president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Mako Steel says his company, which has been building RV and boat storage facilities since the early 90s, has seen a remarkable spike in RV development interest this year thanks to the pandemic’s influence on the RV industry.
While Mako has been fielding inquiries as quickly as possible, Wright has graciously provided answers to some of the most common questions they receive about RV storage development.
- What parcel size is recommended for an RV storage facility? Typically, Wright recommends a minimum of three acres for canopy (covered) or fully enclosed RV and boat storage facilities. However, he does say that five or more acres is best. “It is very land needy,” says Wright, who adds that approximately 30 to 35 enclosed storage units can be built per acre.
- What is the average unit size? Wright states that the most common unit size at RV storage facilities is the 14-by-40.
- What is the average unit height? The standard height of enclosed RV storage units is 16 feet. This height allows for 14-foot roll-up doors to be used and will accommodate any street-legal RV.
Indeed, RV storage is land intensive. Per Wright, the reason is largely due to the space required for drive aisles and turning radiuses. Unlike self-storage facilities, which are typically visited by smaller vehicles, pickup trucks, and moving vans, RV and boat storage facilities are frequented by persons towing trailers or driving motorhomes that range from 20 feet to 45 feet in length. These large vehicles can be difficult to maneuver, especially for the novice RV owner. Hence, wider drive aisles are necessary to make the facility more accessible and avoid potential damage to buildings and/or the recreational vehicles. And because more land is used for the wider drive aisles, it is essential to start with a larger parcel in order to make the project financially feasible from an ROI standpoint. At a minimum, Wright says drive aisles should be 50 feet wide, but 55 feet is preferred.
When it comes to the facility’s layout, units can be positioned at an angle for different results and costs. For instance, angled enclosed storage units would allow for more units to be built into the mix per acre, but they are more expensive to build. In that scenario, Wright says the drive aisles wouldn’t need to be quite as wide due to the angle of the spaces.
Wright also notes that people with big toys tend to have big wallets, and they are willing to pay for conveniences. Therefore, he suggests including as many amenities as your budget allows, especially if your parcel is near a “destination location,” a place that is in close proximity to a recreational area such as a lake, campground, or state park. “The more the amenities the better,” says Wright.
Amenities for RV and boat storage facilities include clubhouses that feature restrooms with showers, dog runs, individually metered electricity within units, ice machines, wash bays, dump stations, propane stations, air and water stations, motorized door openers, and retail areas that offer anything from firewood and bait to specialty toilet paper for RVs. In addition, a handful of RV and boat storage facilities even provide à la carte concierge services and maintenance services for their customers.
One destination location where Mako has constructed countless RV and boat storage facilities is Lake Havasu, Ariz. According to Wright, it is a unique destination location that exploded with boat and RV storage demand. “There is 4 million square feet of RV and boat storage there,” he says, adding that many of the tenants reside in California or Nevada and don’t want to tow their recreational vehicles through the desert. “Mako has built 3 million of it.”
However, regardless of the location, Wright notes that ample security and lighting are must-haves. RV and boat storage tenants want to know that their expensive toys are safe and sound when they aren’t around. Nowadays, some boat and RV storage developers are including high-tech security features into their designs, such as fingerprint access codes and facility automations to provide tenants with secure 24/7 access.
With those site specifics in mind, and the corresponding costs of incorporating them into the budget, Wright states that phasing is a common practice when developing an RV and boat storage facility. Phasing, or building out in stages, gives an owner the opportunity to learn the market and adjust his/her plans to meet demand. As an example, some developers have provided parking spaces for trailers, boats, and campers as a first phase. The income generated from those lot rentals can then be used to construct phase two, which may be canopy and/or fully enclosed RV and boat storage units. Conversely, a developer may choose to erect a fully enclosed storage building during phase one and then another building with the most commonly sought-after unit sizes as phase two.
Whether the developer decides to construct an RV and boat storage facility all at once or complete it in phases, Wright has some clear-cut advice: “Build in extra time,” he says, noting that zoning, planning, and permitting have been delayed. “Everything is slower. It’s taking twice as long.” As such, he recommends that developers double their expectations, especially if they are first-time builders.
Besides delays in the approval process, Wright also mentions that there is “some volatility in steel prices” that could alter development plans. On Nov. 11, 2020, he received a third vendor increase for steel in three months. While Wright states that the steel industry had been relatively flat for two years, thanks in part to the tariffs enacted by President Trump, August brought about some pressure as steel mills have been busy. “The supply chain may remain unbalanced in the near future,” says Wright.
With steel prices trending upward, seeing 10 to 15 percent increases, developers should be proactive. Depending upon those rising costs, they may need to revise their projects to stay within their budgets or find additional funds to cover the higher rates.
Nevertheless, despite the uncertainties, Wright is optimistic about the coming year and the strength of the industry. “The market looks healthy,” he says, adding that Mako continues to bid on work across the nation. “I don’t anticipate a slowdown in 2021. If interest rates stay low and land costs don’t rise, the market should continue to stay healthy.”
Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada