Note: This story was updated on August 16, 2022, to reflect the rebranding of Recreational Realty to its new name, RecNation. The original story was published on January 31, 2022.
When Gary “Wojo” Wojtaszek left his longtime post as president and CEO of Dallas-based data center firm CyrusOne, he and his wife had an escape plan. They would fly to Italy, rent a house for six months, and tour Europe. There was just one problem: It was February 2020, and COVID-19 was about to shut down the world. So instead, they went with Plan B: “The proverbial road trip to go camping out west.”
They bought an Airstream camper in Florida and towed it to Dallas, a couple in a bubble with their own new toy.
The only problem? Where to put the toy. When they got to Dallas to prepare for their trip, the Airstream was too big to park at their home. Wojtaszek looked for secure covered options elsewhere, but couldn’t find one that suited him.
“We talked to other folks with boats, and they were saying the same thing,” he told Dallas Innovates. “One thing led to another and we started up this new business focused on boat and RV storage. Lucky or good, we hit it just right and the market kind of exploded.”
Wojtaszek named his new company Recreational Realty (later rebranding it as RecNation) and began acquiring RV and marine storage businesses across Texas, with a goal of “institutionalizing” what has long been a mom-and-pop business nationwide.
“We started buying up a bunch of these businesses all around Dallas, and now we just raised a big fund to go build a national platform,” he said. “It’s been an interesting couple of years to get this thing started, but it’s really fun.”
Joint Venture with Centerbridge Partners
That “big fund” was announced early this month as a joint venture led by funds affiliated with New York-based Centerbridge Partners—as well as entities affiliated with Wojtaszek’s own WOJO Capital Partners.
With record-breaking RV and boat sales making headlines during the pandemic, investor interest came in hot.
“I started reaching out to a bunch of big, big investors that I’d worked with through my CyrusOne days,” Wojtaszek told us. “The response was incredible. Everyone I went to came back wanting to partner with me. That’s when I knew I had something special here. We tried to figure out who was going to be the best partner for us, and ultimately decided on Centerbridge.”
Centerbridge had already shown keen interest in the recreational market. In March 2021, it recapitalized Dallas-based Suntex Marinas—the largest standalone, pure-play owner of marinas in the U.S.—in a deal co-led by Resilient Capital Partners.
“So they knew a lot about this recreational space,” Wojtaszek said. “I felt like there was a personal connection and alignment in terms of how we saw value creation and strategy.”
The partnership will help accelerate RecNation’s growth across the country “as we build a national platform,” and its goal of becoming “the leading owner, operator, and developer of high-quality, purpose-built recreational storage facilities” in the U.S.
Seeing the need right on his IG feed
When Wojtaszek and his wife finally hit the road for their camping trip out west, he did something at age 53 that he’d never done before: obsessively post on social media. Nearly every day, he posted updates on his travels—like fly fishing in trout streams in Utah, where he and his wife have a home.
What was funny, he said, was reading all the comments on his posts. People were following his trip and and chiming in.
“It was interesting because I didn’t even know who these people were,” he said. “These were all, like, investment bankers or other execs at public companies, and everyone kind of shied away from social media. But everyone was kind of living their lives vicariously through what my wife and I were doing.”
For a couple of months, the couple lived their adventure in their COVID-safe Airstream bubble. Then they returned to Dallas—and got to work launching RecNation.
A global CEO gets a taste of the startup life
“At first it was just my wife and me,” Wojtaszek laughed—a far cry from being the CEO of a global company with a deep support staff. Later his two sons joined them, and now he has a staff of around six. “We’re about to double that,” he says. “I’m looking for some M&A folks and customer service folks to help us scale the business.”
To get RecNation up and running, Wojtaszek has gotten a bracing taste of the startup life:
“I’ve set up accounting systems, HR systems, the tax. Dealing with customers, convincing sellers to sell to us, developing a website… There’s nothing that we’ve done that hasn’t been one of my responsibilities.”
“It’s a huge contrast from what I did over the last couple of decades.”
Branding his site for people’s ‘toys’
One way Wojtaszek differentiates his startup is through clever branding. His website’s home page makes one big promise: “Keeping your Toys Safe.” That word “toys” is secret code for we get you, he says. It’s also a fun, breezy way to avoid the mouthful of “RV, camper, boat, ATV, and motorcycle storage.”
Wojtaszek has more toys of his own—”I’ve got a boat and an RV and ATVs and stuff”—and can relate to how much they mean to people.
“Most of our customers are probably upper middle income. So they save up a couple bucks, and what they do with their free time is play around with their toys. So we said why not put that on the website?”
