Nearly half a million snowbirds are expected to descend on Sunbelt RV parks this winter, many of which are owned by Equity LifeStyle Properties.
Nothing unusual there. ELS is the largest owner and operator of RV resorts in the Sunbelt, with roughly 100 of its 170 properties being located in some of the most sought after vacation destinations in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and the Carolinas, according to a news release.
But while ELS is best known for its resort-like amenities, which include sparkling swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts, concerts and other live entertainment, the company is also hoping to gain market recognition for finding an environmentally friendly way to treat RV holding tank waste.
This fall, ELS is introducing snowbirds to Nature-ZYME, its private label RV and marine holding tank product manufactured by BiOWish Technologies, a Chicago-based company that has established itself as a world leader in the creation of fast-acting, environmentally friendly wastewater treatment products.
In addition to providing every guest with information on Nature-ZYME when they check in, ELS representatives are discussing the product – and the problems associated with formaldehyde and other chemical-based holding tank treatment products – at mini seminars and informal gatherings.
The fundamental problem with chemical based holding tank products, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is that they disrupt the natural biological processes that break down human waste in septic and other wastewater treatment systems.
The California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds sponsored a bill earlier this year with nearly unanimous support from the state legislature that would have banned the sale of RV holding tank products with formaldehyde and other chemicals.
While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, campground operators in California and other states are stepping up their efforts to educate consumers about the hazards associated with using chemical-based holding thank products.
“When chemicals, such as formaldehyde, are added to septic systems, they can cause bacteria in the system to die,” the EPA wrote in a July 1999 alert to consumers and park operators. “When this happens, the septic system cannot treat waste adequately. Solids that are allowed to pass from the septic tank, due to inadequate or incomplete treatment, may clog the leachfield. Furthermore, clogged systems may send inadequately or incompletely treated sewage to the surface, threatening the health of people or pets who come into contact with it. Or it may percolate to ground water, where the chemicals and untreated wastewater could contaminate nearby drinking water wells, rivers and streams.”
Nature-ZYME, however, is an enzyme based product that does not contain any microbial inhibitors or suffocants. “It is truly organic and biodegradable,” said David Kozy, vice president and director of operations of RV, Home & Marine Solutions, the ELS subsidiary that is marketing the Nature-ZYME holding tank treatment product.
“We really think we have identified a solution to one of the most challenging environmental problems in the RV and marine industries,” he said, adding that RVers and ELS resort operators have been quietly testing this product for months in a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions and have been amazed at its performance.
RVers, for their part, say they have been impressed with Nature-ZYME’s performance.
- Dave Morgen, a 69-year-old Kentucky resident and part-time RV tour director, said he tried Nature-ZYME on multiple RV trips in July, August, September and October, including one six-week trip. “It seems to break down everything a lot better than the chemical products,” he said, adding that he never used an environmentally friendly RV holding tank product before.
- Bob and Roxanne Camron of Paso Robles, Calif., also used Nature-ZYME during a recent 10-day trip from California to Santa Fe, N.M., and were pleased with the results. “It performed better than previous products in that no odor was detected at all,” Bob Camron said.
Kozy said ELS found an environmentally friendly solution for wastewater treatment when an outside consultant suggested the company use an enzyme-based treatment products to improve the performance of the company’s septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems. “We found that the product worked so well that we asked BiOWIsh Technologies if they could produce a product that would work for the RV and marine industries,” Kozy said. “We subsequently obtained the licensing rights to market the product as Nature-ZYME in the U.S.”
ELS expects to personally introduce Nature-ZYME to hundreds of thousands of RV enthusiasts as they visit ELS resorts in the Sunbelt and across the country during the coming year, Kozy said. For more information on Nature-ZYME, please visit www.Nature-Zyme.com.
Chicago-based Equity Lifestyle Properties is a publicly traded real estate investment trust that owns and operates RV resorts and manufactured home communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, including Thousand Trails, America finest membership camping and home of the Zone Camping Pass. For more information on ELS and its subsidiaries, please visit www.equitylifestyle.com andwww.thousandtrails.com.
