When Cleyardis Yilmaz joined Thousand Trails two years ago and gained access to all of the company’s recreational vehicle resorts and campgrounds in North America, she didn’t know it would change her life.
According to a report in the Virginian-Pilot, the eighth-grade English teacher visited a campground in Orlando, Fla., in 2010, rented a cabin and discovered she enjoyed the vacation so much that she wanted to find a campground closer to her Virginia home in Lakeview.
She not only found Outdoor World Williamsburg, just off Interstate 64 near Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, Yorktown and Jamestown, but she also found a second home – called a “park model” cottage – that she was able to purchase.
The 28-foot-long unit sits smack dab in the middle of the RV resort, close to the indoor and outdoor pool, adult hot tub and pickleball and miniature golf courses.
Yilmaz makes the 45-minute-to-an-hour drive every weekend to visit her unit, tend to her plants on the deck and partake in the park’s amenities.
“I’m enjoying the adult lounge,” Yilmaz said recently during one of the hottest days of the summer. “I’m working on a puzzle right now.”
While these units are nothing new to the outdoor recreation industry, more and more resorts are selling them and offering sites on their properties where people, like Yilmaz, can get away and own a second home without shelling out a lot of money.
“In the last few years, with the economy being what it is, it’s become – for Middle America – an affordable second-home option,” said David Gorin, executive director of the Virginia Campground Association (VCA).
The park models – called that because they can be parked anywhere – also are know as “recreational, transportable homes,” “park trailers,” “cabins” or “cottages.”
Legally, park models are recreational vehicles, Gorin said, and always have a place in RV parks. But they mainly stay put.
Basically, they are suites of no more than 400 square feet that come in all kinds of configurations, Gorin said.
“In many parks, they are there as rental units,” Gorin said. “If you want to go to an RV park, and you don’t own an RV, you have an option of renting a cabin or park model.”
To read the entire article in the Virginian-Pilot click here.
After reaching an agreement in March with the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) to represent recreational park trailer manufacturers as members, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) officially welcomed 16 park trailer companies as members on July 2.
According to a news release, RPTIA significantly scaled back operations and members services on the same day as part of the two-year trial period stipulated in the agreement.
“The park trailer industry is excited to be back in the RVIA fold. The RVIA standards, inspection and seals process, combined with phenomenal PR and government affairs capabilities are what compelled us to keep working to find a place at the RVIA table. It’s a great day,” said Fairmont Homes’ John Soard, chairman of the newly-formed RVIA Recreational Park Trailer Committee.
Recreational park trailer manufacturer members of RVIA are now fully integrated members of the organization with all the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as manufacturers of any other RV type.
As a result, the first RVIA standards plant inspection of a recreational park trailer manufacturing plant took place on July 3 as RVIA inspectors fanned out across the country to inspect park trailer manufacturers to the ANSI A119.5 standard, which in turn allows RVIA park trailer members to affix the new RVIA A119.5 seal to the units they produce.
Park trailer members are served within RVIA by a full-time dedicated executive director, Matt Wald, who spent the last eight years in the RVIA government affairs department. “It has taken a lot of work over the past three months to integrate our new park trailer members into RVIA. But that effort was just the beginning. Next up will be strategic planning, where we will map out the priorities and opportunities for the park trailer segment of the RV industry. And once we’ve planned the work, we will work that plan,” said Wald.
According to RVIA President Richard Coon, “This is a classic win-win. RVIA is made stronger with the inclusion of park trailer manufacturers, and the park trailer OEMs will be very well served by RVIA.”
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) has named Matt Wald to the newly created position of park trailer executive director, according to a press release.
RVIA and the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) recently reached an agreement for park trailer manufacturers to join RVIA as members. One of the conditions of that agreement was the creation of the park trailer executive director position within RVIA to guide association efforts for this membership segment on a daily basis.
RVIA will begin soliciting and accepting companies as park trailer members in April. Wald will officially assume the executive director position on July 2, spending the interim time transitioning from his current role as government affairs director.
“I’m excited to welcome Matt to this new role representing park trailer manufacturers,” said RVIA President Richard Coon. “With his strong government relations and public affairs background, he is uniquely qualified to serve the interests of the park trailer industry both within RVIA, but also more importantly to the world.”