People don’t just love their toys, he says—they love to talk about them at his startup’s 10 current Texas locations, including several near Lake Ray Hubbard, Lake Lavon, Lewisville Lake, and Benbrook Lake.
“It’s a very sociable kind of business, where all the customers want to come in and talk with you about their hobbies and where they’ve been or what fish they caught,” he said.
Plans 70 locations by year end, then 75 more each year
Those 10 locations are about to have a lot of company. Wojtaszek aims to acquire another 60 by year end, then expand by 75 a year after that. His aim is to grow all across the South, initially focusing on Texas and Florida—the South’s largest markets for boat and RV owners.
“Our longer term plan is to allocate 75% of our capital for acquisitions of existing facilities and 25% towards renovating existing facilities, including new developments on those properties,” Wojtaszek said. “Over time, we would expect to continue to redevelop the facilities so that they all have the new look and feel we’re going for.”
Ten 25K-square-foot buildings on one property
Part of “institutionalizing” the sector will be redeveloping what have typically been “rundown grass fields and gravel” into very large buildings with fully enclosed individual units.
One location under development in Wylie, a suburb northeast of Dallas, is planned to eventually have 10 different 25,000-square-foot buildings—each with about 40 individual units for customers’ vehicles.
“These are self-locking units with lighting and electricity to keep their vehicles charged and operational,” Wojtaszek said. “The largest will be up to 13 by 48 feet, which will accommodate the largest Class A motor homes on the road.”
Besides keeping “toys” safe from the elements—including hail damage—each facility will also have video security systems and perimeter fencing. For an extra fee, customers can even view their prized RV or other toy through their own security camera.
Another upgrade in the works is “concierge services,” including car wash facilities, vehicle detailing, ice refills for coolers before rollouts, a dump station for trash and sewage, and more.
Storing RVs is like running data centers—almost
Wojtaszek sees a lot of similarities between the data center business and RV storage—a fact he shared with investors when he sought funding.
With his CyrusOne data centers, “I would have highly secure facilities that I leased out to customers where they could store their computers. Here, I have highly secure facilities that they can lease out and store their expensive boats and RVs.”
“The only difference is that it’s not as operating-intensive. No one cares if you lose a bit of electricity when you’re storing [an RV]. People care a lot if their computers go down.”
He noted more similarities: “A lot of the same security systems, the call center operations, the way we set up Cyrus to handle the businesses, is exactly the same way I’m doing it here.”
His system, just as with CyrusOne, will be based on remotely managing all his locations and monitoring them across the country in a centralized fashion—without having to have hundreds of people all over the place managing his sites.
Aiming to be more successful than CyrusOne—which just sold for $15 billion
In 2008, as CFO for Cincinnati Bell, Wojtaszek started developing the data center strategy for the 140-year-old company. As part of that strategy he acquired CyrusOne, which was then a relatively small, Houston-based company. He held the dual roles of CFO and president of Cincinnati Bells’ data center business before moving solely into running the data center business, which he renamed as CyrusOne.
He took the company public in 2013 and moved CyrusOne’s HQ from Cincinnati to Dallas, growing the company into a global data center contender with operations in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
In November, KKR and Global Infrastructure Partners announced they were acquiring Wojtaszek’s former firm for around $15 billion in cash, including the assumption of debt.
So that went well. But Wojtaszek—who currently sits on several boards of data center companies, many of them in developing countries—thinks he can do better by storing RVs and boats.
‘A clear first-mover’s advantage’
“When I look at the success I had [at CyrusOne] and think about where I sit now with this business, I expect [RecNation] to be more successful, because this is the first company of its kind that’s focused on this,” Wojtaszek told us.
“I have a clear first-mover’s advantage,” he said. He believes he can repeat the same rapid growth and success at RecNation—”just faster.”
“I’m pretty bullish on what we’re going to do,” he said.
One reason for growth: RV owners are getting younger
“There’s definitely been a noticeable shift for younger folks that are getting RVs,” Wojtaszek said. “Probably most of the RV owners are 55-plus, but we’re starting to see a lot more younger folks come in with some of the smaller trailers. We’ve seen a lot of folks in their thirties.”
Living the dream by turning his hobby into a business
A lot of those younger folks in RVs are getting out and living their dream—and in some ways, Wojtaszek is living his now.
“I mean, I have a boat and I go fishing all the time,” he said. “I fish all the different trout streams in Utah and other streams out west in Alaska. I do offshore fishing in Florida.”
“We have a camper, we go camping all the time. And so being able to turn this into a business is pretty incredible.”
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