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.
These, of course, are not regular times. These are post-recessionary times — emphasis on recessionary — when the U.S. is digging out of a tough situation. And, as you know, we’re still digging, more so in some areas of the country than others.
Yet, as sister publications RVBusiness’s and Woodall’s Campground Management’s small staff sat down to review the year that was, we couldn’t help but marvel at the top-ranked story in our list below — the fact that the industry had indeed outperformed many other American business sectors for the second year in a row.
Without looking a gift horse in the mouth, it’s hard to figure in times like these.
But maybe that’s the point: Maybe times like these in some cases bring out the best of those lucky enough to enjoy them. Maybe we’ll just chalk it up to North America’s drive — lust might be a better word — for affordable recreation, a habit that the average family has retained throughout the global recession.
We’ve seen it at the tollgates in large public parks like Yellowstone and at the registration desks of hundreds of private campgrounds and resorts enough to know that it’s real. Having said that, here’s a quick look at our Top Ten campground news stories for 2010:
(1): RV park and campground business again bucks recessionary pressure to post gains in 2010. “Our members are generally reporting a better year than 2009, with the exception of the Gulf Coast areas,” Linda Profaizer, retiring president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), noted in her President’s Message.
“It appears that snowbirds are returning in bigger numbers than last year as well,” she added. “Most parks report an increase in rental accommodations and tenting is still a major part of the picture.”
Indeed, in his remarks during ARVC’s annual meeting, ARVC Chairman David L. Berg said the economic downturn has actually created new business opportunities for private parks as families and other travelers look for more affordable ways to enjoy weekend getaways and vacation time.
It’s not just an isolated trend. Industry leader Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) reported year-over-year gains in each of the first 10 months of 2010 with total revenues up 8.5 % over 2009. For the summer camping season, same store revenues were up 6% and camper nights up 4.5%.
Leisure Systems Inc. ((LSI), franchisors of the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, reported same park revenue up 5% in 2010. While site revenue was down 4%, rental income was up 15%, store revenues grew 15% and miscellaneous revenue was up 19%. And LSI looks for more of the same in 2011, thanks in part to the release in late 2010 of a new “Yogi Bear” Warner Brothers movie starring the voices of Dan Akroyd and Justin Timberlake.
(2) The RV Centennial, the focus of which was in June when the ARVC Business Forum ventured to Elkhart, Ind., along with much of the recreational vehicle industry for Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) joint Annual Meeting and Committee Week proceedings and a party at the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
RVIA determined that 2010 was the centennial year for the industry, and what a year it was. The Go RVing Coalition promoted events throughout the year in conjunction with the centennial. The Coalition’s “Ambassadors of Affordability” cartoon characters appeared in Go RVing TV spots, and “Centennial Charlie,” a stuffed bear, made a PR tour across the country. The highlight of the year came in early June with a big bash in Elkhart, but other events were held across the nation at campgrounds, RV dealerships and elsewhere. It was, by most accounts, a public relations extravaganza.
(3) Gulf Coast RV parks share with other commercial segments in negative oil spill spillover. An explosion on April 20 at a Deep Water Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 men working on the rig and set off a massive oil leak that would ultimately send more than 250 million gallons of oil into the Gulf and threaten hundreds of miles of ocean frontage.
The oil fouled beaches from Florida to Louisiana, stifling tourism for months. Business was down significantly at campgrounds across the region, even where the beaches were never involved. It was a major PR problem for the tourism industry, which was still gradually recovering at year’s end.
(4) Flash flood kills 20 campers in June at Arkansas campground. Heavy rains the night of June 11 sent a wall of water in the “Loop D” area of secluded publicly operated Albert Pike Campground nearly Langley in western Arkansas. In all, 20 campers at the 54-site park were killed in the disaster,
The Caddo and Little Missouri rivers — two normally gentle waterways — rose by 20 feet overnight, engulfing the hikers and campers who were spending the night in tents along the rivers in the isolated Ouachita Mountains. “Within ten minutes the water had rose and campers were floating down,” a survivor told ABC News. “If they didn’t get out of their camper within five, ten minutes, they weren’t getting out.”
(5) Succession at ARVC — Linda Profaizer retiring and Paul Bambei succeeding her. Profaizer announced in the spring that she would be retiring after 10 years at ARVC’s helm and 40 years in the industry — a tenure that included her time as president of then Chicago-based Woodall Publications Corp.
ARVC looked both inside and outside the RV park and campground sector for her successor and recently hired Comcast Corp. veteran Paul Bambei. He never owned a campground, but he’s an avid RVer and was touted as an expert marketing executive. He was introduced at ARVC’s InSites Convention in December.