In his new role, Wald will be responsible for promoting and protecting the interests of park trailer manufacturer members, including: monitoring and acting on federal, state and local legislative issues; preparing, analyzing and distributing market data and demographics; managing the ongoing process of creating and updating the ANSI A119.5 national safety standard for park trailers; serving as the liaison between RVIA and the media to promote the recreational park trailer industry as well as acting as an industry spokesperson with government agencies, industry trade groups and at industry trade shows. He will also serve as staff liaison and manage the affairs of RVIA’s newly-formed recreational park trailer standing committee.
Wald has worked as RVIA’s director of government affairs since 2003 with the responsibility of lobbying state and federal governments on issues impacting the RV industry. Before joining RVIA, Wald served as director of federal and state government programs at the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association. He also was director of government affairs for both the American Subcontractors Association and the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) have announced an agreement under which park trailer manufacturers will be able to join RVIA as members.
“This is something our members of RPTIA have been talking about for a long time. We feel this is the best time to move forward, and we are excited to be working with RVIA to better the park trailer and destination camping industry,” said Dick Grymonprez, chairman of RPTIA and vice president of sales and marketing for Athens Park Homes.
“We are very happy to welcome park trailer manufacturers as RVIA members,” said RVIA President Richard Coon. “We look forward to representing them and firmly believe that we can leverage our association services and programs to help these companies achieve their goals.”
RVIA’s board approved the agreement to have park trailer manufacturers join the association at its March 5 meeting in Palm Springs, Calif. In January, the RPTIA board and membership had a vote to suspend operations contingent upon favorable negotiations and the joint acceptance of a workable plan between RVIA and RPTIA that would result in park trailer manufacturers being allowed to join RVIA as voting members.
The agreement reached calls for a two-year trial period. RPTIA will “safe harbor” or “mothball” its association for these two years, pending an agreement of both parties to continue having RVIA represent park trailer manufacturers. An effective date of when park trailer manufacturers can join RVIA will be determined in the coming weeks.
As conditions of park trailer manufacturers joining RVIA:
• Park trailer members will have two representatives on the board.
• RVIA will form a Park Trailer Committee as one of the association’s standing committees.
• RVIA will continue the Destination Camping Committee and its efforts to study and recommend initiatives to grow this market segment.
• RVIA will hire a full-time senior level staff person who will report to Coon. This person will be responsible for providing guidance, managing information, serving as a spokesperson and representing park trailer manufacturers’ best interests.
• ANSI A119.5 will be recognized and accepted as a park trailer standard and will be maintained by RVIA’s Standards Steering Committee. RVIA inspectors will inspect park trailer plants at least twice per year.
• RVIA will continue efforts to have HUD accept the A119.5 as an exception to the Construction Code.
• RVIA’s Government Affairs Department will represent the legislative interests of recreational park trailer manufacturers at both the state and federal levels.
• Park trailers members will be treated the same in terms of participation at the National RV Trade Show, with the understanding that there are size restrictions.
The Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) is surveying its 45 members on their opinion about reuniting with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Votes will be tallied the end of the month and the RPTIA board will go from there, RPTIA Executive Director William Garpow told Woodall’s Campground Management.
An affirmative vote would put the RPTIA into a state of suspension dependent upon subsequent actions by the RPTIA and RVIA boards, Garpow said.
To view the entire article click here.
The Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) has begun a nationwide search for a new executive director, according to a report by Woodall’s Campground Management.
Current executive William “Bill” Garpow announced today (Nov. 30) that a tentative timeline for transition to retirement has been put in place. He said he will remain as executive director until a successor is hired and will help with training.
The RPTIA also may move its current office in Newnan, Ga., to Northern Indiana, where more than half of its members are based.
Garpow, 70, cited health reasons for his decision.
“As you may be aware, in late September I had extensive surgery performed at Wake Forest Medical Center that, thankfully, went very well. Though my doctors tell me that I can now consider myself as a 70-year-old cancer survivor, it was nonetheless a life-changing event that brought me to the realization that it was time for me to consider retirement,” he stated in an announcement.
