A new survey of RV Rental Association (RVRA) members indicates RV rental companies anticipate 2009 will be better for RV rentals than 2008, despite a slow economy. Those responding to the association’s annual survey report RV rental activity will be up an average of 12% this year, according to a news release.
“The survey results show that even in a tough economy, people still plan to go on RV vacations,” said RVRA Chairman Bert Alanko of MBA Insurance Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz. “People value their vacation time, and renting an RV is still a very economical way to travel.”
Unlike previous years, gas prices are less of a concern for those responding to the survey. Most RV rental vacations will be about the same length as previous years, RVRA members report. The survey shows that only about 10% of RV rental customers are booking shorter trips, while 71% are booking their rental for the same amount of time as the previous year.
For anyone looking to plan an RV rental vacation this year, information and resources are available at www.rvra.org. This site offers an online directory that has a state-by-state listing of more than 300 rental companies across the U.S. and Canada. The site features consumer tips on renting, including advice on selecting the proper unit.
RVRA is the rental division of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), the national association representing RV retailers. The association’s members include RV dealers, RV rental operations and RV aftermarket locations.
A $53 million sale of Fleetwood Enterprise Inc.’s RV division to a New York equity firm was approved Wednesday (June 24) in bankruptcy court in Riverside, Calif.
American Industrial Partners was the only firm to bid for Fleetwood’s RV division, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
The deal is expected to close July 10.
American Industrial Partners agreed to buy Fleetwood’s intellectual property and RV brands in addition to two motorhome manufacturing plants, two motor home service centers and the company’s subsidiary Gold Shield supply, all located in Decatur, Ind.
Dino Cusumano, a partner with American Industrial Partners, cited a confidentiality agreement signed with Fleetwood and wouldn’t confirm or deny speculation that the RV manufacturing operations would be revived in Decatur and the company’s headquarters moved there.
Details of the deal regarding any possible leadership transitions from Fleetwood to American Industrial’s operations and what fate is in store for Fleetwood’s RV plant in Riverside, which wasn’t part of the sale, remained unclear.
Editor’s Note: This story was written by Bob Difley and appeared on www.RV.net.
Johnson Controls, a leading producer of lead-acid batteries for passenger cars and trucks, including batteries for hybrid vehicles, commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a survey on Americans’ attitudes toward buying a hybrid vehicle. The online survey contacted 2,309 adults 18 years and older with the results weighted to reflect the composition of the U.S. population for gender, education, income, ethnicity, and propensity to go online. The survey was conducted between March 9 and 11 and revealed some interesting results.
Here are some of them.
- 84% think government should support the advancement of battery technology in this country.
- 90% of U.S. adults are open to choosing a hybrid if they were in the market for a new vehicle.
- 80% think financial barriers such as purchase price and/or insufficient cost savings prevent people from buying a hybrid car.
- 84% see incentives and tax credits as an effective way to encourage consumers to purchase hybrid cars.
Highlighting the need for technological improvement, cost reductions and greater public education, the survey also revealed the following when asking respondents why they thought people were reluctant to buy hybrids:
- 49% of adults cite reluctance to sacrifice features such as size and horsepower
- 42% express concerns that hybrids might mean inferior performance, lack of speed, or a poor driving experience.
- 47% believe lack of understanding about hybrids in general prevents people from buying them
- 59% have no idea what the distinctions are between different types of hybrids.
It appears by this survey that public attitudes on hybrids in America have changed dramatically, though it is not yet reflected in sales. And maybe concerted efforts toward public education on hybrids would be a good idea for hybrid manufacturers.
As for plug-in electric vehicles (EVs), at least three Chinese car companies are planning on introducing EVs in the U.S. in the next year or two. And Shai Agassi introduced his new battery-changing robot in Japan, which can remove and replace an EV battery in one minute – less time than it takes to fill a gas tank-and the driver stays in the car the whole time.
If you think of these battery changing stations scattered along major freeways and highways, the current limited range and battery-charging times of EVs may not be a big issue. After all, 98% of Americans drive less than 100 miles a day, and can recharge their EV overnight. So these battery-changing stations will be necessary only on longer drives. Now translate that to driving an EV RV across country, locating these battery stations for quick replacement taking less time than filling the gas tank.
