Table and Grill Makers Are Confident that the 2009 Summer Season Will be as Strong as Any in Recent Years
Chuck Gerber founded Madison, Wis.-based Gerber Manufacturing 40 years ago, and has built the company into one of the campground sector's leading suppliers of picnic tables and grills.
But even though RV sales have plummeted as a result of the economic downturn, Gerber remains confident that 2009 will be a good year for his firm and the rest of the RV park and campground sector.
"I think the camping industry is strong," Gerber told Woodall's Campground Management. "People have got their money invested in their campers. It's one of the least expensive ways of traveling. I've got a lot of confidence. Our business has been good. We're off a little bit, but not enough to get excited about."
Other manufacturers of picnic tables, grills and related products, such as fire rings and benches, have a similar outlook, including Frosty Kimbrough of Morristown, Tenn.-based Frosty's Park Equipment, whose newest products include an octagon-shaped fire ring, and Allen Smith, co-owner of Chadwick Mfg. Ltd. in Chadwick, Ill., who has been manufacturing grills and metal frames for picnic tables for 53 years.
Unlike some manufacturers who supply complete picnic tables, Chadwick builds only the frame, enabling parks to select and install their own tabletops. The company manufactures its own grills, too. "Our most popular model, the 160, we've been making since the 1960s," Allen said. "It's a stationary grill. It sits in concrete."
But while some manufacturers are keeping busy selling the same kinds of tables and grills that have been popular for many years, others are finding increased demand for picnic tables built with recycled materials. "Our recycled plastic table sales are way up because of the green movement," said Brian Legler, president and co-owner of Gerber Manufacturing. "People feel good about buying recycled materials, even though it's three times the price of lumber."
Although they're somewhat sensitive to heat and ashes, another selling point for tables made from recycled plastic is their durability. "It will last forever," Legler said, "so long as nobody sets a grill on top of it."
Some companies have engineered new cooking and food preparation products, including R.J. Thomas Mfg. Co. Inc. in Cherokee, Iowa, whose newest product is a grill station that combines a work table and a grill support post in one structure.
"This eliminates the need to install a separate grill on a post and a utility table on a post," said Bob Simonsen, the company's marketing director. "We have combined the two functions into one. The grill station table works with nine different Pilot Rock grills, so you have lots of choices."
Jamestown, N.Y.-based Jamestown Advanced Products, for its part, is seeing strong demand for its newest product: 48-inch square picnic tables with thermoplastic coatings. These tables are particularly popular with some of the more upscale resorts, which use them near their swimming pools and eating areas.
"When we started out in this business, we really catered to campgrounds, and our product was rustic in nature," said Lee Lodestro, vice president of Jamestown Advanced Products. Now, he said, Jamestown sees demand not only for traditional picnic tables made with Southern yellow pine, but also for more modern looking tables, which are made of environmentally friendly materials.
"There seems to be two different customer bases," Lodestro said, with one wanting traditional wooden tabletop products and the other opting for more modern looking tables with bright colors. He said corporate owned parks tend to gravitate more to the modern designs with bright colors. "That's where the 48-inch square table has been a big hit," he said.
Jamestown uses powder coatings on its synthetic table, which, according to Lodestro, are more environmentally friendly than tables painted with VOCs.
Other companies, such as Rochester, N.Y.-based Kwik Covers, have found a niche selling picnic table covers, which parks can either sell to campers in their camp stores or give to them when they check in. Kwik Covers are made out of vinyl and have elastic edges so that they fit around the edge of the table like a bed sheet.
"Most campgrounds purchase them to sell in their camp stores," said Bernie Puglisi, the company's co-owner.
Manufacturers, meanwhile, are finding strong demand for other ancillary products needed for outdoor cooking and campfire enjoyment. Jamestown, for example, has introduced a double-walled fire ring as well as a barbecue grill designed for people with disabilities, plus a new hot charcoal bin.
At press time, the private park industry's leading manufacturers of picnic tables and grills said they were keeping busy filling orders as parks prepare for the upcoming camping season.
"The spring demand got off to a later start (for us) this year than 2008," said Simonson of R.J. Thomas. "That's understandable, given the political and financial uncertainties over the winter. But now it has picked up considerably, which has created the situation of later orders and the need for faster deliveries. Fortunately, we invested in some new equipment and plant layout during the winter. These improvements are helping us meet the rush."