ELS owns and operates RV resorts in the following Sunbelt communities:
- Apollo Village RV Resort, Peoria
- Araby Acres RV Resort, Yuma
- Cactus Gardens RV Resort, Yuma
- Capri RV Resort, Yuma
- Casa del Sol Resort West, Peoria
- Casita Verde RV Resort, Casa Grande
- Central Park RV Resort, Phoenix
- Countryside RV Resort, Apache Junction
- Desert Paradise RV Resort, Yuma
- Desert Vista RV Resort, Salome
- Fairview Manor, Tucson
- Fiesta Grande RV Resort, Casa Grande
- Foothill Village RV Resort, Yuma
- • Foothills West RV Resort, Casa Grande
- Golden Sun RV Resort, Apache Junction
- Mesa Verde RV Resort, Yuma
- Monte Vista Village RV Resort, Mesa
- Palm Shadows RV Resort, Glendale
- Paradise RV Resort, Sun City
- Seyenna Vistas RV Resort, Mesa
- Suni Sands RV Resort, Yuma
- Sunrise Heights RV Resort, Phoenix
- Valley Verde RV Resort, Cottonwood
- Valley Vista RV Resort, Benson
- Viewpoint RV Resort, Mesa
- Voyager RV Resort, Tucson
- Whispering Palms RV Resort, Phoenix
- Morgan Hill RV Resort, Morgan Hill
- Oakzanita Springs RV Resort, Descanso
- Pacific Dunes RV Resort, Oceano
- Palm Springs Oasis RV Resort, Cathedral City
- Palm Springs RV Resort, Palm Desert
- Pio Pico RV Resort, Jamul
- Rancho Oso RV Resort, Santa Barbara
- San Benito RV Resort, Paicines
- Santa Cruz Ranch RV Resort, Scotts Valley
- San Francisco RV Resort, Pacifica
- Soledad Canyon RV Resort, Acton
- Turtle Beach RV Resort, Manteca
- Wilderness Lakes RV Resort, Menifee
- Barrington Hills RV Resort, Hudson
- Breezy Hill RV Resort, Pompano Beach
- Bulow RV Resort, Flagler Beach
- Clerbrook Golf and RV Resort, Clermont
- Crystal Isles RV Resort, Crystal River
- Fort Myers Beach RV Resort, Fort Myers
- Gulf Air RV Resort, Fort Myers Beach
- Gulfview RV Resort, Punta Gorda
- Harbor Lakes RV Resort, Port Charlotte
- Highland Wood RV Resort, Pompano Beach
- Lake Magic RV Resort, Clermont
- Orlando RV Resort, Clermont
- Peace River RV Resort, Wauchula
- Pine Island RV Resort, St. James City
- Pioneer Village RV Resort, North Fort Myers
- Ramblers Rest RV Resort, Venice
- Royal Coachman RV Resort, Nokomis
- Sherwood Forest RV Resort, Kissimmee
- Silver Dollar RV Resort, Odessa
- Southern Palms RV Resort, Eustis
- Sunshine Holiday Daytona RV Resort, Daytona Beach
- Sunshine Holiday MHCC RV Resort, Fort Lauderdale
- Sunshine Key RV Resort and Marina, Big Pine Key
- Sunshine Travel RV Resort, Vero Beach
- Terra Ceia Village RV Resort, Palmetto
- Three Flags RV Resort, Wildwood
- Tobys RV Resort, Arcadia
- Topics RV Resort, Spring Hill
- Vacation Village RV Resort, Largo
- Winter Garden RV Resort, Winter Garden
- Winter Quarters Manatee RV Resort, Bradenton
- Winter Quarters Pasco RV Resort, Lutz
- Forest Lake RV Resort, Advance
- Goose Creek RV Resort, Newport
- Green Mountain Park RV Resort, Lenoir
- Lake Gaston RV Resort, Littleton
- Lake Myers RV Resort, Mocksville
- Scenic RV Resort, Asheville
- Twin Lakes RV Resort, Chocowinity
- Waterway RV Resort, Swansboro
- Carolina Landing RV Resort, Fair Play
- The Oaks at Point South RV Resort, Yemassee
- Bay Landing RV Resort, Bridgeport
- Colorado River RV Resort, Columbus
- Country Sunshine RV Resort, Weslaco
- Fun N Sun RV Resort, San Benito
- Lake Conroe RV Resort, Willis
- Lake Tawakoni RV Resort, Point
- Lake Texoma RV Resort, Gordonville
- Lake Whitney RV Resort, Whitney
- Lakewood RV Resort, Harlingen
- Medina Lake RV Resort, Lakehills
- Paradise Park RV Resort, Harlingen
- Paradise South RV Resort, Mercedes
- Southern Comfort RV Resort, Weslaco
- Tropic Winds RV Resort, Harlingen
Year-to-date occupancies and revenues at campgrounds, RV parks and resorts through Labor Day weekend were generally consistent with last year’s figures, according to a news release from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
“Private park operators are generally pleased with their performance this year,” said Linda Profaizer, ARVC president and CEO.
She added that parks that have invested in rental accommodations, such as park model cabins and cottages, have done particularly well.
The biggest exception, however, were parks along the Gulf Coast, many of which lost considerable summer business as a result of the BP oil spill and related media coverage.
Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), the nation’s largest campground chain with roughly 475 parks, said its year-to-date occupancies through Labor Day weekend were down 0.7%, while revenues rose 2.7%, according to Mike Gast, KOA’s vice president of communications.
The slight occupancy decline was largely due to weaker business levels last winter, while summer occupancies actually outpaced last summer’s figures by 2.5%, Gast said. He added that revenues for the company’s park model cabins and cottages, which KOA markets as “Kamping Lodges,” were up 27% over last year’s figures, which reflects both rising consumer demand for rental accommodations in campgrounds as well as a larger rental inventory.
Indeed, KOA and other campground chains have increasingly invested in park model cabins and other rental accommodations in recent years.
Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), which franchises Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, saw its year-to-date occupancies through August increase by 4%, while revenues grew by 3%, said company Vice President Dean Crawford. Demand for cabins and park models, however, grew by 13%, also reflecting increased demand and an increased inventory of units, he said.
Meanwhile, Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS), a Chicago-based Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) whose holdings include RV parks and resorts, said occupancies and revenues for its core RV properties were up 2.3% and 3.1%, respectively, through July, according to Ellen Kelleher, ELS’s executive vice president of property management.
Kelleher added that while occupancies for transient or traveling RVers fell by 3.3% during the period, revenues were up 3.3%. ELS also reported gains in seasonal and annual customers, up 15.3% and 2.1%, respectively, while revenues increased by 3.9% and 4.9%. The annual figures include occupancies and revenues from consumers who own park models at ELS parks, Kelleher said.
ELS also reported an 8.5% decline in park model rental occupancies through July, but this was because the company wound up selling many of its units to consumers who wanted to stay for extended periods of time at ELS resorts.
Across the country, several park operators and industry officials reported an exceptional summer camping season.
“We are showing an increase of 6% in business for 2010. This is our actual increase in site nights after subtracting for our annual rate increases,” said David L. Berg, who owns Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, in addition to serving as ARVC chairman.
Berg, whose park is affiliated with the Best Parks in America network, attributed much of the increase at his park to an unusually hot and dry summer in Maine. Berg also said many campers are taking more frequent trips, but for shorter periods of time. “I find folks making reservations at the last minute, or trying to get in when we often are sold out. Also they are not staying for week-long stays, but rather doing three- and four-day mini vacations and are getting away more often.”
Berg also said he has seen a large influx of tent campers this year, which he attributes to the economy. “I feel this is a win-win situation for all,” Berg said. “Customers get a reasonable priced vacation and we as an industry get new customers, who if they get the experience they are looking for, they will upgrade in time to a popup or RV of some sort down the road. This is an example of finding the silver lining in the tough times we are all in economically.”
But tent camping is also influenced by weather patterns.
KOA, for example, saw tent camping decline by 1.3% at its parks nationwide, Gast said. “Weather nationwide is probably the primary driver of that,” he said. “Inventory (tent sites) has been relatively stable for years.”
Other parks also saw significant business gains this year, including Misty River Cabins & RV Resort LLC, a Best Parks in America affiliate in Walland, Tenn., which saw its year-to-date business grow by 17%, according to park owner Jimmy Felton.
Castaways RV Resort and Campground in Berlin, Md. also saw double-digit growth during the summer season, with a 4% increase in business year-to-date, according to Kathleen Morris, the park’s general manager. Morris attributed the increased business in part to the warm dry summer on the East Coast.
Meanwhile, Crossroads RV Park in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, saw a 19% increase in year-to-date occupancies, said park owner Jeff Krug, who also serves as president of the Iowa Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. Krug attributed the increase in part to the relative newness of his three-year-old overnight park, which more and more campers are discovering.
In California, Ron and Sheryl Culp of Green Acres RV Park in Redding said their year-to-date business was down 2.7% from last year, although their summer business was up 4.3% from a year ago.
The former owner of three campgrounds in Maine’s Hancock County has filed a lawsuit against the Bangor law firm and the lawyers who represented her in the sale of those campgrounds in 2005, claiming $6.7 million in damages, the Bangor Daily News reported.
Attorneys for Patty Rae Stanley of Memphis, Tenn., who owned the Mount Desert Narrows Camping Resort in Bar Harbor, Narrows Too Camping Resort in Trenton and Patten Pond Camping Resort in Ellsworth, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court against the Eaton Peabody law firm and its attorneys Dan McKay and Sarah Zmistowski.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial on the civil claims of professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and unintentional misrepresentation against the firm and the attorneys.
According to court documents filed by Stanley’s attorney, Michael J. Waxman of Portland, the suit stems from a land deal in which Stanley was approached by Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc., a publicly traded, Chicago-based company interested in purchasing her three campground properties.
