A group led primarily by hospitality industry veterans is establishing the Cruise Inn campground network, a membership organization the goal of which is to sign up 120 campgrounds within the next three years in an effort to become ”the largest brand in the outdoor facility space.”
”We are being very conservative,” said Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Cruise Inn RV Parks LLC. ”If we do all the things we expect to do, we think we will grow faster than that. Where the outdoor hospitality industry is today is where hotels were in the 1970s.”
Cruise Inn will roll out at the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) 2013 Outdoor Hospitality Conference and Expo Nov. 4-8 in Knoxville, Tenn., where the company has a booth and will sponsor a cracker barrel session.
Anderson, named Cruise Inn CEO in September, formerly was president of Hotel del Coronado, San Diego, and Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Ga., and served as managing director of games services for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and as general chairman of the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistler Straights in Kohler, Wisc.
”I’m brand new to the industry,” Anderson said. ”I don’t want people to think that we think we have all the answers. I’m going to ARVC to learn more than I am going there to talk.”
Corporate logistics — accounting, technology, marketing, purchasing and group sales — will be handled by Vantage Hospitality, Coral Springs, Fla., which already has about 1,000 independent hotels as members operating under the Americas Best Value Inn and Lexington brands.
”I couldn’t have possibly gotten this thing launched as quickly without having that support and infrastructure,” said Anderson. ”The basic premise is simple; the implementation is not.”
The company is privately owned by seven investors, including Anderson; Ian Steyn, owner of Jellystone Camp-Resort in Larkspur, Colo.; Vantage Hospitality CEO Roger Bloss and COO Bernie Moyle; Alan Benjamin, CEO of Benjamin West, a furniture and equipment supplier to the hotel industry; Alan Tallis, a 30-year hotel veteran formerly with La Quinta hotels; and Adam Frisch, a retired Wall Street foreign currency specialist.
Campgrounds will bear the Cruise Inn name and be members of the organization, not franchisees, and they will be asked to pay a flat fee based on the number of their sites. ”As they grow, our fees won’t increase,” Anderson said, noting that fees will be based on a sliding scale.
Vantage also will establish a reservation system for Cruise Inn that is included in the fee.
As of late October, criteria to become a Cruise Inn member had not been finalized, but Anderson listed several general guidelines. ”Maintenance is absolutely critical,” he said. ”While a facility can be rustic in nature, it must be well maintained. And there must be some sort of water element — a pool, lake, river or ocean. Also, there must be good signage and graphics so that people will be able to find their sites at night.
”One of the things we found in talking to RV park users is they really don’t know what they are going to get when they arrive at a campground. It’s like opening a Christmas present — sometimes you’re happy and sometimes you’re disappointed. Our goal is to have the same level of consistency among our members without requiring a park to be a cookie cutter. They can have their own attributes and amenities, but they must have certain standards to be a Cruise Inn member.”
Requiring parks to be renamed Cruise Inn is critical to the success of the organization, Anderson said. ”That’s the best way to communicate to a consumer that those standards are there,” he said. ”One of the things I love about the campground industry is the independence of the parks. Changing the name will be the easy part. The concept of their being part of a group will be the most difficult. If we can prove the business proposition, I don’t think changing their name will be a hindrance.”
Editor’s Note: The following information appears in a news release issued by IbisWorld.
The Campgrounds and RV Parks industry was not immune to recessionary declines. Cutbacks in travel and falling recreational vehicle (RV) sales contributed to disappointing years of decline in 2008 and 2009 when industry revenue fell 6.0% and 1.8% respectively. “The industry finally started its recovery in 2010,” IBISWorld industry analyst Stephen Morea says. Aided by strong job growth, increasing disposable income levels and increased domestic travel, the industry rebounded, offsetting any declines experienced during the recession. In the five years to 2013, IBISWorld expects revenue to increase at an annualized rate of 2.4% to $5.0 billion.
The campgrounds and RV parks industry is driven by a number of factors including the state of the economy and other travel-related trends. “During the recession, people cut back spending on luxuries like vacation and travel,” Morea says. In 2009, domestic travel fell 5.1% and international arrivals into the United States declined 5.2%, adversely affecting the industry.
