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.
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.
Some may consider it foolhardy to start a new company in the midst of a recession.
But the founders of BIS LLC in Anderson, Ind., have discovered that the worst economic downturn in decades hasn’t stopped manufacturers from producing environmentally friendly products or investing in “green” production practices, according to a news release.
“Consumers increasingly want ‘green’ products and manufacturers realize that they can tap into that market, even during a recession,” said Andy Crisp of BIS LLC, whose consulting firm has developed an Eco-First Building Program to help manufacturers become certified green builders.
“Many manufacturers have already been taking steps in recent years to reduce their construction waste and to use water and energy more efficiently, so for many of them, becoming ‘green certified’ is not that difficult or costly,” Crisp said. “What we do is show them what they need to do to have their products and manufacturing processes certified to nationally recognized green building standards.”
BIS’ Eco-First Building Program is based on the National Green Building Standards, which have been developed by the American National Standards Institute.
BIS, which opened its doors in October, already has consulting contracts with several nationally known park model and manufactured housing companies, and Crisp said he hopes to eventually help some of the country’s RV manufacturers to go green.
BIS’s clients, for their part, are pleased with the company’s services.
“They are on time. They do what they say they are going to do. They make it easy,” said Donald Aheron, vice president of engineering for Martinsville, Va.-based Nationwide Custom Homes, which builds green modular homes.
Bob Holliday, founder and CEO of Chariot Eagle Inc., an Ocala, Fla.-based park model manufacturer, said he met Crisp during the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds’ annual InSites Convention & Outdoor Hospitality Expo, which took place in November in Orlando, Fla.
“We met with BIS representatives during the trade show and they offered to come to our Florida plant immediately to do an inspection,” Holliday said, adding that the BIS team has been “very efficient.” As a result, Chariot Eagle has achieved its green certification.
In Indiana, BIS is also generating business with Elkhart County manufacturers, including Country Log Cottages, an Elkhart-based park model manufacturer.
“The BIS team has given us great advice,” said Country Log Cottages National Sales Manager Carol Holdren. “It’s been an enjoyable experience working with them. They have taught us a lot.”
BIS offers four levels of green certification, including bronze, silver, gold and emerald. “Our manufacturers install low-flow water fixtures and use low VOC paints and sealants as well construction materials with a high percentage of recycled content. They also use manufacturing practices that maximize building resources and minimize the amount of waste that has to be taken to a landfill,” Crisp said.
For more information on BIS or for background on the latest trends involving green building, contact Crisp at (574) 527-0192 or visit the BIS website at www.eco-first.org.
Nine recreational park trailer manufacturers will be displaying their latest units for the RV park and campground industry in the Park Model Pavilion at the annual InSites Convention & Outdoor Hospitality Expo Nov. 11-12 in Orlando, Fla.
The show is sponsored by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and will be held at The Rosen Centre.
The displaying companies are: Airstream Inc., Athens Park Homes, Breckenridge Park Trailers, Cavco Industries Inc., Chariot Eagle Inc., CrossRoads RV, Keystone RV Co., Skyline Corp. and Stone Canyon Lodges & Park Models LLC.
Meanwhile, in a related development, ARVC and Thor Industries Inc. announced in October that they have formed a strategic alliance to provide private park operators with exclusive prices on park models and travel trailer units specifically designed for use as rental accommodations at campgrounds.
“Three of Thor’s companies, Airstream, Breckenridge and Keystone, now offer unique lines of park model cabin and travel trailer units that have been specially designed to meet the durability needs of private park operators who are anxious to expand their offering of rental accommodations,” said Shane Ott, Thor’s director of campground relations.
Ott, who was previously president and COO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), joined Thor last summer and developed the company’s rental accommodations initiative with ARVC.
“We welcome this exciting Thor program and feel that the favorable pricing and unique designs of these units will be very enticing for campgrounds, RV parks and resorts as they continue to diversify their business base with rental accommodations,” said Linda Profaizer, ARVC president and CEO.
About one-third of the nation’s commercially owned campgrounds, RV parks and RV resorts offer rental units to accommodate families and other travelers who don’t have an RV, but want to enjoy the Great Outdoors – and the numbers are growing.
“Private parks have long seen the merits of investing in park model cabins for use as rental accommodations, and now they have a chance to invest in both park models and travel trailers for on-site rental use at special prices that are exclusive to ARVC members,” Profaizer said. “Many travel trailer owners already leave their units at campgrounds and RV parks and use them as getaway cottages.”
Ott said this strategic partnership, the first of its kind involving ARVC and RV manufacturers, has enabled Thor to develop unique units using the input and experience of campground owners across North America.
The ruggedized features along with a variety of floorplans and cozy design elements offer campground owners durable units built to withstand the rigors of high occupancy usage. The lodging units featured in the promotion include four Breckenridge park models ranging from 22- to 36-feet; two Keystone travel trailers, including one 29- and one 37-foot model; and one 25-foot Airstream travel trailer.
Ott added that while the initial promotion involves Airstream, Breckenridge, and Keystone, additional Thor companies could become involved in the promotion in the future, depending on the level of private park interest.
January towable retail sales declined 49.2%, according to the latest report from Statistical Surveys Inc.
The results came on top of December’s survey that showed towables declined 39.9%.
According to the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based firm, in January:
- Travel trailer retail sales decreased 48.1% to 3,496 units.
- Fifth-wheel trailers fell 50.2% to 1,947 units.
- Folding camping trailer sales fell 49.3% to 285 units.
- Recreational park trailer sales fell 60.4% to 111 units.
January was the eighth straight month that retail sales have outpaced wholesale shipments, indicating that RV dealers continue to lower inventories aggressively.
Thor Industries Inc. continued to maintain its market position with 28.2% of the travel trailer market and 40.2% of the fifth-wheel market share. FTCA Inc.’s Coleman Camping Trailers brand held 38.9% of the folding camping trailer market. Chariot Eagle Inc. gained the top spot in recreational trailers with a 15.3% market share.