She hired Eaton Peabody to represent her in the deal, which was a complicated affair, and repeatedly told attorney Zmistowski that “she did not understand the deal herself and was relying on EP [Eaton Peabody] to protect her,” the suit states.
The suit claims that the Eaton Peabody attorneys did not adequately explain to Stanley the details of the real estate deal and, in fact, did not fully understand themselves the interaction between different provisions in the real estate transaction.
As a result, the suit states, because of the “negligent representation” by the Eaton Peabody attorneys, Stanley sold the property, valued at $13.5 million, for half that amount, from which she had to pay outstanding debts of about $4 million.
After taxes, the suit states, Stanley netted less than $2 million from the sale of her three properties.
The suit asks the court to award compensation as well as punitive damages.
According to attorney Waxman, the economic damages alone are at least $6,750,000. In an e-mail, Waxman declined to comment further on the lawsuit.
“The complaint is self-explanatory,” he wrote.
Eaton Peabody has not responded formally to the suit at this time. Bernard J. Kubetz, an Eaton Peabody attorney, also declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. Kubetz said that he was aware of the work his partners had done for Stanley.
“I believe we gave her appropriate advice and that it was an advantageous transaction for her,” he said Wednesday. “It is unfortunate that, six years later, she is second-guessing the decisions she made at that time. When all the evidence is out, I’m confident that a judge or jury will conclude that our work for Ms. Stanley was appropriate; that we gave her good advice and provided good representation.”
Attorneys from Eaton Peabody, including Kubetz, represent the Bangor Daily News in legal matters.
Within two to three weeks, Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. (ELS) plans to begin marketing Nature-ZYME, a highly effective environmentally responsible RV and marine holding tank product that eliminates odors and liquefies waste without the use of formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals.
Nature-ZYME is ELS’s private label holding tank product, which is manufactured by BiOWiSH Technologies, a Chicago-based company that has established itself as a world leader in creation of fast-acting, environmentally friendly wastewater treatment products, according to a news release.
“RVers and campground operators across the country have been quietly testing this product for months in a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions and have been amazed at its performance,” said David Kozy, vice president and director of operations of RSI RV, Home & Marine Solutions, the ELS subsidiary that is marketing the Nature-ZYME holding tank treatment product. “We really think we have identified a solution to one of the most challenging environmental problems in the RV and marine industries.”
Kozy said the fundamental problem with most holding tank products is that they use microbial inhibitors, such as formaldehyde and other chemicals, which prevent natural biological processes from breaking down human waste as they would normally do. As a result, chemical-based holding tank products can cause septic systems to overflow, potentially contaminating groundwater supplies.
He said ELS distributed 4,500 samples of Nature-ZYME last week to RVers attending The Rally in Louisville, Ky., and was subsequently inundated with requests from consumers who wanted to purchase the product.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand for environmentally friendly holding tank products,” Kozy said. “People increasingly recognize that chemically based holding tank products can pose various risks to themselves and to the environment.”’
“The new line of products we have developed in conjunction with Equity LifeStyle Properties could revolutionize the RV market and marina industry by reducing the environmental impact of wastewater discharges by these vehicles,” said BiOWiSH Technologies President Rod Vautier.
Nature-ZYME has been tested by more than 100 RVing consumers, including Thousand Trails members, since last fall in addition to being tested at 14 different ELS RV parks and resorts. A second test is underway involving RVers affiliated with the Good Sam Club. ELS also hired an outside firm to test the effectiveness of the BiOWiSH product against competing biodegradable and chemical-based holding tank products and was pleased with the results.
“We’ve been trying to gather as much feedback as possible, both from RV park operators and from consumers, and all of it comes back positive,” Kozy said.
While ELS does not plan to launch a full-scale consumer marketing campaign until this fall, the product will be available for purchase online by late August. For more information on Nature-ZYME, please visit www.Nature-Zyme.com.
Chicago-based Equity Lifestyle Properties is a publicly traded real estate investment trust that owns and operates RV resorts and manufactured home communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, including the Thousand Trails campground membership club. For more information on ELS and its subsidiaries, visit www.equitylifestyle.com and www.thousandtrails.com.
Formerly headquartered in Sydney, Australia, BiOWish Technologies recently relocated its corporate offices to Chicago in an effort to be closer to its key markets in North America and Europe. BiOWiSH Technologies owns exclusive and global intellectual property rights to the development, manufacturing, sales, marketing and distribution of BiOWiSH products that serve the needs of consumer, wastewater treatment, agriculture, aquaculture, agronomy, solid waste management, soil and water remediation and industrial cleaning industries. The company maintains international offices in Sydney and Bangkok, Thailand. Additional information about the company is available at www.biowishtechnologies.com.
Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. (ELS), a real estate investment trust, reported a rise in earnings for the second quarter, attributed to higher revenues, and a slight fall in expenses.
Funds From operations (FFO) per share beat Wall Street estimates, but property revenues fell short of expectations. Also, the company gave its guidance for the for the full year of fiscal 2010, RTT News reported.
For the quarter, FFO rose to $27.1 million, from $23.7 million a year ago. On a per share basis, earnings were lower at $0.76, compared with $0.77, reflecting a higher share count.
On average, six analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings per share of $0.69. Analysts’ estimates typically exclude special items.
Funds available for distribution was lower at $18.66 million or $0.53 per share, compared with $19.46 million or $0.63 per share.
Net income available to common stockholders rose to $6.0 million or $0.20 per share, from $2.9 million, or $0.11 per share the prior year.
Total revenues grew to $123.84 million, from $121.52 million.
The company said that property operating revenues climbed to $119.0 million, from $116.1 million last year.
Two Wall Street analysts had forecast revenues of $120.40 million.
Revenues for the latest quarter included a rise in community base rental income to $64.6 million, from $63.31 million. Resort base rental income slightly climbed to $28.5 million, from $27.74 million.
Consolidated income from continuing operations was higher at $11.02 million, versus $7.35 million the prior year.
The company also gained from a fall in total expenses to $113.38 million, from $114.64 million.
For the quarter, the company said it had 22 new home sales, up 4.8% from last year level. Total sites as of June 30, 2010, was at 111,000.
The company’s average long-term secured debt balance was approximately $1.5 billion in the quarter.
For the six-month period, FFO rose to $64.6 million, from $61.6 million the prior year. On a per share basis, earnings fell to $1.82, from $2.01. Net income increased to $21.1 million or $0.69 per share, from $16.5 million or $0.65 per share. Property operating revenues increased to $246.5 million, from $240.4 million. Total revenues grew to $255.9 million, from $252.34 million.
Looking ahead, the company said it expects FFO per share of $1.68 – $1.78, and net income of $0.54 – $0.64 for the six months ended Dec. 31, 2010. Also, it expects income from core property operations, excluding property management expenses, to grow between 2.5% – 3.0% from a year ago.
For the full year of fiscal 2010, the company anticipates FFO per share of $3.50 – $3.60, and net income of $1.23 – $1.33. Also, the company estimates core property operating revenue to grow between 1.0% – 1.5%. Also, income from core property operations, excluding property management expenses, is expected to rise between 1.5% – 2.0% from a year ago.
Wall Street analysts are looking out for FFO per share of $3.49, on revenues of $498.06 million for the full year of fiscal 2010.
ELS closed Monday’s regular trading at $49.29, up $0.98 or 2.03%, on a volume of 205,401 shares on the NYSE.
Thousand Trails is now offering unlimited access to many of its camping preserves through an annual Zone Park Pass launched in honor of Thousand Trails’ 40th anniversary. Starting at $499, pass holders can access between 18 and 81 properties a year, depending on which specific zone or zones they choose, the RV News Service reported.
“We listened to our customers and potential customers,” said Joe McAdams, president of Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc., the parent company of Thousand Trails. “They have told us they want to stay with us, they want to experience the freedom to visit multiple Thousand Trails locations and to use the wide array of amenities we offer. Many RVers and campers want the increased flexibility that comes with an annual pass type program.”
Each Zone Park Pass covers a zone, or region, of Thousand Trails’ campgrounds in the United States: Northeast, Southeast, Northwest and Southwest/California.
Traditional memberships to Thousand Trails with expanded usage rights and benefits are also still offered.
Thousand Trails is known for its beautiful facilities, most in scenic locations with spacious campsites, abundant social activities including barbecues, ice cream socials, pancake breakfasts, wine tastings, family games and countless other special events. Preserve amenities include large swimming pools, spas, hiking trails, lodges, lakes, miniature golf, fishing and boating. Campsites offer electrical, water, and sewer connections for RVs, barbecue pits, restroom and shower facilities. Resorts are located in secure gated environments with park rangers who watch out for members’ safety.
More information about the new zone program is available at the Thousand Trails’ website, www.ThousandTrails.com.
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.”
Wells Fargo said it downgraded the stock of Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc. (ELS) from Outperform to Market Perform. Valuation range $54-56 from $52-53.
A Wells Fargo analyst said, “While the company remains in solid position to maintain its cash flow stability given the nature of its rental stream, the stock has now reached our valuation range and we are downgrading to Market Perform as shares appear fully valued, in our view. We are reducing our 2010 FFO estimate by $0.05 to $3.45/shr and our 2011 FFO estimate by $0.04 to $3.55/shr.”