Starting in 2010, incomes started to rise again and people began to spend more freely; travel rates subsequently improved. Adults older than 50 years old, also known as the baby-boomer generation, are a key customer segment for RV dealers and the campgrounds and RV parks industry. During the five years to 2013, the number of adults aged 50 and older increased at an annualized rate of 2.2%, which contributed to greater industry revenue growth. All of these factors contributed to industry revenue’s expected growth of 3.6% in 2013.
The campgrounds and RV parks industry has low market share concentration, with the four largest companies in the industry controlling less than 5.0% of industry revenue. Currently, the industry’s largest companies include: Equity LifeStyle Properties, Kampgrounds of America Inc., Outdoor Resorts of America Inc. and International Leisure Hosts Ltd. The industry is comprised of mostly smaller establishments; however, consolidation in the industry has become more commonplace. Low interest rates have provided the industry’s largest companies with access to capital and sound amounts of financial resources, allowing them to expand, consolidate and upgrade existing properties. An example of such a consolidation was Equity LifeStyle Properties acquisition of Thousand Trails, which was a RV and outdoor-vacation membership business.
A potential threat to the industry is any further strength in the U.S. dollar, because a stronger dollar makes it more attractive for U.S. residents to travel abroad. Another possible threat to the industry would be a rise in fuel prices, as, RV and campground patrons are often required to travel to their destination by automobile. In the five years to 2018, IBISWorld estimates that the world price of oil will increase. Nevertheless, steady economic growth and favorable demographic trends are expected to propel industry growth past these concerns. During the five years to 2018, industry revenue is forecast to increase. For more information, visit IBISWorld’s campgrounds and RV parks in the U.S. industry report page.
Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Jim Rogers, president and CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), for the October issue of Woodall’s Campground Management. KOA is celebrating its 50th year.
No matter where you turn, you’ll find evidence that future prospects for outdoor activity and campground occupancy growth are extraordinary. KOA intends to combine the best of its past with its best innovation and leadership for the future to assure its continued success for its franchisee partners.
Whether you are reading Dr. Richard Curtin’s “The RV Consumer in 2011,” the 2010 Harris Interactive Research on “RV Perceptions and Purchase Motivators” or the “Outdoor Industry Foundation/Coleman/KOA Special Report on Camping,” you can only conclude that the outlook for all types of camping are outstanding.
Our campers, our prospects and the marketplace they create have changed dramatically, as have the ways we can effectively communicate with them. KOA believes that sales and service strategies going forward must be pro-active and align directly to personal needs, wants, travel/recreational preferences and economics.
KOA will adapt its marketing and services to better attract and serve the ethnic diversity that is present within our population. Today’s outdoor participants are over 80 percent Caucasian. But America’s largest camper base lives in California where the Hispanic population is approaching 40 percent. Population forecasts further confirm a much wider ethnic diversity throughout the United States in the future. These factors represent significant incremental growth for KOA campgrounds.
KOA will further emphasize its operational focus of thinking from the “outside in” not the “inside out.” We think about our customers/guests from their perspective. Outdoor enthusiasts pursue a variety of activities in different ways. A backpacker may own an RV, a kayaker may hike, fish, bike, and use both public and private campgrounds. RVers and campers want greater cooperation between us all. They just want us all to make it easy for them to find and service their gear and to enjoy the many activities that the outdoors provides them.
You can’t pick up your favorite form of media and not see a story about the outdoors. It is prevalent in discussions today as it relates to health, youth, tourism economics, adventure travel, the need people have for an “unplugged” peaceful environment and affordability.
The Harris Interactive study concluded that nearly “10 million households nationwide should be categorized as potential RV owners.” Wow! Curtain’s update pointed out the fact that over one quarter of all former RV owners intend to re-enter the RV lifestyle and that is significant.
The 2011 Special Report on Camping sponsored by the Outdoor Foundation, Coleman and KOA reiterates the magnitude of the camping marketplace. The report on camping estimated that approximately 40 million Americans or 15 percent camp annually. The most cited reason for reducing the number of camping trips was a lack of time due to work and family commitments.