(6) Succession at KOA — Pat Hittmeier named president of KOA in February, succeeding Shane Ott. A 29-year veteran of the Billings, Mont.-based franchisor’s front office, Hittmeier was named president on Feb. 28 after Shane Ott stepped down. Hittmeier held several positions at KOA before taking on the presidency of the 475-member campground chain, and so far, from all we can gather, his relatively quiet demeanor and astute business instincts are serving him well.
(7) Virtual Campground Expo breaks ground on new era of trade shows. Campground vendor Art Lieberman earned praise in 2010 for introducing the industry’s first virtual online trade show, a “Virtual Outdoor Hospitality Expo” that kicked off in early November and continues today for those choosing to pay the site a visit.
While some argue that these online expos are the way of the future, Lieberman gets an “A” for effort, but a “C” for the site’s actual performance due to software issues that soured some on this landmark event. Lieberman, owner of MCPS for Campgrounds, was up front about the problems and pledged to try again, if not in 2011, then in 2012.
(8) Best Parks in America expands membership to 71 by year’s end. Best Parks in America, launched in 2004 by industry consultant and entrepreneur David Gorin as a marketing network, must be somewhere close to reaching critical mass by now, as the 71-park organization held its annual meeting and a slate of seminars Dec. 1-2 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on the brink of the ARVC InSites convention.
Now, having made some serious changes over the past year, Gorin says Best Parks is getting ready to grow to the next level as an organization that will provide more business tools yet remain “a system of independent unique parks.”
(9) CalARVC takes lead on holding tank chemical ban in California, despite legislative headwinds. Based on the premise that formaldehyde-containing products used in RV holding tank waste treatments have troubled RV park and campground septic systems for years, the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) decided earlier this year that it was time for a change.
So, CalARVC lobbied extensively to ban six specific chemicals from all holding tank treatment solutions utilized in the Golden State, and the California State Assembly passed landmark legislation in late summer. However, outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill to ban the chemicals and referred the matter to a state agency for remediation while CalARVC Executive Director Debbie Sipe has vowed to march on with an education program.
(10) ARVC’s ongoing headquarter saga. The national trade association announced in late spring its decision to move from Larkspur, Colo., a rural location to which it had moved in 2009 from Washington D.C.’s suburban Virginia, to more urban Castle Rock in the Denver area on the premise that it would be a better place in which to do business.
Then, in December, after some internal debate a few weeks ago, the ARVC board voted unanimously not to move to Castle Rock and instead authorized new CEO Paul Bambei to look elsewhere for suitable space in the greater Denver area.
The upcoming (Dec. 17) release of a new Warner Brothers’ “Yogi Bear” movie offered an ideal backdrop for Leisure System Inc.’s (LSI) annual Symposium, held Nov. 8-11 at the Embassy Suites in Covington, Ky., a Cincinnati suburb located near the company’s home office in Milford, Ohio.
The event attracted nearly 200 people from 65 of the 78 campgrounds affiliated with LSI’s Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp-Resort franchise for four days of professional seminars, briefings by LSI management, a trade show, social networking and the concluding awards ceremony that took on the motif of an Academy Awards-style presentation.
Over 60 vendors took part in the trade show displaying their products and services. An outside display featured four new park models. The trade show also afforded franchisees an opportunity to purchase their Yogi Bear brand merchandise from an offering of more than 300 items for the coming season.
In addition, LSI franchisees could attend an all-day Americans with Disabilities Act compliance workshop the day before the symposium at which they were briefed on new ADA recreation guidelines passed this year as well other proposals that are likely to be passed in 2011.
Buddy Rice was the keynote speaker on Tuesday and took franchisees through a series of exercises that helped them and their staffs identify the major touch points they have with customers.
LSI also honored Linda Profaizer for her longtime service to the RV park and campground industry. Profaizer is retiring at the end of this year as president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
Schutter Briefs Franchisees On Major Developments
Rob Schutter Jr., LSI’s chief operating officer, updated franchisees on major developments within the franchise. In a Power Point presentation, Schutter noted several “bright spots” for the campground industry in 2010:
- Occupancies are up between 1% and 3%.
- Extended stay is up 5%.
- Revenues are up between 1% and 3%.
- Fuel prices are holding steady.
- Fifty-seven percent of campground owners are adding rentals.
- Sixteen percent of all RV buyers are first-timers.
On the “down side,” however, Schutter pointed out that Gulf Coast business was off between 30% and 50% due to the disastrous BP oil spill while many campers continue to make spontaneous last second reservations and the industry as a whole should not expect true economic growth until 2013.
For LSI in particular, “same park” overall revenue among its 78 parks is up 5% in 2010. While site revenue was down 4%, rental income was up 15%, store revenue grew 15% and miscellaneous revenue was up 19%.
