Champion Home Builders Inc. announced today (Aug. 8) that as part of its recent acquisition of Athens, Texas-based Athens Park Homes, it will be expanding the popular Athens Park Homes brand of park models to a broader program and will be building them at strategically placed plants throughout the U.S.
According to a press release, the targeted locations include Champion facilities in Chandler, Arizona, Weiser, Idaho, York, Neb., Athens, Texas, Sangerfield, N.Y., Lillington, N.C. and Lake City, Fla.
Dick Grymonprez, currently vice president of sales and marketing for Athens Park Homes, has been named Champion’s director of national park model sales. Grymonprez has many years of experience in park model sales and is currently president of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) while also serving on the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) board as well as the park trailer and destination camping committee.
“I am really excited about the opportunity to combine the strengths of our two companies,” said Dick Grymonprez. “Athens Park Homesis recongnized as a national brand. However, with rising freight prices the logistical challenge of shipping from only one location in Texas has impacted our ability to compete nationwide. Our expanded footprint gives us the opportunity to provide the very best in park model homes and cabins to more of our customers at a lower price.”
Athens Park Homes are currently sold through retailers, developers and campground owners in 37 states as well as Finland and Japan.
Champion Home Builders Inc., a North American leader in manufactured and modular homes, announced the purchase of Athens Park Homes, a manufacturer of U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) code and park model homes, located in Athens, Texas.
This acquisition adds capacity for Champion in the Texas HUD market, as well as a highly regarded brand in park model homes, according to a news release. Athens Park model homes are structures less than 400 square feet built to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. They are considered recreational vehicles, although they are primarily designed for permanent placement at a destination.
“I am delighted with the purchase of Athens Park Homes,” said Champion Homes CEO Jack Lawless. “The acquisition of this respected company provides us with much needed additional capacity in Texas, where we are experiencing some of our fastest growth. The addition of Athens Park Homes will allow us to continue to grow our market share in Texas and will give Champion a considerable presence in the park model sector. ”
“This is a tremendous fit. Champion’s financial strength will provide Athens Park Homes with resources for growth, and provide stability and opportunity to our employees, the community, and our trade customers,” said Athens Park Homes President Phil Surles. “Champion is an aggressive and growing company with great plans for future growth. I am excited that Athens Park Homes is now part of those plans. From my past association with Champion, I know they share our commitment to our customers to provide affordable, high quality homes.
With the addition of Athens Park Homes, Champion will own and operate 29 factories in the U.S., Western Canada and United Kingdom
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) has designated Athens Park Homes as an endorsed provider for park model sales to Texas parks.
“Athens Park Homes has been a member of TACO for many years. They have supplied hundreds of park models to our members. They provide great products and service, and we wholeheartedly recommend them and their products,” Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director and CEO, stated in a news release.
He added that Athens’ endorsed provider status translates into significant savings and other benefits for TACO members.
For starters, any TACO member that purchases a park model from Athens Park Homes will receive a free Galvalume metal roof, which is normally a $900 upgrade, as well as a two-year warranty instead of the standard one-year warranty that comes with each park model.
Texas parks also benefit from the fact that Athens Park Homes is based in Athens, Texas, which translates into lower park model shipping costs compared to the prices Texas park operators would pay if they purchase park models from out-of-state providers.
Schaeffer said Athens will have an increased presence at upcoming TACO trade shows, including its Oct. 23rd fall tour at The Vineyard Campground and Cabins in Grapevine, which coincidentally has had a terrific consumer response to the eight park model cabins it installed last year.
Athens has also agreed to donate the profits from the sale of one of its highly appointed park model units at the TACO Spring Show (auction) to support the association’s government affairs program, and to increase its advertising presence in TACO’s award-winning Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide, Schaeffer said.
“We’re very excited to receive TACO’s endorsement,” said Dick Grymonprez, vice president of sales and marketing for Athens Park Homes, which has enjoyed a 17% increase in January through September park model sales compared to last year’s figures.
Founded in 2004, Athens currently accounts for about 8% of the nation’s park model sales, Grymonprez said, adding that much of Athens’ recent sales involve campgrounds that are purchasing park models for use as rental accommodations.
With 67 RV sites, cottonwood trees, rock climbing walls and a three-acre fishing lake stocked with trout and catfish, Rancho Jurupa Park in Riverside, Calif., lives up to its billing as “a perfect setting for a quick escape from the city.”