KOA believes that loyal returning customers are the best customers we have. They buy more, recommend to others, reduce marketing costs and are less price sensitive. They are word of mouth/mouse champions and promoters. They also help us by introducing new people to the life style and outdoor fun. And KOA’s one-of-a-kind marketing technologies will only improve its abilities for targeted initiatives and improved ROI’s on marketing investments for our franchisees and the company.
Camper research also confirms that over half of private campground guests today are “regional” if not “local.” Due to time constraints, fuel prices, and the availability of great destination campgrounds close to home, RV families are taking advantage of nearby campgrounds. This trend is here to stay and our campgrounds are rapidly adapting to the different hospitality requirements of these trends.
We know that uncertainty is here to stay. Market indicators substantiate that there are plenty of prospects and a growing interest in camping/outdoors. KOA’s high-tech, high-touch strategies are aligned to optimize these trends for years to come.
The largest attendance in its history and the biggest expo on record are two of the goals for the annual Kampgrounds of America (KOA) Inc. convention scheduled for Nov. 15-18 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
Woodalls Campground Management reported that the convention takes on added significance this time around as it formally marks the franchise’s 50th anniversary, the theme of which is “Celebrate 50 Years of Fun.”
“We expect our largest convention yet,” said Jenny McCullough, director of training and events. “We’re expecting about 600 attendees this year. So far, we’re on track for a great convention. We have more people signed up now than we ever had at this point.”
Along with a multitude of industry-leading learning opportunities and fun, the convention will feature the KOA Expo, including more than 130 vendors offering special products to attending KOA owners and managers, as well as the annual KOA Care Camps Charity Auction to benefit these special summer camps for children with cancer.
A good attendance would be consistent with KOA pronouncements that the camping business has been strong this season across much of the U.S. and Canada.
To read the entire article click here.
Members of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) now have the ability to make real-time changes to their park’s profiles on GoCampingAmerica.com.
“Each park now has its own page and its own URL destination on GoCampingAmerica.com, which they can populate with photos, links to YouTube videos and other social media applications,” Jennifer Schwartz, ARVC’s senior director of marketing, stated in a news release.
The new interface, which can be accessed through the park operator login on GoCampingAmerica.com, also gives ARVC members the ability to quickly and easily enter new search criteria for amenities, recreation, site preferences and services on a 24/7 basis. ARVC members can also highlight their park’s lifestyle options and affiliations.
“We need every ARVC member to check their park’s profile not only to make sure that it’s accurate and up to date, but to ensure that they’re taking advantage of the growing marketing power of the GoCampingAmerica website,” Schwartz said. “The whole point of this effort is to make it easier for consumers to find your parks and the specific amenities and services they’re looking for,” she said.
ARVC said that GoCampingAmerica is generating more than 90,000 unique visits per month and the numbers are increasing as a result of new ARVC advertising and media outreach efforts to promote the GoCampingAmerica site.
“This is why it’s critical that ARVC members update their park’s profile pages,” Schwartz said. “Is your GPS location correct? Are your amenities listed correctly? What kind of recreational activities do you provide? How long has it been since you’ve updated your photos? These are the kinds of the things park operators need to check to make their best pitch to consumers and get the most out of GoCampingAmerica.com.”
Camping is an experience that’s been redefined regularly, especially in the past century since the first RVs started wheeling out into the American countryside.
The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash., reported that just a few decades ago, most people would define camping as the heading out to sleep under the stars, sheltered perhaps by a tarp, in a tent or at least in some sort of camping vehicle out in the woods, on a mountain or along a stream or beach.
That’s changed, especially for city folks, where camping may not even require getting out of town.
Riverside State Park’s Bowl and Pitcher Campground is on the west edge of Spokane’s city limits, yet roughly 50% of the clientele at the park’s four campgrounds are locals, said Chris Guidotti, park manager.
More than half of those staying with Kampgrounds of America (KOA) say they were at home the night before arriving at the campground, according to KOA CEO Jim Rogers. That’s a 25% increase over seven years.
Rogers says work demands, kids’ schedules, high gas prices and other concerns are all contributing to the trend. “They just want to stay within reach and go away for shorter time periods,” he said.
And if there are no good hiking or biking trails nearby, many commercial campgrounds have rooms with treadmills, weights and exercise bikes.
