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Not All Park Model Firms Settled on Trade Ties

July 18, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Matt Wald

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) has received a strong response from park model builders it invited recently to join its ranks as part of a consolidation pact between RVIA and the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), which has been “mothballed” as part of a two-year trial period stipulated in an agreement between the two trade groups.

Sixteen long-standing RPTIA members representing more than 90% of annual park model shipments are now members of RVIA.

Matt Wald, an eight-year RVIA staffer tabbed recently as the association’s new park trailer executive director, told the board at its June meeting during RVIA Committee Week in Washington D.C. that the association has been making substantial headway in integrating shipment tracking, public relations, standards, government affairs, show-exhibiting formats and other functions for the co-mingled trade groups.

“The park trailer industry is excited to be back in the RVIA fold,” declared John Soard, chairman of the newly formed RVIA Recreational Park Trailer Committee and general manager for Fairmont Park Trailers, a division of Fairmont Homes in Nappanee, Ind., in a June RVIA press release.

Yet, that still leaves about 20 park trailer builders who have declined to join RVIA essentially unaffiliated with any active trade group — at least for the time being since RPTIA’s board voted earlier this year to shelve the association and encourage its members to join RVIA. In return, RVIA agreed to provide former RPTIA members with programs and some additional services as well.

Bill Garpow

Technically speaking, RPTIA, which formally closed its Newnan, Ga., office on June 29 and parted company with longtime exec William “Bill” Garpow, still exists on paper as a legal entity and its officers and directors have retained their titles while the association’s assets remain under the authority of the board and its website is still “live,” according to Curt Yoder, vice president and co-owner of Goshen, Ind.-based Kropf Industries Inc.

However, RPTIA retains the right to reactivate after the two-year trail period, should that become necessary, says Yoder, who was appointed to RVIA’s board at its June session along with current RPTIA President Dick Grymonprez, vice president of sales and marketing for Athens Park Homes LLC, Athens, Texas.

“We have the option to reopen RPTIA,” explained Yoder.

“At this juncture our hope is that things will go well with RVIA. There have been no red flags thrown that say that won’t happen. I think everyone who has joined is happy with it.

“Our hope is that once everyone sees the benefits of joining RVIA, everyone (else) will come on board. As time goes on, they’ll see the move was made for the better,” he said, noting that those who remain with RPTIA do so in name only because “they have no association to support them.”

Yoder said a third-party inspection process for those who join RVIA is now provided through RVIA, and that RPTIA members who opt not to join RVIA may have to find their own inspectors, as that service is no longer available through RPTIA. Nor is RPTIA still issuing seals.

Meanwhile, Wald reported that he was working in mid-July with three additional park trailer manufacturers considering RVIA affiliation. “Some have called this an experiment or trial marriage to see how well this works,” he said, recalling events some years ago when the RPTIA was first formed after builders split from the RVIA.

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RVIA Inviting RPTIA Firms to Join Association

April 27, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

RVIA's Matt Wald shakes hands with RPTIA Executive Director Bill Garpow

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) has opened membership in the association to recreational park trailer manufacturers.

Last week, RVIA President Richard Coon sent a package to park trailer manufacturers that includes a personal invitation, an RVIA park trailer membership application and association information, according to Matt Wald, RVIA’s new park trailer executive director. A similar invitation package will go out to park model suppliers next week.

“We are wasting no time folding park trailers into the RVIA family,” said Wald. “Richard and I have been reaching out to the park trailer industry leaders and making sure that they are comfortable through this period of transition. Meanwhile we have been laying the groundwork inside RVIA to accommodate park trailer members in key areas such as shows and public relations, and I will be spending time with RPTIA Executive Director Bill Garpow this week to try to figure out how to best fill his big shoes for the park trailer industry.”

RVIA and the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) reached an agreement in March for park trailer manufacturers to join RVIA as members.

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Families Renting Park Models for Gatherings

June 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Campgrounds across the country are increasingly purchasing park model cabins, not only to entice people who don’t have an RV or tent, but to accommodate family reunions.

“It’s a trend that’s taking place across the country,” said Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), the Newnan, Ga.-based trade association that represents the park model industry.

And while campgrounds have had park models for years, both government run campgrounds as well as privately owned campgrounds, RV parks and resorts are beefing up their inventories of rental units because families have realized that campgrounds are ideal locations for fun and affordable family reunions.

At the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Larkspur, Colo., one family has rented nearly a third of the entire campground for the Fourth of July weekend, including RV sites, tent sites, safari tents, teepees and park model cabins.

“We thought a campground would a perfect location for a reunion because we wanted to involve our kids,” said Gaynell Garcia of Colorado, who estimates roughly 60 of her family members will participate in the July 4 reunion. And while many of Garcia’s family members have their own RVs and tents, she said the park model cabins are especially attractive to her parents and other older adults in the family.