“In talking with the RPTIA board regarding this change of my priorities, a tentative timeline for the transition was put in place. Plans are that I’ll continue as usual until the board retains its new director and then remain available to provide any needed training. In total, this process could take as much as two years,” he stated.
The salary will likely be close to six figures plus benefits to include a contribution toward health and life insurance as well as a possible matching funds retirement package, Garpow speculated, though not tying the RPTIA board to these terms.
Woodall’s Campground Management reported that Garpow has been RPTIA’s only executive director. He has been an integral member of the manufactured housing and RV industries since the 1960s. Due to his health, he was unable to attend this week’s National RV Trade Show for the first time in 40 years.
RPTIA is a non-profit trade association whose members are the manufacturers, suppliers and service firms producing park trailers. The association also represents allied associations whose members primarily represent the retailers, RV parks or resorts in the United States. RPTIA exists to unite all recognized segments of the industry so they may, in consort, have effective influence upon matters of public interest involving the betterment of the industry. The association members produce 90% of the park trailers built in the U.S.
Upon joining RPTIA, manufacturers are required to sign a pledge that they will build park trailers that conform with the A119.5 Standard.
The RPTIA was formed as an off-shoot of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
“Financially, RPTIA has a sound operating reserve and has made the necessary cuts to keep us in balance,” Garpow noted. “As such, we feel confident that the association will be able to operate until the economy improves even with the expected delays.”
The committee scheduled to meet on Jan. 11 will, in full confidence, review the résumes and proposals as part of the selection process, he said. At this meeting, they will choose three or four potential candidates for a subsequent face-to-face meeting. The final selection and resulting offer to the chosen candidate could be made in the spring.
Inquiries should be directed to Garpow at (770) 251-2672 or (770) 634-8500 (cell).
The on-going battle involving the Lake Adventure Recreation Vehicle Park in Pennsylvania’s Pike County continued Sept. 29 before the Dingman Township Zoning Hearing Board.
The board was hearing an appeal of a permit denial that would have allowed trailers with larger bodies – specifically park models – requiring state travel permits to be placed in the campground, The Pike County Courier, Milford, reported.
Lake Adventure attorney Tammy Clause and Dingman Township Solicitor John Klemeyer debated on the standards by which a recreational vehicle is measured. The township’s definition of a recreational vehicle was amended in June, setting a maximum size of 400 square feet (in use) and width (for transport) no greater than 8 1/2 feet, but trailers requiring state permitting were disallowed. The campground wants this last provision amended.
The size requirement was previously only in effect for travel trailers, but now encompass all recreational vehicles.
The amendment to the initial zoning ordinance, which came as a result of the alleged environmental damage caused by larger recreational vehicles, poses problems for residents of the Lake Adventure community who own vehicles that exceed the mandated 300 square feet and which now require special permits to move their trailers.
The Lake Adventure community and its contracted engineer, Robert Ferri of Nicholas Engineering, claim the 400-square-foot units have little impact on the environment, stating on the Lake Adventure website that “the new units actually have a positive impact on our [Lake Adventure’s] infrastructure and ecological environmental impact.”
During the meeting, Clause argued, as she had previously, that the board’s zoning amendment did not comply with other nationwide regulations for recreation vehicles. She additionally defended the lack of pollutants emitted from the 400-square-foot models.
In order to emphasize her point, she relied on the testimony of three witnesses: Lake Adventure Compliance Officer Kenny Ranoul, Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) board member John Soard, and Lake Adventure board member Tom Annunziata.
Ranoul testified that of the 1,964 billable lots in Lake Adventure, 1,732 are occupied and 989 are park model units. Of those park model units, Ranoul said, 983 have slideouts, or models that expand to reach a width greater than 12 feet. Under the amended ordinance, slideouts would not classify as recreational vehicles and would consequently require a special highway hauling permit to be brought into Lake Adventure.
“There is no other community that is restricted by a hauling permit except for Lake Adventure Community Association,” Clause said, to Klemeyer’s objection.
“That’s simply not true,” he countered. “All recreational vehicles within the township must comply with the zoning ordinance.”
Following Klemeyer’s cross examination of Ranoul, in which Lake Adventure’s definition of a travel trailer was debated further, witnesses John Soard and Tom Annunziata took the stand.