The low cost of camping compared to staying in motels or lodges is an attraction that hasn’t changed with trends to more amenities, relatively speaking. Sites at developed campgrounds in California can be found for $30, but you’ll look hard to find a motel room at that price.
The most obvious trend in recent decades are the options and amusements available at developed campgrounds.
To read the entire article click here.
A slowing economy, predictions of a temperate summer and long-term gas price concerns are prodding consumers in Michigan to look toward their tents, pop-ups and recreational vehicles to get away from it all for a lower-cost family vacation.
As reported by the Detroit News, advance reservations at state campgrounds are up 23% over last year, the second straight year of increases after a long decline, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. State parks are on track this year to break 1 million camp nights, a level the state has not experienced since 2005, state officials said.
Campgrounds and retailers specializing in camping gear say they had a booming Memorial Day, the traditional start of the camping season. That bodes well for the summer months, travel forecasters said.
“In surveys, RV owners say gas prices would have to hit $8 (a gallon) before they would consider skipping their outdoor vacations,” said William G. Sheffer, director of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC), a trade association in Okemos.
Singles, families and baby boomers are targets for an industry hungry for a comeback. Stores, trade groups and others are investing in emotional marketing campaigns, such as REI’s sponsorship in the “Great American Backyard Campout” effort. Its website promoting today’s event extols, “Remember that magic moment when you put up that tent all by yourself?”
Stores including Summit Sports, a small chain with two stores in Metro Detroit that began selling camping gear this year, also are promoting high-tech, lightweight gadgets options. One is Coleman’s LED Quad Lantern, a bright single unit that separates into four separate lanterns for those late-night bathroom treks.
There is an emphasis on easy-to-use gear and in-store instruction, said Fidel Carino, manager at Summit Sports in Brighton.
“We’re not going to send you out there without knowing how to use the equipment,” Carino said.
Public and private campgrounds also are adding amenities such as Wi-Fi, knowing the difficulty some people have going offline.
Some are offering comfortable rental RVs, cushy and untraditional camping entertainment options. Besides singing songs and roasting marshmallows, for example, campers can check out the new zip line, outdoor bowling and sand lagoon at the Flint/Holly KOA campground.
These amenities are needed to hook first-time campers and convince former campers to try it again, said Mike Ebach, a Gander Mountain store manager in Traverse City and a partner in the state’s First Time Camper program, which loans camping gear for $20.
“So many people switched from a $150-per-night hotel room to a $25-per-night campground,” Ebach said. “Now those people who camped last year and had such a great time are now trying to recruit their friends.”
To read the entire story in the Detroit News, click here.
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an article authored by Jeff Crider for Woodall’s Campground Management examining the growing “green” initiative in the camping industry as operators utilize products and strategies that conserve energy. To read the entire story click here.
Ocean Lakes Family Campground has made headlines over the years for its investments in solar energy and recycling and promotion of electric vehicles.
Last summer, the 893-site, Myrtle Beach, S.C., park opened the first electric vehicle charging station on the Carolina coast, while also recruiting its guests to recycle more than 330,000 pounds of solid waste.
But as the nation celebrates Earth Day in April, Ocean Lakes is turning its attention to an admittedly less glamorous but equally important green initiative: the installation of locking, spring-activated sewer caps.
Turns out, Ocean Lakes, like many other low-lying campgrounds, RV parks and resorts along the East Coast, is vulnerable to heavy downpours, including tropical storms and hurricanes. But by installing watertight sewer caps at each campsite, Ocean Lakes not only can prevent floodwaters from entering its sewer system, but also, more importantly, prevent sewage from rising up through the pipelines and contaminating park grounds.
“This new system guards against sewer backups and infrastructure failures from storm surges,” said Kevin McWhiter, Ocean Lakes’ manager of maintenance and facilities, adding that the caps can also help control sewage processing costs.
Locking sewer caps are the latest in a growing variety of environmentally friendly products that campgrounds, RV parks and resorts are purchasing to reduce their water and sewer consumption, while reducing potential sources of contamination.
Chicago-based RV Home & Marine Solutions has made growing sales of an environmentally friendly holding tank product called Nature-Zyme, which not only destroys odors and liquefies waste, but nourishes and rejuvenates the biological processes used in septic systems. In some cases, park operators are finding that ongoing use of Nature-Zyme can actually extend the life of their septic fields.
