AGI, Gorin Host Park Investment Confab
More than 140 RV park and campground representatives, industry brokers and financial executives gathered last week in McLean, Va., for the inaugural RV Park & Campground Investment Conference, jointly presented Oct. 17–19 by McLean-based consultant David Gorin & Associates and Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), the Ventura, Calif.-based publisher and RV consumer club sponsor.
The event offered seminars covering everything from park investment opportunities to lender and financing programs to the latest trends in campground management, branding and guest services. In addition, several speakers informed attendees about emerging opportunities in the RV park and campground business and to the recent wave of acquisitions by elements outside the campground sector – particularly residential and condo developers – that are taking parks out of the American campground landscape.
Conference co-coordinator Gorin offered some perspective on that issue, noting: “The RV park business has been discovered to a great degree by real estate investors, and it’s a new asset class. They know that the RV industry is growing. They look at the same demographics park industry people and RV industry people have been looking at and they see the future.”
There also was a substantial number of people in attendance who are not currently park owners – they’re investors considering investment in the industry in both existing parks and the construction of new ones.
Gorin and others are counseling park operators planning expansion projects to be prepared to talk with the finance community in an era in which individual and corporate investors are become increasingly aware of the strong demographics behind recreational vehicle sales. In particular, panelists advised attendees, private parks need to do a better job of keeping their books and documenting their income and expenses before lenders will become more active in loaning money for park expansions, renovations and purchases.
In the Oct. 16 morning session, former Ohio Congressman Michael Oxley, vice chairman of The NASDAQ Stock Market Inc., provided a keynote address highlighting the continued strength and resiliency of the U.S. economy and the merits of investing in RV parks and campgrounds. Oxley’s presentation was followed by seminars featuring several prominent lenders and real estate brokers who offered their viewpoints regarding the latest lending practices and investment opportunities.
Among the finance-related panelists was Brian Mills, vice president of GE Real Estate, Tampa, Fla.; Buddy Martin, associate director, Marcus & Millichap, Philadelphia, Pa.; Gerry DiMarco, managing director, Security Mortgage Group LLC, Rochester, N.Y.; Melinda Mimms, a broker for Darrell Hess & Associates, Waynesville, N.C. and Randy Isaacson, an assistant vice president and commercial loan officer for United Bank, Mondovi, Wis.
Also part of AGI’s first-ever investment conference:
• Several seminars highlighted the increasing sophistication of the campground business. Ken Lahoda, CEO of Barbados, West Indies-based Digital Rez International, which provides technical support for AGI’s RVtripsetter online reservation system and recently announced a new partnership agreement with AGI, joined Gary Pace, president and CEO of Orange, Calif.-based Friend Communications, and Ron Vincent, business manager for Victoria, B.C.-based PARCS Software, in discussing the latest trends involving online reservations, reservations management and the marketing of campgrounds and RV resorts to travelers around the world.
• Randy Hendrickson, president of The Intrepid Group LLC, Phoenix, Ariz., led a discussion on the latest trends involving the various efficiencies and economies of scale that can be achieved by outsourcing park management.
• Steve Baldelli, president of Travel Resorts of America, Jackson Springs, N.C., a Coast to Coast affiliate, addressed membership and timeshare parks.
• Ed Mayer, director of Elite Resorts of America, Salt Springs, Fla., led a discussion on the formation of condominium-style resorts, an expanding trend through which parks are sub-divided and individual campsites are sold to RV or park model owners.
• Seminars addressing the future demographic strength of the RV and campground businesses were also presented by prominent industry spokespersons, including Mac Bryan, vice president of administration for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA); Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA); Kevin Hobbs, vice president of strategic development for AGI; and Vic Nolting, vice chairman of Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), the Milford, Ohio-based company that franchises Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp Resorts; and Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
Profaizer, whose trade association was a co-sponsor of the event, said the conference was unique in many respects.
“This is really something that hasn’t happened before, at least in our segment of the industry,” she said, adding the three-day event not only provided numerous informational and networking opportunities for campground operators, but a chance for lenders and brokers to learn more about the campground sector. “I think it’s an opportunity for people in a small venue to get to talk one and one, and that’s beneficial.”