Is it far-fetched, or is it far-sighted?
Editor’s Note: Cherie Ve Ard wrote this story about her experience in ordering a new travel trailer from the Oliver Travel Trailer Co. The story appeared on her website, www.technomadia.com. She and her companion, Chris Dunphy, describe themselves as a “pair of technomads traveling, living, working and playing full-time in a small solar powered RV, embracing nomadic serendipity.”
When we were doing the research selecting our home on wheels, one of the things that most impressed us with the Oliver Travel Trailer Co. was how fabulous the people working there are.
The Oliver family has a long history of invention and entrepreneurship, and their family-owned Oliver Technologies company has for years had a thriving business manufacturing foundations for manufactured homes, as well as sub-contracting out their fiberglass and manufacturing expertise to others.
The Oliver company was headed by two twin brothers – Jim and John Oliver. They also loved to camp, and years ago purchased two Casita travel trailers. Over years of taking their families camping, they came up with a long list of things they’d like to see improved on the classic Casitia design to make a more long lasting high-end trailer. Designing their ideal travel trailer became an obsession, and the two brothers spent several years using their existing workforce and hiring on experts in fiberglass construction to design what they considered the ultimate travel trailer.
Sadly, John Oliver passed away before the first trailer off the line was sold – and thus the official name of the trailer, the Oliver Legacy.
Today, Oliver Travel Trailers is a separate business with a factory down the road from the ongoing Oliver Technologies, and it remains family run with many of of Oliver extended family on staff.
Each Oliver trailer is highly customized and hand built from start to finish, and most customers get to meet the people who worked on their trailer. When they were building ours, they even sent us weekly “baby pictures” showing the construction process on the assembly line. By the time we picked up our trailer last July, we felt like part of an extended family.
We had a chance to catch up with Jim Oliver at his home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., a couple months ago – and had him tell the story behind the trailer and introduce their newest addition to the travel trailer line – the 22′ model.
The timing of Oliver’s debut into the travel trailer market last year was not ideal however, with the economy taking a nosedive just as the Oliver Travel Trailer company was preparing to ramp up production.
But while many RV companies are folding and going out of business, Oliver has found an innovative way to keep the factory line producing through these lean time – by finding other lines of business.
In addition to the still thriving Oliver Technologies business, the Oliver Travel Trailer factory is now being repurposed to produce high end handicap bathtubs. They have been able to use many of the same techniques, equipment and facilities – and have therefore been able to keep their highly skilled and trained craftsman employed.
Despite the downturn in RV sales, all of the institutional memory and expertise that goes into building the Oliver Legacy is being retained.
On our last visit to the Oliver factory in Hohenwald, Tenn., in late May, Oliver was finishing up a couple of the new 22-foot model travel trailers. After those are done, all of their employees will be put on the bathtub line until such time there are enough orders for travel trailers to open up the lines again.
While we are disappointed that other prospective Oliver owners are being put on hold right now, we are extremely impressed with how Oliver is handling the downturn. By ramping up a new line of business, Oliver is managing to keep their employees trainined and up to date – and employed. Everyone there remains committed to the future of the Legacy, and will be well situated to jump right back into the travel trailer business when the economy perks up.
So what does that mean to someone considering an Oliver?
Be in touch with the factory, and let them know of your interest. They’re batching up their orders with no set delivery date right now. As soon as they have enough orders, they’ll be getting back into production.
We think this is a highly innovative and responsible way of handling the down economy and its effects on the recreational vehicle industry. Oliver has demonstrated their commitment to taking care of both their existing customers and their employees, and we fully expect that they have a bright future once the market picks up again.
We also very much appreciate how open they have been about the tough times they are going through. A lot of other companies would pretend everything was great right up until the doors shut, and we salute Oliver for embracing a more open and honest path.
At Smokey Hollow Campground in Lodi, Wis., according to the New York Times, a typical weekend goes something like this: Families splash around in the man-made “swimming pond” – a lined, sand-bottomed swim zone filled with outsized inflatable toys. Staffers in blue or white T-shirts deliver pizza to tents, RVs and air-conditioned cabins scattered across the grounds. Kids line up for face painting, temporary tattoos, Segway riding clinics and amusement-style rides while parents sip coffee and surf the Web on laptops outside the General Store, where they can also buy firewood for the requisite campfire and hot dog roast.
