Rec Vendors See Improving Campground Market

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February 16, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

With the U.S. economy seemingly gaining more steam each month, the makers and distributors of outdoor entertainment features for RV parks and campgrounds are already anticipating a good year.

These features, ranging from waterparks, personal recreational vehicles and games to outdoor projection screens, complement the natural attractions of any campground and help keep campers onsite.

A variety of these firms surveyed by Woodall’s Campground Management were nearly unanimous in their optimism.

CRS inflatable Wibits installation at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga.

Perhaps no one was more positive about the 2012 season than Ron Romens, president and co-owner of Commercial Recreation Specialists (CRS), a leading vendor of splashparks, inflatable water features and waterfront design concepts to the RV park and campground sector.

“We were up about 10 percent in 2011 and I think we will be up minimally that amount in 2012,” Romens said. “A lot of that will be driven by our waterfront sales, which have doubled in the past three years.”

The Verona, Wis.-based vendor is marketing many of its products this year under the slogan “Unleash the Fun.”

“From that, we tie in to ‘Unleash Your Waterfront.’ Then we’ll focus on our ‘H2 Whoa Zone’ concept,” he said. The “Zone” is a business model whereby a campground owner can convert any waterfront setting into an attraction.

The CRS total design approach gained plenty of traction at shows over the winter, including the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) Expo in Savannah, Ga., late in 2011, Romens noted.

Romens is urging campgrounds with a pond or existing waterfront to make that waterfront as a primary asset of the campground, a focal point of attention. “We do that through designing that waterfront so each area has a specific purpose,” he said.

Shade structures may be added to create a relaxing area along the beach. If you don’t have a beach, bring in some sand and create one!

And for the water itself, CRS markets a multitude of inflatable products for all ages to enjoy.

CRS also encourages campgrounds to consider placing cabins or yurts near the water’s edge to create premium lodging opportunities.

“By unleashing that waterfront area, that is the most valuable property they have, per lineal foot. So if you’re developing that waterfront, you’re developing additional revenues and bumping up the overall value of that property with the waterfront,” he said.

And campgrounds without a waterfront can build one by digging a half- or one-acre pond, he suggested. “By doing that it adds value to the property and opens up a lot of doors for recreation by bringing that water in,” he said. “It may be more affordable than to spend the money on a brand new swimming pool.”

Aerial view of Smokey Hollow Campground water features in Lodi, Wis.

So, what is this waterfront investment going to cost?

Romens suggests that a $15,000 to $30,000 investment can yield a variety of recreational features at various depths, all of which are visible, compared to, say, a splashpad, where half of the investment is concrete and infrastructure and not visible. “They’re great amenities but in the overall spending, the guests aren’t actually utilizing it,” he said.

Romens advises that waterfront development doesn’t have to happen all at once. While it may take six weeks to install a waterfront park, campground owners can also develop it in stages over several years.

The firm, which is marking its 10th year in business this year, is writing orders for campgrounds from coast to coast. The East Coast market is overseen by Romens’ partner, Rich Wills, who works in CRS’s New Jersey office.

Other Vendors Report Economic Upturn

Murbles are popular with campers and are finding their way into campground stores.

Others contacted for this story were equally upbeat.

Murray Kramer, inventor of the Murbles game and a relative newcomer to the RV park and campground market, is excited about the inroads his game – resembling bocce ball but not played on a defined court – have made in campgrounds. Based in Pensacola, Fla., Kramer has made the circuit of campground shows last fall and this winter, and his travels are beginning to pay dividends.

“We started off the new year with a bang at the SuperShow in Tampa. Sales were exceptional,” Kramer said. He’s picked up more KOA campgrounds carrying his game, and he’ll be attending state shows in Wisconsin and Michigan in March.

He’s added a pink carrying bag for 2012 in honor of the breast cancer awareness effort.

To those who say Murbles is nothing more than bocce, he replies, “It is and it isn’t.” He points out the Murbles are lighter than bocce balls, there is no need for a defined playing area and the game can be played in all seasons, even winter.

He’s calling Murbles a “Generation X’ version of bocce ball.

Kramer feels that campgrounds will be expanding their recreational services this year. “People are buying a little more freely,” he said. “I think it’s (the economy) turning the corner.”

Murble sets are priced at $29.95 plus shipping and handling.

Mini Golf Inc., Jessup, Pa., the only company that specializes exclusively in pre-fab indoor/outdoor miniature golf course construction, is stepping up its game for 2012.