Customer satisfaction surveys, by the same token, offered mixed results. Schutter reported that overall customer satisfaction was down slightly, from a score of 8.20 in 2009 to 8.14 in 2010. Repeat customers, referrals and Internet bookings generated 90% of revenues at a majority of LSI parks.
Just 19% of respondents replied that they had a problem during their visits to Jellystone parks. However, he pointed out, 64% of those said their problems were not resolved.
Schutter outlined a number of LSI initiatives for 2011, including an increase in its marketing staff and a recreational park trailer program that it is launching in conjunction with Thor Industries Inc.
There are 10 prospective new member parks for 2011, he noted.
“Yogi Bear” Movie Marketing Will Tout Namesake’s Brand
LSI and its franchisees expect the new “Yogi Bear” movie to have a significant impact on their business in the coming months and years as the movie reintroduces the cartoon character to an entirely new generation.
Thirty-three Warner Brothers/Jellystone Park partnership events are planned in major movie markets around the U.S. following the movie’s Dec. 17 release. Franchisees will provide costumed Yogi and Boo Boo bear costumes and will make appearances in exchange for promotional mentions. The events include TV appearances, parades and Christmas tree-lighting ceremonies. For example, a Chicago appearance will feature an autograph signing appearance with movie co-star Dan Aykroyd.
Other marketing developments include the recent release of a new strawberry/kiwi-flavored water beverage by Hint Water. The product will come in a Yogi Bear-shaped bottle. Franchisees were able to place orders for the new product at the symposium.
Franchisees also will receive a new Yogi Bear book published this year.
LSI Honors Franchisees at Awards Ceremony
A grand finale awards presentation on Nov. 11 took on an Academy Awards night feel as the audience viewed several trailers from the “Yogi Bear” movie and received a brief videotaped “shout out” from cast members Anna Faris, Tom Cavanaugh and T.J. Miller.
A large movie filmstrip adorned the area behind the stage and honorees walked a red carpet en route to accepting their awards.
Among the awards winners:
- Franchise System Entrepreneur of the Year, Revenues Over $1 Million: Mill Run, Pa.
- Franchise System Entrepreneur of the Year, Revenues Over $500,000: Canyon Lake, Texas
- Franchise System Entrepreneur of the Year, Revenues Under $500,000: Milton, Pa.
- Franchise System Operator of the Year, Parks Under 200 Sites: John Wagenhoffer, Emporia, Va.
- Franchise System Operator of the Year, Parks Over 200 Sites: Bruce Bryant Management, Warrens, Wis.
- Franchise System Inspection Leader, “The Carroll Award”: Tabor City, N.C.
- Jim Webb Spirit Award, The Coleman Family: Tabor City, N.C.
- Maple Leaf Award: Toronto, Ontario.
- Franchise System Facility of the Year, Parks Under 200 Sites: Memphis, Tenn.
- Franchise System Facility of the Year, Parks Over 200 Sites: Fremont, Ind.
- Franchise System Camp Resort of the Year: Luray, Va.
2010 Special Recognition award recipients were:
- Rookie of the Year – Owner: Garry & Debbie Ingram, Forsyth, Mo.
- Rookie of the Year – Manager: Steve Stafford, Burleson, Texas.
- Most Improved Inspection: Knightstown, Ind.
- Facility Theming: Robert, La.
- Landscaping: Niagara Falls, Ontario
- Camp-Resort Store Design: Waller, Texas
- Camp-Resort Comfort Station: North Hudson, N.Y.
- Internet Web Site Design: Canyon Lake, Texas.
- Brochure Design, Kingston: Nova Scotia.
- Recreational Programming: North Java, N.Y.; Tabor City, N.C.; Branson, Mo.; Mill Run, Pa.; and Luray, Va.
Other Symposium Activities
The Yogi Advisory Council (YAC) met on Nov. 7 for a daylong meeting to discuss franchise issues independent from LSI management. Upcoming events for franchisees include Camp Training for new owners and operators, Jan. 24-28 in Milford, Ohio; and the Spring YAC meeting, March 7, the Spring Meeting for all franchisees on March 8 and the CARE (Caring About Recreation and Entertainment) meeting March 9-11, all in Covington, Ky.
New YAC officers are Gina Lenhard, chairwoman, North Hudson, N.Y.; Ray Aljets, vice chairman, Sioux Falls, S.C.; Jayne Cohen with Adventure Bound Camping, secretary; and Mike Ciero, treasurer, Millbrook, Ill. Keith Russell, Memphis, Tenn., was elected parliamentarian.
No date has been set for the 2011 symposium.
Leisure Systems Inc. chose a Hollywood movie premiere and theme “Lights! Camera! Action!” for the backdrop of this year’s Symposium & Trade Show, set for Nov. 7-11 at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center and Embassy Suites Hotel in Covington, Ky.