“Never a dull moment,” said Kathy Kranz, an office manager from Chicago, who spent Memorial Day weekend at the campground with nine other family members, including her 15-year-old son, Jimmy, and her 17-year-old daughter, Krystal.
At some campgrounds, said Kranz, who owns a 34-foot motorhome with another family, there is “absolutely nothing to do, except if you want to go fishing.” But with all the amenities at Smokey Hollow, her family “just had a ball,” she said. “There were so many things to do.”
Getting close to nature and telling ghost stories around a fire are no longer the main attraction at many campgrounds.
Campgrounds Reinvent Themselves
In an effort to attract families – and charge more – private campgrounds across the country have been reinventing themselves from sleepy, rustic campsites to bustling “camp resorts.” You can still pitch your own tent, but with food delivery, you don’t have to slave over an open flame for dinner.
“It’s Disneyland for campers,” said Jim Rogers, the CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), one of the country’s oldest operators of private campgrounds, which has been adding free Wi-Fi, espresso bars and air-conditioned cabins to some of its 450 parks.
Rogers likens the evolution of campgrounds in recent years to the amenity creep in the hotel business. Just as hotels have added free cocktail hours, fluffy beds and spas to attract clients and get them to stay longer, he said, campgrounds too have been “ratcheting up the value” with new features and services.
The Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA in La Selva Beach, Calif., is the home of an espresso bar, but also has miniature-train rides, outdoor movies, a mechanical bull and a giant outdoor Jumping Pillow (sort of a cross between a trampoline and a bouncy castle).
In Kimball, Mich., the Port Huron KOA features an in-line skating rink, batting cages, bumper boats, an ice cream parlor and seven playgrounds.
And Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in North Java, N.Y., just added a 16,000-square-foot water playground with water slides, water cannons and other spray features to its long list of kid-oriented attractions.
Not unlike hotels, which offer different room types at different prices, private campgrounds have been expanding their lodging options. The Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA, where tent sites cost about $60 a night, has RV sites (from $75), 50 air-conditioned cabins (from $115) and 13 lodges that can sleep six and have a small kitchen, dining area, bathroom and central air and heat (from $225). In April, the campground added six Airstream trailers that sleep a family of four for $150 a night.
Also like hotels, KOA introduced its Value Kard Rewards program, last year, allowing repeat campers to earn points redeemable for savings on their next visit.
“We’re campers in name only at this point,” said Bob Mills, a retired firefighter from Stockton, Calif., who parks his 30-foot trailer stocked with, as he puts it, “every luxury known to man” at the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA for a few weeks each summer to spend time with his daughters, Lisa, 15, and Julie, 12.
After rolling out of their bunks each morning, Lisa and Julie may take a ride on the motorized Fun Train, race around on three-wheeled recumbent bikes or hit the heated swimming pool with friends. In the evening, they’ll meet up with Dad for dinner – pizza delivered straight to their campsite – and the requisite campfire with s’mores, before turning into their comfy bunk beds inside the trailer.
Camping with Golf Cart
All of this may elicit a swift roll of the eyes from hard-core campers, used to pitching a tent deep in the woods and relying purely on nature for entertainment. But the “camping lite” travelers offer no apologies.
“I like to camp two hours a day,” said Scott Crompton, owner of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone in North Java. “Then I retreat into my motorhome with every amenity there is.”
His staff caters to campers like him with a roster of activities, food delivery, people who will park your RV for you and a fleet of golf carts campers can rent for $50 a day to cruise around the 100-acre park. “Certainly nobody is rubbing two sticks together to make their own fire,” he said.
The recent surge in amenities at private campgrounds partly grew out of the rise of the RV business, as ownership grew by 15% from 2001 to 2005, with more than 8 million households owning a recreational vehicle. As droves of Baby Boomers snapped up increasingly fancy motorhomes over the previous decade, they sought out campsites that could not only handle the increasing need for electricity and water these vehicles required but that also matched the plush interiors of their RVs.
Campgrounds soon found out that the more amenities and services they provided, the more they could charge.