Soard, affiliated with park model builder Fairmont Park Trailers in Nappanee, Ind., testified that he knew of no other jurisdictions in which 400-square-foot units required a hauling permit, prompting attorney Clause to make the case that the township’s amendment is not uniform with the rest of the state or even with the rest of the country. Annunziata added that as a newcomer to the community in 1989, he moved in under the assumption that recreational vehicles of all types were welcome.
With the three witnesses at rest, Clause attempted to present a report on the lack of environmental damage caused by the recreational vehicles in Lake Adventure. Her attempt prompted Klemeyer to object, claiming it was unrelated to the case at hand.
The board sided with Klemeyer.
Saying he lacked the resources to make a final argument, Klemeyer requested another meeting to finalize the proceedings. Despite Clause’s vehement objections, a new meeting was scheduled for Oct. 27 at 5 p.m.
Today’s Video No. 1 comes from WNDU TV, South Bend, Ind., as representatives from the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) discuss the impact of gas prices.
Members of the RPTIA are concerned about gas prices but remain hopeful that RVers will continue to enjoy camping. The association is currently holding its quarterly board meeting at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.
“Obviously as discretionary spending gets tighter because of the gas prices, it does create a little bit of a tough situation for consumers looking to purchase a model whether it be a park model or travel trailer,” said John Soard, general manager of Fairmont Park Trailers in Nappanee, Ind.
In the meantime efforts are being made to allow people to “test out trailers.” Recently, Kampgrounds of America (KOA) campsites started renting out park trailers, which they call lodges.
“As the economy has faltered a bit, what we’ve found is that people still want to camp,” said KOA’s Director of Lodging Mike Atkinson. “They still want that experience but don’t want to afford that huge investment.”
Locally, the park trailers or lodges at the KOA campsite in Granger, Ind., are usually booked for the entire summer and during the University of Notre Dame football season. They cost about $99 a night.
Last July the RVIA board approved an increase in the seal fee from $4 to $35 as the RV industry was in the midst of the worst sales slump in more than 30 years. Seal fees and income from two major shows — the Louisville National RV Trade Show and the retail California RV Show in Pomona — are RVIA’s primary source of income.
The board’s action Thursday rolls back part of that increase. The board also ordered that a board subcommittee review seal fees in 90 days to determine whether further reductions are warranted, according to RVIA President Richard Coon.
”Business has picked up better than we originally expected,” Coon told RVBusiness. ”Sales the first part of the year have been better than we expected. And now that we are doing better, we are going to back off the seal fees.
”We all agreed when we put in the increase that it was only temporary.”
The GoRVing market expansion assessment will remain unchanged at $46 for folding camping trailers and truck campers; $61 for travel trailers and fifth-wheels; and $74 for motorhomes.
The on-and-off negotiations between RVIA and RPTIA are on again at the request of RPTIA, which abruptly called off talks last fall.
RPTIA Chairman Curt Yoder, vice president of park trailer manufacturer Kropf Industries Inc., spoke to the RVIA board Thursday about restarting the unification talks.
”Our door is always open to that,” Coon said. ”He explained that when they took the vote (to call off negotiations) that there was a misunderstanding. We are interested in seeing if we can pull the thing together.”
Coon said he hoped that a decision could be made by Jan. 1.
”When we first started talking we had a goal of working toward January 2011,” Coon said. ”That might still be reasonable. We worked through most of the issues in our earlier discussions.”
In addition, the RVIA board voted to invite RPTIA members to display product at the 2010 Louisville Show scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 4 at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
In other action the RVIA board:
- Amended the association bylaws to have interim appointments to the board complete the remainder of the term for the seat that is being assumed. Previously, board appointees were required to stand for re-election in the next association elections.
- Named the following to the board: Dometic’s Doug Whyte to the Supplier seat vacated by Art Wyatt, who recently retired from the company; Evergreen Recreational Vehicles LLC’s Mike Schoeffler to the RV Manufacturer seat vacated by Dynamax Corp.’s DeWayne Creighton, who resigned; and Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.’s Jonathan Randall to the At-Large seat vacated by Country Coach’s Jay Howard, who resigned.