This year’s theme really was a “no-brainer” for the LSI staff, what with the much-awaited release of the all-new “Yogi Bear” movie scheduled for Dec. 17 in theaters across the country,” the Milford, Ohio-based company reports. The movie is expected to introduce the iconic cartoon character from the 1960s to an entirely new generation, many of whom may be drawn to further the Yogi Bear mystique at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts across the U.S. and Canada.
This year’s event could be the franchisor’s biggest in years with 250 individuals from most of the 76-member camp-resorts expected to attend, said Dean Crawford, LSI vice president.
LSI, in its 41st year of operation, is undergoing a growth spurt of sorts with four new parks joining in the spring and one over the summer, said Crawford. “We’re hoping to hit 80 parks for next year,” he said. “Right now, the sales team has five or six prospects which will probably be coming to our convention.”
Franchisees should generally be in a good mood heading into this year’s symposium, Crawford surmised, because LSI saw its systemwide occupancies increase by 4% through the end of August, while revenues were up 3%. Anecdotal evidence points to a successful year at many parks.
“We had a Yogi Advisory Council meeting last week (middle of September) and from what I hear, only one out of 10 parks did not exceed last year’s revenues,” Crawford said.
LSI COO Rob Schutter Jr. will give franchisees an update on the state of the franchise the afternoon of Nov. 8.
Franchisees also will get their first look at Yogi Bear merchandise the afternoon of Nov. 9 and be able to order items for the coming season.
Symposiums Seminars: The educational component at LSI’s Symposium is always strong and this year is no exception, starting with an all-day Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance Seminar at the Embassy Suites on Nov. 7. The Yogi Advisory Council will be meeting that afternoon.
Keynote speaker Buddy Rice will present the “Customer Focus Program” on Tuesday morning (Nov. 9). Rice will take his audience through a series of exercises that will help them and their teams identify major touch points that they have with their customers. The goal is to create loyalty – customers who come back and talk about their campground experience to their friends and associates.
Vendor Show on Nov. 10-11: A crosssection of vendors serving the RV park and campground industry will be displaying their products and services at the trade show, scheduled for Nov. 10 and 11. The soft economy may keep the number of vendors down from previous years, Crawford said, but LSI franchisees historically come to this event in a buying mood and vendors say they are happy with the show, Crawford noted.
Awards Banquet on Nov. 11: The movie theme will be most apparent at the awards banquet, set for the night of Nov. 11 at the Embassy Suites Hotel. Trailers for the Yogi Bear movie will be shown, and the banquet room will be decked out with movie posters and other paraphernalia.
LSI tried to bring in one of the stars from the Yogi Bear movie, Crawford revealed, but the talent fee was beyond the budget. Still, Crawford said, franchisees will be pleased with the evening’s atmosphere. Copies of the new Yogi Bear book, “Life’s A Picnic,” also will be available for distribution at the banquet.
Are You Ready for Some Football? By coincidence, the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals will be hosting archrival Pittsburgh Steelers in a Monday Night Football game just across the Ohio River from the convention site the night of Nov. 8. Crawford said convention activities have been curtailed for that evening so franchisees, if they so choose, may attend the game or watch it on TV.
2010 Symposium Agenda
Sun. – Nov. 7
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ADA Compliance All Day Seminar (Including Lunch)
9 a.m. – noon Yogi Advisory Council Meeting
noon – 1 p.m. Lunch
1 – 5 p.m. Yogi Advisory Council Meeting/LSI
1 – 5 p.m. Registration
5:30 p.m. Opening Reception
Monday – Nov. 8
8 a.m. – noon Registration
10 a.m. – noon Welcome/Travel Log
noon – 1 p.m. Opening Luncheon
1 – 3:45 p.m. LSI Updates with Rob Schutter
Club Yogi Rewards Update – Marketing Strategists
4 – 5 p.m. YAC/CARE elections and YAC General Session
Tuesday – Nov. 9
9 a.m. – noon The Customer Focus- Buddy Rice
noon – 1 p.m. Lunch
1 – 2:15 p.m. Increasing your Shoulder Season with Youth/School Groups with Carrie Cirrito
1 – 2:15 p.m. Motivating Employees through Rewards Programs with Cheri Lenhertz
2:30 – 4 p.m. Putting the Fun back into FUNdraising with Holli Rapp & Rachael Stine
2:30 p.m., to 6 p.m. View Yogi Merchandise – sales orders in by 5 p.m.
