CEO Arnold: Cruise Inn ‘Simply Ahead of its Time’

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June 19, 2017 by   Leave a Comment

Trent Arnold

After 3 1/2 years of working to create a new concept in the RV park and campground sector across North America, Florida-based Cruise Inn’s financial backers opted to terminate operations in June.

It wasn’t necessarily because Cruise Inn was a flawed concept, maintains Trent Arnold, who joined the company last year and was named president and CEO in May, expecting to accelerate growth for a unique network that consisted of 42 independently owned parks at the time of its closure.

But a month later, Arnold found himself winding it down, helping member parks and brand staff members make a disappointing announcement for a company and an idea that, when all is said and done, may prove to have simply been ahead of its time in Arnold’s opinion.

“It’s very frustrating for me on a personal level,” Arnold told Woodall’s Campground Management, a sister publication to RVBusiness. “I came in to run and grow this business. But the board made a decision, and it wasn’t a bad business decision. We hate it for our parks and we hate it for our staff, but it was the right move for the board. It’s a shame. It was a great opportunity and we were figuring a lot out.”

A group of investors, mostly with hotel backgrounds, including Scott Anderson, Roger Bloss, Bernie Moyle, Alan Benjamin, Alan Tallis, Adam Frisch and well known campground-sector veteran named Ian Steyn, launched Cruise Inn in November of 2013 with an eye toward branding some of the thousands of private parks that were not – and still aren’t – recognizable to much of the U.S. public outside the ranks of franchise systems like Kampgrounds of America and Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts or the Thousand Trails and Encore Resorts brands of Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc.

The crux of the idea was to allow parks to pool together sales, marketing, reservations and purchasing services in order to streamline operations for park owners in much the same way that Vantage Hospitality Group Inc., a Cruise Inn corporate backer that had grown to 1,100 hotels worldwide, operated in the hotel business with member network affiliates such as Lexington and America’s Best Value Inns.

Cruise Inn personnel had become regular fixtures at national, regional and state RV park and campground conventions and trade shows as they endeavored to work with park owners. “If you’re not here to build relationships, you’re not going to make it,” said Arnold, noting that Cruise Inn brought in industry veterans like Linda Profaizer, Kathy Palmeri, Jerome Staverosky and De Ann Ames to deepen the brand’s connection to the sector.

But in the end, things didn’t move fast enough.

When the brand launched in 2013, its backers said they conservatively expected to add 15 parks in 2014 and 35 in 2015 in an effort to reach 100 parks by the end of 2016. But with only 42 Cruise Inn parks — a couple of them in development and not yet operating — by early June, Cruise Inn’s backers decided to call it quits.

“We came in to introduce new products and processes into an industry and did really well with some of them,” Arnold said. “Some of them didn’t ultimately bear out to be profitable. Because we were first, the burden and expense of that learning curve and the difficulty of growing quickly in such a fragmented industry, those things ultimately doomed us.”

The parks that joined Cruise Inn were top-notch, Arnold said, and grew close to the brand’s staff members. “Across the board our parks were tremendous,” he said. “The portfolio we did put together was made of some really great parks that are committed to their customers and committed to making this industry better.”

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