- Approved the FY2009 audit report recommended by the Audit Committee and delegated authority to the committee to review and accept the association’s annual filing of IRS Form 990.
- Increased the fee for units entering the California RV Show’s demo area from $125 to $200 starting this year.
- Named Newmar Corp. President Matt Miller to replace Jayco’s Dave Eash on the RVDA/RVIA Technicians Certification Governing Board.
- Announced that the September RVIA board meeting will be Sept. 14-15 at the Hotel Park City in Park City, Utah.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) board of directors Thursday (April 1) will discuss reducing the seal fees members are charged for each unit they build. In addition, it will consider reopening discussions with the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) about a possible merger or reunification.
Originally scheduled for Feb. 11, the meeting at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C., was postponed by a snowstorm that buried the East Coast.
”I think it’s going to be an upbeat meeting from the standpoint that the industry is doing a lot better than a year ago or even when we met in Washington in June for Committee Week,” said RVIA Chairman Jim Sheldon, a Monaco RV LLC executive.
The fact that the RV industry appears to be in recovery mode following the worst economic slump in 30 years has prompted consideration of reduced seal fees. February wholesale shipments were the best they’ve been in nearly two years, and seasonally adjusted, represented an annualized total shipment rate of more than 231,000 units.
RVIA’s board last June increased the portion of the seal that goes directly to the organization — as opposed to supporting the industrywide Go RVing Coalition — from $4 to $35 per unit.
”At that time, the association was bleeding money,” Sheldon said. ”At the same time, the members didn’t want us to throttle back on dealing with the issues of concern to the association. We needed something to shore up our reserves, particularly because of what we thought would be reduced levels of show revenues from the Louisville and Pomona shows.”
With shipments increasing and retail RV sales recovering, at least to some degree, Sheldon said, the board will consider reducing the seal fee.
”Rather than saying that the new fees are the new paradigm, the board will be looking to see if we can reduce that fee somewhat because we are doing well.”
A recommendation on whether to reduce the seal fee will be made to the full board by the RVIA Executive Committee that will meet Wednesday.
Sheldon said he couldn’t say whether the board will vote to reduce the seal fee. ”I don’t want to second guess the board,” he said.
Surprisingly, the on-again-off-again question of whether RVIA and RPTIA will reunify follows a vote by RPTIA members to overturn a RPTIA board decision last November to ”cease all negotiations” with RVIA.
The talks had been going on for a year and their abrupt cancellation came as a surprise to RVIA.
Bill Garpow, RPTIA executive director, said the second vote occurred after some members argued there ”hadn’t been a straight up-or-down vote” on the question during initial balloting.
”We are saying that we would like to continue the discussions,” Garpow said. ”It was not a vote on whether we will merge with (RVIA) or reunify with them.”
Recreation park trailer 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.
”(RVIA President) Richard Coon and I are both pleased that they have rethought their position and that they want to reopen the negotiations,” Sheldon said. ”Our board is already on the record of wanting to listen to what they have to say.”
RPTIA President Curt Yoder, vice president and co-owner of park trailer manufacturer Kropf Industries Inc., will speak to the RVIA board about reopening negotiations.
Also at the board meeting, reports on the association’s activities will be given by Sheldon and Coon, while RVIA Treasurer Bob Olson of Winnebago Industries Inc. will review the association’s financial standing and present the Audit Committee’s report for fiscal year 2009.
Also planned is a look at the RV market’s future from RVIA Vice President of Administration Mac Bryan, a report on RV Centennial activities from RVIA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Gary LaBella and an update on legislative issues from RVIA Vice President of Government Affairs Dianne Farrell.
Mike Atkinson, Kampground of America Inc.’s (KOA) facilities development manager, has been elected to the Recreation Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) board of directors.
Newnan, Ga.-based RPTIA is a nonprofit trade association that represents and provides information and assistance to all segments of the park model and trailer industry, government agencies, media and product owners or potential owners.
Atkinson, known to KOA franchisees as ‘The Lodge Guy,’ is considered to be one of the leading experts on park models in the camping industry, according to a news release, and has been facilities development manager for Billings, Mont.-based KOA for three years.