Mini Golf Inc. portable installation.

The leading builder of portable miniature golf installations is making its courses more realistic this year with multi-colored carpets – blue to simulate water, beige to simulate sand and different styles of turf to simulate higher elevations – and building multi-tier putting surfaces, noted Joseph J. Buckshon, president and owner. “This golf is still unbelievably popular. Once you start playing, you become passionate about it.”

The internationally known firm, founded in 1956 by Buckshon’s father, marked in 2011 its 30th anniversary of incorporation. It has carved out a successful niche in the RV park and campground sector – which accounts for about half of the firm’s business – by making its courses conveniently priced and quickly available for installation. Prices start at around $9,000 for a 9-hole course that covers about 1,200 square feet to $18,000 for an 18-hole course double that size. The entire process, from first contact to first day of play, takes about three weeks.

Buckshon says he’s cautiously optimistic about 2012.

“It looks much more positive than it has since ’08,” he said. “This was a very good fall for us. We’re looking forward to a good spring.”

Epic Outdoor Cinema LLC offers a variety of sizes of outdoor screen systems.

Epic Outdoor Cinema LLC, a Port Orange, Fla., supplier of inflatable projection screens for the outdoor hospitality business, is coming off a record fourth quarter and is anticipating a good start for the new year.

Looking back to the end of 2011, Phil Wagner, company spokesman and part owner, conceded, “We were dumbfounded. The last 3½ years were almost totally flat. I just think people are taking a harder look at how they’re spending their money and opening up and making this kind of investment.”

The company has been very successful in the resort, park and recreation and education markets and is reaching out this year to RV parks and campgrounds, according to Wagner.

Screens come in multiple sizes, with the most popular among campgrounds measuring 9 feet by 16 feet and 7 feet by 12 feet, which can entertain an audience of up to 450 people. (The largest screen measures 11 feet by 20 feet.) The screen systems include a projector for rear or front projection, complete wiring set-up and an all-terrain carrying cart which keeps the entire system together. Set-up can be done in less than a half-hour.

The Epic screens are unique in that they do not require a constant air blower: once inflated – which takes 2 to 5 minutes, depending upon the size of the screen – they can stay intact for weeks at a time, he noted.

System retail prices range from around $7,500 to $15,000, depending on the size and model. The company is offering a free HD upgrade for campgrounds through the end of March. Other “strong discounts” are available, Wagner said.

Wendy Shim, president and part owner of Trailmate Inc., a Bradenton, Fla.-based tricycle vendor, is slightly more cautious on her appraisal of the current economy than the aforementioned campground vendors. She attributes her position to the fact that it’s a presidential election year, which, she contends, makes campground owners tentative with their wallets.

Trailmate markets its FunCycles to RV parks and campgrounds.

“I remember 2008 and people had the same feeling then. They become more conservative,” said Shim, whose company derives a good third of its cycle sales from RV parks and campgrounds that rent them to their guests.

Shim is getting a lot of questions from people who want to repair their products rather than replace them, she said. “Some tend to replenish every year and sell off what they have. The ones who don’t want to do that are investing in the time to repair their fleets.”

That said, Trailmate’s “banana peels” and low riders remain by far the most popular trikes for the campground market.

“They seem ageless. They have been on the market for a while. I see dads that rode them when they were kids. There is a nostalgia about them,” she said.

Trailmate sells its products through a network of retail bicycle dealers, located throughout the country. Campgrounds should check the Trailmate website for the nearest dealer. Special pricing offers may apply. The company encourages its dealers to stock its products and have them available to "test drive." If dealers do not have the cycle in stock, they can be ordered and shipped to the dealer within a week of order placement.

How to Contact Outdoor Recreation

Vendors to the Campground Sector

  • Commercial Recreation Specialists, 415 Investment Court, Verona, WI 53593; (877) 896-8442, (608) 848-8781, fax (608) 848-8782;;
  • Epic Outdoor Cinema LLC, 413 Oak Place, Building 4, Suite F, Port Orange, FL 32127; (386) 304-2336;;
  • Mini Golf Inc., 202 Dept. W Bridge St., Jessup, PA 18434; (570) 489-8623, fax (570) 383-9970;;
  • Kramer Kreations, 9141 Sebring Drive, Pensacola, FL 32506; (850) 458-5858, cell (850) 390-0858; fax (850) 458-8565;;
  • Trailmate Inc., 1851 67th Ave. E., Sarasota, FL 34243; (800) 777-1034, fax (800) 477-5141;;
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