And while Jellystone Parks are famous for their organized family activities, organizers of family reunions often develop their own games, crafts and activities, which help make their camping experience something they will always remember.

“We always do a craft,” Barber said. “Most campgrounds have areas where you can do crafts and we’ll have our whole family working on a craft. One year we worked with stained glass. Another year we made jewelry. We’ve also made tie-dye T-shirts.”

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RPTIA Elects New Officers for 1-Year Terms

June 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) seated new officers and board members during its May 4 board meeting held at the RV Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana.

New board members include Mike Atkinson of KOA in Billings, Mont.; Dave Burroughs of Woodland Park in Middlebury, Ind.; Jim Foltz of Forest River in Elkhart; Ind.; Joe Follman of Chariot Eagle in Ocala, Fla.; Tim Gage of Cavco Industries in Phoenix, Ariz.; Dick Grymonprez of Athens Park Homes; in Athens Texas; Larry Ladd of Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Pierceton, Ind.; Ted Huff of T.R. Arnold & Associates in Elkhart, Ind.; Alan Reder of NTA Inc. in Nappanee, Ind.; Dan Saltzgiver of Reichart’s Camping Center in Hanover, Penn.; Larry Smith of Stone Canyon Lodges in Haleyville, Ala.; John Soard of Fairmont Homes, Inc. in Nappanee, Ind.; and Tyler Steele of Canterbury Park Homes of Goshen, Ind.

The new board then elected from among its numbers Officers who will serve for the coming year.  Elected were Dick Grymonprez as president; Mike Atkinson, vice president; Secretary John Soard, and as treasurer, Tyler Steele. Joining the officers as members of the Executive Committee are Curt Yoder of Kropf Industries, Inc., from Goshen, Ind.; who previously served as RPTIA’s immediate past president; Jerome C. Loftus, Esq., RPTIA’s General Counsel from Warrenton, VA; and Bill Garpow, RPTIA’s executive director from Newnan, Ga.

In other action, RPTIA’s manufacturers discussed ways to improve park model sales through more diversified marketing efforts that include social media outreach as well as the association’s efforts to share intelligence on promising financing sources with its members, dealers and RV Parks.

Board members also discussed the association’s efforts to persuade the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to adopt the ANSI A119.5 as a mandated Standard required for vacation and seasonal units between 320 to 400 square feet, when erected on site, that would be exempted from the HUD Code for Manufactured Housing. HUD’s adoption of ANSI A119.5 would also serve to preempt the creation of any state or local codes that were different than the ANSI 119.5 Standard.

Based in Newnan, Ga., RPTIA is the national trade association that represents the park trailer or “park model” industry. More information is available on the association’s website at www.rptia.com.

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Park Trailer OEMs Say Worst is Behind Them

May 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Association sees brighter days ahead.

Association sees brighter days ahead.

The limited availability of financing continues to constrain the growth of the recreational park trailer industry.

But several Elkhart County manufacturers say their year-to-date sales are ahead of last year’s figures and most are confident that the worst of the recession is behind them, according to a news release.

“The campground industry’s continued demand for park models that they can use as rental units is really helping us this year,” said Bill Garpow, executive director of the Newnan, Ga.-based Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), which is having its quarterly board meeting today (May 4) at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.

Independently owned as operated campgrounds as well as parks affiliated with the major campground chains, such as Kampgrounds of America (KOA) and Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts are fueling much of the park model demand, Garpow said.

But even government-run parks are starting to invest in park models because they’ve seen the success that private campgrounds have had with rental units that can accommodate people who don’t have a tent or RV.

“Park models are a neat way to introduce people to camping who might not otherwise find their way into a campground,” Garpow said.

Most manufacturers across Elkhart County, for their part, are confident the worst of the recession is behind them.

“We’re clearly up off the bottom,” said Tim Howard, president and CEO of the Breckenridge Division of Damon Corp., a Thor company in Nappanee. “Our business is up 15% from last year.”

He added that consumer interest in park models is stronger this year than last year.

Curt Yoder, vice president of Kropf Industries Inc. in Goshen, said his company’s business has been good despite tight financing. “Our business has been quite good. We’ve been going full bore all year,” he said, adding that he is also seeing strong demand from Canada, which is driven in part by the strengthening Canadian dollar.

“Our Canadian business has been good, but they’re still fighting some of the same issues we are with the lack of available financing,” he said.

Jim Foltz, general manager of Forest River Inc.’s park trailer division in Elkhart, said he is seeing strong sales this year. “It’s much better than last year,” he said. “I look for it to stay steady this year.”

Dave Burroughs, national sales manager for Woodland Park Inc. in Middlebury, said his business has been “decent” this year.