Wednesday – Nov. 10
8:30 – 10 a.m. So Help Me…Customer Service Program-Jayne Cohen
8:30 – 10 a.m. Marketing through Facebook with Chris Treadaway
10:30 a.m. – noon Theme Weekend Planning Workshop with Bridget Bender
6 – 8:30 p.m. Social/Auction/CARE Raffle
10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tradeshow
Thursday – Nov. 11
8:30 – 9:30 a.m. Sure Vista/Customer Satisfaction Survey with Blake Ashdown
8:30 – 9:30 a.m. Going Mobile/ITI Marketing with Chris O’Flaherty
4 – 5 p.m. Pictures – Captain’s View
5:30 – 7 p.m. Awards Presentations
7 – 8 p.m. Awards Dinner
8 – 10 p.m. Entertainment
8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tradeshow
11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Lunch during Tradeshow
2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Vendor break down and move out
The recreational park trailer segment of the RV industry took its hits just like traditional RV builders during the Great Recession. And its recovery may take a bit longer than the mainstream towable market.
That’s according to William Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), who says park models’ customer base is the cause.
”The reason is, our particular consumer is 55 to 70 years of age,” Garpow told RVBUSINESS.com. ”They are facing retirement and their 401(k) took a 35% dip and their house dropped 30% in value. They haven’t got the time to make back the dollars they had before they retire.
”As a consequence, they still may want to get into a park trailer, but they have to do everything they can to build their nest egg while they are still working.”
Garpow reported that shipments of park trailers reached a high of about 12,000 units in 2006 before falling to about 6,0000 units last year. ”Still, that wasn’t as bad as other segments of the industry and now 20% of what we lost has come back,” he said. ”But it’s slow and gradual.”
One thing going for park trailer dealers during the economic turbulence, Garpow said, was that most weren’t under pressure from lenders to bring down large inventories. ”Park trailers traditionally are not inventoried,” he said. ”The products that we are shipping are custom built, so we weren’t affected by that.”
He said RPTIA, with headquarters in the Atlanta suburb of Newnan, Ga., ”hasn’t lost any significant number of manufacturers,” during the downturn and that business right now ”is steady and it seems to be fairly decent.”
A factor working in favor of the park trailer segment’s recovery is an emphasis on adding park models as rental units at rates several times higher than those charged for regular campground sites by Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Jellystone franchiser Leisure Systems Inc. and other parks.
”We identified this has a very strong potential market about 15 years ago,” Garpow said. ”The rental part has really come alive in the last three or four years.”
For campgrounds in designated rural areas that want to expand their park model inventory, Garpow said the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a viable source of guaranteed financing.
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.
Instead of pitching a tent or roaming the great outdoors in a recreational vehicle, travelers increasingly are interested in staying in plusher accommodations in campgrounds — we are talking private bathrooms, kitchens, air conditioning and even flat-screen television sets, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Rental units — sometimes small cabins and sometimes prefabricated transportable units made to look like small cabins — are gaining traction with travelers and campground owners across the U.S.
“They do extremely well,” says John Croce, a managing member of a collective that owns and operates nine campgrounds in the western U.S. At Yosemite Pines RV Resort & Family Lodging in Groveland, Calif., his group has installed about six new rental units every year for the past several years. These now occupy 30 of the campground’s 200 RV sites, he says. But those rental units account for about 39% of the campground’s revenue, says Croce. Rates for the campground’s rental units range from about $80 to $200 per night. Depending on their size, the units can sleep four to eight people. By comparison, a basic tent site costs about $25 a night, depending on the season.
Campground owners and franchisers say the rental units are attracting a new kind of camper — one interested in the great outdoors, but happy to sleep in a bed and have access to a private bathroom or other amenities. “You are sleeping on a pillow-top mattress and you have a flat-screen TV,” says Mike Atkinson, director of lodging at Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), which owns and franchises 475 campground locations. “But you can still go outside and have s’mores.”
Most popular with campground owners are the pre-fab transportable rental units, known in the industry as “park models.” That’s because those units are officially considered RVs, and therefore don’t require building permits or other regulatory fillings to install, reducing their capital cost. The cost for a park model ranges from about $30,000 to $50,000, depending on amenities, furnishings and transportation costs. To keep up with demand, KOA campgrounds installed about 371 park model units this year, up from some 225 in 2009, and about 190 in 2008, says Atkinson.
While camping overall has proved resilient in a down economy, revenue from the rental units is particularly strong. Last year, the number of occupied nights in rental units rose 8% at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts campgrounds, while traditional camp site nights rose only about 1%, says Rob Schutter, chief operating officer of Cincinatti-based Leisure Systems Inc, which franchises 76 of the campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada. Leisure Systems is a subsidiary of Park River Corp.
This week’s ARVC Business Forum, held on the campus of Keystone RV Co. in Goshen, Ind., featured a typically lively give-and-take among the leadership of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds and some of the nation’s key campground vendors.
Forum members met in conjunction with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Committee Week and Annual Meeting functions held not far away in downtown South Bend. The week’s agenda also included an industry party in recognition of what RVIA has designated in 2010 as the RV industry’s centennial.
