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Vendors Speak Up On Eve of ARVC InSites Expo

November 5, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

insites09Editor’s Note: The following is a roundup of comments from vendors who will be displaying their products and services at next week’s ARVC InSites Expo. This report was compiled by writers Jeff Crider and Leanne Phillips and WCM editor Steve Bibler.

George Narchacos is one of many vendors who are eager to meet with private park owners during the InSites Convention & Expo Nov. 9-12 in Orlando, Fla.

A former campground owner, Narchacos owns Cold River Mining Co. in Greenriver, Mass., which has built and installed gemstone panning sluices and other mining attractions in more than 35 U.S. campgrounds.

“Normally by now, we’re done for the season. But in the last couple of weeks, it’s been very busy,” said Narchacos, who spoke with Woodall’s Campground Management while finishing an installation at Baraboo Hills Campground in Baraboo, Wis.

As has often been the case in many business sectors during the Great Recession of 2008-09, parks had been slow to make decisions and “slow to make deposits” during much of this year, Narchacos confides. But with the upturn in business and inquiries in late summer, he, like many other vendors serving private parks, is hoping the momentum will translate into increased business opportunities at InSites and into next year.

Between 125 and 150 vendors selling virtually every product or service a campground would need are expected to attend the trade show, said Kera Tomlin, director of marketing for the sponsoring National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). The Outdoor Hospitality Expo is open from 2 to 6 p.m. onWednesday,Nov. 11, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, the 12th in the Convention Center.

Also on Thursday, there will be a “Mingle with the Exhibitors” Lunch in the Convention Center.

Of course, the roster of exhibitors will include an array of longtime campground industry vendors like Boise, Idaho-based NomadISP; Austin, Texas-based TengoInternet; Chariot Eagle of Ocala, Fla.; Thor’s Breckenridge Division of Damon Corp., Nappanee, Ind.; Crossroads RV, Elkhart, Ind.-based Skyline Corp.; and Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries.

And several companies that have never exhibited at InSites before will be on hand this year, including Playaboule, a Seattle company that sells bocce and petanque game sets; Lodi, Calif.-based Fluid Manufacturing, which sells coin operated shower systems; Port Angeles, Wash.- based Strait Web Solutions LLC; and Green River Cabins, a Campobello, S.C.– based park model provider.

“We’re thinking it will be a far more vibrant trade show than it was last year, but we say that of all the trade shows,” said Gary Wakerley, owner of Sevierville, Tenn.- based Jumping Pillows USA, which plans to introduce new recreational products at the Orlando show. Wakerley is optimistic because the private park business has generally had a good year, despite the recession. “Capital should be available for campground owners to spend, I would think,” he said.

But while many park operators have told WCM that they remain committed to improving their parks, many have been frustrated in their attempts to purchase big-ticket items or make other major improvements due to the continuing unwillingness of banks to lend money. “This has been a pretty tough year,” said Dick Grymonprez, vice president of marketing for Athens Park Homes in Athens, Texas. “Even though their (parks’) campground business has been good, they’re having trouble finding financing. I think financing is the biggest issue.”

Credit Crunch Still A Significant Factor

But a tough financing environment isn’t stopping Athens Park Homes or other vendors of big-ticket items from attending this year’s show, including Cold River Mining and Pacific Yurts Inc., Cottage Grove, Ore., both of whom maintain that the popularity of their products among camping Americans enables parks to pay them off quickly.

Narchacos, in fact, sold his campground and went into business selling mining sluices, water towers and mining attractions after he made $35,000 in mining-related income during the first year he offered mining attractions at his park. “I had people who came to camp just because I offered those activities,” he said.

Narchacos has since sold mining-related attractions to a lot of parks, including more than 17 Jellystone Camp-Resorts and five parks owned by Bud Styer in Wisconsin as well as a number of successful independent parks.

Many parks, we’re told, are finding that fun activities not only help draw families, but help spur repeat business. Parks are also finding strong demand for rental accommodations, which is why park model and yurt vendors will again be a prominent factor at this year’s ARVC convention.

Pete Dolan, a customer service representative for Pacific Yurts, said yurts are proving to be increasingly popular with consumers, and that translates into high occupancy rates for private parks offering them. “Campground owners and operators have found that high quality yurts provide a wonderful experience, are durable enough to withstand public abuse for many years and pay for themselves quickly because of high occupancy rates,” Dolan said, adding that new customers this year include parks affiliated with Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties; Shenandoah Crossing in Gordonsville, Va., owned by Boca Raton, Fla.-based BlueGreen Corp.; and Wildwood Resort in Sedro Woolley, Wash.

Yurts can also be used for everything from overnight rental accommodations to backcountry ski huts and even additional dining or meeting space, Dolan said.

Many vendors are also coming to InSites armed with new products for campground stores. “We’ll be bringing a lot of new products with us,” said Dennis Corrigan, vice president of marketing for Frankfort, N.Y.-based Wilcor International, adding that his company plans to bring ideas for park owners to improve the marketing and inventory controls. “These last few years, our concentration has really been on store operations and how to really make the most dollars out of every inch of the store.”