“The objective is to maximize dollars,” said Bud Styer, a camping consultant who owns and manages several RV parks and campsites in Wisconsin, including Smokey Hollow. “If I have 100 sites and I’m charging $10 a night, that’s $1,000. If I add an amenity, I can charge $15 more a night. The return on investment is staggering.”
The campsites at Smokey Hollow cost about $45 a night on average and include access to the swimming pond and other water features. Campers can pay an extra $25 a person for a V.I.P. wristband for unlimited weekend use of the miniature golf course, pedal carts, the Jumping Pillow and other amenities.
But even at these rates, a weekend of camping can still be more affordable than staying at a hotel or motel – especially if you cook your own food – a point the industry expects to bank on during the recession. So far this year, Styer said, business is up about 12% across his four campgrounds.
“When the economy gets a little rough, camping usually gets better,” he said.
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 Vancouver, British Columbia, parks board wants to create temporary recreational vehicle parks at Jericho and Spanish Banks beaches for visitors who want to camp in the city during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Commissioner Ian Robertson said parks staff recognized that a number of people with RVs would come to Vancouver during the Games, according to Metro Canada, Vancouver.
“We know there’s going to be a significant challenge with hotel space in the city and this just gives tourists and visitors to Vancouver one more option,” Robertson said.
On Tuesday (June 16), the board announced a request for proposals for an operator to manage the temporary sites during the Games.
“We’ll ensure that the recreation vehicles will comply with all of the sanitation requirements and that they’re parked in a proper area.”
Robertson said there had been no public consultation, but said the sites are far enough away that they shouldn’t bother residents. Plus, he said, public access to the beaches will be maintained. The size of the RV sites have not been determined and the proposal is still subject to a temporary development permit from the city. The board hopes to name an operator in July.
“Any revenue that is generated by this will flow to the parks board and that helps us to deliver better parks and recreation services to the residents,” he said.
Winnebago Industries Inc. CEO Bob Olson was generally upbeat during a third-quarter investors’ conference call today (June 18).
Despite a major thunderstorm that struck Forest City, Iowa, during the call and the specter of the just-completed third quarter, in which the company experienced a net loss of $8.6 million on a 63% reduction of sales, Olson contended that the RV industry has brighter days at hand.
For many months now, Winnebago dealers have not been matching sold units at the retail level with wholesale purchases on a one-to-one basis, depleting their dealer lot inventories to record-lows, Olson said.
At the end of May, dealer inventories totaled 2,324 units, compared with 4,341 units a year ago. Olson said he thought the replenishment would kick in when inventories fell below 3,500 units.
But he thinks a change is imminent.
“My gut tells me we’re an eyelash away from this replenishment cycle starting,” he said.
Dealer inventories were down 47% in April from a year ago and are near the lowest in Winnebago history, Olson said. “There is a point where this is not sustainable, where replenishment must begin again,” he said.
”That would make a huge difference if we could just equal where retail is right now,” he said. The lull in orders has sent Winnebago factories down to just a 18% utilization rate at the end of the quarter.
While retail and wholesale credit remains tight, Olson cited several factors to support his optimistic outlook.
Winnebago scrapped its traditional new product introduction in Las Vegas and instead introduced its 2010 lineup via a DVD sent to all 243 dealers. The DVD is being followed up with personal visits to all the dealerships this month.
“This was quite a deviation from what we have done in the past,” said Olson, who sat in on several of the presentations. “The first thing said after it was over was the dealers were impressed how Winnebago is innovative in a depressed year. They didn’t expect new product but just a facelift.”
The Via, the industry’s first Class A motorhome produced on an importered Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, has been well-received, Olson said, though the company is just beginning production. The Via on the 11,030-pound GVWR Sprinter chassis equipped with a 6-cylinder 154-hp turbocharged front diesel engine averages 14-15 mpg, Olson said.
The company also “stepped up a notch on its other diesel motorhomes with new interiors and exteriors based in part on feedback from its dealers,” he added. Winnebago also is offering a new “bath-and-a-half” on some floorplans, as well as some with tag axles. He said he also heard a good response from dealers about its revamped Sunstar Class C motorhome, which sports a new front end and more amenities.
