Part 1: Vendors at ARVC Expo Look to 2013
Editor's Note: WCM Publisher Sherman Goldenberg interviewed a number of vendors at the 2012 ARVC conference in Las Vegas. In this first of several installments that will be published online, he shares his findings in a story that appears in its entirety in the January issue of Woodall's Campground Management.
One of the most game-changing exhibits on hand for the 550 attendees at the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds’ (ARVC) annual Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo in late November was that of Good Sam Enterprises LLC, where Ann Emerson, vice president and publisher of the all-new Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory, was working to spread the word on the rollout of Good Sam’s first consolidated campground directory.
Some 425,000 copies of the new print directory, a merging of two respected titles, Woodall’s North American Campground Directory and the Trailer Life Directory of RV Parks & Campgrounds, were to be released in December. And the fact that they’ve been combined is big news in the accommodations sector, as the two were often referred to as the “bibles” of the campground arena for mil- lions of traveling RV enthusiasts over the years.
The two publications had been co-published since the mid-1990s by Good Sam Enterprises LLC and its predecessor, Affinity Group Inc. The consolidation was announced last year.
“I wasn’t sure what park owners were going to think when we went from two directories to one because Woodall’s is a strong brand, as is the Trailer Life Directory,” said Emerson. “But, overwhelmingly, park owners have said ‘yes.’ They have one set of direc- tory rep teams to work with, one marketing plan and one marketing investment and rat- ing system to understand.”
Emerson, at the same time, is spearheading the announced expansion of the Good Sam RV Park & Resort Network from her Ventura, Calif., offices in what amounts to another new twist for Chicago-based Good Sam as it seeks to extend the reach of its discount camping network to a host of new North American park operators. And Emerson says things are going well with that as well.
“We started in 2012 with 1,667 Good Sam Parks in the network,” Emerson told Woodall’s Campground Management, now an independent publication based out of Elkhart, Ind. “We are ending the year with 2,133 Good Sam parks in the network. We’ve had explosive growth. The great part about that is you still have to maintain a certain rating before you can be invited to the network. We didn’t lower the quality of parks.”
So, Good Sam has been getting the word out on both fronts at the ARVC Conference and elsewhere. “We’re talking about the Good Sam brand and how the power of one investment in our directory gets you exposure to our Good Sam members, which is 1.3 million members,” said Emerson. “We also have our AAA relationship intact, the hallmark of the non-Good Sam RVer. Through a contract, AAA buys hundreds of thousands of our print directories and gives them to their AAA clubs throughout the country, and those clubs either give them to their members free or for a small charge.
“And we still have our circulation through our bookstores, obviously through Camping World, which is a big circulation channel for us as well. There are 100 Camping World (RV rolling stock and parts & accessory sales) locations.”
On the digital side, Emerson reported, the Trailer Life and Woodall’s websites are also being merged as Good Sam parks retain aggressive web exposure on the Good Sam Club site. “We have mobile apps in the digital market as well,” said Emerson. “What we do is walk into a park operator and say there’s one investment that they need. And they need to do it through Good Sam. And we work really hard to also promote our non-Good Sam parks. You can be in our directory without being a Good Sam Park.
“We obviously work really hard taking care of our Good Sam-member parks as well. Our rep teams are walking into parks and telling them we have one story to tell,” she added. “When you are with Good Sam, you are reaching this entire market, print and online.
LSI’s Vic Nolting: Jellystone Parks Had ‘Really Good Year’
Vic Nolting, vice chairman of Cincinatti-based Leisure Systems Inc., which oversees a growing system of 80 Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, noted that the ARVC conference has always been a good venue for introducing the Jellystone concept to new park owners, people who want to move their parks in new directions.
And it helps in reaching out to prospective operators when you’re coming off a solid year. “We had a really good year,” said Nolting. “In round numbers, same-park sales were up about 6%, and the total system was up about 12%. As far as our number of parks, we’ve added four or five new parks this year.
What does he see regarding the general atmosphere of the RV park and campground arena right now?
“After some really difficult years — and we did pretty well during the downturn as people were watching their dollars — this year is a little bit different. While there has been some hesitancy and some doubt related to what was going to happen after the election and the political atmosphere and the na- tional debt, people were out and about in 2012. They were looking for places to go. They were spending their money. And while they weren’t being silly about it, there was a lot more positive atmosphere out there than we felt in the last three years.
So, how do things look for the year ahead?
“That’s a tough question,” said Nolting. “There are a lot of things out there that could create some real issues in ’13, but I’m not feeling it from the marketplace, I’m not feeling it from the camping industry or our campers or suppliers that we deal with. Maybe it’s a Scarlet O’Hara-type of approach, but we’re going to keep those rose colored glasses on and say ’13 is going to be a good year.”
Asked about trends at Jellystone parks, Nolting was quick to point out that his company as a franchisor does not heavily promote new programs for independent parks.
That said, he mentioned the addition and improvement of water elements a “huge success” over the past year.
“Any park that’s put in a water slide or spray ground has been very successful,” he added. “To the extent that it makes sense for individual parks, that’s something we always support. As far as other capital improvements, we let the park deal with what makes sense for their parks. We try to give them the options. We try to show them the success stories and then they make their own decisions.”
This trend includes inflatable water slides. “It’s a much lower entry level,” added Nolting, whose firm now operates one company-owned park, Jellystone Park Lake Monroe, located south of Bloomington, Ind. “But they are very popular. Certainly there are issues with them in terms of wear and tear. They need to be replaced on a semi-regular basis. But by and large, people have been using inflatable waterslides and inflatables in general, the jumping pillows and so forth, as additional pieces to their amenity package that have been well accepted.”
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