“What’s really encouraging for us is that our campground customers are recognizing that our holding tank product provides a greater advantage to them in the preventative maintenance of their septic systems,” said Dave Kozy, vice president and director of operations for RV Home & Marine Solutions. “In fact, continued use of Nature-Zyme can actually help remediate septic systems by moving our enzyme products into the field where they are doing their best work.”
When a Dallas-based investment group bought Almost Heaven RV Resort two years ago, the 142-site park was in a pretty sad state of repair.
But, according to a press release, Almost Heaven’s new owners weren’t about to give up on the resort, which had previously been popular with Winter Texans. So they brought in Horizon RV Resorts, which has developed a reputation in the RV park business for rescuing faltering RV parks and making them profitable businesses again.
So far, the Dallas-based investment group is pretty happy with its decision.
“We brought the park back to life,” said Randy Hendrickson, Horizon RV Park’s president and CEO.
Occupancies are running 30% to 35% ahead of last winter’s figures, fueled largely by Winter Texans who decided to give the resort another try after Horizon implemented $45,000 worth of targeted cosmetic improvements.
Hendrickson also worked with Brian Schaeffer of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), who outlined a marketing strategy that included banner ads on TexasCampgrounds.com as well as prominent exposure in the Texas RV Camping and Travel Guide.
“The person who asks the loudest for the business generally gets it,” Hendrickson said.
Almost Heaven is also generating increased year-round business by offering discounts to cancer patients seeking treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Children’s Cancer Hospital and other Houston area facilities.
Looking back, Hendrickson said Almost Heaven’s downward spiral could have been avoided if the resort had kept up with its marketing and made ongoing improvements to the park. Unfortunately, he said, they got too comfortable and felt they could get away with not making these investments.
“When you stop spending money on marketing,” Hendrickson said, “people stop coming. And if they stop coming, you don’t have money to spend on infrastructure. So the business spirals.”
And if occupancies are not maintained, the parks don’t retain enough of a margin to reinvest in improvements.
“You have to show that you’re reinvesting in the property as a commitment to the guest,” Hendrickson said, adding that it didn’t take long for Almost Heaven’s guests to realize the previous owner had lost in interest in the property.
Advance bookings for the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds’ (ARVC) Outdoor Hospitality Conference and Expo have exceeded last year’s conference figures by 35%, according to officials.
“There is a great deal of excitement about this conference, and we’re seeing it in advance registrations and hotel bookings,” said Paul Bambei, ARVC’s president and CEO.
He said the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort & Spa is already booked solid with conference attendees, prompting ARVC to arrange overflow rooms at the Mulberry Inn, another hotel nearby. “There are still plenty of rooms left in Savannah, but people should move quickly to secure their reservations and registrations if they haven’t done so already,” he said.
This year’s Outdoor Hospitality Conference and Expo will feature networking opportunities, important updates regarding various new ARVC initiatives, an awards banquet, the private park industry’s largest trade show as well as 43 educational seminars, more than twice the number of any previous ARVC conference.
Seminar topics include:
• Business Management: Specific sessions will focus on how to make the most of your leadership style; how to handle change; how to pinpoint ways to improve the profitability and functioning of your business; how to use 20 Groups; and how to rehabilitate an older park. Other sessions will cover disaster planning and recovery as well as business risk prevention, risk-based maintenance and employment and cyber liability risks. You’ll also have opportunities to learn how to manage negative guest feedback and how to deliver astonishing guest satisfaction.
• Business Technology: Are you using Cloud computing or T10 I-phone applications in your business? Should you be using smart phones or I-pads? Now is the time to find out.
• Employee Training and Motivation: Conference attendees will learn not only how to attract and retain great employees, but how to build high performance teams. Special session will also focus on how to manage Workampers and how to motivate and manage the Millennial Generation (Those born between 1982 and 1997).
• The Latest Trends in Green Technology: Consumers are increasingly purchasing electric vehicles. Experts will discuss electric car charging, recycling electricity and other green opportunities.