“We’ve invested a lot in our 2010 product,” he concluded. “I was impressed they noticed the fact that innovation at Winnebago is alive and well.”
In the present environment, Winnebago has been able to increase its market share in both Class A and Class C motorhomes, he noted. The company had an 18.4% market share in both classes through April, up from 17.3% a year, he added.
Olson acknowledged that he once feared now defunct or bankrupt manufacturers would flood the market with “huge, huge, huge discounting” of new units, but that has not come to pass. “There is still have a very large discounting environment out there,” he said. ”For the retail customer it’s a great time to buy an RV. Really, when you look at what it could have been, it didn’t end up as being as bad, so far.”
Olson also maintained that the large pent up demand for RVs should begin to show up at dealer lots as interest rates loosen and consumer confidence rises. The industry enjoyed a record year in 2004, he said, and with RV owners typically holding onto their units for four to six years, RVers are ready to trade up.
Smart RV LLC has launched a new retail website offering camping and RV parts and accessories to consumers in North America.
“After many frustrating experiences of trying to purchase RV parts and accessories while on different road trips with our own RVs, we have decided that there is a definite lack of a customer oriented online store to serve the RV life style community,” said Wolfgang Neuwirth, spokesman for Smart RV, in a news release. “Unlike other online retail outlets, www.smartRVparts.com was developed solely to provide consumers with unsurpassed customer service, and a top notch, easy to use and convenient online buying experience that aims to help enhance the outdoor life style, making parts and accessories available anywhere, anytime.”
Neuwirth is the former publisher of RV Trade Digest and RV Industry News.
Input for the development of this site was solicited from active RVers and campers at campgrounds, RV parks, race tracks and other RV friendly events throughout the country, as well as from fellow staff members, he said.
The new business has negotiated agreements with distributors and vendors across the country to be able to accommodate fast shipping needs, as well as extremely competitive pricing, and a cutting edge product selection, he said.
Additionally, www.smartRVparts.com welcomes suggestions from its customers on how to make its website more user friendly. “Take a few minutes to test drive our site, send us some feedback or suggestions, and if we use your suggestions, you will be eligible for a 10% discount on your next purchase,” he said.
“We created ‘SmartBuy,’ a product ratings and review system, that will allow customers to rate a product on a five-star rating system, and they will be able to write a brief product review. This will help future buyers cut down on product research time, and make buying decisions much easier – and smarter,” he said.
“We are also encouraging customers to submit blogs to share travel experiences, campground recommendations, real world product recommendations, and more. We will hold monthly photo contests, with the winners being eligible to earn bonus cash towards the purchase of any product listed on our site, and we’ll give away other prizes as well,” he added.
The firm can be reached by e-mail at info@smartRVparts.com or by phone at (866) 685-6001.
Winnebago Industries Inc., the biggest motorhome manufacturer, is scheduled to report fiscal third-quarter results on Thursday (June 18). The following is a summary of key developments related to the period, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.
OVERVIEW: The recreation vehicle industry has taken a pounding over the last year, with the economic downturn sending several of Winnebago’s competitors into bankruptcy protection. RV sales are closely tied to consumer confidence, and worries about unemployment and falling home values have led to a pullback in showroom traffic.
First-quarter RV shipments fell 63% in the first quarter of 2009, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). The group blamed frozen credit markets, falling consumer confidence and the economy recession.
Winnebago has been making cuts to cope. Last week, Winnebago said it will close a fiberglass factory in Hampton, Iowa, because of lower motor home demand. The closure will result in the loss of 40 salaried and hourly jobs. The announcement come just months after Winnebago announced pay cuts across its salaried work force.
BY THE NUMBERS: Wall Street analysts expect the company to post a third-quarter loss of 27 cents per share, on average, according to Thomson Reuters.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Winnebago and the broader industry are banking on pent-up demand to spur a sales rebound once the economy recovers – and shares over the last quarter may be reflecting that hope. It is also hoping that more fuel-efficient and hybrid RVs will become a draw for buyers even if gas prices continue to increase. On Monday, the company launched a tour of its concept hybrid RV based on its Winnebago Adventurer motor coach.
According to the RVIA, demographic trends are in the industry’s favor.
