Campground Industry News
NEWS IN FOCUS
Property Companies Grow In RV Park Biz
If you ask Randy Hendrickson, there's never been a better time to be in the property management industry, especially if you specialize in outdoor recreation properties. “I've been in the industry for 17 years and I've never seen it more vibrant, more active or more full of potential,” he told Woodall’s Campground Management. “I get a little animated when I talk about this business.”
As the founder and CEO of Horizon Outdoor Hospitality Group, Hendrickson knows the potential firsthand. What started in 1995 — as somewhat of a favor to a friend when he agreed to manage a single resort in Central Texas — has grown into a multi-tiered business of managing 15 properties in nine states as well as completing 24 feasibility studies in the past year and negotiating the sale of more than $17 million in RV resorts over the past few months.
“We're a relatively small player in the grand scheme of things, but that's strategic, it's not because we don't have the opportunity to manage more properties,” he said. “We've never been concerned with volume for volume's sake.”
According to an Allen Report survey, the title of largest company in the industry goes to Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS) in Chicago, which owns controlling interest in 370 properties in 32 states, though there are more than 500 other companies in the field. While many of those companies have a mixture of mobile-home parks and RV parks, the sheer number of players makes property management a sizeable chunk of the overall outdoor recreation industry, which brought in $646 billion in 2012, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
One of the things that makes his company unique, said Hendrickson, is that it focuses solely on the RV resort market, but does so in three different ways. “RVs are our core discipline, but through three divisions,” he said. “First, the development division, which provides the feasibility studies, everything from raw dirt and ideas to opening day. Then we have a management division providing third-party, turn-key management, and then we have the brokerage division. I don't know a lot of other companies that can manage everything from raw dirt to the eventual sale of the asset and everything in between.”
While some companies can succeed at managing mobile-home, RV and multifamily properties like apartment complexes, Hendrickson said it's commonly known that RV resort management is one of the most time consuming and complex.
“There's a far more intensive energy requirement in terms of time and resources that it takes to be prosperous,” he said. “It's truly a hospitality asset. In an apartment community, you collect rent once a month and keep things maintained and that's fine, but in our industry you might have 150 check-ins a day and they have unique requirements. We're doing barbecues and get-togethers and outdoor movies, and so it's much more labor and payroll intensive because it is truly a hospitality venue as opposed to a static multifamily venue.”
Like Hendrickson, Terra Vista Management (TVM) owner Michael Gelfand has an affinity for RV resort management, although his company also manages mobile home communities. And Terra Vista also purposely limits its holdings, growing with a specific purpose. “We have a bit of a unique focus in that we only want to operate properties that are fun for us, which usually means properties with some complexity in their structure and some potential for development,” he said. “We also specialize in properties on the water, because we have so much experience dealing with marinas, docks and everything that goes with that.”
Gelfand entered the management business 35 years ago when he joined his father's company, which began in 1969 with the purchase of a 700-site mobile home/RV community on the water in San Diego. The company began getting involved in property management, and Gelfand took the reins in 1994. By that time, through partnerships, they had acquired an interest in 40 properties in seven states. Gelfand negotiated the sale of most of those properties, forming a new management company that retained three properties in California. TVM has since added Newport Dunes RV Resort in Newport Beach to their portfolio.
Rory Williams, principal at AC Commercial in Orlando, Fla., is another executive who entered property management through family. “My father was in the business for 40 years as a developer and owner/operator,” he said. “I worked for him for 10 years, then started my own management company in 2010.”
Unlike TVM and Horizon, AC Commercial (ACC) runs both RV and MH communities (15 properties/2,000 sites in two states), as well as five apartment communities (400 units) and some office and retail. Their focus is also broader based, although Williams said their specialty is probably turning around properties in some sort of challenged state.
“We feel like we can help people turn things around,” he said. “And we feel like we can be more agile than bigger companies in the business. We just took over two mobile home parks where we mobilized to take over in about five days. That would probably be challenging for a larger company.”
For the full story, pick up July's edition of Woodall's Campground Management.