Campgrounds Cut Back on Purchases from Electrical Supply Firms in 2009
By many accounts, 2009 hasn’t been as bad as many park operators thought it could be.
“By and large, I’m hearing that folks are having an acceptable year,” said Wade Elliott, founder and president of Issaquah, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group Inc. “In some cases,” he added, “their business has been better than last year’s.”
But despite the fact that many parks have fared better in 2009 than they originally anticipated, Elliott said many of his customers haven’t spent as much on electrical upgrades this year as they normally do.
“Back in March, I went to the Wisconsin show and a guy came to me who has been a very good customer. He said, ‘I have the money. I just don’t know what’s going to happen.’ I don’t fault them for that,” Elliott said.
The good news, Elliott said, is that while many park operators have held off on electrical upgrades this year, the need for the upgrades, which range from new power outlets and pedestals to meters, sockets and wiring, hasn’t gone away.
“As soon as people feel comfortable (with the economy), we’ll be very busy,” Elliott said, adding that he was starting to see an increase in call volume in the weeks leading up to ARVC’s annual InSites Convention & Expo in Orlando.
“I’m attributing this to the Snowbird parks that are getting ready for the season,” he said.
Other electrical equipment suppliers, however, were also seeing an upturn in inquiries and in late summer and fall.
“Our call volume has significantly increased since Labor Day,” Scott Vining, RV product manager for Mankato, Minn.-based Midwest Electric Products Inc., told Woodall’s Campground Management in a late September interview.
“It’s been a challenging year, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the uptick in the last six to eight weeks.”
Jeremy Ward, sales manager for Jamestown Advanced Products in Jamestown, N.Y., said his company’s year-to-date sales of electrical products were actually running ahead of last year’s figures, although sales were sluggish early in the year.
LCN Outdoors, for its part, has also seen growth in its electric product supply business, although that primarily reflects the Windsor, Conn., company’s recent addition of Milbank and Eaton pedestals and meters to its product lineup as the company works to become more of a “one-stop-shop” for private park owners, said company co-owner Norman Boucher.
In terms of park electrical equipment needs, Richard Linnell, president and owner of Lake Orion, Mich.-based B & B Electrical, sees owners purchasing more pedestals and meters for their campsites. “There is a shift away from power boxes to pedestals,” Linnell said. “If you have a power box, it sits on a wood post. But a pedestal looks nice and sleek.”
Parks are also continuing to upgrade from 30- to 50-amp electrical service and they are increasingly investing in meters in an effort to encourage their guests to conserve electrical power, Linnell said.
Lisa Senior, general manager of Hialeah Meter Co. in Hialeah, Fla., said her company’s meter sales to RV parks, campgrounds and marinas are unchanged from last year, but she said parks are continuing to invest in meters in an effort to control their guests’ electrical consumption.
“There are a lot of people that are finally seeing the light on meters, and that it’s getting to expensive to give away electricity,” said Elliott of Utility Supply Group. “Just putting a meter on a site will get you a 15-25% reduction in usage, and I think that’s a conservative number.”
Linnell said when guests have to pay for their own power, they are less likely to engage in wasteful practices, such as leaving the air-conditioning turned on their rig all day while they’re away.
But while more parks are metering electrical power on their campsites, park operators said this practice is mainly aimed at seasonal campers, such as those who stay for a month or more, and not at transient RVers who only stay for a handful of nights.
“I have yet to see a park charging for electric on overnight stays,” said Andy Eaton, a former campground owner who now works as a consultant for Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. “There are parks out there that do charge for an upgrade from 30-amp electric to 50-amp electric – usually $3 to $5 per night. Most campers view this as an upgrade and not an electric charge. As a past campground owner, I always incorporated the electric into the site night charge, as most of the industry does.”
Private parks can also conserve power by installing coin or token operated meters as well as push button timers for outdoor lighting of game courts, said Charles Robertson, corporate administrator for Monarch Coin & Security in Covington, Ky., which provides both coin and token operated lighting and shower equipment