On July 1, 2012, the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) ceased to exist, having officially closed its door and cuddled back in to the offices of the RV Industry Association from which it was evicted some number of years ago – an eviction about as unceremonious as was its welcome back into the “official” RV family.
For the park industry, the park trailer never ceased to be an RV. For RVIA, that was not the case.
Years ago (maybe 20 or so), RVIA was concerned that a relationship with RPTIA was going to taint the purity of the RV and somehow effect RVIA’s ability to protect and defend the RV as a camping unit. At about the same time, KOA and the rest of the industry was working hard to establish the cabin – bare bones but a cabin nonetheless – as a legitimate camping unit. And to maintain the park trailer or park model as a legitimate RV camping unit.
I remember numerous hours spent encouraging legislators on the state and local level to define camping as something other than where you slept at night. It was a total outdoor environment and there were any number of accommodations options including tents, RVs of all kinds including park trailers, and cabins that were suitable for enjoying campgrounds. Industry friends at RVIA didn’t quite see it that way, either fearful of losing special privileges for RV ownership or of losing RV sites to other alternative camping options. And then in a series of meetings in Elkhart and I recall one in Toronto, emerged RPTIA with its new Executive Director Bill Garpow, a former Executive Director at the FL RV Trade Association and a Vice President at the RV Industry Association. From the campground industry perspective, the emergence of RPTIA and Bill Garpow started a new era in the park industry.
As Bill heads off into retirement and RPTIA folds its tent and merges into RVIA, it’s fully appropriate for the park industry to stand up and loudly applaud Bill’s terrific work in leading RPTIA and to thank Bill and his colleagues at RPTIA for their outstanding leadership and dedication to making the park trailer, park model, cottage, cabin or whatever you choose to call it a main line camping unit, popular with park owners, dealers and most importantly the thousands of guests who are introduced to RV parks and campgrounds through a park trailer rental as a great way to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends. And of course, the popularity of these units among families, retirees and empty nesters has created new market segment in the park industry. One only has to look at the increase in “destination” or seasonal camping to fully appreciate the role the park trailer plays in the 21st century park industry.
Bill, you deserve a great big thank you from the park industry. So here it is, at least from yours truly – thanks very, very much for all you’ve done and the very important contributions you’ve made working tirelessly on behalf of your manufacturer members, park owners across the country, state campground associations and executive directors who you supported without hesitation whenever your expertise was needed, and the guests who today have the park model as an affordable way to enjoy their outdoor recreation experiences.
Thanks, Bill, and best wishes for a wonderful future and a happy and healthy retirement. Stop by when you’re in the area. And anytime you and your wife would like to spend some time at a Best Parks in America resort, give me a call so we can recognize your contributions to the park industry.
(If I were a manufacturer, I’d name a unit after you – the Garpow, a park model with a long life expectancy, a passion for camping and exceptional design for guests to enjoy while on vacation or in retirement.)
One last comment on this change from RPTIA to RVIA. Welcome to Matt Wald, the new executive director for park trailers at RVIA. Matt’s been with RVIA for a number of years, and the industry can relax that the future of the unit is in good hands. We wish Matt great success in leading this important industry segment and filling the big shoes left by Bill.
State Parks Going Private?
After a number of years of budget anguish across the country as tax revenues fell during the recession, as many citizens began calling for tax reductions and cuts in government spending and as jurisdiction after jurisdiction has tried to set fees for park use to bolster revenues to maintain the parks, what appears to be the first state to actually try privatizing not only campgrounds and stores, but the entire operation of a park appears to be America’s pacesetting state – California. No surprise here. With a huge budget and ballooning deficits, a forceful and experienced governor, and a population that is simply not happy to see its cherished parks closed, California is accepting responses to an RFP offering long term operating contracts in return for capital investment to upgrade and maintain the parks. And from what I hear and read, we’re talking fairly complete independence from public meddling for the winning company. The key will be customer satisfaction that will determine the company’s ability to keep and continue to operate the parks.
At the same time that CA is looking at this progressive move towards improving the parks and providing new and expanded recreation opportunities, the US Forest Service, spurred on by the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), is now considering a number of pilot projects that will involve concession companies and would potentially enable campers and RVers to enjoy seasonal camping in campgrounds in the US Forests, leave their RVs in storage at their favorite forest, and would enable the concession operators to add new amenities and recreational activities traditionally found only in commercial campgrounds.