Operated by the Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District, it’s also one of a growing number of government-run parks investing in park models as rental accommodations.
“We did a feasibility study and a master plan, and one of the features that was called out was cabins for folks who want to get outdoors and have a nice recreational experience, but don’t have a camping unit themselves,” said Scott Bangle, general manager of park district.
Riverside County just installed six Silvercrest/Western Homes Division park models at Rancho Jurupa Park, and the county plans to add more park models to other county parks in the future. “I could see having a handful of units at every park,” Bangle said. “(They) will be part of our inventory at all of our major regional parks someday.”
Riverside County, of course, isn’t the only government agency that’s investing in park models as rental units. Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries Inc. just delivered 25 park model cabins to Lassen National Park in Northern California, and the company is in discussions with other California counties about purchasing parks models for use as rental accommodations, said Tim Gage, vice president of Cavco’s Specialty Division.
“We believe that the government campground parks are a marketplace that hasn’t been fully explored at this point,” said Gage.
Private parks, for their part, have been stepping up their investments in park model cabins in recent years. But despite the significant purchases of park model cabins as rental units by Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI) and operators of independent parks, North America’s private campground sector is still a long way from being saturated with rental accommodations.
In fact, the KOA system, which purchased 317 park models last year, is now waiving royalty fees on park model income for one year on any new units that its franchisees purchase this year.
“The idea is to encourage more KOAs to invest in lodging,” said Mike Atkinson, director of lodging for the Billings, Mont.-based franchisor, adding that park models are “becoming an absolute necessity to grow your campground income.”
Necessity or not, park models accounted for 1,168 of KOA’s 1,530 fully equipped (with bathrooms) rental accommodations systemwide in 2010 and generated over three times as much income as typical RV sites. “Park models have the longest short-term occupancy and you get over three times the money,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson added that most people who could be potential campground accommodations guests have not even been exposed yet to the concept.
Of course, Atkinson cautions that simply purchasing park models doesn’t turn into immediate revenue hikes because they have to be marketed. He says it typically takes three years for them to reach their marketing potential.
Nevertheless, some park operators find that these ordinarily rustic-looking units outperform their expectations.
Scott Cory, managing partner of Ventura Ranch KOA in the mountains southeast of Santa Barbara, Calif., installed four Cavco park models at his park in June of last year. It was the first time his park offered accommodations and he found that his guests responded very favorably to his investment.
“Lodging is the biggest ‘wow’ factor we’ve done at our park,” he said, adding that he plans to purchase six more park models this year. He also complements his park models with glamour tents and teepees.
Manufacturers, for their part, are increasingly rolling out more park model rental options, not only to accommodate rising demand for rental units, but to make up for recent declines in sales to consumers who traditionally purchased park models and placed them on leased campsites for use as their own private vacation cottage.
“We’re looking at doing more rentals because more and more campgrounds are realizing the benefits of having park models versus transient RV sites,” said Tyler Steele, vice president of Canterbury RV in Goshen, Ind.
“Listening to the needs and desires of campground owners and then turning that input into an affordable and profitable cabin design has been a crucial key to our growth,” said Andy Davis, sales manager for Pinnacle Park Homes in Ochlocknee, Ga.
Some park model manufacturers, however, still focus most of their attention on producing units for consumers who want to buy them for use as vacation cottages that they can place on leased or purchased campsites in campgrounds, RV parks or resorts.
“We’re probably about 10% for campground rentals, while 90% of our production is for retail sales,” said John Soard, general manager of Fairmont Park Trailers in Nappanee, Ind.
Joe Follman, sales manager for Chariot Eagle Inc. in Ocala, Fla., added that park operators that rent or lease sites to park model owners can benefit from having a steady income stream. “I think there’s still a lot of room to grow in this industry, both in the Sunbelt and up north,” he said. “There’s still plenty of business out there. We’re such a small percentage of the RV business.”
A continuing roadblock is the availability of financing, both for consumers and parks that want to purchase park models for use as rental accommodations.
“You can show how quickly they can be paid off, and how it’s a great investment to put cabins in. But the lenders are just not buying aggressively,” said Dick Grymonprez of Athens Park Homes in Athens, Texas. “If we could get financing, all of us would be building more cabins. I can’t tell you how many campgrounds tell me, ‘If you can get us financing, we’ll buy six.’ I can’t tell you how many roadblocks we face getting them financed.”