The ARVC Business Forum brings together members of the ARVC Executive Committee and key players in the RV parks and campground business to discuss topical issues.
Shane Ott, director of campground relations for Thor Industries Inc., Keystone’s parent company, who helped orchestrate the meeting at Keystone, said the forum meeting at an RV company, a first for the forum, will help narrow “the huge gap” between the campground and RV industries. “There is no reason we shouldn’t do this more often,” he said.
A few forum highlights:
Mark Anderson, former ARVC chairman and owner of Camp Chautauqua Camping Resort, Chautauqua, N.Y., reported that his park and many others in the East “had almost a perfect Memorial Day weekend,” providing “a great start” to the season. The summer’s outlook for the Northeast is good as travel is up, he added. He noted that while the state of New York is “broke,” the governor found funds to reopen the state parks, which Anderson considers “an important baseline to private campgrounds.”
Vic Nolting, vice chairman of Leisure Systems Inc., franchisor of the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, Milford, Ohio, began by summarizing, “In general, things look oh so much better than last year.” He then deferred to LSI’s COO, Rob Schutter Jr., who went into greater detail. Schutter echoed Anderson’s holiday observation. He said business in the Northeast is “leveling out” after “a disaster last year,” due to weather.
Schutter, noting that Yogi operators are seeing an upturn in campers’ ancillary spending after a 2%-3% downturn in such spending last year, reported that the rental market at Jellystone Parks is “through the roof,” thanks in part to its non-dependence on good weather and the growing number of visits of campers new to the Jellystone system.
LSI’s rental business was up 8% in 2009 and he expects another rise this year. The rental business, which puts campers into lodges and cabins, is bringing a lot of non-traditional or first-time campers, added Nolting. They explained that many Jellystone Parks maintain good working relationships with area chambers of commerce and hotels, which also spurs business. Cabin rental rates were $145 a night in 2009 and have been raised by $10 a night for the 2010 season, said Schutter, adding that LSI opened its first company-owned park this year in Bloomington, Ind.
Cindy Halley, publisher of the Trailer Life RV Parks and Campgrounds Directory and vice president of Good Sam Club marketing, Ventura, Calif., reported that TL’s rep teams are well underway in their collection of data and advertising sales for the 2011 directory. Team members “are very upbeat and expect a better year overall,” she said. On the club side, membership growth is exceeding forecasts and currently totals about 950,000. Good Sam Club members average 62 years of age and are typically retired, empty nesters. However, she added, the club is always trying to recruit younger members.
Eric Stumberg, president and co-founder of Wi-Fi provider TengoInternet, Austin, Texas, reported that TengoInternet’s acquisition of Nomad ISP is complete with Nomad’s clients integrated into Tengo’s in May, bringing its market penetration to some 800 parks and between 67,000 and 100,000 guests a month, depending upon the season.
Wi-Fi remains a key criteria in RVers’ decision on where to camp, he noted. He sees mobile point of sale terminals, such as an ice cream cart that accepts credit card swipes, becoming the next popular phase in parks and campgrounds. He is targeting 25% growth for 2010.
David L. Berg, ARVC chairman and owner of the Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, said business appears to be “back to where we used to be.” He had sold out his 140 sites for the July 4 holiday by Memorial Day and his tent and popup trailer sites sold out first for the first time ever.
Berg, at the same time, said he remains “boggled” by the growth and popularity of the cabin business. He charges $120 a night for a cabin, even though “the motel down the street charges $29.” He can explain the willingness to pay more because customers “want it all today, the safety, the experience…” He also is getting into the RV rental market, charging about $1,000 a week to rent a unit on-site.
Al Johnson, president of Recreational Adventures Co., an 11-park chain based in Hill City, S.D., reported “an exceptional Memorial Day” and stated that nine of his 11 KOA-affilitated properties are ahead of plan so far this year. He has begun to replace aged cabins with new park models. He is putting on hold an overhaul of RV sites until he can better determine size requirements for the next RV generation. He, too, saw more guests with tents and folding camping trailers last year, but said it’s too early to tell whether that trend will continue this year.
David Gorin, who wore multiple hats to the forum as a campground consultant, ARVC lobbyist, park owner and state association director, reported that his Holiday Cove RV Resort in Bradenton, Fla., experienced a 25% increase in business last year, with his rental business up 20%-25% annually.
Gorin says he sold approximately half of the lots for sale in his park in the last 19 months. As director of the Virginia Campground Association, he said that state’s parks are looking for a good year, but that they’re concerned about whether the Gulf oil spill will make its way eventually up the East Coast. Meanwhile, Gorin says his Best Parks in America network has grown from 22 to 63 parks in the past year, has recently finished a long-term strategy session and will be publishing its first print directory. Finally, Gorin announced that he will be building a new 250-site RV park in Palmetto, Fla.