Wilcor itself has had a good year. “We’ve expanded our lines and have been much more aggressive in going after new customers,” he said.

Membership Marketer Coast’s 1st ARVC Show

Coast to Coast, the private campground membership arm of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), is planning for the first time to exhibit at ARVC InSites to promote private membership camping as a development alternative.

“At ARVC we will target existing campground developers who may have an interest in converting their park to a private membership campground, as well as new developers entering the industry who should consider membership camping as an option for their development,” said Bruce Hoster, president of Englewood, Colo.-based Coast to Coast Resorts, an internationally recognized network of hundreds of affiliated private camp resorts.

Jim Harrison, whose Santa Rosa, Calif.-based JWH Distributing will be displaying environmentally friendly Eco-Save bacteria and enzyme-based products for septic, sewer, holding tanks, vault and portable toilets, said InSites is an important venue for direct outreach to park owners. “We’re going to showcase the fact that right at the moment we have about 25% of the KOAs across the country using natural products,” said Harrison, adding that environmentally friendly products are important not only to help the environment, but to help parks comply with increasingly stringent environmental regulations.

Regardless of how many sales are actually registered at InSites, long-time ARVC member-vendors say the networking and relationship-building that takes place at the show is another important reason vendors support itt. “It is important to keep the relationships going,” said Norman Boucher, co-owner of LCN Outdoors in Windsor, Conn., which, Boucher maintains, continues to grow its business each year with the addition of products his competitors do not carry.

“I hope to increase our visibility and show that we can continue to be trusted with peoples’ business,” quipped Wade Elliott, founder and president of Issaquah, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group Inc., which supplies pedestals, meters and other electronic equipment for campgrounds and RV parks. “I think we also need to convince them (park operators) that they need to continue to invest in their parks.” Kelly Hogan, CEO of Boise, Idaho-based NomadISP, for his part, is also eager to meet with private park operators at InSites to talk about his company’s wireless Internet or Wi-Fi management services. “We’ve introduced a complete new product line, and continue to add features for the park owner to improve occupancy and drive guests to their parks,” he said.

CrossRoads RV, Topeka, Ind., will unveil new rental RV units for campground owners, including the “Field and Stream 32 QB,” which comes in 13 different models of travel trailers or destination trailers in lengths of 23 to nearly 42 feet, according to Dave Boggs, marketing director. “It is more of an entry-level unit, but it is heavy duty and more residential built,” explained Boggs, adding that Crossroads, a Thor division, has had a decent year on par with 2008.

Among the park model displays will be a new one-bedroom unit from 10-year-old Stone Canyon Lodges, Haleyville, Ala., that comes complete with 3/8-inch thick paneling, hardwood floors, cedar trim and an 8-foot porch. The new model measures 13-feet, 4-inches wide and 37-feet, 6- inches long. “It’s a super unit,” said Larry Smith, CEO. “We build heavy duty park models with superior construction.”

TengoInternet Continues To Promote Wi-Fi Use

Likewise, TengoInternet, Austin, Texas, which provides more than 400 RV park locations with Wi-Fi, wireless and network management services, will be offering a special at this year’s convention that includes a free Wi-Fi controller and directory advertising, which would reach 125,000 people per year, with the purchase of a TengoInternet Managed Network Services Plan.

“Essentially, this is targeted at people who may have a system in place, but they do not have anyone who manages the bandwidth for their guests or they do not have any login security management,” explained Jason Green, marketing director.

“We provide the controller free of charge and the directory advertising. We would help take whatever system they have in place and take it to the next level.”

Along with the mainstay companies, expect to see a lot of new players this time around, including in the insurance arena.

“There are more companies out there than I’ve ever seen in my 23 years of writing (insurance coverage for) campgrounds,” said Jimmy Tumblin, vice president and coowner of Leavitt Recreation & Hospitality Insurance Inc. in Sturgis, S.D. “There are a lot of small, regional carriers that are getting into (campground insurance). Normally, they’ll jump into it for a few years. Then they’ll jump out.”

As for Tumblin’s mission at InSites, “We just want to get out there, get our word out there, do the best we can, write some new business and keep our clients happy,” he said.

There will be as many as four other park insurers exhibiting in Orlando, including Evergreen USA RRG Inc., Lewiston, Maine, which will be highlighting its customizable property and liability insurance. This year has been a steady one for Evergreen, which is owned by a group of campground operators, according to President Lucas Hartford. “Our business is dependent on the camping industry,” said Hartford. “We’ve been very happy with the year. Anyone in 2009 that can have a year that is flat should be happy.”

Another Wi-Fi provider, CheckBox Systems, Gray, Maine, has experienced growth despite the economy in 2009, says Jim Ganley, managing partner. CheckBox specializes in Wi-Fi and has found it to be a valuable amenity at a relatively inexpensive cost. CheckBox maintains Wi-Fi systems at around 1,900 properties, 1,000 of which are RV parks.