But there is money out there. Parks are continuing to purchase park models. And, increasingly, manufacturers say that the best sources are local lenders rather than nationally known lenders that have little knowledge or experience with the park model product.
The same approach can also help consumers find sources of financing for park models they’d like to purchase as private vacation cottages. “We’re recommending that dealers work with their local banks and educate them about the lack of defaults in the park model world and why it’s a good business model for them,” said Steele of Canterbury RV.
For the first time ever, an outdoor hospitality company, an RV dealership and a manufacturer are forming a joint venture.
RVC Outdoor Destinations will be teaming with American RV of Olive Branch, Miss., a dealership carrying a variety of RV classes and park models, and Athens Park Homes of East Texas, quality builder of RV park models, park model cabins and now the Resort Cottages branded by RVC, according to a news release.
“This is the first time in the RV industry that these three types of establishments have formed a partnership,” said Phil Surles of Athens Park Homes and manufacturer of RVC Resort Cottages.
RVC President Andy Cates added, “A dynamic team has been formed and I believe it will drive more interest to park models and to the outdoor hospitality industry.”
The partnership is new for everyone involved, but relationship ties beforehand have helped to ease the way. Cates and Peter Albano, president of American RV, have been supportive friends providing feedback to each other in the past. Albano was interested in pursuing the park model business that Cates and the RVC team have spent considerable time exploring.
Each company expects to benefit from this venture by giving interested buyers a new and improved product line, thus widening their purchasing options. The RVC Resort Cottage’s superior architectural design, layout options and overall quality are just some of the features that make it stand out from traditional park models.
In addition to providing a new line of park models, American RV is now able to offer a highly attractive destination for people interested in purchasing an RVC Resort Cottage, which can be placed at any RVC Outdoor Destination. American RV will continue to offer traditional park models, which are ideal for farms, hunting camps, recreational land and guest houses.
Furthermore, RVC Outdoor Destinations will assist in sales of RVs by arranging a smooth “maiden voyage” experience. This program is designed to help the new RV owner from purchase to their first RV vacation at an RVC Outdoor Destination. American RV is reciprocating favors by helping to drive traffic to RVC properties via park model sales and cross marketing.
About the Principals
RVC Outdoor Destinations is rapidly becoming a leading outdoor hospitality company. Based in Memphis, Tenn., RVC Outdoor Destinations owns and operates six properties in the Southeast, one of which is a boat club. An RVC Outdoor Destination is a natural environment mixed with a hotel experience. Their properties are typically located in scenic pastoral settings often with significant water frontage.
American RV, located not far from RVC’s headquarters, has been operating for over 10 years and is the oldest northern Mississippi RV dealership. They take pride in their vast selection, dutiful assistance and economical prices. Their “easy to find…hard to beat!” motto reflects their devotion to sell the right kind of motor or land home for each customer.
Athens Park Homes is headquartered in East Texas and operates the nation’s largest park model manufacturing plant. With their already advanced floorplans and features, they have joined RVC to create another exceptional product in the industry.
An industry built on wanderlust is surviving on the notion of “wander less.”
Texas RV campgrounds are part of a national trend of anchoring specialty vehicles, called park models , which look and feel like small cottages, for rent or purchase, according to the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman.
Forty percent of Texas recreational vehicle campgrounds have introduced the models, twice the rate of five years ago, to appeal to a broader market and to increase revenues, according to the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“There’s a good segment of the population that wants to experience the campground experience but don’t own an RV, and they don’t want to sleep in a tent,” said Brian Schaeffer, the association’s executive director.
Consider the state of the RV manufacturing industry, as compiled by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA): One in 12 vehicle-owning U.S. households owned a recreational vehicle in 2005. Shipments of new RVs of all kinds were down more than 57% in 2009 from the industry’s record year in 2006. And the continuation of an uptick in shipments this year depends on a healthy economic rebound — something that’s not at all guaranteed.
At RV parks, however, the story is brighter.
Despite the recession and fluctuating fuel prices, reservations at RV parks were up 8% in 2009, and rentals of park models were up 20%, according to the industry, as many people were looking for cheaper, shorter vacations.
“The idea of driving to the Grand Canyon isn’t happening as much as it used to,” Schaeffer said. “They are looking for something nearer to home.”
To campground owners and managers, the park models make sense as an alternative to hotels.
“People who had been in the business a lot longer than me said everyone in the business should have them,” said Bryan Kastleman, president of the management company for Hill Country RV Resort in New Braunfels.
