Boating continues to rise in popularity as a recreational hobby and lifestyle. For entrepreneurs, the growing need for boat storage presents an appealing business opportunity. This comprehensive guide covers how to successfully start and operate a boat storage facility in popular boating markets.
Table of Contents
Overview of the Boat Storage Industry
With over 12 million recreational boats registered in the United States according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, adequate boat storage capacity allows homeowners and boaters to protect valuable investments. Climate controlled or basic covered boat storage facilities fill this need.
The boat storage industry has seen steady 5-7% annualized growth over the past decade, generating more than $4 billion in revenue according to IBISWorld research. Much of this industry growth is attributable to the continued high levels of recreational boat manufacturing and sales across power boats, sailboats, yachts and personal watercraft.
For entrepreneurs interested in marine-related businesses, boat storage facilities offer attractive profit potential with the ability to scale gradually while addressing a clear demand.
Benefits of the Boat Storage Business Model
Some of the compelling benefits of the boat storage business include:
- Essential service protecting and extending life of luxury assets
- Low maintenance of facilities relative to labor-intensive businesses
- Long term customers generating predictable recurring revenue
- Customers less price sensitive given need for secure options
- Lower overhead than many small businesses with limited staffing
- Ability to start small and expand incrementally over time
- Recession resilient as boat owners still need storage in downturns
- Scalability by adding new buildings over years or acquiring competitors
The semi-passive nature yet stability of this niche makes boat storage an appealing venture for many entrepreneurs.
Determining the Best Storage Options
Boat storage facilities provide covered or enclosed spaces to protect watercraft. Some popular storage choices to consider offering:
Fully climate controlled spaces prevent damage from weather and sun year-round for ultimate protection.
Covered canopies or sheds provide basic protection from the elements at lower cost while offering security.
Vertical boat racks maximize capacity but require operators to lift boats up into spaces with specialized equipment.
Storing customers’ boat trailers onsite provides convenience while freeing space at home.
Boats are stacked 2-3 high using hydraulic machinery, maximizing density in smaller footprints.
Evaluate market demand and available land when selecting storage offerings that optimize revenue potential.
Site Selection Criteria
Ideal sites for boat storage facilities offer:
- Waterfront access with sufficient traffic ingress/egress for hauling boats
- Proximity to marinas, launches, dealerships and areas with high boat ownership
- Appropriately zoned light industrial acreage for boat storage use with minimal red tape
- Area natural features like hills that allow screening outdoor structures attractively using landscaping
- Location not prone to flooding that could damage stored boats during storms
- Area demographics with higher household incomes having disposable funds for boating
- Minimal existing direct competitors offering boat storage nearby
- Visibility from water and roads to attract drive-by customers
Choose sites meeting practical requirements while offering customer convenience and growth upside.
Design and Construction Considerations
Factors influencing boat storage facility design include:
- Architectural appearance complementary to community with attractive rooflines and exterior finishes
- Steel tubular frames or concrete masonry construction for covered sheds able to withstand weather
- Sufficient eave height and wide drive-throughs to accommodate boats on tall trailers
- Gravel or paved interior roads resistant to driveway trailer weight and turning
- Lighting design keeping spaces well-lit at night for security and visibility
- Climate controlled indoor spaces insulated and fitted with HVAC systems able to handle moisture
- Individual access control on indoor units like programmable keypad locks
- Perimeter security fencing plus interior video surveillance cameras to deter crime
- Stormwater management infrastructure like drains and retention ponds
The optimal layout balances capacity, ease of use, protection and security for both customers and the boats in storage.
Required Licenses and Permits
Before construction, ensure proper permitting:
- Obtain small business licenses required in your jurisdiction to operate commercially
- Assess zoning restrictions and secure conditional use permits if required for outdoor boat storage
- File environmental impact statements assessing watershed effects if mandated
- Comply with any architectural and site plan reviews by community committees
- Pass inspections for electric, plumbing, accessibility, fire to get certificate of occupancy
- Acquire builder’s risk insurance during construction
- Check for watershed district, wetland and flood plain usage regulations
- Install proper storm drainage and oil/gas separators as needed
While tedious, proper research, licensing and permitting prevents delays and ensures smooth ongoing operations.
Equipment and Inventory Needed
Boat storage facilities require certain specialized equipment:
- Access control systems like programmable locks or access cards
- Surveillance cameras monitoring activity and capacity
- Rack storage systems allowing vertical boat stacking
- Forklifts or cranes to place boats in upper racks
- High pressure power washers for boat exteriors
- Dump stations for wastewater disposal from onboard heads
- Fire suppression systems like sprinklers and extinguishers
- Fueling stations offering gasoline/diesel – require environmental permits
- Moving equipment like dollies to assist tenants
While not overly inventory-intensive, select equipment improves convenience, fills needs and enables efficient operations.
Typical staffing needs include:
- Manager to oversee day-to-day operations, staff, and customer service
- Attendants for facility maintenance, assisting customers, operating machinery
- Seasonal contractors to handle pressure washing and winterization
- Security personnel providing overnight monitoring
- Bookkeeper or accounting professional to handle billing and finances
- Independent contractors for repairs, snow removal and landscaping
Boat storage does not require large staffing headcounts. But specialized skills like operating rack loading machinery are mandatory.