• Marketing and Public Relations: Specific sessions will address the latest trends in social media, marketing, public relations and the use of the Internet to promote your business. You’ll learn how to develop media and marketing plans, how to get started with social networking, how to use QR codes and video to promote your business and how to use Google Analytics to measure your results.
For more information about this year’s Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo, please visit www.arvc.org.
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) has launched ARVC Voice, an online members-only magazine that features news stories as well as embedded videos that highlight best practices and innovations in the campground business.
“We’re using cutting edge technology with one of the leading online magazine companies,” said Paul Bambei, ARVC president and CEO in a press release, adding that the inaugural issue of ARVC Voice was emailed to the association’s members on Monday (Oct. 31).
ARVC Voice, which replaces the ARVC Report newsletter, will be emailed to association members 11 times a year, with a single issue for the December/January period. Each issue of ARVC Voice will be produced by Evanne Schmarder, a videographer and digital marketing expert who previously reported and edited the ARVC Report.
“ARVC Voice is not a newsletter, but an online magazine,” Bambei said, adding that it is being produced in a flipbook format using Zmags software. “This format is very easy to read, easy to navigate and very intuitive,” he said. “We think ARVC members will be pleased.”
While ARVC Voice is delivered in an electronic format, individual pages, sections or the entire issue can be saved, downloaded and/or printed. It also has a built-in search function to enable members to search for particular words or phrases.
Advertisements are hyperlinked to each advertiser’s website, which is a desirable benefit to companies interested in marketing their products and services to campgrounds, RV parks and resorts across the country, Bambei said.
Schmarder said each issue of ARVC Voice will be developed to provide news stories that are not available elsewhere in print or online publications serving the campground industry, with a heavy focus on human interest stories and best practices about ARVC members themselves. It will also contain useful information about member benefits, green initiatives and the latest information involving government affairs issues of interest to private park operators.
“While media experts claim electronic publishing is clearly the most efficient and widely adopted method of trade industry communication today, we recognize many members still like a printed version from ARVC. For that reason, we are committed to sending our members three printed issues of ARVC Voice in 2012, recapping a collection of the best content from the previous four months. Look for this first printed issue next spring,” said Bambei.
“We are asking ARVC members to consider shooting video at their parks focusing on their own unique innovations and breaking news,” Schmarder said, adding that a section of ARVC.org is being developed where members can upload content they would like to be considered for publication in ARVC Voice.
Based in Denver, ARVC is the national voice of the outdoor hospitality industry. For more information, visit www.arvc.org.
Peter Warrick, founder and president of Southeast Publications USA Inc. which served the campground industry for 24 years, died May 17.
In 1986 Warrick started an advertising agency, Southeast Publications USA Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In its 24 years Southeast Publications USA Inc. has become the leader in the site map and area guide industry servicing over 1,300 accounts every year. Some other products include marinas guides, fairground interim directories, hotel/motel room guides, guest guides and campus guides for major universities, community colleges and private schools.
The firm also provides resl estate guides, shopping center directories, chamber of commerce maps and golf guides.
Warrick was active in a number of diverse business.
He opened Warrick Custom Hobbies in 1972. Warrick Custom Hobbies of Plantation, “The Hobby Super Store,” is one of the leading hobby retailers in the U.S. with sales worldwide.
Warrick also started Vespa of Fort Lauderdale in 1974 and was a major dealer for Vespa of America. In 1983 he became a Yamaha motor scooter dealer. He got re-involved in the scooter business in 2006 and opened what is now The Scooter Superstore of America with 10 locations.
Southeast Publications will now be under the leadership of Peter’s son, Wally. Wally has been involved with Southeast Publications, as well as his father’s other businesses, for many years.
“Along with the expertise of Southeast Publication’s vice presidents Wayne and Carlene Morris who have been with the company since 1990 and have 40-plus years combined experience in the site map industry, Southeast Publications will continue to lead, continue to grow and continue to create ‘The Best’quality products for its customers,” according to a company statement.
Warrick was born in Detroit in 1947 and had been a resident of Fort Lauderdale since 1949. He was a graduate of Fort Lauderdale High School, class of 1966 and attended Broward Community College.
He started his business career with Burger King Corp. in 1965 as an hourly employee and left Burger King in 1973 as regional manager to start his own business.
