Sure, that half-empty drive-up building or that extra acre out back might make a great place for car storage. But how can you tell whether the idea has wheels before investing serious money to convert it into a climate-controlled clubhouse for car collectors?
Those who’ve done it say that without strong customer demand, you could be heading down the road to ruin.
“It’s not an easy business because you’re shrinking your market to maybe a tenth of the storage market,” said James Machinist, who opened Collectors’ Car Garage with his gear-head father, Bob, in 2005 at their Katonah Self Storage in Bedford Falls, NY. “You’re really putting all your chips in one basket, and that could potentially be devastating because it’s expensive to create the space.”
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No ‘Field of Dreams’
Del Baldwin, who manages Sausalito Classic Car Storage across the bay from San Francisco, CA, heartily agrees. All Over Marin Mini Storage, the owner of Baldwin’s outfit, tried it first with container units until demand drove creation of car storage facilities in Sausalito and San Rafael beginning in 2005. Today, Sausalito Classic Car Storage rents 165 spaces for $300 to $425 a month and has a long waiting list.
“Make sure there’s a real need first,” Baldwin advised. “It’s not ‘Field of Dreams.’ Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’re going to come.”
Casual car storage is nothing new; tenants have been parking spare cars at drive-up units for decades. But once high-end clients discovered suitable storage for their yachts, they increasingly sought similar accommodations for their Lamborghinis.
Lap of luxury
Being car enthusiasts and storage pros themselves, the Machinists recognized the need, especially in an international hub like New York City, NY. They modeled Collectors’ Car Garage after a country club, complete with a plush lounge, climate control with full dust filtration and fire suppression systems, concierge services, 24-hour video security and battery chargers in each of its 300 spaces. Storage starts at $450 a month; occupancy runs well over 90 percent.
James said running Collectors’ Car Garage is more like managing a five-star hotel than a self-storage facility.
“The needs of staffing are very different. Your interactions with clients are much more frequent, and there’s a tremendous amount of anonymity involved, where maybe they don’t want to tell their neighbor or wife about it. That’s what they pay for—discretion and security,” he said.
Squeezed for space
In Sausalito, the market conditions are considerably different. It’s not so much that clients fly in from world hubs (although they do), but that they live in unconventional quarters.
“We’re in an area that has a lot of houseboats, and people just don’t have any storage,” Baldwin said. “Our real estate here is really small and, quite frankly, some of our driveways are so steep that you can’t get a Ferrari or Aston Martin up them without bottoming out.”
To maximize space, Collectors’ Car Garage installed stationary lifts. “We have cars on the floor and cars above them,” Baldwin said. “That’s the only way that it would pencil out.”
Three factors make building any car storage facility a challenge, according to Baldwin:
1. Insurance. “Even though tenants are considered self-insured, we still have to carry high levels of insurance because we have millions of dollars in vehicles under roof,” he said.
2. Security. Each of his facilities has eight to 10 costly video cameras with motion detection in tandem with around-the-clock, Internet-enabled tenant access.
3. Vehicle access. “You need a lane of traffic that’s wide enough so people can back up, turn, and enter or exit,” Baldwin said. That doesn’t fit the footprint of every storage facility.
Joining the club
Despite the potential downside, STORExpress Self Storage in Pittsburgh, PA, is jumping into classic car storage this summer with a purpose-built facility, unconventionally housed on the second floor of a refurbished building accessible by a concrete ramp.
Its indoor car storage in Etna, PA, already houses 200 cars, motorcycles and RVs at a heated 50 degrees for $110 to $150 a month and another 30 to 40 vehicles in The Car Club at 70 degrees year-round for $250 a month. When completed, the new second-story facility in Turtle Creek, PA, will house about 170 vehicles. One novel touch: Vertically suspended air mattresses protect your ride from swinging doors of other vehicles.
“The car club extends our art and band practice space concept to car enthusiasts and collectors,” spokeswoman Lori “Lo” Jablonski said.
With the economic recovery chugging along, Machinist expects the limited demand for collectible car storage to grow. In fact, he’s looking at expanding Collectors’ Car Garage to several cities around the U.S.
“The collectible car market is blowing up right now,” he said.