“RV sales will benefit as aging Baby Boomers continue to enter the age range in which RV ownership is highest,” the group said in a recent report.
STOCK PERFORMANCE: Shares of Winnebago rose 89% during the fiscal third quarter. The stock is up 22% since the beginning of the year.
For most of its history, the Federal Reserve has been a high temple of monetary matters, guiding the economy by setting interest rates but remaining aloof from the messy details of day-to-day business.
But the financial crisis has drastically changed the role of the Fed, forcing officials to get their fingernails a bit dirty, according to the New York Times.
Since March, when the Fed stepped in to fill the lending vacuum left by banks and Wall Street firms, officials have been dragged into murky battles over the creditworthiness of narrow-bore industries like recreational vehicles, rental cars, snowmobiles, recreational boats and farm equipment – far removed from the central bank’s expertise.
A growing number of economists worry that the Fed’s new role poses risks to taxpayers and to the Fed itself. If the Fed cannot extract itself quickly, they warn, the crucial task of allocating credit will become more political and less subject to rigorous economic analysis.
That could also undermine the Fed’s political independence and credibility as an institution that operates above the fray – concerns Fed officials acknowledge.
Executives and lobbyists now flock to the Fed, providing elaborate presentations on why their niche industry should be eligible for Fed financing or easier lending terms.
Hertz, the rental car company, enlisted Stuart E. Eizenstat, a top economic policy official under Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, to plead with both Fed and Treasury officials to relax the terms on refinancing rental car fleets.
Lawmakers from Indiana, home to dozens of RV manufacturers, have been pushing for similar help for the makers of campers, trailers and mobile homes.
And when recreational boat dealers and vacation time-share promoters complained that they had been shut out of the credit markets, Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida, weighed in on their behalf with the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, who promised he would take up the matter with the Fed.
“This is the most straightforward indicator of why we don’t want the government doing this, except in an emergency,” said Douglas J. Elliott, an economist at the Brookings Institution who supports the new lending program but worries about its long-term implications. “There is no clear line about who should be included and who shouldn’t be included. It’s an inherently political decision,” he added.
Big money is at stake. At issue is a joint venture of the Fed and the Treasury aimed at making more credit available. The program, known as the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, has bought about $27 billion in securities backed by credit card debt, car loans and student loans. In buying the securities, the Fed is providing the money that ultimately reaches businesses or consumers trying to borrow.
Despite a slow start, the program could soon expand broadly. This week, the Fed will add commercial real estate mortgages – a vast market – to the list of loans it will buy. Eventually, officials say, the TALF program could provide as much as $1 trillion in financing.
Fed officials say they, too, are uncomfortable with their new role and hope to end it as soon as credit markets return to normal. When R.V. manufacturers recently sought a meeting, senior Fed staff members refused to see them in person and instead heard their pleas in a conference call.
The central bank is increasingly having to make politically sensitive choices. For example, it is weighing whether loans to people who buy speedboats and snowmobiles are as worthy of help as those to people who buy cars. And it is being besieged by arguments from RV manufacturers and strip-mall developers that they play a crucial role in the economy and also deserve help.
Many of the decisions could have political repercussions. On Feb. 9, President Obama traveled to Elkhart, Ind., a Republican stronghold that Democrats hope to convert to their column. Elkhart is also home to much of the RV industry, which has been battered by the recession.
“When we talk about layoffs at companies like Monaco Coach and Keystone RV and Pilgrim International, we’re not just talking numbers,” Obama said, referring to three prominent RV companies. “We’re talking about people who’ve lost their livelihood and don’t know what will take its place.”
At the time, Fed and Treasury officials suggested that they would finance only car loans, credit card loans, student loans and Small Business Administration-guaranteed loans.
But the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Indiana lawmakers – among them, Rep. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, and Rep. Mark Souder, a Republican – were already lobbying the Fed to include loans for recreational vehicles on its list of eligible collateral that the Fed would accept.
They were not alone. Rental car companies were pushing the Fed to finance their fleets. Hertz, which is owned by two private equity firms – the Carlyle Group and Clayton, Dubilier & Rice – hired Eizenstat to make its case.