He said the owners have invested $1 million in the park, including adding 33 park models, in the past two years.
Park models typically are 300 to 400 square feet, with the option of an additional 150 square feet of loft space for children. Some come with porches. Decks can be added once the model is anchored, its trailer hitch detached and the underside carriage hidden by skirting that matches the building’s exterior.
“They’re not cabins,” said Ken Butschek, the owner of La Hacienda RV Resort & Cottages, on Hudson Bend Road on the way to Lake Travis. “They’re little houses.”
The cottages are free-standing (no common walls) with full kitchens, wood laminate floors and high ceilings. They are typically equipped with the comforts of home: high-definition televisions, air conditioning, linens, microwaves, coffee pot and dishes.
“Bring your clothes and your ice chest, and you’re good,” Butschek said.
Butschek said he started with two models when he opened in 2004, has 15 today and expects to add more.
Austin Lone Star RV Resort, which has been in business for 40 years at Interstate 35 and William Cannon Drive, has just taken delivery of its first park model, manager Sharon Knopf said.
“We’re looking to sell them,” Knopf said.
The national chain, Carefree RV Resorts, bought the local site four years ago. The chain, Knopf said, has a track record of selling park models and leasing the plots where they are anchored.
“They are very popular in Florida,” Knopf said.
Rents for the models vary by size, season, locale and duration of your stay. Daily rents can range from $80 to $195, as opposed to $20 to $50 for a spot for an RV. Weekly or monthly rates are cheaper. The larger cottages can sleep eight.
Butschek doubles as a dealer for Athens Parks Homes. He said a basic model, including setup, could cost $28,000 to $42,000, plus customized finish-out.
Leasing a plot at La Hacienda, which is about a quarter of a mile from Lake Travis, would run $475 to $600 a month. “You can have a lake house for under $60,000,” Butschek said.
One perk: no property taxes, because a park model is legally a vehicle — albeit one that doesn’t move very often — instead of real estate.
La Hacienda’s amenities include a covered pavilion, two saline swimming pools, hot tub, spa, fitness center, laundry, cable TV and Wi-Fi Internet access.
Besides modern-day convenience, RV park owners are selling what they call the “campground experience,” which is a mixture of summer camp, Bohemian lifestyle and communal hearth.
“On a scale of one to 10, it’s an 11,” said Barbara Roach, a retiree who’s been based at La Hacienda for more than three years.
The widow drives her 30-foot motor home with Jeep in tow between Montana, Fla., and Austin to visit grandchildren. “It’s a cheap way of living,” she said.
Donna Holzhueter and Kevin Lassing, still in their 40s, left Madison, Wis., for the road two years ago.
“We were thinking of buying a house,” Lassing said, “but my wife thought it’d be fun to travel until we’re broke.”
To Holzhueter, who had worked 24 years in government, “what’s important are the experiences, not the stuff you’ve collected.”
Despite the vagabond lifestyle, she’s joined the segment of the economy that works from home — though from her RV. She does online technical support for a company.
Her husband is a “work camper,” who trades part-time work at the RV campgrounds for rent.
A few yards away, at a party building, a band is rehearsing in the middle of the afternoon.
Freddy Powers, a singer-songwriter who toured for years with Merle Haggard, is preparing his band, Stop the Truck, for an appearance at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July picnic.
Powers and his wife, Catherine, sold their house and donated his memorabilia to Texas State University in San Marcos after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
They are now living the RV lifestyle.
“He’s lived most of his life touring on a bus,” Catherine said of her 78-year-old husband. “I wanted to keep him on the road.”
La Hacienda serves as their base, but when there’s gig, “we just secure and go,” she said.
“We love living here,” she added.
If the road ever stops calling, there’s always a cottage that’s just across the park. It’s not going anywhere.
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) is considering changing some of the duties of association and CEO after the current president and CEO, Linda Profaizer, retires at the end of this year.
“Our current president and CEO has vast responsibilities and we may consider some realignment of duties going forward,” said ARVC Chairman David L. Berg. “We are looking at all staff positions and responsibilities within the organization and may restructure some positions.”
Berg talked about staffing and other initiatives underway at ARVC in an address to members of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), who had gathered at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville for TACO’s annual spring meeting and convention. Their convention began Sunday and ends today (May 18).
In a subsequent interview, Berg cautioned that no final decisions have been made about the approach ARVC will take to replace Profaizer, who retires Dec. 31. “We want to make sure that our selection process enables us to recruit the best possible candidate for this position,” he said.