“We are a pretty consistent company and have one area we focus in on,” Ganley said. “We do add new features as customers suggest and as technology evolves. This year we will be highlighting some of the new features and maybe give a sneak peek at new products coming out next spring. Everything we do is to enhance Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi experience for the guests and Wi-Fi management for the parks.”

Celebrating 40 years in business, Gerber Manufacturing Ltd., Madison, Wis., has experienced steady business in 2009. “It’s been a good year,” said Brian Legler, president for the last 11 years. Gerber, which manufactures products for campsites, will be showcasing its picnic tables, park benches, grills and bike racks. “We have a well-built product, all commercial grade, that will stand up to any test,” Legler said.

Prime Karts, Pensacola, Fla., will feature its 3- and 4-wheel pedal karts for commercial use at this year’s show. More than 1,000 campgrounds use Prime Karts as revenue generators, we’re told, and they’re proven to be extremely profitable with continued growth in new markets. “Business has been great, its up from last year,” said Derek Lother, vice president. “We have never been affected by the economy. It seems like when the economy is down, people don’t travel as far or spend as much for their vacations, so they go camping instead. More campers means more campgrounds buy our pedal karts and rent them out to generate income.” Look for new models and designs for 2010.

Count Phelps Among The Industry Mainstays

Thirty-nine-year-old Phelps Honey Wagon, Dillsburg, Pa., has been in the business of providing a superior mobile sewage handling system. At this year’s ARVC Convention the company will showcase its 300-gallon model as well as a new feature to its 2009 models. “There is a new drain hose holder built onto our wagons,” explained owner Jaylene Shannon, adding that the new holder allows RVers to simply store their drain hose right on their wagon so they never go without it. “We are giving a 5% show discount for anyone who purchases a wagon at the trade show,” added Jaylene, who, with husband Ron Shannon, has owned Phelps Honey Wagon since 2005.

In its 20th year in business, Intelligent Products Inc., Burlington, Ky., plans to showcase the latest in pet pollution solutions. Rod Lukey, operations manager, said business has been good and his firm is looking forward to displaying its line of pet waste pick-up products plus Intelligent’s Mutt Mitts.

If you ask proprietor Peter Pelland, attention to detail has set Pelland Advertising, Haydenville, Mass., apart since 1980. The agency builds and hosts websites and creates 4-color brochures. “We are just shy of about 200 websites that we maintain,” said Pelland. “We are a bigger player in the industry. Our quality and personalized service makes us unique. It’s the attention to details.”

The company’s green commitment has led Pelland to do all of its printing through Forest Stewardship Council vendors, printing on paper stocks with post-consumer recycled content, soy-based inks, chemical-free plates, and non-VOC solvent. And at this year’s ARVC convention Pelland will have samples of its work both online and in print, as well as some of the peripheral services provided.

Walex Products Co. Inc., Wilmington, N.C., will showcase its line of RV sanitation products at this year’s ARVC convention. Todd Vice, RV and marine sales manager, said Walex is targeting campground owners and, indirectly, RV owners at the show. “We have retail-friendly products for campground owners to sell in their stores,” he said.

Walex markets products to rejuvenate the life of septic systems plus holding tank deodorizers, a waste digestor and laundry detergent. “We have environmentally-friendly products that are biodegradable,” said Vice, whose business is “bouncing back” over 2008.

The Tower Co., Manitowoc, Wis., doesn’t claim to have the most glamorous of booths at the ARVC convention, but the diva of dump stations, owner Christine Kornely, is proud of her sturdy, American-made products: water towers for RV dump stations, along with hatch covers and signs. “I tell people we’re the booth with the garbage in the front,” said Kornely, “as we also sell garbage picker uppers.” The Tower Co. has been in business for more than 40 years and Kornely has been owner for more than 11 years. “We make a very good product; they last a long time,” she said. “I just talked to a customer  who is replacing their tower after 37 years. We like supplying the world with dump stations.”

Anderson’s Brochure Distribution, Lewisburg, W.Va., will again showcase its brochure distribution services at this year’s ARVC convention. “We will be showing how our booth would look at a campsite,” explained Judy Deegans, co-owner along with her husband, Skip Deegans. The Deeganses distribute brochures for campgrounds and attractions throughout the United States. “We attend 21 camping and RV shows throughout the U.S. and Canada,” she said. “We sell our service to the campground owners attending. We have had a very good year. Our customers are giving good feedback and enjoying a robust October.”

Providing a complete electrical solution, Eaton Corp., Williamsburg, Va., will highlight its RV park power pedestals and distribution equipment. According to Marketing Director Katie Kullberg, business had slowed some, but is quickly making a comeback in 2009. “We were slow to get hit by the economic downturn, and we’re already seeing it pick up,” said Kullberg, whose firm targets campground owners, electrical contractors, distributors and RV owners and will soon be bringing out a line of electric vehicle charging stations.

Meanwhile, Dick Grymonprez of Athens Park Homes, like many other vendors, is simply hoping that InSites marks a turning point in the RV park and campground sector for stronger sales. “We’re hoping the show is the start of a new year and gets us off on the right foot,” he said.



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