Industry Insites – February 2015

Eye Catching Headline

A headline in the December 2014 daily on-line RV Business newsletter really caught my attention: Work Underway on $100 million Florida RV Resort. The story describes The Fountains of St. Augustine to be “located in the nation’s oldest permanently settled city.”

Having worked now for about 13 years as a consultant primarily doing feasibility studies for developers and investors interested in building new RV parks in various places around the country, I was intrigued by the headline and the scope of the investment. To my knowledge (and I may be wrong here), there has not been a new RV park built on this scale or any where near this scale EVER. Some condominium RV parks built in the early 2000’s came in the mid $20 million range and to the best of my knowledge nd those built in that price range have struggled to make the business model work.

I wish the developers of The Fountains great success as that would be provide strong evidence of significant strength in the high end of the RV and RV resort market. However, I must admit to considerable skepticism that this project can be successful with that kind of investment.

The Fountains is offering 246 sites each with a “casita” or villa ranging in size from 485 square feet to 2 story homes up to 1447 square feet. While the promotional materials and website refers to the resort as a premium motorcoach resort or a class A motorhome resort, the project comes close to being a home or residential community with RV parking next to each home.

Based on the announced $100 million investment, that comes to about $406,000 per site at cost so we are probably looking at $550,000 to $600,000 retail/site! Does anyone know of any motorcoach resort that has been successful at that level?

It is interesting to note that through November 30, 2014, the industry shipped just over 20,000 class A motorhomes. In 2013, the number was 19,000+. This is about 1 class a unit for every 10 towables. Based on 11,000,000 or so RVs on the road today in the US, about 1.1 million may be class As and this includes units that may have been on the road since the 1980s. Given the size of this class A market, would seem to me that the developers of The Fountains have their work cut out for them – a relatively small market size of class A owners, a nice location but hardly a world class area like Hilton Head or Napa Valley or Aspen, very high development costs and pretty high prices.

Will be interesting to watch the development and hopefully report back on a smashing success sometime down the line.

ARVC: Washington, DC to Denver

While attending the recent Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo (OHCE) sponsored by ARVC in Las Vegas in early December, it was interesting to note how the ARVC’s education program now centers entirely on the Outdoor Hospitality Education Program (OHEP) and how the OHEP is being integrated throughout the ARVC program. Good idea, I thought. It flows nicely through the education sessions at the conference, is being integrated into the curriculum of the National Schools of RV Park & Campground Management in West Virginia and now in Colorado in July. It appears in the ARVC Voice articles and I understand a text book is being created to use in all seminars and classes taught for OHEP credit at state conventions and elsewhere. And now even a special designation – Superior Quality Staff – to recognize those parks that enroll all of their staff and have them all certified at some level.

I applaud Barb Youmans, Mark Mahacia and Saundra Brynn for their hard work in developing and bringing this program to the forefront of the industry. I only hope that ARVC members embrace the program although I expect that the numbers of participants may be slow to grow as the program is far from simple, requiring participants to complete assignments, undergo reviews and prove their learning – not a bad idea but something that I think will be hard for many small business owners to get excited about.

The other thought that occurred to me during the convention was that its been 7 years since ARVC left Washington in covered wagons and headed across the great Applachian Mountains and the western prairies for Castle Rock outside of Denver, Colorado. As I recall, the primary reasons for the move were twofold.

First, it was the sense that the cost of living in the Denver area would be significantly less than in the DC area and the first rate staff could be hired at lower cost than a similar staff in DC. Secondly, the original move was to Castle Rock where the ARVC building would be situated on a large property adjacent to a campground on property where the Center for Outdoor Hospitality could be developed by the
ARVC Foundation.

On the cost of living side of this discussion, current data strongly supports the move to Denver, According to the online bank, salaries in the Denver area are approximately 22% below Washington DC salary levels for comparable positions. An individual making $100,000 in DC would be able to take a 22% pay cut to about $78,000 while maintaining the same standard of living in Denver. So it would seem that ARVC could be employing a more professional staff at significant savings.

As far as the Center for Outdoor Hospitality and a showcase campground, when the deal on the Castle Rock building and property went south, that idea apparently was put on the back burner. Whether is ever comes back on the table, is anyone’s guess.

In early January, I sent an inquiry to Paul Bambei, ARVC President and CEO, asking him his impressions of the ARVC move to Denver. Paul was a Denver resident prior to his position with ARVC and chances are neither he nor any of the current staff would have ever been associated with ARVC were it not for the move. And as Paul noted in his response, he was not a part of the ARVC decision to move the association.

How the current salary levels would compare with those necessary to operate ARVC in DC is not the subject for this article but perhaps that subject will come up in the future.

For what it’s worth, here’s the exchange of emails with Paul’s view of ARVC in Denver as opposed to Washington, DC.
Gorin to Bambei: It’s been about 7 years since ARVC left the DC area. Do you have any thoughts on the pros and cons of that move and any thoughts on advantages or disadvantages of ARVC being in Denver as opposed to the DC area? What’s the current breakdown on ARVC membership east and west of the Mississippi River? Does ARVC maintain dues paying membership in the Small Business Legislative Council? The American Recreation Coalition? The US Travel Association? Is the association represented on the boards of these organizations?
Bambei to Gorin: “Let me try to give you an overall perspective of the move from DC to Denver, which as you know occurred before my start at arvc. One of the more important positives resulting from the move has been a lower cost structure incurred by the Association. According to recent data, DC ranks about 30 basis points higher than Denver in the cost of labor. Additionally, Denver’s overall cost of living is remarkably lower as well, which affects many day to day operating costs of our business. Arvc is in a much stronger financial position than it was seven years ago, due in large part to this move.
Regarding involvement in DC based associations such as SBLC, ARC, and USTA, we are dues paying members in organizations where the benefit and value is clearly demonstrated. I personally stay connected to these and many other organizations by reviewing the constant communiques that come on a frequent basis. I do not sit on their Boards, as it would be a tremendous commitment of time that I consciously choose to devote in other ways, but make no mistake I’m aware of what they do.
Of course, we have a dedicated staff person in Jeff Sims who stays on top of industry activity impacting arvc, which I don’t believe was the case prior to the DC move, and have also subscribed to the State Net service since 2011 to stay abreast of all regulatory and legislative activity affecting our industry at the local level. Should any issues of national impact require lobbying effort, we also employ the DC law firm McDermott, Will and Emery, whom we selected for their respected lobby influence.
In conclusion, I’d say the arvc Board made a wise financial choice by deciding to come to Denver, and feel we haven’t sacrificed our industry connections to DC from a lobby/networking aspect in the process. In fact, based on the direct work we conduct through staff, a very active Public Affairs Committee, State Net, etc., I feel we’re actually serving our members extremely well. “
What do you think? Has the move to Denver been beneficial from your perspective as a member of the association? How’s ARVC doing as a western-based organization?