In his address to TACO members, Berg also said that ARVC is heavily promoting the GoCampingAmerica website with both print and online advertising initiatives.
He also said ARVC is continuing to take steps to improve communication with its state affiliates and that the national association hasn’t given up on the idea of having TACO become an affiliate of ARVC once again. “We’d like to have you back in the family,” he said, adding, “We (ARVC) need to improve our communication and treat the states as equal partners.”
Berg also lauded former ARVC Chairman Jeff Sims, also in attendance at the meeting, for his volunteer work reaching out to non-ARVC member parks to educate them about the merits of ARVC membership. As of mid-May, Sims had personally visited more than 400 parks at his own expense.
Monday’s TACO meeting also included a presentation by Bob MacKinnon of Murrieta, Calif.-based GuestReviews. “Texas has strong participation in the (GuestReviews) program,” he said, adding that Texas parks had an average score of A-minus in overall guest satisfaction.
Monday’s activities included a tradeshow with roughly 40 vendors, including Topeka, Ind.-based CrossRoads RV, Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries Inc. and Athens Park Homes of Athens, Texas, each of which had park models on display.
The day’s activities also included a seminar on Wi-Fi marketing by Frank Drew of Austin, Texas-based TengoInternet and a seminar on “Expanding Your Park” by Kathy and Tony Palmeri of Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Estes Park, Colo,. and Leisure Systems Inc.
The campground business has been the most resilient sector of the travel and tourism business throughout the recession. But it’s not just because campgrounds offer the most affordable vacation option, according to The Daily Exchange, Waterloo, Ontario.
“Campgrounds increasingly offer rental accommodations, so they’re no longer solely dependent on tent campers and RV owners,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), adding that roughly a third of America’s campgrounds now offer park model rental accommodations.
But most campgrounds aren’t building their own rental accommodations from scratch. In most cases, they are ordering factory-built cabins and cottages, which are being delivered to their parks just in time for the camping season.
Many of them look like miniature log or cedar-sided cabins. But these 400-square-foot units are actually recreational park trailers or “park models,” and are technically classified as recreational vehicles.
“They’re completely turnkey,” said William Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), which represents park model manufacturers. “All the campground owner has to do is hook each unit up to the utilities and they’re ready to rent.”
And, perhaps best of all, since “park models” are technically classified as recreational vehicles, they do not require building permits in most jurisdictions, so campgrounds can literally order them over the phone and have them delivered to their parks within a matter of weeks.
“Manufacturers construct these units in factories to conform with approximately 500 safety requirements contained in the National Safety Standard for recreational park trailers,” Garpow said.
Industry insiders see the campground industry’s increasing investments in park models and other rental accommodations as a shrewd business move, particularly given rising fuel costs and the dramatic decline in towable and motorized RV sales in recent years as a result of the recession.
“To a certain extent, the campground industry has insulated itself from the economic downturn by installing rental units,” Profaizer said.
Indeed, by providing rental accommodations, campgrounds are drawing not only tenters and RVers, but anyone who would normally stay in a hotel or motel while they travel.
“With park model cabin rentals, we can appeal to families who don’t have to worry about going out and purchasing an RV or having a tow vehicle or whatever the case may be. They can just get in their car and come to one of our parks,” said Rob Schutter, COO of Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc., which franchises Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts.
Campgrounds have been gradually investing in park model cabins and other rental accommodations for many years. But the focus on rentals has intensified in recent years.
In fact, the competition for campground business has become so fierce that park model manufacturers are facing increasing competition from RV manufacturers, who are now marketing some of their own products as rental accommodations for campgrounds.
For more than 13 years, in fact, the Breckenridge Division of Damon Corp. in Nappanee, Ind., was the only Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary that produced rental accommodations for campgrounds. Now there are four Thor subsidiaries vying for a piece of the campground rental business, with Topeka, Ind.-based CrossRoads RV, Goshen, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co. and Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc. each competing for a piece of the campground accommodations business along with Breckenridge.
Some of the major campground chains, for their part, are busy working out exclusive arrangements with leading park model manufacturers, which are building custom-designed rental units for their parks.
Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries Inc., for example, is building units for Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), while CrossRoads RV recently landed an agreement to build custom designed park models for Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts. Another RV resort developer, Memphis, Tenn.-based RVC Outdoor Destinations, is working with Athens Park Homes in Athens, Texas, to furnish its resorts with park models.