To see all the upgrades/downgrades on shares of ELS, click here.
The stock closed Thursday (April 22) at $55.99 on volume of 486,000 shares, well above the average daily volume of 223,939.
Meanwhile, ELS is currently trading above its 50-day moving average of $52.68 and above its 200-day moving average of $47.05, notes SmartTrend.
SmarTrend is bullish on shares of ELS and its subscribers received an Uptrend alert on March 5 at $50.88, which has returned 10% to date.
Chicago-based ELS is an integrated owner and operator of RV parks and manufactured housing communities.
Publicly held Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. (ELS), a Chicago-based real estate investment trust (REIT) that operates Encore and Thousand Trails RV parks and membership resorts as well as ELS manufactured home communities, is a national powerhouse in the camping business.
Yet, ELS, which generated $475 million in revenue in 2009, retains a rather low profile for a company of its stature within the RV park and campground sector.
Joe McAdams, ELS’ outspoken and sometimes flamboyant president, is about to change all that by better promoting the overall brand of ELS, which predominately owns and operates resorts in Sunbelt states and near major East Coast metropolitan areas.
”One of the biggest problems I have is a brand name problem because people don’t know how good I (ELS) am,” McAdams told RVBUSINESS.com. ”People have been coming back to Tropical Palms (Orlando, Fla.) resort for 30 years because they like the park. They don’t care who owns it – that it’s part of ELS. They are coming back to Tropical Palms.
”We are a national-scope company. We are going to promote ourselves on TV where you have to have brand identification – a national identity.”
McAdams estimates that more than 750,000 people last year spent time at ELS properties – under names such as Encore, Sunburst, Outdoor World Resorts and Mid-Atlantic Resorts – that serve the RV resort and membership campground communities.
A newspaper and magazine publishing veteran, McAdams himself has been guiding ELS for two years. He joined Adams Publishing in 1987 as president of a group of small Michigan newspapers and from 1989 to 2003 was president of privately held Affinity Group Inc., owner of the Good Sam Club, Coast to Coast Resorts, the Trailer Life and Woodall’s directories and a group of RV, powersports and boating-related magazines that include Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, RVBusiness, Boating Industry, Powersports News and Woodall’s Campground Management.
A dynamic talker with a thick Arkansas accent, McAdams in 2004 joined the board of Manufactured Home Communities, which subsequently changed its name to Equity LifeStyle Properties. In 2006, while serving on the ELS board, McAdams bought the Thousand Trails membership resort chain. He was hired in 2008 as ELS president while continuing to operate Thousand Trails resorts, which ELS purchased eight months later.
A change in emphasis that already was underway when McAdams signed on to lead ELS has escalated since his arrival. ”When I came here in ’04, we were primarily a manufactured home community,” McAdams said. ”We looked around and thought that RV resorts are better. They’re more sticky, they’re younger, so we started buying RV resorts.”
In 2003, ELS had 128 manufactured home properties and 14 RV campgrounds and resorts. By the end of last year, ELS had increased its RV resort inventory to 88 Encore and 80 Thousand Trail properties with 64,000 sites while still owning 136 manufactured home communities.
”In effect, we have shifted our business from being a trailer park company to being an RV company – a lifestyle company,” McAdams said. ”Where ELS had been getting in trouble is that the average age of people in the manufactured home communities is something like 72 years old. They were throwing the keys at us because they get too sick to be in Florida and they have to go back to Elkhart to be with their grandkids because somebody’s got to take care of them.”
Encore parks are open to the public, while Thousand Trails is a nationwide membership resort system. ”The majority of our resorts are within a 45-mile drive of major metropolitan areas,” McAdams said.
To get a better handle on the latest news at ELS, RVBusiness Publisher Sherm Goldenberg recently visited in downtown Chicago with McAdams and new Senior Vice President Seth B. Rosenberg, the former president of ReserveAmerica and general manager of ActiveOutdoors. Here are the highlights – on the record – of that fascinating visit.
RVB: ELS serves more than one market, doesn’t it?
McAdams: We go after two market segments – the RV and outdoor enthusiast and we’re also focused on the senior retiree. In the economic retirement community, there is nobody like us. And frankly, in the upper-end RV resort destination, we are unique. We are a solution company to both of those – the economic retiree as well as the RV guy.
RVB: How have your various properties performed lately?
McAdams: The RV segment of our business has shown consistent growth in spite of this recession. RV people have a passion for the lifestyle and they have invested in the vehicle. The housing side of our business has really been hurt by the inability of people to finance (manufactured) homes and the inability of people migrating to our markets to sell their (primary) houses. We have addressed that by renting our inventory. That gives us occupancy and helps the growth on that side.