Some New Products for 2009 Include:
Jamestown's New 48-Inch Portable Picnic Table
Jamestown Advanced has added a number of new products designed for both ends of outdoor dining, from bear-proof containers, fully adjustable grills/fire rings and taller ADA-compliant fire rings to a portable 48-inch square picnic table featuring an environmentally friendly thermoplastic coating on the table top and benches. Developed in Europe by Plascoat, the covering is applied to the pre-perforated formed sheetsteel in a process similar to powdercoating: using an electrostatic spray gun, then baking to bond the material to the steel substrate. The finished surface is resistant to stress cracking, adverse weather, detergents and typical airborne pollutants. The table and benches are constructed of continuously welded 12-gauge steel, reinforced with channels and supported by one-piece welded-construction frames and cross braces. Available in yellow, red, blue and forest green, with other colors upon request. Contact: Jamestown Advanced Products Corp., 2855 Girst Road, Jamestown, NY 14701, (800) 452-0639, www.jamestownadvanced.com.
RJ Thomas Mfg. Co.'s Model GS Grill Station
The RJ Thomas Mfg. Co. has debuted a number of campground products of late, including two new campfire rings with swiveling cooking grates and trash receptacles and covers intended to defeat foraging varmints and bears. Of particular note is its Model GS Grill Station, which combines a maximum 20 x 48-inch work area with a 3 ½-inch steel grill support tube that accommodates any of nine of the company's portable grills and allows for 360-degree grill rotation. The end frames of the work station are assembled using heavy-duty 1.66-inch steel pipe, buttressed by 1 5/16-inch diagonal braces and are capped with ¼-inch thick steel base plates for anchoring the station to hard surfaces. The grill support can be mounted either in the middle of the table – allowing for four top planks – or at either end of the unit to increase work space. All metal parts are hot-dip galvanized for weather resistance, with the table crafted of treated Southern Yellow Pine. Options include metal powercoating and recycled plastic table planks. Contact: RJ Thomas Mfg. Co. Inc., P.O. Box 946, Cherokee, IA 51012-0946; (800) 762-5002, www.pilotrock.com.
Gerber Mfg. Ltd.'s Recycled Plastic Picnic Table
The RV industry has been promoting itself lately for its "green" footprint on the premise that it offers a more environmentally friendly vacation option vs. traditional venues, and the green movement is taking hold within the campground supplier industry as well. Gerber Mfg., which specializes in commercial-grade steel frame picnic tables, park benches and bike racks, recently introduced a new line of picnic tables featuring table and seating areas made from post-consumer plastic jugs. The plastic planks come in lengths of 4 to 12 feet, with a 4-foot-square table also available. "The plastic doesn't rot, doesn't weather and doesn't sliver," noted company founder Greg Gerber, adding that scratches don't show because the color added to the high-density polyethylene is mixed throughout. "Coupled with a hot-dip galvanized frame," he said, "it makes the unit maintenance-free." Contact: Gerber Manufacturing Ltd., 2917 Latham Dr., Madison, WI 53713; (800) 393-9923, www.gerbertables.com.
Frosty's Octagon Fire Ring with Grill & Pot Hanger
Campfires are an intrinsic part of the camping experience – but most fire rings are designed for small get-togethers. The Octagon Fire Ring manufactured by Frosty's Park Equipment, on the other hand, boasts a diameter of 63 inches and a circumference that, at about 16 feet, is capable of hosting extended families or large groups for an evening singalong. For anyone wanting to add to the outdoor experience, the ring, constructed of 3/16-inch x 8-inch-high steel plate finished in heat-resistant black paint, can be ordered with a cooking grate and pot hanger, both of which can be swiveled 360 degrees. The cooking grate is crafted from ¼-inch round steel bar supported by a 5/8-inch-thick steel arm and provides 322 square inches of cooking area; the rod for the pot hanger also is designed from 5/8-inch steel stock. Contact: Frosty's Park Equipment, 2061 Sulphur Springs Rd., Morristown, TN 37813, (800) 376-7897, email@example.com.