Since 2006, Atkinson has collaboratively designed, engineered, manufactured, marketed and sold a new line of park models specifically for the outdoor hospitality environment, branded the KOA Lodge. Prior to working with KOA, he was a franchise owner himself, as well as a business owner in the construction and engineering fields.
“I am looking forward to sharing a campground perspective that incorporates an understanding of marketing, sales and end-user demands,” said Atkinson. “I’m honored to help RPTIA successfully navigate future challenges and leverage exciting opportunities.”
Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial that appeared in the Press of Atlantic City, N.J.
Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), (yes, there’s a national association for everything) wants to be perfectly clear:
He agrees that so-called “park model” campers, which are 400 square feet at their largest, are not designed to be year-round homes. And, in fact, New Jersey law clearly states that campgrounds cannot be full-time legal domiciles, says Garpow.
However, the current attempt by the state of New Jersey to allow people to use their park-model campers only six months of the year is arbitrary and foolish, says the head of the national association, which is based in Newnan, Ga. And he’s right. Why shouldn’t someone be able to enjoy their camper for a weekend in, say, late fall if they want to?
Furthermore, New Jersey is the only state in the nation to claim that the National Electric Code requires it to force campgrounds to close six months of the year because of the wiring in park-model campers. New Jersey, says Garpow, is “interpreting (the code) uniquely.”
There’s a surprise, huh?
Last year, the state Department of Community Affairs began imposing a six-month limit on how long campgrounds can be open; the six-month period starts on opening day of a particular campground.
The state says this is necessary because under the National Electric Code, the wiring in park models is not sufficient. Nonsense, say Garpow and others. They say the wiring, at least in newer models, is the same as in a single-family house.
So … what is the state up to?
Garpow says he isn’t sure. At best, the state is using a backhanded approach to ensure that campgrounds don’t become full-time, year-round residences for people — particularly, we suspect, for people who might send children to the local schools.
But the issue here is whether people who own park models should have access to them for weekend getaways or vacations whenever they want — or only when the state of New Jersey says they can.
The New Jersey Campground Owners Association, which is based in Middle Township, is fighting the new rules. A spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs says it is willing to work with the association to come up with a reasonable solution.
May we suggest that the first step should be for the state to be honest about what it is hoping to accomplish and why?
If the issue is really campgrounds that morph into full-time residences more like trailer parks — and then, presumably, “overload” local services and schools without paying a “fair” share of taxes — then talk about that, rather than rely on some arbitrary and unique interpretation of the National Electric Code.
Like other RV manufacturers, recreational park trailer builders have been hard hit by the recession, with unit shipments being roughly half of what they were in 2006, when a record number of 10,100 shipments were recorded.
“I think the market is starting to improve. We’ve seen some movement in the marketplace. And a few manufactures even report having a small backlog, which is something that we haven’t experienced in the past year,” Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) in Newnan, Ga., told RV Business.
But manufacturers remain cautious about the economy, and generally don’t see the recreational park trailer or “park model” industry to rebound until the nation’s banks are in better financial shape.
“As I talk to my contemporaries, I’m hearing the same from everyone, that it’s really tough out there. And what business is out there is really tough to get,” said Tim Howard, president and CEO of the Breckenridge Division of Damon Corp., a Thor Industries Inc. company in Nappanee, Ind.
Like most manufacturers, Breckenridge has had to dramatically scale back its work force to remain viable during the current economic downturn. “We’re in very good shape,” Howard said. “Our balance sheet continues to be very strong. We have virtually no debt.”
But as a manufacturer, he said, it has been “heartbreaking” to have to let staff go because of the economic downturn. “You have an emotional bond to quality people and an investment in quality people,” Howard said, adding that Breckenridge has just over half as many employees as it did a few years ago, when the park model industry was experiencing record sales.
But even though all segments of the RV industry have been particularly hard hit by the current recession, Howard and other park model manufacturers and industry officials believe the park model industry still has a long ways to go to reach its full potential.
“I’ve always said this market is in its infancy, and I still do, especially given the trend from a transient to permanent camper,” said John Soard, a longtime park model industry executive who spent 20 years with Breckenridge and Middlebury, Ind.-based Woodland Park before becoming general manager of Nappanee, Ind.-based Fairmont Park Trailers in 2005.