RVB: Even though they are separate markets, they converge at some point, don’t they?
McAdams: We like both businesses because they sort of compliment each other. The RV guy from Ann Arbor, Mich., goes there. He likes the surroundings. He starts going down there for the season and then decides to buy a home from us. Our product flexibility allows us to do that. We start out with a lot of customers renting something from us. And then they may become a member, and if they see what they want to buy, they can turn their membership in to us as a trade-in and they can buy the house or the park model or even the RV site.
RVB: We should point out that ELS has been succeeding during a recession when RV sales have taken their worst hit in more than 30 years.
Rosenberg: The key is the installed base. There are 8 million RVs on the road. We are not relying on new sales. New sales are wonderful and help absolutely, but there are 8 million RVs on the road today. Campers want more amenities; they want a cleaner experience – that literally can mean less dirt.
If they spend $250,000 on a motorhome, they want to park on cement, not drive in on a dirt road, and when they get there they want a store and a pool and someone there who is happy to help. That’s why you’ve seen the privately owned parks incredibly well positioned to go where we’ve all shifted to over the last five or 10 years. It is things as simple as having Wi-Fi and whether the signage to the park is great and whether there is a professional staff. People want a higher end experience than they did five years ago.
McAdams: The first thing that a family or a senior wants is safety and security. That’s why you’ll see us with gated communities. That sets us apart from a lot of the state parks who have to cut the budgets. They don’t even have a gatekeeper.
RVB: Are you still committed to the membership business? The membership business has, at times, been a tough niche, and people tell us that Thousand Trails is not as interested in it as it once was.
McAdams: We are not committed to the traditional sales membership. We believe there is value in a membership and we will market a membership, but it will be based on usage, time, need. It will be a customer-valued proposition, not the old time membership – the traditional sale of the perpetuity membership and overselling what the membership needs. We are not into that.
RVB: Think you could elaborate a bit more on that?
McAdams: Everybody has disdain sometimes for membership. We are starting to change the whole membership concept because we determined that a guy only wants one park. So we can sell it to him for $499. He pays his dues and if he wants to add another park and go up to the North, he can add it for a year. They are only one-year products. There is not any more of this selling in perpetuity – get them under the ether and sell them something forever. Then the guy gets mad and so does his wife, and they start fighting. We are not in that business. But it’s taken me a long time to change that business metric.
RVB: OK, you’re not going to oversell. But why only one year?
McAdams: What we try to do is get a guy to come there; he sees the activities that we have – whether it’s golf, or tennis or a one-day university, a fishing tournament. Once we get him there, we say, ‘Would you like to come back next season?’ And a majority of those people say they are coming back next season. The RV customer, you can’t fool them. They are discerning value shoppers. That’s why we’ve tried to change our pricing compendium and value proposition to take care of that.
RVB: You mentioned that you’re altering your approach to the manufactured housing communities as well. Why?
McAdams: Last year things got so bad that we shut down the majority of our home selling operations. We started renting homes. We are trying to keep the demographic to that guy that we know will rent and convert to an owner. And we will let him take some of the credit from his rent. But a lot of these guys couldn’t sell their houses in Detroit or Des Moines, yet they want to be in Florida. So we started this rental program. That’s where we are getting our velocity right now, but we need a lot more velocity. The key to homes is bringing the prices down. They are really nice, but if you get down to $60 a square foot, you become a viable opportunity.
RVB: Of course, you’re well aware of the recent shift from motorized to towable RVs within the RV arena. In fact, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) says 7.8% of units shipped in 2010 will be motorized. How are you coping with that? What can people in your position do to serve a market that is swinging this heavily to towables?
McAdams: That’s a tough question. We are aware of the shift. We see it. We know the kinds of vehicles that our customers have. We are going to have the same amperage, the same amenities, the same clubhouse. We see it as price. If we can get the price of our manufactured homes down low enough, we have a lot more market entrants. By the same token, I believe that’s why the guy is buying the towable. These are guys that love the lifestyle, but can’t afford the motorhome. So, they are shifting to the towables. I see it as great for my business.
Rosenberg: Or they want more flexibility within the lifestyle. There are two different price points. You buy an RV and then you’re towing a car, and the reason is that when they get to our property and you want to go to the major metropolitan area, you’ve got a car to drive. For some people it’s the best of both worlds. And some people like the idea of leaving their towable at the property all summer; even all year is common.
RVB: ”Cabins” and ”lodges,” these types of sedentary accommodations, are gaining traction in many RV parks these days. Are they doing the same in some of your parks?