In trying to persuade the Fed to relax its loan terms, Eizenstat led delegations of Hertz officials to both the Treasury and the Fed. They reached out to Ron Bloom, the co-chairman of the Treasury Department’s auto task force, as well as to top aides to Mr. Geithner. They also made detailed financial presentations to Fed officials in Washington and New York.
While the Fed so far has denied Hertz’s requests to relax loan terms, some of the lobbying appears to have worked. In March, the Fed announced that it would purchase loans used to buy light trucks and recreational vehicles. It also said that it would finance equipment leasing deals, rental car fleets and “floor plan” loans, which car and RV dealers use to finance showroom vehicles.
On May 17, the Fed refined its rules even more, saying that “recreational vehicles” included not just RVs but also boats, motorcycles and snowmobiles.
Fed officials said they had always intended to include those vehicles because they had long been financed through asset-backed securities of the type the loan facility was created to preserve. And the series of expansions, they said, did not reflect a capitulation to industry pleas. Rather, they simply announced additional details as policy decisions were reached.
Almost inevitably, industry groups are grumbling that the Fed’s terms favor some, like consumer car loans and credit card debt.
Mathew Dunn, a lobbyist for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, said collateral requirements for loans to recreational boat dealers are higher than those for securities backed by car loans.
That may soon change. In late May, the Small Business Administration said that it would open one of its main lending programs to RV dealers. Because the Fed has already agreed to finance SBA loans, it may not be long before it is financing boats, snowmobiles, motorcycles and campers.
Friday’s switch to digital television went smoothly for many people, but for some people who own RVs the change was a bit more complicated.
It’s all because most RVs aren’t built to have their television equipment removed from their interior fixtures. Installing a digital converter box in an RV usually means having to take apart permanent interior paneling and rewiring the entire television system, according to KHBS/KHOG-TV, Fort Smith, Ark.
Chad Hinton and his family brought their RV to the Prairie Creek campground in Prairie Creek, Ark., over the weekend hoping to enjoy the Beaver Lake, nature and a some television. But Friday’s switch to digital television complicated their plans.
“Well, I knew the signal was going out Friday and I hadn’t bought a converter or anything,” Hinton said.
Once he bought the converter, he discovered the installation was going to be extra complicated.
“I had to use extra cable, more than what the directions say and everything,” he said.
That’s because Hinton had to take apart the entire facade of his television system just to hook up the converter box.
Hinton said, “Everything is dressed in so I had to take off a lot of fascia, had to spin the TV around so I could get to the back of it and pull out the extra cables.”
He said he knew exactly what he was doing, and the process still took a long time.
“It took my knowing where everything was, about three hours to do it this morning,” he said.
Hinton said it might take even longer for people less technologically inclined and could cost several hundred dollars for people who pay to have the job done.
Both old and new RVs can have this problem. Hinton bought his RV in 2007 and even then it still came with an analog television system.
Bill Goodwin is about to deliver another travel trailer to another RV dealership on the West Coast. Lately, he’s busy.
“Right now U.S.R.V. Transport has more than 1,000 loads booked,” the Wakarusa, Ind., transport business owner told WSBT-TV, South Bend, Ind.
His schedule is welcome relief after six extremely slow months. RV shipments industrywide were down 60% from last year.
“Then it started turning,” said Goodwin.
Analysts predict it will continue to turn as the economy improves. According to a new RV industry forecast, Richard Curtin, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan, said shipments are projected to total 169,500 units in 2010 – a 24% increase from the 136,500 predicted for 2009.
“The persistent appeal of the RV lifestyle as well as the good economic value provided by this form of recreation will energize future growth in the RV market, once again driving the RV market to higher levels,” said Curtin during the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) Committee Week in Washington, D.C.
Goodwin’s transport business is already recalling some laid-off workers to handle increasing summer demand.
At Jayco Inc. in Middlebury, business isn’t booming, but spokesman Sid Johnson said it’s certainly better.
“The headline should read, ‘The recovery has begun’ but the sub-headline should probably be ‘Don’t strike up the band,'” said Johnson.
Last month, Jayco employees returned to five-day work weeks. But most of the people laid off from the company in the last year haven’t been called back. Johnson said if the market remains steady the rest of the year, Jayco would feel comfortable calling some back to work.
