Editor’s Note: The following is a press release from Elkhart, Ind.-based RV builder Forest River Inc. responding to recent reports on two industry websites regarding the company’s ownership of property in Texas that was leased to two entities, including dealer Fun Town RV.
Forest River Inc. announced today (Feb. 18) that the three land parcels the company had purchased Oct. 30, 2012, in Johnson County, Texas, are now sold.
According to the release, there is a signed contract with earnest money securely in place for the two parcels leased to Fun Town RV and a verbal commitment to exercise the option to purchase from the portable building manufacturer on the third parcel.
“These are the same two lessees that have continuously occupied and improved the parcels for some time,” the statement read. “Until the three parcels were sold, these two lessees had been leasing the properties, with an option to buy, from Forest River at the same lease amounts that existed under the prior bank ownership arrangements. Lease amounts will continue to be in effect until such time as the property closings are final.”
The property recently was the subject of reports on both the RV Pro and RV Daily Report websites, citing Texas RV Association Executive Director Clark McEwen. Forest River claimed that “contrary to McEwen’s speculation, the land purchase was not a direct challenge to the (Texas) statutes.”
The release further stated that Forest River “wasn’t even notified there was a complaint until last week and, despite our request, we have yet to receive a copy of the complaint reportedly filed by the Texas RV Association with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. A courtesy call would have been nice and probably sped up the resolution of any dispute.”
In the reports, McEwen also said that “Forest River has for years been the most outspoken critic of the Transportation Code, the DMV and the Texas RV Association.”
With over 8500 employees operating out of over 60 different plants, Forest River said that “to our knowledge, we have never publicly criticized the Transportation Code, the DMV, or the Texas RV Association. On the contrary, when a potentially harmful tax issue surfaced and the Texas RV Association requested funding to help correct it, Forest River was one of the first to step up and write a check for $10,000 to help correct it. Further, when the Texas RV Association and McEwen himself wanted to bolster their tech training program by adding a fifth-wheel toy hauler for mobile training, Forest River stepped up again and sold the Texas RV Association a fifth-wheel toy hauler for $1 because we believed in the effort and wanted to fully support it.”
Forest River added, “Our support to the industry and our dealers in Texas has been, and will continue to be, unwavering. We apologize for any consternation this land purchase might have caused. We appreciate our dealers’ business and friendships, and look forward to experiencing an outstanding 2013 with everyone.”
In the midst of his 12th year serving as executive director for the Texas Recreational Vehicle Association (TRVA), Clark McEwen has decided to step down, targeting the week of May 27 as his official exit date before heading into “the next phase of my life with my wife, Sue.”
“I really made the decision around a year and a half ago after going through a little health issue,” McEwen told RVBUSINESS.com. “It made me realize what was really important to me, which was of course my family and my wife. I’m in good health, and we’re looking forward to doing a little RVing and just enjoying a stress-free life.”
Fittingly, McEwen’s retirement coincides with the conclusion of the next Texas legislative session. While growing the association’s membership and bolstering its show and convention presence, McEwen was best known for his successes at the legislative level, spearheading laws that protect and strengthen the rights of RV dealers.
“I think that’s what people will remember me by,” said McEwen, who will turn 68 this weekend. “I was right in the middle of a lot of battles – many that lasted several years – on issues that could have been very damaging to our dealers if they had gone the other way.”
He added, “One of the most important things I did was establish strong relationships in Austin, ties that I believe really benefited the association over the years.”
McEwen said he started fostering those relationships while serving as vice president of the Texas Restaurant Association, adding that prior to joining TRVA he and his wife also oversaw a trade show production company in Mexico City.
“I really learned how to lobby for an association when I worked for the restaurant group,” McEwen said. “It opened a few doors for me when I started with TRVA.”
McEwen pointed to some key laws that were either removed or enacted during his tenure that helped create a “very business-friendly environment” for Texas RV dealers.
“One of the bigger issues had to do with what we referred to as ‘notorious travel trailer tax,’” he said. “It allowed taxing entities to look at travel trailers as personal property, meaning they could tack on an ad valorem tax. We battled for years, but were finally able to defeat it with a constitutional amendment passed in 2003.”
McEwen will continue to act in an advisory capacity following his retirement and will also be available to assist in the search for his replacement in the interim period.
“I’ll be around to deal with any issues that crop up,” he said. “My goal is to make it a very smooth transition.”
The Texas Recreation Vehicle Association (TRVA) reported a strong turnout for its 39th Annual Convention held Aug. 10-13 at the Sheraton Austin at the Capitol in the heart of downtown Austin.
Overall convention attendance was 275 from the campground, manufacturing and dealer sectors, boosted by an increase in park operators. The theme for this year’s convention was “Growing the RV Lifestyle – Together.”
“We had a great turnout, almost 60 parks attended,” said Clark McEwen, TRVA executive director. “This was the largest park participation we’ve ever had but also the largest convention we’ve ever had. It’s a sign of the times; everybody is feeling pretty good right now compared to where we were.”
Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), provided an update on all legislation passed in recent years that is campground specific including a modification to the Theft of Service Law, enumerating campgrounds in the new Trespass Law, and modification of Property Code 94 with regard to the definition of an RV, and non taxation of RVs.
In addition, Schaeffer updated park owners on the status of the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for campgrounds, specifically on the issue of pool lifts. To fully take advantage of the new Texas laws, attendees were referred to www.tacomembers.com where there are many forms available that incorporate the new legal language. Schaeffer also reviewed a potential eviction case drawing attention from HUD, which could impact all campgrounds in Texas and across the country.
Other speakers included:
• Dr. Peter Tarlow, who spoke on safety and security issues for parks and dealerships.
• Margo Richards, travel information director with Texas Department of Transportation, who spoke on how to work with the department to get information out to Texans and visitors alike on their parks.
For the third consecutive year TRVA recognized outstanding RV parks in the Lone Star state, including:
• Small Park of the Year, Palmdale RV Resort, Harlingen, Michael and Carolyn Fuller.
• Medium Park of the Year, Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort, Mission, Guy and Juanita Carvajal.
• Large Park of the Year, Victoria Palms RV Resort, Donna, Karen Pike.
The awards are based upon many factors that demonstrate excellence in facility, customer service and overall superior park operations. Awards and recognition are open to all RV parks that are TRVA members and meet its requirements.
TRVA is now gearing up for its annual Southwest RV Supershow to be held Sept. 13-16 in the Dallas Market Hall. More than 10,000 people will attend the show, the largest in the Southwest, to see over 400 RVs from Texas’ best RV dealers in more than 350,000 square feet of exhibit space.
TRVA’s 2013 convention will be held in Austin Aug. 9-12.
RV manufacturers, dealers, suppliers, lenders and campground owners each had their moment in the sun during the 36th Texas RV Association (TRVA) Annual Membership Convention held over the weekend at the Hyatt Regency Townlake in Austin, Texas.
“I was pleasantly surprised with everybody’s attitude,” said Clark McEwen, TRVA executive director. A sense of tension could have existed among the 150 attendees, he said, but what he found was “an upbeat feeling that, ‘Yes, we’re going into some difficult months but we will get through this sometime next year.”‘
As members of an industry panel discussion, Don Clark, president of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Goshen, Ind., and audience participant Claude Donati, vice president of Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind., brought encouraging news from the manufacturing sector, McEwen said.
McEwen said the thrust of their comments were three fold. First, they’re working leaner than ever before. Second, they have concerns that when the market turns, will they be able to gear up production quickly enough. Finally, “They are pleased with Texas. We’re certainly more stable than most of the country,” McEwen said.
Indeed, Texas is now the nation’s largest market for RVs. The state passed California last year and moved into the No. 1 spot in RV retail sales with 7.2% of the market and stands to hold down that spot again this year, he said.
With some 100 RV dealers nationwide going out of business in the past year, the manufacturers also talked about being more selective in choosing the dealers they work with in the future, McEwen said.
McEwen concluded that manufacturers and dealers might not make the same errors they made two or three years ago when times were better and sales were easier to make.
Mark Beecher, national sales and marketing manager for the Consumer Finance Group Bank of the West, updated his audience on financing.
“Nothing draws more attention right now than financing,” McEwen said, “and they (lenders) understand the pain the dealers are feeling.”
McEwen said Texas dealers, who comprise about a third of TRVA’s membership, didn’t express resentment toward Beecher and other lenders present and seem to believe the financial institutions are trying to help.
“They’re trying to open the lines of credti and lower interest rates on floorplans and trying to get people financed at a lower credit rating,” he said, summarizing Beecher’s talk. “But, again, we may not go back to where we were three years ago where anybody could buy anything. Everybody saw that as a wonderful period, rather than ask themselves, can it sustain itself.”
“Beecher does not want to walk away from the RV industry. They want healthy dealers, customers and buyers,” McEwen said.
TRVA also engaged in first-time roundtable discussions. On the style of a “20 Group” but smaller, these roundtables allowed TRVA members to sit down across the table with other Texas business people, sometimes competitors in their own market, and frankly discuss their business, McEwen said.
The feature proved to be successful and will be repeated next year, he said.
Campgrounds seem to be the one segment of the RV industry that has fared well throughout the recession, McEwen said, based on reports at the convention. Texans are taking shorter camping vacations, which means they’re staying in-state more. Destination parks are doing well and in some cases are exceeding their 2008 results, he said. State parks also report good seasons, he added.
On the down side, McEwen regrets that the manufacturer participation was not greater at the convention, but he understands the reasoning behind it. Texas had the strongest franchise laws in the country protecting RV dealers heading into 2009 and the state Legislature passed legislation this session, with TRVA’s support, that only strengthened those laws, he said.
The event concluded with the annual business meeting and election of officers Monday morning. New officers are: President, Steve Spearing, Crestview RV, Buda; Vice President, Dean Nelson, Professional Sales RV, Colleyville; Treasurer, Kevin Ketner, Ancira Motorhomes, Boerne; and Diana LeBlanc, PPL Motorhomes, Houston.