Harsh Winter Hurts Campgrounds & Suppliers
Extreme winter weather in some regions of the U.S. has taken a toll on the campground industry, and not just among park owners. Suppliers report sales are flagging in the northern regions that were hardest hit.
“This winter is killing retail. January was one of our worst months ever,” said Jessica Ellenbecker, co-owner with Steve Burnham of campground store supplier All Things Jerky. While normal springtime events remain on their schedule, they say there’s still some recovery to be done.
“We’ll be out doing our thing at the different fairs and festivals in the area, and that will help,” Burnham added. “The retail, that’s still tough.”
The sales slowdown is being felt by all kinds of companies, including dump-station equipment supplier The Tower Company, where owner Christine Kornely is also feeling concern over park owners’ restricted window of time between the snow going out and campers coming in.
“I feel so bad because the campgrounds are so crunched for time. I got a call with an order from a state park in Michigan, and I asked her, ‘Are you putting those in now?’ She said, ‘No, we just got eight inches of snow today, but I’m ordering anyway,’” Kornely said. “We feel how they’ve been hit, and we’re just waiting for everyone to lose their snow.”
Some are looking at that condensed preparation period and bracing themselves for a rush of orders in a narrow time frame that could put pressure on their inventory and supply capabilities. Jamestown Advanced Products, for example, launched a spring promotion intended to encourage early business and avoid that kind of pressure situation. But while some suppliers are concerned about getting an influx of orders, others are concerned they won’t; for the latter, it’s not a matter of deferred sales so much as sales lost entirely. That’s the case with TrailMate, a company that makes specialty bicycles and karts for campgrounds.
According to President Wendy Shim, the extreme and prolonged winter has had a near-devastating effect on their spring sales. A flood of sales might put TrailMate in a pinch, but “we’re ready to give them whatever they want,” she said. “We haven’t been able to sell much of anything outside of Florida. We’re thinking maybe we can’t recoup that even after the thaw comes. That’s what we’re really worried about.”
Flooding of another kind is yet another concern if the record-breaking piles of snow go out the same way they came in: too much, too soon. While Kornely said she’s “waiting for that real intense thaw,” Ellenbecker expressed trepidation for what that thaw could bring. “If it gets too warm too fast, it has nowhere to go,” she stated.
With one eye on the water table, campground owners in Wisconsin are forging ahead and looking to their neighbors for help, according to Lori Severson, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO), whose members recently did some preseason-scramble problem-solving during their March 12-16 convention.
“One of the things we talked about was what we can do to get some additional workforce options – can we get Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to come in, youth groups, community groups, that kind of thing,” she said. “I think there’s a fair number of campground that will be doing those kind of things to make sure they’re ready for that customer and that guest at the beginning of the year. We don’t want to lose any of that spring business, for sure.”
Once the industry gets over that initial hump, the harsh winter may actually turn out in their favor in the form of cabin-fevered campers clamoring to get outside again.
“Once the weather snaps, people will want to be out and it’ll naturally correct itself. I think it’ll just be one big pendulum swing, and it’ll be the other extreme. May probably will be an awesome month, if the weather decides to cooperate,” Ellenbecker surmised.
But that’s still a big “if,” she said, because there are already forecasts saying the other extreme really is coming. “If it’s a short hot summer like the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting, it’s going to kill business. You can’t camp if it’s 100 degrees every day,” she said. “I hope it’s a good summer. When you’re a campground owner, you only have three or four months a year to do what you need to do,” at least in the northern U.S. and much of Canada.