But while some see the growing demand for rental units in campgrounds as a result of rising fuel costs and declining RV sales, it also reflects significant sociological changes taking place across the United States, Profaizer said.
“Families are increasingly time deprived and the dynamics of the summer vacation have changed,” she said. “People are camping closer to home because they don’t have as much time off to take extended trips across the country. Oftentimes, both parents are working and their kids are often involved in extracurricular activities, which limit their ability to travel.”
In addition, she said, many families are finding that it’s easier and more convenient to rent a cabin for a weekend getaway than to spend their limited free time packing, setting up and taking down tent camping equipment. For others, she said, having a cabin rental gives them an opportunity to experience camping in the great outdoors even if they don’t have an RV.
Schutter of Leisure Systems said campgrounds are also finding that park model rentals are particularly appealing to women, especially mothers. “In our particular system,” he said, “one of the major decision makers is Mom. And Mom finds all the comforts of home in these units. That’s a big selling point.”
Thomas Heneghan, CEO of Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc., also said park model accommodations have wide market appeal. “In today’s economy,” he said, “the park model extends the outstanding value and experience of the outdoor lifestyle to families who are either unfamiliar with tent camping or RVing or who prefer the conveniences offered by staying in a park model.” He added that park models “allow one to have all of the comforts and conveniences of home with the ability to have a change of scenery and reconnect with family.”
Park model manufacturers, for their part, find it behooves them to pay attention to campgrounds and their growing accommodations needs.
“Many of our manufacturers are literally racing to get these units in place in time for the summer camping season,” said Garpow of RPTIA, adding that the pre-summer rush can be a nail-biter for campgrounds, many of which have already booked the park models they have ordered for this summer.
Such is the case at West Glacier KOA in Glacier, Mont., which just received six park model cabins in late April. “We’re hooking them up to septic and electric utilities right now,” said park co-owner Theresa McClure, adding that five of the six units are already booked May 14, when the park opens for the summer camping season.
“It’s just crazy,” McClure said of consumer demand for park model cabins, which KOA markets as Kamping Lodges. “We could probably put in 12 and they’d all be booked.”
Later this month, the Kampground of America (KOA) campground in Herkimer, N.Y. is going to start renting out the nation’s first park trailer to achieve “Emerald” status from NTA Inc., a Nappanee-based company that specializes in certifying “green” manufacturers.
Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries Inc. received the Emerald status for the Herkimer park trailer in late April after proving that the unit met NTA’s highest green standards.
Indeed, the Herkimer KOA unit, believed the first “off-grid” park trailer in the country, features numerous green features, including solar panels capable of producing 2 kilowatts of power, bamboo flooring, LED lighting, recycled axels and tires, recycled lumber composite decking, on-demand water heating, energy efficient heating and air-conditioning.
But while this unit may demonstrate one company’s efforts to prove how green it can be, in reality, park trailer manufacturers in Elkhart County, Ind., and across the country are increasingly seeking green certifications, not only for their products, but for their manufacturing processes.
And several consulting engineering firms are helping them obtain their green certifications. In the past year, TR Arnold & Associates in Elkhart has certified Elkhart-based Trophy Homes Inc. and Forest River Inc. as well as Middlebury-based Woodland Park as green manufacturers, while Athens, Texas-based Athens Park Homes also met NTA’s requirements for green certification. Elkhart-based Country Log Cottages, for its part, has also obtained green certification from Anderson, Ind.-based BIS LLC, as has Chariot Eagle Inc., an Ocala, Fla.-based park trailer manufacturer.
Olin Wenrick, president and CEO of Trophy Homes, said consumers are becoming increasingly educated about the merits of green products and it may eventually get to the point where manufacturers are at a disadvantage if they aren’t able to tell their customers they are green.
“It’s coming. So why not start now?” Wenrick asked. “It at least tells people out there that I’m trying to do the right thing for the environment.”
In Trophy’s case, it already was. Trophy had already adopted environmentally friendly manufacturing practices, such as recycling its construction waste, so it was relatively easy for the company to get green certified, Wenrick said.
Dave Burrows, national sales manager for Middlebury-based Woodland Park, said his company also achieved green certification with relative ease.
“We didn’t really have to change anything,” he said. “We had been manufacturing to green standards for quite a while. There was just not a certification process or a verification process for our industry.”