Creating a Website
A website centrally showcases services, pricing and policies:
- Describe all storage options and sizes available
- Provide photographic tour of facility layout, security and amenities
- List pricing for various unit sizes, competitive discounts like for multiple boats
- Highlight unique advantages like 24/7 access and video surveillance
- Enable online rental reservations with unit selection and payments
- Answer FAQs on best practices preparing boats for storage
- Share customer testimonials and Google/Facebook reviews
- Link to social media pages like Instagram and Facebook
- Provide easy contact options like email/phone for inquiries
Robust website information builds credibility and makes the customer experience smooth.
Proper insurance coverage is essential:
- General liability to protect against property damage, injuries, lawsuits
- Commercial property insurance covering structures in case of disasters
- Product liability protecting against damage to stored boats
- Workers compensation for employees and marine contractors
- Commercial auto for owned trucks and equipment
- Flood insurance in high risk zones
- Business interruption in case disaster closes facility
Consult experienced insurance advisors to customize adequate policies as client assets stored on your property can be quite valuable.
Setting Optimal Rates
When pricing storage, balance covering costs against market rates:
- Research rates at competing local storage facilities for reference
- Price higher for indoor climate controlled spaces vs outdoor units
- Charge premium rates for indoor rack spaces requiring lift operation
- Offer monthly rate discounts for longer term leases like over winter
- Provide better rates for multiple boats stored to incentivize more business
- Increase rates modestly annually to keep pace with insurance/maintenance cost inflation
- Run seasonal specials during slower periods or to attract new customers
- Ensure rates allow healthy profit margin after expenses
Continuously survey competitors and refine rates to maximize revenue. Discounts should still allow profitability.
Marketing Your Facility
Promoting your boat storage requires creativity:
- Run Google/Facebook ads targeted locally, optimized for relevant boating keywords
- Claim listings on marina aggregators like Marinas.com showcasing your facility
- Build relationships with nearby marinas, dealerships and brokers to be recommended
- Distribute flyers at nearby launches, yacht clubs and community events
- Participate in boat shows to capture leads as boating families shop
- Offer referral rewards to happy customers who recommend new tenants
- Host an open house before each season for potential customers to tour the facility
- Cross-sell services like shrink wrapping that add convenience during storage
- Spotlight happy customers and their boats via social media with permission
Multichannel sustained marketing delivers continual awareness among boat owners seeking storage.
Long-Term Business Expansion
Once established, expanding your storage business could include:
- Constructing additional buildings or extending current structures when near capacity
- Acquiring neighboring land for more outdoor storage space if available
- Adding specialized capabilities like climate controlled indoor rack spaces
- Providing value-added services like winterization, cleaning, small repairs
- Selling marine accessories onsite as added convenience for storage customers
- Starting a hauling subsidiary to transport boats for customers needing that service
- Expanding your facility footprint through acquiring competitors
- Building out a marina adjacent to storage to create an integrated boating property
- Offering unique spaces like indoor showrooms for customers active in boat shows
Scale strategically over time while retaining organizational excellence as the operation grows.
Modern management systems allow efficient operations:
- Access control integration unlocks units only for clients current on payments
- Let customers conveniently pay online through tenant portals
- Send automatic billing reminders via text and email
- Maintain real-time site maps showing vacant spaces as units turn over
- Track when leases expire and notify customers to renew
- Provide mobile apps allowing customers to monitor their boats on live cameras
- Enable contactless entry using smartphones instead of key fobs
Automating administrative tasks allows staff to focus on customer service.
Key financial factors for boat storage businesses:
- Decent cash reserves required for site acquisition and construction
- Expect delayed revenue ramp up as occupancy increases steadily over first 12-24 months
- Maintain floats to address periodic maintenance projects and improvements
- Keep loan or lease terms on equipment/vehicles reasonable to protect cash flow
- Build annual price increases into financial projections to account for inflation
- Leverage equity in existing property to avoid high interest commercial loans
- Produce annual budgets forecasting expenses and projecting revenue
- Watch peak season income vs low season flows – adjust spending accordingly
Conservative planning and cash flow management keeps finances healthy.
How much does it cost to build a boat storage facility?
Costs vary based on size and features but plan on $50k – $200k+ for insured construction of basic covered sheds, not including land acquisition. Indoor climate controlled spaces run higher.
What is the ideal number of units in a boat storage facility?
Aiming for 30-100 spaces allows enough capital efficiency while meeting initial demand. Build additional capacity in phases as occupancy ramps up.
What are the most popular boat storage unit sizes?
For power boats, 10×30 feet is commonly used. Larger units like 12×50 feet accommodate yachts and sailboats. But offer a range of unit dimensions.
How long does it take to fill a new boat storage facility?
Marketing aggressively, expect to reach 75-90% occupancy in 12-24 months. Build financial models conservatively allowing for reduced early revenues.
What are the advantages of climate controlled spaces?
Climate control protects interiors and electronics from moisture, avoids mold, prevents freezing pipes, and allows year-round access for maintenance.
Do I need staff on-site full time?
After launching, you can scale back on-premise staffing to certain hours once processes are established. Video monitoring and tenant access controls reduce on-site needs.
Given continued recreational boating popularity, boat storage facilities provide rewarding business opportunities in markets with high boat ownership. With strategic planning around location, design and pricing, storage facilities can deliver attractive risk-adjusted returns. Lean operations and loyal long-term tenants make boat storage an appealing low-maintenance business model. For entrepreneurs able to fund construction and adept at marketing, boat storage checks many boxes as a sound potential small business.
Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional financial or legal advice. Perform thorough due diligence before starting any business.