“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty about credit conditions and other aspects of the economy. While there is absolutely no doubt that things are looking a little bit better … we’re still not out of the woods,” said Johnson.
Curtin agreed with that uncertainty, cautioning that RV shipments next year could be as much as 15% more or less than his forecast.
Goodwin said the road to recovery may take a while, but at least the journey back may have begun.
“I think you can walk out of your house and smile because this has to roll your direction if you are associated with, been a part of, or are involved in the manufacturing of RVs,” said Goodwin.
A traffic accident involving an RV on Interstate 20 in central Mississippi Monday afternoon (June 8) claimed the lives of two people and seriously injured a Champions Tour golf professional.
Kenneth Green, 50, was airlifted to University Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., from Jeff Anderson Regional Medical Center in Meridian with injuries he suffered in the accident that killed his brother, Billy Green, 57, his girlfriend Jeannie Hodgin, 52, and his German Shepherd, Nip. The Green brothers are from Indiantown, Fla., while Hodges was from Greensboro, N.C., according to the Meridian (Miss.) Star.
Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop H Public Relations Officer Sgt. Malachi Sanders said after an investigation into the cause of the crash, “It has been determined the right front tire of the RV Kenneth Green was driving blew out causing the vehicle to veer off the road. The RV then went off the right side of the interstate, down a hill and collided with an oak tree.”
Kenneth Green was thrown from the vehicle.
The accident occurred at about 1:30 p.m. eight miles east of Newton at mile marker 118. The RV was traveling eastbound.
There was no official information released as to the extent of Kenneth Green’s injuries but a report from Golf Digest stated Green suffered a broken left eye orbital, and that his right leg was hurt so badly that doctors were trying to save it from amputation.
Officials with the PGA Tour commented on the accident.
“All of us at the PGA Tour are saddened by the news of this tragic accident,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said when informed of the accident. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Ken Green and his family in this very difficult time.”
Green joined the Champions Tour since last summer when he turned 50, making his debut at the Senior British Open at Royal Troon. He made seven starts last season, with his best finish a tie for 47th at the 2008 Administaff Small Business Classic. His results had improved this season, as he ranked 49th in Charles Schwab Cup points, having earned $123,906 in 11 starts. His best finish was a seventh at the AT&T Champions Classic.
On Sunday, Green tied for 37th at the Triton Financial Classic in Austin, Texas.
Green won five times on the PGA Tour, his last win coming in 1989 at the Kmart Greater Greensboro Open.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) launched a new website Tuesday (June 9) that highlights campgrounds and RV parks in Texas that offer cabin, cottage and recreational park trailer or park model rentals.
The website, www.TexasCabinRentals.net, features more than 130 campgrounds, many of which offer cabins, cottages and park models that can be booked online, according to a news release.
“We’re trying to make it easier for consumers to identify campgrounds and RV parks that offer rental accommodations,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO executive director and CEO, adding that private parks are increasingly investing in park models and cabins to accommodate people who do not have an RV but want to experience the camping lifestyle.
Several Texas campground owners said they were looking forward to the new website because it will help spread the word about the availability of rental units in private campgrounds.
“It’s often cheaper to stay in a park model than a hotel,” said Jeff Gordon, owner of Raintree RV Park in Rockport, which has four park model rentals. “We’re on the coast, so we get a lot of people from San Antonio, Austin and Houston and the surrounding areas. Many of them bring their boats down and stay in park models because they can’t pull a boat and a camper, too.”
Jim Rowley, owner of the 108-site Pecan Park in San Marcos, has two fully furnished park models, which he said are ideal for people who have never camped before. Each unit is fully furnished linens and kitchen utensils and can sleep up to eight people.
“A lot of people want to know what campgrounds are like, and park models give them a chance to have a camping experience without buying an RV,” Rowley said, adding that his park models are positioned on a bluff overlooking the San Marcos River.
“I definitely think TexasCabinRentals.net will help our business,” said Jenifer Johnson, director of business development for Mill Creek Ranch RV and Cottage Resort in Canton, which has 100 RV sites and 31 park models. “All of our park models are owned by individual owners, and when the owners aren’t here, we rent them out,” she said.