Editor’s Note: Thor Industries Inc. on Tuesday (March 23) announced that it is joining Midwest Leasing Inc. in rolling out a leasing and financing program for the rental lodging arena. Coupled with Thor’s previously announced vendor relationship with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), the Midwest Leasing deal brings Thor’s team of RV lodging professionals full circle. Thor manufactures “ruggedized” rental lodging units customized to withstand the rigors of rental use under the Airstream, Breckenridge, CrossRoads and Keystone divisional brand names. Midwest Leasing, based in Crested Butte, Colo., will provide the financing to get them on site. “This Midwest Leasing announcement could not have been timed better, as ARVC owners are looking for the opportunity to add lodging inventory before the upcoming summer season,” said Shane Ott, a former KOA president and current director of campground relations for Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor. His comments appear below with those of Midwest Leasing President Fran Wickenhauser, who is based in Crested Butte, Colo.
RVB: Why is this deal with Midwest Leasing Inc. important to the campground industry?
OTT: The No. 1 hang-up for campground owners right now is the lack of the ability to obtain financing. Banks have routinely struggled to understand the campground model anyway because our industry doesn’t have a lot of publicly traded companies. They don’t understand the dynamics. With the downturn in the economy it became increasingly tough. We’re providing an option. If you want to pursue lodging accommodations, we think we have an outstanding offering of park models and ruggedized RV units. It’s exclusive to Thor products.
RVB: How did this relationship unfold?
OTT: I pursued it. I talked to a couple of national lenders (about the program) and it was apparent it was going to be a long road. They didn’t say no to us but it was apparent this would be an arduous process going through two large companies, Thor and the institution. The window of opportunity is right now! Midwest Leasing, a smaller regional lending group, was able to move quicker and be more flexible with our needs at Thor. I spoke with Fran Wickenhauser, the president.
(Ott suggested RVB contact Midwest Leasing. Ott added, “Don’t be surprised if Fran answers the phone.” RVB called Midwest’s 800-number and sure enough, Wickenhauser answered the phone.)
RVB: Why are you entering the RV park and campground sector?
WICKENHAUSER: It is a brand new market for us but we have always known that sector of the market was out there. We’re a general equipment leasor; we finance any type of equipment, computers to school buses to construction and production equipment. We have leased motorhomes and travel trailers in the past; we just haven’t done it on an organized basis and we haven’t done it for the campgrounds
In this economy, credit is tight all over. Campground owners are not unique. We realize we are coming into a segment of the market in a time when credit is still tighter than it was two to three years ago. That is true in the lending community in general. We are confident this economy is on the slow rebound and recovery and that lending will get more relaxed in their requirements as times goes on.
RVB: You are in a sense a middleman in this operation. Please explain.
WICKENHAUSER: We are a privately held company and have been in business since 1985. We have bank lines of credit. That’s typically how it is done in the leasing community. We have a fair amount of staying power and have gone through a number of cycles and survived them all.
RVB: You have offices in Colorado and Arizona but you see this program as a nationwide program, right?
WICKENHAUSER: Yes. In lending community, it’s somewhat impersonal. Ninety-nine percent of the clientele I deal with, I never meet them face to face. All work is done on the Internet and in e-mail and the electronic world we are all in. We cover the entire U.S. through the Internet. It’s a very expeditious way to handle that. You attach documents and quotes and can have it on a campground owner’s desk within 30 seconds. We’ve been covering the entire U.S. for 25 years. Now the campground industry will become a part of our world.
RVB: Walk me through how this would work for a campground owner seeking to use your service.
WICKENHAUSER: The campground owner will come with a borrowing request. Let’s say he wants to buy five park models, $40,000 each for a total of $200,000. The campground owner would ask for a quote. We say we’ll provide a quote within 24 hours, but typically it might be within the hour. We’ll e-mail the quote. If the quote is acceptable, we will send them a credit application. Within two to three days of the return application, the campground owner would receive a credit decision. If the decision is positive, we would move forward with a lease agreement. At this point, we would wait for Thor to deliver the park models. As soon as they are delivered, Midwest would pay Thor and the lease commences, with the campground paying Midwest Leasing. Typically, a lease would be for five years. At the end of 60 payments, they own the park models.
An analogy would be school buses or modular classrooms for schools. We’ve been working with school districts for years.
RVB: The initial response has been good, we understand.
WICKENHAUSER: I’m getting calls daily from interested parties, be it KOA, Jellystone, associations or sales and marketing people. The information is so new it’s just now being released. I’m hearing from marketing and sales people from Thor Industries, from people who want to better understand the program.
RVB: How do you see this business unfolding this year?
WICKENHAUSER: I have no idea, only because I don’t know if Thor knows how many people will be interested in financing their products through Midwest Leasing. I think we’ll get a good feel for this in the next six to nine months, after the summer season and some trade shows. I’ll be in Reno in April and standing next to the Thor people in their booth as they market their products to the campground owners…We’re all very hopeful it will be very productive for both of us. It’s all based on the strength of the individual campground entrepreneurs. As I told Thor Industries, each opportunity has to stand on its own two feet.