“It has definitely not come back to the levels of 2006, 2007 or 2008, but it’s starting to come around,” he said. “Retail traffic is starting to pick up. We still have a lot of hurdles to jump over before people are going to spend their money as freely as they did in previous years, but I do believe there is some optimism out there.”

Other Elkhart County park trailer manufacturers aren’t convinced the worst is behind us, particularly with gas prices exceeding $4 a gallon.

“If it costs $30 more per week to fill a tank, that’s $120 per month that a customer no longer has in disposable income,” said John Soard, general manager of Fairmont Park Trailers in Nappanee.

Still, Soard expects his company’s sales to be at least on par with last year’s figures.

Tyler Steele, vice president of Canterbury RV in Goshen, also expects his 2011 sales to match last year’s figures, but financing remains tight. “Retail financing continues to be an issue,” he said. “The low end product is selling better than the mid-range, while the high end products are usually cash deals.”

In their board meeting today, RPTIA manufacturers plan to discuss ways to improve park model sales through more diversified marketing efforts that include social media outreach as well as the association’s efforts to share intelligence on promising financing sources with its members.

RPTIA is also working to persuade the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to recognize a federal building code standard for park trailers that would supercede state and local codes, the idea being to establish a uniform code that would apply to all park trailer manufacturers.

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Park Models to Rebound ‘Slow and Gradual’

September 24, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

William Garpow, RPTIA

William Garpow, RPTIA

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.”

New Pinnacle Park Homes park model with twin porches

New Pinnacle Park Homes park model with twin porches

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.”

Some of the park models on display at last week's Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show in Hershey, Pa.

Some of the park models on display at last week's Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show in Hershey, Pa.

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.”

Fairmont Park Trailer display at Hershey show.

Fairmont Park Trailer display at Hershey show.

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.

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RPTIA/RVIA Reunification Talks on Track

May 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

RPTIA logoThe Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) is on track for further reunification discussions with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) following a Thursday RPTIA board meeting.

The meeting at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., took place amid a rising tide for park model manufacturers, according to Bill Garpow, RPTIA executive director, whose association has reported that wholesale shipments for the first quarter were 800 units. ”We’re coming back,” Garpow told RVBUSINESS.com. ”It’s slow, but it’s definitely coming back.”

Garpow said the board had a long discussion about rejoining RVIA.

”No decision has been reached at this point,” said Garpow. ”The position the association has taken is to continue discussions with RVIA and do so in a positive nature and find out exactly what (reunification) would look like and how it would work.,”

”I can’t really say how a (RPTIA) vote would go at this point. If a vote was taken today, some are strongly against it and some are strongly in favor of it.”

Fifteen of about 40 RPTIA manufacture-members that have votes on the RPTIA board attended the Thursday meeting during which they voted to change RPTIA’s board structure.

Representatives of the two organizations previously scheduled an Aug. 26 meeting in Elkhart to continue talks.

”We want to be able to go to our members and say, ‘Here’s the package’ and go forward from there,” Garpow said.

”We don’t have any crisis things that are in the mill. It’s not like RPTIA can’t exist without the merger. We’re solvent and the future looks good. We can continue to function as an organization, either autonomously, or, if the board decides, as a product within RVIA.”

Those opposed to reunification are mostly concerned about RPTIA members ”being able to control our own destiny,” Garpow said.

”That’s probably the big objection — not having the controls we would like to have to do that, including staff and being able to make autonomous decisions.”

On the other hand, proponents of the merger point to RVIA’s strength as an asset.

”RVIA is a heck of a lot bigger, been around longer, is financially stronger and has excellent connections legislatively,” Garpow said. ”They’ve got everything in place.”

Park model manufacturers were RVIA members until October 1994 when they left the organization and formed their own group based in the Atlanta suburb of Newnan, Ga. Talks to reunify the two groups have been on and off for more than a year.

In regard to the recreational park trailer market, Garpow said that manufacturers are reporting that production is increasing like the rest of the RV industry and that workers are being called back after the extended recession.

”The optimism is coming from the manufacturers who are telling me things are better,” Garpow said. ”Many of the manufacturers will tell you they are back to producing on a daily basis and they are building a backlog — not huge numbers, but they are coming back.

‘We’re not ringing any bells,” he added. ”There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed — the big one being where the financing is coming from. Where’s the money?”

During the Thursday meeting, the RPTIA board voted to reorganize the board structure to have 13 members elected to four-year terms to include eight manufacturers, two suppliers, a park trailer dealer and two campground owners.

”It will be a lot less unwieldy,” Garpow said. ”And being elected, we hope there will be a push toward members coming to all the meetings so that people will know what the issues are.”

The board also heard a report on a pre-rule making process by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which may consider changes in the park model exemption from HUD standards, Garpow said.

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Campgrounds Diversifying with Rentals

May 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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.”