But TR Arnold & Associates, NTA, BIS and other consulting firms have tried to fill that void, and park trailer manufacturers are finding it’s worth their time and effort to seek green certifications.
Burrows, in fact, said Woodland Park’s dealers applauded its green certification. “Basically, the dealers looked at it as a move in the right direction. They looked at it as another tool for them to sell our product. And my Canadian dealers absolutely loved the thought of a green product.”
Mandy Leazenby, TR Arnold & Associates’ green program manager, said her company looks at several criteria before determining whether a company’s manufacturing operations can be green certified. “We look at indoor air-quality, resource efficiency, energy efficiency, water efficiency, operations and maintenance and innovative practices,” she said. “We also look at the attitude of the company and the extent to which they recycle materials during the construction process.”
But while obtaining “green” certification has been relatively painless for several Elkhart County manufacturers to achieve, selling “green” units is another matter, said Wenrick, adding that his company’s green status hasn’t yet translated into increased sales.
That day may come, however.
In fact, while many consumers may not yet be ready to purchase an “off grid” green park trailer with all the bells and whistles, such as solar panels with backup generators, consumers are showing interest in purchasing park trailers with energy and water saving features, such as LED lighting, low flow faucet and showerheads and energy saving appliances.
Dick Grymonprez, vice president of marketing for Athens Park Homes, which achieved its green certification last year, said his company is seeing increased demand for instant hot water heaters.
“Some people just focus on solar panels, but there are different shades of green,” said Leazenby of TR Arnold & Associates, adding that there are many green features in today’s park trailers that are very positive features for consumers, such as units with low-VOC paints and finishes as well as formaldehyde-free carpets, wall materials and flooring.
After enduring the biggest downturn in the history of the recreational park trailer business, several recreational park trailer manufacturers are reporting increased sales and renewed interest in their products, which are used by consumers as vacation cottages and by campgrounds as rental accommodations, according to a Recreational Park Trailer Industry Assocation (RPTIA) news release.
“It looks like spring is definitely going to be better than it was last year,” said Tim Howard, president and CEO of the Breckenridge Division of Damon Motor Coach, a Thor Industries Inc. company in Nappanee, Ind., that has long been one of the largest park model manufacturers in the country.
“In the past two months, we have seen a better market, a better demand for products, broadly, than we saw during the same period last year. This is an encouragement, certainly, because it was a long, painful ‘off’ season.”
Granted, Howard said his company’s backlog is still “not anywhere near what it would have been in normal times three years ago,” but it’s moving in the right direction.
“Several park trailer manufacturers are saying their orders are up at least 10% to 15% from where they were a year ago,” said RPTIA Executive Director William Garpow, whose association represents park trailer manufacturers. “Of course, park trailer shipments were down about 50% last year, so we’ve still got a long ways to go to get back where we were three years ago, but at least we’re heading in the right direction.”
Indeed, several Elkhart County, Ind., park trailer manufacturers say they are seeing a sustained increase in orders and inquiries this year, which they say bodes well for the future.
“Business is a little better than last year,” said Dave Burrows, national sales manager for Middlebury, Ind.-based Woodland Park. “It’s definitely not the 2006, 2007 or 2008 numbers. But consumer optimism and demand here over the last two months has started to increase, which is nice to see. Prior to that, dealers were extremely nervous and skittish about putting any product on their lots. Now they’re starting to see traffic coming in. My dealers are more optimistic this year than they were last year.”
“Sales are up nicely,” said Jim Foltz, general manager of Forest River Inc. in Elkhart.
Other companies say they are seeing even stronger business levels.
“So far this year, our business seems to be back to normal for us,” said Curt Yoder, vice president of Kropf Industries Inc. in Goshen, Ind. “There’s definitely much better activity and interest this year compared to last year. We’re running at full capacity now and we hope to continue that.”
Olin Wenrick, president and CEO of Elkhart-based Trophy Homes Inc. said his business is up, too, this year, but is still off about 50% from where it used to be. But Wenrick said he is optimistic about his business prospects this year. “We’re beginning the climb,” he said.
Other park trailer manufacturers across the country are similarly optimistic.
“Our park trailer business year-to-date is up over last year for January, February and March,” said Dick Grymonprez, vice president of marketing for Athens Park Homes in Athens, Texas. “We’re encouraged that it’s going to be a better year.”
Grymonprez added that the biggest impediment to improving park trailer sales is the same impediment facing every other industry in the country: limited bank financing.