Ann Emerson, ARVC Business Forum chairwoman and vice president of Woodall Publications, publisher of the Woodall’s North American Campground Directory, Ventura, Calif., said sales consultants are reporting overall that most parks are doing well. In general, parks near metro areas are still faring better than those in remote areas. And there’s a serious concern among tourism-related business operators — parks among them — in many Southern and Southeastern locales regarding the long-term impact of the Gulf oil spill, prompting some owners to defer decisions on marketing expenses.
Emerson began a discussion on the explosion of social media in the campground business. At her parent company, Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), parent company of RV Business and Woodall’s Campground Management, almost all the websites have a Facebook page and each publication has at least one staff member assigned to increase its social media presence and AGI is developing a SmartPhone “app” for both of its campground directories. This discussion elicited comments on mobile marketing, which fueled a wider discussion on the explosion of mobile phone use in society. Some 90% of all U.S. homes have cell phones, and a significant percentage of Woodall customers have SmartPhones, she said. Stumberg noted that one study showed that almost as many people today access the Internet via their SmartPhones as from personal computers.
Bruce Hoster, president of Coast to Coast Resorts, the membership camping wing of AGI, said, “We think membership camping is due for a renaissance.” He cited a number of ways Coast to Coast is attracting new parks and members to the concept. As an aside, he observed that membership campgrounds are finding new revenue streams by developing storage facilities for their members’ RVs while they are not camping. For example, one membership park developed a 7-acre storage facility and realizes an estimated $1 million in revenue in annual storage fees. He reported that Camp Club USA, AGI’s discount camping club, “has come back strong after seeing a slight dip during the recession” with high renewal rates and is up to nearly 50,000 members. Coast to Coast, which has taken membership camping under its wing, sponsored a membership camping conference in February in Las Vegas and will sponsor another in February in New Orleans. He is working to make inroads with developers of hotel and condo complexes to consider integrating campgrounds into their projects, he said.
Pat Hittmeier, president of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Billings, Mont., said camping was “soft” over the winter, hindered by cold weather in its Southern campgrounds. But it’s taken off since May and was up 7% through Memorial Day. KOA is projecting an 8% increase through Labor Day, said Hittmeier, adding that use of the Internet to make reservations is up 12% over last year, a reflection of more business in general and the migration of campers to the Internet.
KOA has 4,000 units in its lodging pool and that business is strong, he said. Lodges make up 13% of the total KOA sites, but the company is aiming to raise that figure to 20% at 50% of its campgrounds. KOA also is looking to increase its first-time visits, which now make up 15% to 19% of its total guests.
ARVC loyalist Ian Steyn, owner of Jellystone Castle Rock Campground, Castle Rock, Colo., noted that his business is up 38% year-over-year, and 2009 was a good year for his business. He discussed an integrated approach to promoting the outdoors with other hospitality businesses in his community seeking to make it the epicenter for outdoor recreation in his state.
Larry Weaver, park model sales manager for CrossRoads RV, Topeka, Ind., briefly outlined the preferred park model program his parent company, Thor Industries Inc., has established with ARVC. Weaver stressed that campground owners should make sure they buy “ruggedized” park models for their rental units and refrain from features such as carpeting that will not hold up well under the rigors of long-term use.
Gilbert Brown grew up in inner-city Detroit and went on to a successful football career — 10 years as a defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers and one season as a Super Bowl champion.
Wealth, fame and “The Gravedigger” nickname he earned opened many doors, but Brown could never have predicted they would open one to … the joys of RVing, according to USA Today.
Brown, his wife and four kids, ages 1 to 16, love to load up their recreational vehicle, hit the road and camp. “I’m 39 years old, and I never knew what a S’mores was,” Brown says. “Growing up in Detroit, there is nothing really in that area as far as camping.”
He was introduced to recreational vehicles when his Gilbert Brown Foundation, which contributes to 144 children’s charities, partnered with the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO) to raise money. Every time a campground hosted a fundraiser, he would go.
Brown now owns an RV and has inspired friends to do the same. He encourages people — especially those in urban areas — to at least try it once. “Get the kids outdoors instead of sitting in the house playing PlayStation,” he says. “Nobody’s got money to get four or five kids on a plane and go to California.”
Newcomers to fun
A new generation of Americans searching for ways to have fun in a wobbly economy is giving a boost to the 100-year-old RV industry.
Wholesale deliveries of RVs to retailers totaled 84,500 in the first four months of 2010, nearly double the total from the same period last year, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports.
Some RV camps and resorts are seeing double-digit percentage jumps in occupancy and in new faces, according to Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVCs. “It had been mainly the 55-plus,” she says. “The fastest-growing segment is the younger market — 35 to 47 … younger people entering the market with families.”
