RV & Boat Storage: Understanding The Industry

Posted by Poppy Behrens on May 11, 2021 12:00:00 AM

In days gone by, if you owned an RV or boat you would typically park it in your driveway or your backyard. Today, however, thanks to strict HOA rules and the increased value of these adult toys, that is no longer the case. As a result, we continue to see substantial growth of RV and boat facilities.

According to a report from RVIA (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association), RV wholesale shipments surpassed 400,000 units by the end of 2019, with more than 404,600 units expected to ship in 2020. Towable RV shipments reached 355,600 units in 2019, with another 344,400 expected in 2020. Although shipments are below the all-time comparable record high of 504,600 units in 2017, the RV market remains healthy and robust in historical context.

The first RVs in the United States began to hit the roads in the early 1920s as towables or trailers attached to other vehicles by a hitch. By the 1930s, RVs were being made for commercial purchase, which led to a notable uptick in popularity. Likewise, motorhomes as we know them today began to gain recognition in the 1950s, even though they were quite basic without amenities such as sinks, bathrooms, or septic tanks.

There were many pioneers in the RV industry. Among the makers of early recreational vehicle models were Ford, Winnebago, and Airstream. Airstream began to produce their trailers in the early 1930s. Airstream RVs earned a loyal following that continues to this day. They were designed with an aluminum shell and a focus on aerodynamics. Airstream units were the very first self-contained trailers designed for travel made available on the market. Airstream survived many difficult economic situations, the worst being the aluminum shortage during World War II. They are still actively producing travel trailers today, showing their ability to evolve and endure regardless of economic ups and downs.

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), 2019 boat sales in the United States reached the second highest volume in 12 years, with 2020 sales expected to stay strong. The NMMA states that sales in 2019 were nearly on par with the 11-year high seen in 2018, even with some softening particularly in the freshwater fishing category, which is attributed to unseasonably cold and rainy weather in spring and early summer.

“Looking at 2020, with the economy on solid footing and key economic indicators like consumer spending remaining strong, we expect another healthy year for new boat sales, which could be up as much as two percent,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, NMMA president. “With approximately $42 billion per year in retail expenditures, boating is not only an economic driver but a unique vehicle for the kind of meaningful experiences consumers are seeking more and more—ones that take you outdoors, bring together family and friends, and create lasting memories.”

In those early days, where to park recreational vehicles was not as issue; if you had one you merely parked it in your garage, your yard, or on the street near your home. As RVs became more popular, the first storage lots for these vehicles began as a convenience, although they were nothing more than a primitive parking lot with a chain link fence.

With the advent of traditional first-generation storage facilities, storage space for recreational vehicles and boats was an interim use for land until something better could be built on that space. Fast forward to today and you can easily see how this early model of RV and boat storage has evolved into a specialty niche never imagined in those early days. This is due in part to the significant increase in value of these vehicles—especially those mega-RVs with all of the bells and whistles.

HOA Restrictions

Homeowners associations have been around a lot longer than one might think, however not necessarily in the same form that we see them in today. The first planned community was Levittown, a community built in Long Island in the late 1940s, intending to offer low-interest homes to veterans. Though there was no formal association, community rules and regulations did exist.

Similar communities continued to pop up throughout the mid-19th century, but growth of HOA communities really took off in the 1960s as a result of the federal government’s encouragement of more residential developments and the resulting mass exodus to the suburbs. Because of the popularity of these communities and the resulting increased cost of land, real estate developers began increasing the density of homes on each parcel of land.

Shared, common recreational space allowed for smaller personal lot sizes, and therefore allowed for more homes to be built in order to meet the growing demand. Clusters of homes would be built around a common green space, and then associations would be appointed to manage that common space. The association would essentially function as a type of local government for the small community, managing things which were previously taken care of by municipal workers.

As more communities became established, the HOA model began to shift and mold according to the wants and needs of residents. Eventually, this morphed into what we know as the modern HOA industry. There are over 351,000 homeowners associations in the United States. Collectively, this represents over 40 million households or 53 percent of the owner-occupied households in America.

Generally, any person who wants to buy a residence within the area of a homeowners association must become a member and obey the governing documents, including Articles of Incorporation, CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions) and By-Laws, which may limit the owner’s choices. Most homeowners associations are incorporated and subject to state statutes that govern non-profit corporations and homeowners associations. State oversight of homeowners associations is minimal and varies from state to state.

The disadvantage for RV and boat owners come with the CC&Rs, which more often than not include restrictions on parking cars, trucks, RVs, boats, or utility trailers on driveways or on the street in a residential neighborhood controlled by the HOA. In many HOA-governed communities, these vehicles cannot be parked in the backyard if they are visible above the property’s fence or wall.

Making this more of a hardship for homeowners, less than 14 percent of the existing HOAs offer storage and/or parking for recreational vehicles and watercrafts in their communities. Hence, the only option is to find off-site RV and boat storage.

Many savvy self-storage developers have been able to build their storage facilities within the confines of the HOA-governed community, alleviating the RV and boat storage problem. For residents of those communities without a storage facility, the only other option is for off-site storage elsewhere—hence the continued growth of RV and boat storage facilities.

While many customers prefer to store their RVs and boats at a facility close to home, many choose a facility near their favorite RV destination. Others choose to store at a site that is convenient for getting out of town, such as major freeway exchanges.

It is important to understand that dedicated RV and boat storage is not ideal for every market. Therefore, the proper due diligence is mandatory before you build.

For more information about developing RV and boat storage, please visit shop.modernstoragemedia.com to view our RV & Boat Development Handbook.