Budgets, taxes, job and economic realities and a sympathetic administration in Washington are all now coming together in what may be a turning point for the park industry and what could spur great growth in the number of parks and campgrounds and potentially create a new competitive reality.
RV park and campground industry beware…although there could be a new sheriff in town soon the doors of privatization and free market competition appear to be swinging in a different direction. If that happens, there will be a significant change in the competitive balance between public and private sector parks and campgrounds.
Disability Advocates Protest AH&LA’s D.C. Offices
A small but significant note. On June 19, about 200 people protested outside the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s Washington, D.C. offices June 19. They were angered at the association’s efforts to delay installing permanent pool lifts at hotels across the nation. AH&LA countered they are trying to avoid legal liability. Not an argument that’s likely to calm down the disability community that’s heard that argument frequently over the years. No one likes to be accused of creating liability for some one else – especially an individual who’s disability might be a result of an illness over which they have no control, aging over which they have no control, or due to military service.
Once again, my plea to the park industry: to the extent that being fully compliant with the ADA does not present an undue hardship or cause unreasonable financial hardship on the business, each and every RV park and campground should be as close to 100% accessible as possible. There’s a large market of new guests out there waiting to find a welcome mat out so they and their families can enjoy the opportunities of outdoor recreation and experiences.
Good Sam Now a Membership Network?
Seems to me that the Good Sam Club is now in the membership park business. The new incentive program being offered to park owners who sell Good Sam memberships is moving that group very close – not exactly but close – to the business model of making the parks membership parks a la Coast to Coast. Here’s how it works: buy your GS membership here, pay me and I keep your first year’s dues, and then go use your membership at other Good Sam Parks. At the end of the year, renew your membership directly with GS and I (the original seller) don’t receive any residual income from enrolling you in the first place.
Your campground is now in the business of selling (renting) RV sites, cabins and memberships. Why stop at just Good Sam memberships? How about selling AAA memberships? Maybe a Coast to Coast membership? How about a new business model marketing various memberships of value to RVers and campers on your park website? Maybe in a small office on the campground? Maybe at fairs and festivals. Or in your booth at an RV show?
My only caution on this model is to never forget why you are in business and who your customers are. It’s easy to get distracted and easy for front desk personnel to forget the primary purpose of their contact with the guest.
In my years in the business, I don’t think I can recall a really successful business model where park personnel were selling or marketing products or services for a third party.
There’s good revenue to be made is selling memberships. Just be sure where that fits into your parks’ business plan.
Correction & Apology
Last month I wrote a brief comment on a consultant who was wearing a shirt with the Signature Resorts logo and criticized the individual for suggesting that investing $20 million in a class A only RV resort in Florida was a sound business model. I based some of my comment on my assumption that the individual was associated with Signature Resort in Naples, FL.
I’ve since learned that the logo and name Signature Resorts is the company name of the individual wearing the shirt and he’s not related to the Naples resort.
While I still believe the Cape Coral class A only park being promoted is a serious mistake, to be clear it is not at all associated with the Signature Resorts in Naples and Michigan nor is the consultant in question.
One Last Comment on One Unusual Story
An Orlando-based property management company with a focus on managing self storage facilities, recently added an RV resort management contract to its portfolio in Central Florida. The company will be managing the Floridian RV Resort in Saint Cloud, Fla. Floridian RV Resort is a 650 space RV and 130 space mobile home park community that was established in the seventies, and has been attracting a customer mix of winter birds and semi-permanent residents ever since.
The principal and head of business development for the management company is quoted: “We have been successfully managing self storage properties for over 15 years. Expanding our property management services to RV Parks was a natural progression. Both commercial property types require focused property management with attention to minimizing expenses and providing excellent customer service at an affordable price point. Our strengths come in to play in setting high occupancy goals and in providing extensive training to our managers to enable them to attract and retain customers on an ongoing basis. The transparency of our methods is what is most appreciated by our clients the property owners.”
Does that strike anyone other than me as strange? Managing a self-storage facility is the same as managing an RV park? Customer service at a self-storage facility is the same as customer service at a hospitality business?
A word to ARVC: consider offering the Outdoor Hospitality Education Program to the self-storage business. This could be a whole new market – imagine the National School of RV Park, Campground & Self-Storage Management.