Reasons: affordability, a return to simple pleasures and a desire to get kids outdoors and away from electronic screens.
Don’t own an RV? They can be rented and delivered to a campsite at any of the 14,000 RV camps and resorts in the U.S. and Canada. About 8,000 camps are privately run. The rest are in public parks.
Campgrounds and resorts are adding amenities to offer more than simply a site to pitch a tent or park a pop-up camper. Their goal is to keep city slickers entertained and comfortable.
“We have a class of individuals looking to enjoy all the comforts of home without necessarily having to pay the price of a resort,” says Rob Schutter, chief operating officer of Leisure Systems Inc., franchiser of 75 Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts.
The industry targets niche segments — from hardcore outdoor enthusiasts and snowbirds to urban families who may no longer be able to afford plane tickets and hotels but still expect amenities.
“I call it ‘glamping,’ ” says Kenny Johnson, recreation director at Campland on the Bay, a San Diego RV resort that has a sandy beach, skateboard park, cafe and game room. “It’s like a city inside a city.”
“It’s unbelievable,” says Aaron Justice, 35, who joined RVing friends at the camp. “It has an arcade, market, laundromat. You really never have to leave here.”
Justice, who works in construction and lives in Temecula, Calif., usually flies to visit family in Tennessee. “Times are tough, so it makes sense to come here,” he says.
A range of activities
What camps offer:
- Fun. Giant water slides, skateboard parks, wine tastings, zip lines, restaurants, carousels, swimming pools and playgrounds are among an expanding list of amenities. Geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunting game that uses GPS devices to locate hidden treasures, is popular. Some want to get away from it all and seek camps out of range of cellphone towers. Others want wireless access. ”We’re in the entertainment business, the experience business,” Schutter says. “We can still cater to people who desire a rugged experience or a true family experience, sitting around the campfire and cooking S’mores.”
- Comfort. “Park models” that look like cabins but can be moved like an RV have become popular rentals. Higher-end models offer bathrooms, kitchenettes, separate bedrooms and real beds. Cheaper units are more primitive.
- Proximity and cost-savings. Parks within 150 miles of a metro area are in demand because they can be reached in a couple of hours, says industry consultant David Gorin, who owns the Holiday Cove RV Resort in Cortez, Fla.
Robert Franz likes to vacation near his home in Berryville, Va., in case he is needed at work. His family goes to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Luray, about an hour away.
His five children love the swimming pool and slide, he says. “If my kids went to Disney World, they’d be bored,” he says. “Here, the boys will go from the paddleboat to the basketball court. … I can turn them loose.”
Brown, the former football star, recalls his introduction to RVs. “It was eye-opening,” he says. “Once you experience something like that, it’s contagious.”
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) is considering changing some of the duties of association and CEO after the current president and CEO, Linda Profaizer, retires at the end of this year.
“Our current president and CEO has vast responsibilities and we may consider some realignment of duties going forward,” said ARVC Chairman David L. Berg. “We are looking at all staff positions and responsibilities within the organization and may restructure some positions.”
Berg talked about staffing and other initiatives underway at ARVC in an address to members of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), who had gathered at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville for TACO’s annual spring meeting and convention. Their convention began Sunday and ends today (May 18).
In a subsequent interview, Berg cautioned that no final decisions have been made about the approach ARVC will take to replace Profaizer, who retires Dec. 31. “We want to make sure that our selection process enables us to recruit the best possible candidate for this position,” he said.
In his address to TACO members, Berg also said that ARVC is heavily promoting the GoCampingAmerica website with both print and online advertising initiatives.
He also said ARVC is continuing to take steps to improve communication with its state affiliates and that the national association hasn’t given up on the idea of having TACO become an affiliate of ARVC once again. “We’d like to have you back in the family,” he said, adding, “We (ARVC) need to improve our communication and treat the states as equal partners.”
Berg also lauded former ARVC Chairman Jeff Sims, also in attendance at the meeting, for his volunteer work reaching out to non-ARVC member parks to educate them about the merits of ARVC membership. As of mid-May, Sims had personally visited more than 400 parks at his own expense.
Monday’s TACO meeting also included a presentation by Bob MacKinnon of Murrieta, Calif.-based GuestReviews. “Texas has strong participation in the (GuestReviews) program,” he said, adding that Texas parks had an average score of A-minus in overall guest satisfaction.
Monday’s activities included a tradeshow with roughly 40 vendors, including Topeka, Ind.-based CrossRoads RV, Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries Inc. and Athens Park Homes of Athens, Texas, each of which had park models on display.
The day’s activities also included a seminar on Wi-Fi marketing by Frank Drew of Austin, Texas-based TengoInternet and a seminar on “Expanding Your Park” by Kathy and Tony Palmeri of Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Estes Park, Colo,. and Leisure Systems Inc.