Indeed, Soard and other park model manufacturers believe consumer interest in “destination camping” will continue to increase, and as it does so will demand for park models.
Soard, in fact, noted that many of the leading RV manufacturers are now building towable trailers up to the 400-square foot limit precisely because they believe consumer interest in destination camping is growing. “Each one of these major RV manufacturers has a destination travel trailer that’s intended to be parked, not towed,” Soard said.
Garpow, for his part, noted that park models remain one of the most profitable investments campground owners can make, a point that was underscored by Atkinson of KOA. Park model rentals typically generate two or three times as much revenue as a typical RV site, plus they stay rented for longer periods of time throughout the year. “Park models not only generate more revenue, but they do it for longer periods of time than a typical RV site,” Garpow said, adding that campground owners often generate enough income from their park models to pay them off in three years or less.
Garpow also noted that the Obama administration’s efforts to increase CAFÉ standards could further increase demand for park models. “One way to increase fuel economy is to produce lighter vehicles as well as vehicles with smaller engines, the net effect of which is to reduce the vehicle’s towing capacity. But as towing capacities are reduced, it’s going to be harder for consumers to find vehicles that can tow the biggest trailers, and that could lead to increased demand for park models or for destination camping.”
As a result, he said, many consumers may find it easier to purchase park models that are professional installed on permanent campsites than large travel trailers or fifth wheels that require a tow vehicle. This is precisely what happened when CAFÉ standards were increased in the late 1970s and 80s. In fact, the resulting reduction in vehicle towing capacities helped foster the birth of the park model industry.
Garpow also noted that many of the nation’s campgrounds have yet to open their doors to park models, either for rentals or sales, and that represents a significant growth opportunity for park model manufacturers.
Many campground operators say they are pleased with the return of investment on park models, including Jeff Gordon of Raintree RV Park in Rockport, Texas, which sits along the Gulf Coast roughly 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi. In addition to 80 RV sites, Gordon also offers one cabin, two fifth wheels and four park models for rent.
“We’re actually going to phase out the fifth wheels and just go with park models,” Gordon said, adding, “All of our requests are for park models. They’re nicer accommodations, and that’s what people want in this area.”
Coincidentally, Gordon had to interrupt his interview with RV Business to answer questions from a woman who called on another line to reserve one of his park models. He said he’s also had some people change their vacation plans to coincide with days when he has park models available.
Such is the demand for park model accommodations, which is why campgrounds and RV parks continue to invest in these units, even during the current recession.
“Roughly 25-30% of the nation’s private campgrounds offer park models as rental units, and the numbers are growing,” said Garpow of RPTIA.
Mike Atkinson, facilities development manager for Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), said his company’s park models, which it markets as Kamping Lodges, have the highest occupancy rate of any category of rental accommodation in the KOA system. He said KOA parks had taken deliver of 163 park models as of early June.
KOA, like other campgrounds, furnishes its park models with beds, linens and kitchen utensils. “Our numbers show that the customers who are coming to our campgrounds want lodging that has amenities,” Atkinson said. “They want a bathroom. They want a comfortable bed. And they don’t want to pack their car with everything. They don’t want the labor.”
Park operators often invest in park models so that they can have rental units available for people who don’t have their own RV. Many park operators also take it a step further and form their own park model dealerships. This way, they can potentially make a profit on the sale of the park model in addition to generating ongoing revenue from the campsites they lease to park model owners.
Some parks also set up rental pools using the park models they have sold at their parks. This way, the owners can make money on their park models when they’re not using them.
While park models have long been a rental option of choice for Winter Texans, Gordon of Raintree RV Park said boating enthusiasts also like to rent them as well. “We’re on the coast, so we get a lot of people from San Antonio, Austin and Houston and the surrounding areas,” Gordon said. “But if they’re pulling their own boat down, they can’t pull a camper, too.”
Park models are also ideally suited for campgrounds in popular tourist destinations that want to broaden their business base to compete with hotels and motels.