Many people not only know him, but love him. They refer to him as their friend first, and their business partner second. Richard “Dick” Hartford has a lot to celebrate this year — his 65th birthday, 37 years in the insurance industry, and 24 with Evergreen, a company insuring the campground industry, owned by campground owners.
President of Evergreen Indemnity and Evergreen USA, Hartford resides in Lewiston, Maine, and has two sons, Lucas and Justin. He is a man who has supported many causes within the Northeast Campground Association (NCA) and has gaveled many charity auctions. He has received both the “Stan Martin Award” and the “Curtis Fuller Award” from state campground associations.
Hartford began a program of insuring campgrounds and RV parks in 1973 and started Evergreen in 1986. That year many campgrounds and RV parks were seeing their insurance premiums double and triple and often they could not even find coverage. During the mid-1980s nearly all of the insurance companies were pulling out of the camping industry. That’s when a group of people within the camping arena asked Hartford to find a long-term solution for insuring their industry. He set to work and found a group that was willing to invest to start Evergreen.
“It was exciting to put together a program when there was relatively no insurance available to campgrounds, and to get enough support from the camping industry from wonderful campgrounds that invested in the effort to start a new company like this one had never been done before,” he explained.
Today, Evergreen USA RRG Inc. is the oldest continuously operating insurance program for campground and RV park owners in the nation, providing comprehensive liability insurance, specialized services and unique coverage options exclusively to the outdoor recreation industry.
Hartford describes campground owners as a hardworking, down-to-earth and a respectful group of people.
“Very seldom do you ever find a rude campground owner,” he said. “You can’t meet a nicer bunch of people than in the camping industry. They are willing to help their fellow mankind and are very generous. As I look back, I can’t imagine that I could have ever picked an industry that would have suited me any better than the campground industry. I got to the point where I loved the camping industry more than the insurance industry.”
Today, Hartford continues to manage the long-range interests of the Evergreen companies, while his son Lucas oversees the daily activities.
“My dad brought me into the business by teaching me how to do risk management inspections and policy reviews of campgrounds and RV parks,” Lucas said. “But the biggest thing he taught me in this business is that Evergreen’s success only comes with the success of the camping industry. He realizes that the long-term interests of Evergreen come with the long-term success of the camping industry.
“As his son and business partner, I am forever grateful for him trusting me to run the daily activities of Evergreen. He has played many roles in my life from father, ski coach, boss, co-worker and friend. And in all those things I have seen him commit himself 100% to every effort. He does nothing half way. It is all or nothing for him and that is a quality I fully admire.”
In 2007 Dick and Lucas sold a local insurance agency in order to focus all of their efforts on Evergreen and the camping industry.
“My dad told me for years that the camping industry is the best group of people to deal with and he is 100% right – so that is what we focus on,” Lucas said.
Dick enjoys fly fishing, carpentry and electrical work and flower gardening. But most of all he enjoys watching Lucas take Evergreen to new levels of success.
“What I love now is watching my son take the company to heights that I couldn’t have,” he said. “It deflates my ego a little bit to watch that, but that is the most wonderful part about it, seeing how much better he is at it than I was.”
The future for Dick Hartford? He will remain the company’s chairman of the board and president for around five more years and at that time he envisions handing over full reign to Lucas.
“Maybe I’ll start an insurance company to compete with him, that will teach him a lesson,” he joked. “I can’t imagine myself not working and I will probably do carpentry and electrical work when I feel like doing it. I have gotten to a point where I can choose to do things when I want to which is kind of nice. Even if I give up the leadership of the company, I see myself being involved behind the scenes.”
On the subject of fatherly advice, Dick says one thing he has never tried to do is give advice to either of his sons.
“If they come and ask a question, I usually try to refrain and say, ‘What do you think you should do?’ I encourage them to do what they believe they need to do. I will give Lucas the same advice I gave him 15 years ago when I turned over the daily activities to him. He asked me, ‘But dad, what happens if I fail?’ I said, ‘If that happens, the only suggestion I have for you is to have another job lined up because you’re going to need it.’”
Failure, according to Dick, is the best education there is.
“Every young person in this world under the age of 50 needs the opportunity to succeed and fail on their own,” he said. “It makes you humble, teaches you a lesson and you move on. It wasn’t what I learned in a classroom in college – it was what I learned outside of the classroom – how to get along with people, how to budget my time, etc.”
It doesn’t take a long conversation with Dick to pick up on his sharp wit and sense of humor. When told people have nothing but compliments for him, he quipped, “They must be lying.”
“When I think of Dick Hartford, I think about family and friends,” said Rick Abare, president of Campground Association Management Professionals (CAMP) and executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association. “The business of insurance I think of as a secondary item when I think of him. I think about that uncle that everyone has who is wise, fun-loving, and energetic all at the same time. The good uncle.”
When Abare bought his campground in 1992 and went looking for insurance companies, he was thoroughly impressed with the concept behind Evergreen – that the campground owners are owners of the company.
“That kind of thing is what Dick Hartford would dream up,” Abare said. “He is always there for you. He is one of the people I have always looked to when I have a question about what is right or wrong and I know I will get the truth. He is genuinely one of a kind. The ‘what can I do for you, how can I help’ attitude is a Hartford family trait. This is part of why so many people look up to Dick and all he has done for the camping industry. There probably is no one like him. When you think of family and camping and put it all together and ask yourself who is always there for you, that would be Dick Hartford.”
Chip Menz, co-owner along with his brother Bruce, of Big Timber Lake Campground in Papemay Court House, N.J., met Dick in the early 1980s before he began Evergreen.
“When he decided to start Evergreen, we became invested in Evergreen,” explained Menz. “Dick is a straight shooter, he stands by his word and he is just a lot of fun, and easygoing.”
The Menz brothers are on the board of directors for Evergreen.
“Dick is good for the industry and I’m glad I met him,” Menz said. “He has a world of knowledge about the insurance business and he does what he does well. He has helped a lot of campground owners.”
April 26 was Dick’s birthday and this year his family planned a surprise party to mark 65 years.
“There haven’t been many chances to surprise my dad and he was completely surprised,” Lucas said.
To Dick his 65th birthday was just another day. But to his family there was a lot to celebrate.
“He doesn’t like parties or surprises,” joked Lucas.
“I was momentarily (mad),” Dick said. “But I got over it.”
That is a “pretty significant increase year-over-year,” Penner said in an interview with the Victoria Times Colonist.
“I’m certain some of that increase is due to the new features that we are now offering through the reservation system. In particular, you are now able to request a specific campsite within a campground.”
Penner, who used to work as a park ranger on the Lower Mainland, remembers campers who were devoted to certain spots. Some prefer to be next to a creek, hiking trails, near a woodlot, or washrooms and hot showers.
The province also recently moved the overnight rate in British Columbia campgrounds up by as much as $6 a night on April 1, depending on the location. Camping at the most popular spots on Vancouver Island, such as Goldstream Park near the Malahat, or Rathtrevor Beach near Parksville, has gone up to $30 per night.
However, 60% of British Columbia’s park campgrounds still offer campsites for $16 per night or less, Penner said.
There has been little feedback to the new rates, he said. “The new fees have hardly been a deterrent to camping as evidenced by a 30% increase in bookings,” Penner said.
During the first five days of bookings, there were 8,259 reservations for the season, up from 6,327 for the same days last year, Penner said.
British Columbia’s provincial parks have more than 340 campgrounds with 11,000 campsites. Overall attendance rose 5% last year.
Fees were increased to cover escalating operating costs, Penner said. Currently fees cover 40% of the cost of operating the parks system. Taxpayers pay the rest.
British Columbia’s provincial parks fees are 7-50% lower than those found in the private sector or national parks for similar services, he said.
To watch a video broadcast of the following news item, click here.
Things are looking up in the camping industry in Maine, a good indication that the economy is slowly turning around, according to WCSH-TV, Portland
The 6th Annual RV and Camping Show saw thousands over the weekend. Some campgrounds say they’re reservations are up nearly 20% from the last few years.
The industry was hit fairly hard by the mix of the economy and a few bad summers.
But this year, people seem to be booking early and often, even buying new and used RVs.
Most campgrounds in Maine open in May, but with the nice weather, some campground owners say they may even open as early as this month.