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ANSI OK’s New Standards for Park Trailers

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

ANSI logoThe American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has approved the recommendations of the 2009 Canvass Committee on Recreational Park Trailers to update the ANSI A119.5 Standard for Recreational Park Trailers.

Numerous changes and revisions were made to the approximately 500 building and safety requirements specified in the code, including codes that govern the requirements for arc-fault circuit breakers, tamper resistant electrical receptacles, anchoring systems, propane pressure relief and shutoff valves, gas piping materials, warning labels, carbon monoxide alarms, toilet venting, cleanout fittings, outdoor receptacles approved for outdoor locations and health notices involving formaldehyde emissions.

The new codes were formally circulated on March 1, and the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association’s (RPTIA) board of directors has indicated that the new standard will apply to all RPTIA inspections effective as of Sept. 1, the RPTIA stated in a news release.

Copies of the new standard are only available as a 48-page printed publication by contacting RPTIA at (770) 251-2672 or info@rptia.com. The cost of the publication is $39 for non-members and $36 for members, clubs, associations and government agencies and includes priority mail postage and handling.

Individuals serving on the 2009 Canvass Committee on Recreational Park Trailers included Chuck Ballard, Pacific West Associates, Inc.; Larry Beineke, PFS Corp.; Tom Brandt, Fairmont Homes Inc.; Robert A Denman, Pleasant Acres Campground; Philip Gauthier, AHRI; John Harvey, state of Washington; Robert Holliday, Chariot Eagle Inc.; Ted Huff, T.R. Arnold & Associates; Bill Hug, WMH Consulting; James Keller, Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council; David Mihalick, Thor Industries Inc.; Jerry Miller, Woodland Park Inc.; Michael Neidlinger, Skyline Corp.; Paul Probst, North American Forest Products Inc.; Kirk Rensberger, NTA Inc.; Bruce J. Swiecicki, National Propane Gas Association; Monte Taylor, Oregon Building Codes Division; John Walters, Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.; and Dennis Webber, RADCO.

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Park Trailer Builders See Signs of Upturn

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

RPTIA logoAfter enduring the biggest downturn in the history of the recreational park trailer business, several recreational park trailer manufacturers are reporting increased sales and renewed interest in their products, which are used by consumers as vacation cottages and by campgrounds as rental accommodations, according to a Recreational Park Trailer Industry Assocation (RPTIA) news release.

“It looks like spring is definitely going to be better than it was last year,” said Tim Howard, president and CEO of the Breckenridge Division of Damon Motor Coach, a Thor Industries Inc. company in Nappanee, Ind., that has long been one of the largest park model manufacturers in the country.

“In the past two months, we have seen a better market, a better demand for products, broadly, than we saw during the same period last year. This is an encouragement, certainly, because it was a long, painful ‘off’ season.”

Granted, Howard said his company’s backlog is still “not anywhere near what it would have been in normal times three years ago,” but it’s moving in the right direction.

“Several park trailer manufacturers are saying their orders are up at least 10% to 15% from where they were a year ago,” said RPTIA Executive Director William Garpow, whose association represents park trailer manufacturers. “Of course, park trailer shipments were down about 50% last year, so we’ve still got a long ways to go to get back where we were three years ago, but at least we’re heading in the right direction.”

Indeed, several Elkhart County, Ind., park trailer manufacturers say they are seeing a sustained increase in orders and inquiries this year, which they say bodes well for the future.

“Business is a little better than last year,” said Dave Burrows, national sales manager for Middlebury, Ind.-based Woodland Park. “It’s definitely not the 2006, 2007 or 2008 numbers. But consumer optimism and demand here over the last two months has started to increase, which is nice to see. Prior to that, dealers were extremely nervous and skittish about putting any product on their lots. Now they’re starting to see traffic coming in. My dealers are more optimistic this year than they were last year.”

“Sales are up nicely,” said Jim Foltz, general manager of Forest River Inc. in Elkhart.

Other companies say they are seeing even stronger business levels.

“So far this year, our business seems to be back to normal for us,” said Curt Yoder, vice president of Kropf Industries Inc. in Goshen, Ind. “There’s definitely much better activity and interest this year compared to last year. We’re running at full capacity now and we hope to continue that.”

Olin Wenrick, president and CEO of Elkhart-based Trophy Homes Inc. said his business is up, too, this year, but is still off about 50% from where it used to be. But Wenrick said he is optimistic about his business prospects this year. “We’re beginning the climb,” he said.

Other park trailer manufacturers across the country are similarly optimistic.

“Our park trailer business year-to-date is up over last year for January, February and March,” said Dick Grymonprez, vice president of marketing for Athens Park Homes in Athens, Texas. “We’re encouraged that it’s going to be a better year.”

Grymonprez added that the biggest impediment to improving park trailer sales is the same impediment facing every other industry in the country: limited bank financing.

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