McAdams: Yes, they are. I don’t have a figure for you. It could be as much as 15% of our sites today. We see it as an accommodation to our customers. A lot of customers who are staying with us don’t want to make the drive anymore. It’s too far or they’re too old, but they still want to come to our resort. It’s a good business for us.
RVB: Looking at the financial side of things, how is ELS doing from a profitability standpoint?
McAdams: Because this is a public company it needs steady, predictable revenue. Investors want to know how much dividend they are going to get. We average 2% to 3% dividend each year. But we are showing them sizable growth. Since 2004 this stock has doubled, with all the rest of the market going down. The average yield is 15% to 20% a year. But they want to make sure that it’s steady and predictable. It’s got to be there every year.
RVB: Back on that branding question you mentioned early on, would you care to comment any further on that?
Rosenberg: That’s one of our top three priorities right now – determining the brand going forward. Is it going to be ”Sunshine Key, an Encore Resort?’ Or is it going to be ”Thousand Trails, part of Encore Membership Resorts?” That kind of concept is actively being discussed right now.
McAdams: It’s even deeper than that because long term in our strategy, we would love to have mixed-use RV resorts. We would love to have open-to-the-public X-amount of sites, membership X-amount of sites and a home community because that’s how the customer migrates.
RVB: All in one entrance way?
McAdams: In one place. Like Marriott. If you go to Marriott, they’ll have a Marriott Hotel, they’ll have Marriott vacation ownership and they’ll have whole ownership for people that want to come there all the time. We would love to be able to do that.
Rosenberg: There’s a great opportunity. It’s an amazing platform that has the growth potential with only small changes in the end. We’re not reinventing the whole business here. — Sherman Goldenberg and Bob Ashley
Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. Monday (Jan. 25) reported higher revenues and funds from operations or earnings for the quarter and year ending Dec. 31.
The Chicago-based self-administered, self-managed real estate investment trust (REIT) owns RV parks and manufactured housing sites on 304 properties in 27 states and British Columbia.
For the fourth quarter 2009, Funds From Operations (FFO) were $27.7 million, compared to $20.6 million for the same period in 2008. For the year FFO was $118.1 million, compared to $97.6 million for the same period in 2008.
Net income available to common stockholders totaled $6.3 million, compared to a nil amount for the same period in 2008. Net income available to common stockholders totaled $34.0 million, compared to $18.3 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2008.
Fourth quarter 2009 property operating revenues were $115 million, compared to $110.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2008. Property operating revenues for the year ended Dec. 31, 2009, were $479.3 million, compared to $419.3 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2008.
For the fourth quarter, ELS’s core property operating revenues increased approximately 3.7% and core property operating expenses decreased approximately 0.1%, resulting in an increase of approximately 7% to income from core property operations over the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2008.
For the year ended Dec. 31, 2009, core property operating revenues increased approximately 2.9% and core property operating expenses decreased approximately 1.2%, resulting in an increase of approximately 6.5% to income from core property operations over the year ended Dece. 31, 2008.
For the quarter ended Dec.31, 2009, the company had 34 new home sales (including nine third-party dealer sales); a 38.2% percent decrease as compared to the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2008. Gross revenues from home sales were $2.1 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2009, compared to $3.6 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2008.
Net loss from home sales and other was $200,000 for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2009, compared to a net loss from home sales and other of $3 million for the same period last year. For the year ended Dec. 31, 2009, the company had 113 new home sales (including 28 third-party dealer sales), a 70.1% decrease compared to the same period in 2008. Gross revenues from home sales were $7.1 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2009, compared to $21.8 million for the same period in 2008.
Net income from home sales and other was $800,000 for the year ended Dec. 31, 2009 compared to a net loss from home sales and other of $5.7 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2008.
During the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2009, the company closed on approximately $12 million of financing on one manufactured home property with an interest rate of 6.93% per annum, maturing in 2019. The company also paid off four maturing mortgages totaling approximately $26.2 million, with a weighted average interest rate of 8.46% per annum.
During the first half of 2010, the company expects to close on approximately $64.2 million of financing on three manufactured home communities at a weighted average interest rate of 6.92% per annum, maturing in 10 years.
The company expects to satisfy its secured debt maturities of approximately $183 million occurring prior to Dec. 31, 2010, with the proceeds from the financings of the three mortgages noted above and its existing cash balance, which is approximately $145 million as of Dec. 31, 2009. The expected timing and amounts of the most significant payoffs are as follows: i) approximately $100 million in April and approximately $75 million in August.
On Dec. 29, a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure agreement, signed by the company was sent to the loan servicer regarding the company’s nonrecourse mortgage loan of approximately $3.6 million secured by Creekside. Creekside is a 165-site all-age manufactured home community located in Wyoming, Mich., that is included in our discontinued operations.