Crater Lake RV Resort in Fort Klamath, Ore., purchased three park models in 2006 and installed a fourth one this year. “They are our most requested cabin,” said resort owner Babe Hamilton, whose park also features 14 RV sites. “They’re just a nice looking cabin with the wood siding. They all have their own gas barbecue on the deck, and they’re right on the creek. It’s a very nice setting.”
Some private park owners are also finding that park models can be used for more than guest accommodations.
At the River’s Edge at Deer Park in Heber, Utah, which is close to the Deer Valley and Park City ski resorts, Cavco park models are being used not only as guest accommodations, but as seasonal employee housing for during the winter months, said resort owner John Kenworthy.
“We’re continuing to expand the lodging part of our business,” Kenworthy said, adding that his park models remain are in high demand.
Garpow and Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), are scheduled to discuss the merits of investing in park models on Sept. 15 during the 41st annual Pennsylvania RV and Campground Show in Hershey, Pa. The show features the largest park model expo in the country.
The executive committee of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) will meet twice within the next two weeks to discuss an alliance the trade group is seeking to form with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
”We are at this point still trying to work out issues that we have concerning both parties,” said RPTIA Executive Director William R. Garpow, who said RPTIA leaders will meet by phone next Tuesday and in person April 20 in Elkhart, Ind.
”The fact that we are talking is a good thing,” Garpow said.
A joint meeting between representative of the two associations is scheduled for April 29 in Chicago to discuss the relationship of the two associations going forward.
At the core of the discussions are the square-footage standards for travel trailers and fifth-wheels that RVIA allows its members to build.
At a March 27 meeting, the RVIA board voted to authorize fifth-wheel manufacturers to immediately build units with a maximum 430 square feet in the setup mode — up from 400 square feet — and, in a compromise with RPTIA, to consider reducing travel trailer limits from 400 square feet to 320 square feet, the standard before Jan. 1, 2008.
Prior to that date, travel trailers over 320 square feet were considered recreational park trailers.
”We are pleased that they decided to put a cap on fifth-wheel square footage,” Garpow said. ”That was something that we were a little surprised about — positively. That’s a step in the right direction.”
During the March 27 meeting, RVIA’s board also appointed an ad hoc committee to discuss RPTIA rejoining RVIA 16 years after park model manufacturers left RVIA — at RVIA’s request — and set up their own association. In the meantime, the two associations are expected to establish an informal two-year alliance that also appears to have a lot to do with the tough economic times and the need for these once disparate elements to pull together.
The maximum size of towable RVs has been a point of contention between the two associations for nearly two years. RPTIA claims standards authority over travel trailers exceeding 320 square feet, considering them to be recreational park trailers. The Newnan, Ga.-based trade group also objected to earlier RVIA efforts to increase fifth-wheel square footage in an era where larger units are gaining popularity.
The Pennsylvania Recreational Vehicle and Campground Association (PRVCA) will hold a drawing May 5 for manufacturers, suppliers and seminar sponsors planning to attend the 41st Annual RV and Camping Show Sept. 14-20 in Hershey, Pa.
“We are probably going to be down a little as far as manufacturers are concerned, but so far, we’ve only had one company say that they weren’t going to be here,” said Heather Leach, PRVCA director of education and marketing.
“The main thing is that we are trying to remain optimistic and we are hearing from our dealers lately that things are picking up. We are taking that as a good sign.”
Last year about 60 dealers displayed product from 74 manufacturers, while retail attendance was 27,838 – down 11.6% from 2007.
Sept. 14-15 have been set aside as trade-only days,
In deference to the soft RV market, just as it did last year, PRVCA will allow manufacturers to display 20% of units from the 2009 model year. However, with that option available last year, fewer than 5% of RVs on display were 2008 units.
“It’s hard to say how many people will take advantage of that option this year, but they seem to like to have it,” Leach said.
Entertainer Bowzer from the ’70s acapella group Sha Na Na will perform Sept. 14 for trade members with Bowzer’s Rock & Roll Party.
Sales trainer Randy Sobel will be featured speaker during an opening breakfast Sept. 14 for trade members and retired Notre Dame and Pittsburgh Steeler running back Jerome Bettis will speak on “Choices that Make Champions” during breakfast Sept. 15.
Other trade seminar subjects will include distance learning for technicians by Gary Bunzer and park trailers in campgrounds by Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA).