RV Business Partners Team Up for Growth and Value
In a recent survey that shows 31% of all Americans plan to take an RV vacation in the summer of 2021, President and CEO of the RV Industry Association, Craig Kirby, stated;
“…RVing has been cemented as a mainstream travel option that is here to stay.”×
Kirby’s statement summarizes what many RV-influenced companies have already concluded. With a projected 56 million RVers hitting the road this year, CEOs, Directors of Development, and RV business Entrepreneurs realize there are opportunities. One of the many ways companies are taking advantage of this new RV climate is by coming together in partnerships. Some of them look odd at first, but once you understand their motivations, you’ll find they make sense and offer solutions for RVers. We’ll explore some of the most significant partnerships that have made news during the recent RV boom. We’ll show you what each company does, why they came together, and how their collaboration benefits you, the RV consumer.
Camping World and Lordstown Motors
Lordstown Motors has used many news and blog bytes in cyberspace in the race for the ultimate electric pickup truck. Lordstown Motors bought a derelict General Motors plant in Ohio to develop and mass-produce their Endurance half-ton pickup truck set to release sometime in 2022. The quad-motor all-electric truck will reach 600 horsepower, tow 7,500 pounds, and get a software governed max speed of 80 miles-per-hour.
Camping World is the largest RV dealership in the United States. With over 170 locations and growing, they offer many services to the RV World. As a customer, you can buy almost any category of RV from many of the popular RV manufacturers, shop for your essential accessories, and join one of the largest RV discount clubs; Good Sam. Returning customers can also find free dump stations or take advantage of their RV service center for repair or upgrade issues. From an RVer point-of-view, the EV truck is only Phase 1 of Lordstown’s plans. Together with Camping World, the two have joined together in the RV business to create the first all-electric motorhome. The new RV will be the progenitor of the new Class E RV category. Currently, both companies have the designs behind locked doors, but they’ve released a few appetizers in some press releases.
Like Class B Campervans, electric motorhomes will start on a full-size van chassis like the Dodge ProMaster, Ford Transit, or Mercedes Sprinter. Multiple solar panels on the roof will feed a single battery bay that runs both the automotive electric motors and the livable coach space. We may see the EV motorhome with expanded sidewalls and roofs like B plus RVs. In addition, the roof, rear, or sidewalls may have expandable slideouts to increase overall interior space. To support the upcoming electric RVs, Camping World is working closely with its Good Sam division to develop RV-friendly EV charging stations throughout the country. Meanwhile, Camping World will become the dealer and service center for the Lordstown Endurance EV truck, saving the manufacturer millions in developing their own sales and service centers, ensuring Lordstown can wade into the RV business easily.
Editors Note: As reported by RV News, The future of the electric RV planned by Lordstown Motors and Camping World became suddenly unclear Monday after Lordstown announced the resignations of CEO Steve Burns and Chief Financial Officer Julio Rodriguez.
The Resulting Benefit to Consumers
If you find that perfect RV, but your vehicle can’t tow it, Camping World can set you up with the right truck to pull it, the RV you want, all of the essential accessories, an RV discount club, a free dump station, and be your source for repairs. If you’ll looking for a driveable, come back in 2023-2024 to buy the first-ever all-electric Class E motorhome. Could Camping World be your one-stop-shop for electric RVs and EV trucks? (Yes, they’ll still sell diesel and gas-powered motorhomes too.)
KOA and Love’s Truck Stop
Love’s Truck Stops are not new to the RV business. They are known for their 24/7 off-highway services for the weary traveler and trucker. Starting in Oklahoma City, OK, this major travel center brand provided fuel, food, showers, tire repair, and many other services. It’s easy to find one of their truck stops near you, with over 550 locations in 41 states. Most locations have hotels or motels on-site from big names like Holiday Inn, Best Western, Fairfield Inn, and other well-known brands.
KOA is one of the biggest campground brands in North America. The company has over 500 franchised locations that fall within three divisions. The KOA Journey division offers campgrounds just off the highway catering to campers and RVers that need a goodnight’s rest as they travel to their final destination. These locations provide pull-through campsites, plenty of tent spaces, and well-lit after-hours check-in. In May 2021, Love’s took the next step in that RV business by providing accommodations for travelers. By the end of the year, The McComb, Mississippi Love’s Truck Stop will have a KOA campground. When Kevin McCarthy, the Director of Special Projects with Love’s, stated,
“As we began to consider adding camping to our portfolio of hospitality offerings, KOA just made sense….”
The Resulting Benefit to Consumers
Love’s Truck Stop and KOA Journey have plans to open an additional 70 campgrounds on new and existing properties in 2022-2023. As a result, RVers will now be able to pull into a Love’s Truck Stop and get some sleep without having to contend with the din of semi engines running all night. All due respect to the masters of the road, but getting 40 winks surrounded by those engines is a bigger challenge than RV gas generators. If you use the 2-2-2 travel method (travel 2 hours between breaks, driving 200 miles in a day, and stop for 2 nights), you find yourself staying longer. The KOA Journey premium campsite with the wood deck, dog park, the Love’s Truck Stop restaurant, and Red Box DVD rental kiosk is a vacation experience all by itself.
Harvest Host and Boondocker’s Welcome
Over 15 years ago, Marianne Edwards and her daughter Anne Maste entered the RV business and began their small-budget RV adventures as boondockers. As they traveled, they built up a network of friends that offered them a place to stay as they traveled across the country. A few years later, Marianne and Anne turned that network into Boondockers Welcome. Today, the worldwide company has over 2,900 host locations. Whether your host has a driveway available or 100-acres of land, members can find a place to stay with friendly hosts who appreciate the spirit of the RV Lifestyle.
Harvest Hosts is a membership program with over 2,438 wineries, breweries, farms, golf courses, and other locations that allow overnight camping for self-contained RVers. Enjoy incredible experiences or purchase products from locally made businesses without worrying about getting back on the road. So whether you’re looking to stop for the night on your way to your final destination or have a weekend of adventures, your Harvest Hosts overnight stays can be the highlights of your journey.
For nine years, Marianne and Anne have worked hard to make Boondockers Welcome the success it has become. The two women have decided to step back from daily operations by becoming RV business partners with Harvest Host. The commonalities between the two companies make the partnership a good fit, but the differences will benefit each other.
The Resulting Benefit to Consumers
As Harvest Hosts works on system integration and other RV business merger issues, current members won’t see any changes. Harvest Hosts will honor current memberships and the benefits that come with them. If your membership is ready for renewal, you can do so without any changes. Harvest Hosts is working on upcoming membership programs that integrate the benefits of both companies. For one annual fee under the new programs coming up in the next few months, members will have the opportunity to use both Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts features.
Imagine this: On your way to a family get-together, you stop at a Harvest Hosts winery to pick up a few bottles. The next night, you stay at a Boondockers Welcome host’s home. When you reach your family’s area, you stay four nights at another Boondockers Welcome host location that has water, electricity, and wifi for a nominal fee. After you visited with your family to take the “long way” home, stopping at a Harvest Hosts golf course, brewery, and a few Boondockers Welcome hosts to keep your trip budget-friendly. Once you’re home, you look through all of the photos you took of your vacation. You avoided paying campground fees, had an incredible journey, and great memories. You only have one problem; explaining to your relatives why you have more photos of your trip than the family event.
Thor Industries and Tiffin Motorhomes
In 1972, Bob Tiffin of Red Bay, Alabama, bought an out-of-business RV company and turned it into Tiffin Motorhomes. Coming from a legacy of entrepreneurs, he built the company up, one Class A motorhome at a time to turn the family-owned RV manufacturer into one of the best luxury RV brands in the United States. With his sons Tim, Van, and Lex, he continues the tradition today with seven Class A and a Mercedes Class C motorhome.
Thor Industries began when Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein purchased Airstream on August 29, 1980. The sale saved Airstream from the problems the company experienced during the 1970s. Through the 1980s, 1990s, and millennium, Thor increased its holdings in the RV, bus, and other adjacent markets by taking over the RV business side of the operation and sharing innovations among its daughter brands. Finally, during the 2008 Financial Crisis and soon after, Thor had the resources to save other worthy brands. Today, Thor Industries is one of the largest RV manufacturers in the world.
Very few RV brands are still family-owned. However, on December 21, 2020, Thor Industries announced its acquisition of Tiffin Motorhomes and its subsidiary VanLeigh Fifth Wheels. The shock of the news rippled through the RV business world. The question on everybody’s mind was what role was Thor going to play on Tiffin, and what changes would we see in future models from the family-owned company? According to the press release and other sources, Bob Tiffin and his family will continue to run the daily operations and manage the company. In addition, Thor will do what they do best; assist with the business side of the process, help Tiffin Motorhomes realize its full potential, open distribution networks previously unavailable.
The Resulting Benefit to Consumers
From July 1- August 30, RV manufacturers will announce their 2022 model lineups per the RVIA recommendation. So this upcoming year will be the first model year Tiffin will have with Thor’s influence. However, industry experts aren’t expecting a lot of Thor influence since it takes a massive amount of work to redesign anything on a Class A motorhome.
Tiffin motorhomes have excellent quality and some great features. One of their best-selling features is the dinettes with a built-in workstation. You won’t necessarily find the newest gadget or gizmo in their RVs, but what they do have is gorgeous and long-lasting. To speculate, Thor Industries may treat Tiffin like Airstream: let Tiffin keep producing great RVs on their own, but occasionally offer one or two innovations that enhance their products.
For example, look at what Airstream did in 2020 with the subfloor. For decades, they used plywood under the floor to anchor the cabinetry and furniture. It was the only wood in the structure, and they had to use it since there wasn’t any other material that could replace the plyboard. For the 2020 model years, Airstream found a composite material that was stronger, lighter, and held screws just a well as the wood. The best part was that the new material solved the rare possibility of the wood rotting. While we don’t know the details of who discovered the composite material, it could’ve come from Thor’s engineering department.
If you’ve ever played the “Hungry Hungry Hippos” tabletop game, you know the basic rules. You push down on the spring-loaded tail as fast as you can to capture as many marbles as possible. The goal is to collect more marbles than your other three competitors. Whoever has the most wins the game. Look at how Camping World, General RV, Lazydays, and RV Retailer buy up independently-owned RV dealerships during the RV parts shortage. You can draw parallels between the game and the rapid dealership buyouts. When done correctly, acquisitions are good for the RV business.
Camping World’s CEO Marcus Lemonis commented about their expansion plans during their May 2021 buyout of Trailer City RV in Fairmont, West Virginia. “We continue to march towards our goal of operating a recreational dealer platform in the 48 contiguous states.” Currently, their 170 locations cover 38 states.
Michigan’s General RV entered the Mid-Atlantic with its 13th location in Ashland, Virginia, a suburb of Richmond. According to the General Manager of the new dealership, Ed McNamara, General RV focuses on using a strategic placement methodology rather than flooding the country with many sales and service centers. The Ashland location sits along the I-95 corridor about halfway from Florida and the Canadian Border. “We’re in a sweet spot,” he begins, “with 48 percent of the country’s population within a 10-hour drive.
Headquartered in the greater Tampa Bay, Florida area, Lazydays spent the last three years expanding rapidly. With the acquisition of Chilhowee RV outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, Lazydays became present in the Smokey Mountain area. The strategic buyout places its brand in an RV vacation hotspot during the camping season. By 2022, the goal is to have 16 dealerships across the country. You’ll find Lazydays in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas, and Nevada once all of the acquisitions are complete. Lazydays RV started in 1976 in Seffner, Florida. They’re known for the best service, the most expansive selection, and the most prominent parts department. You may recognize them from their Travel Channel show “Big Time RV.”
Newcomer RV Retailer, led by Jon Ferrando, is based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After his experience as an executive vice president with AutoNation, he’s using the lessons he learned from taking that auto dealership startup into a $20 billion corporation and applying it to the RV business in 33 locations in the eight states his company currently owns. RV Retailer dealerships have stores in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Half of their locations exist in Florida and Texas, with plans to expand in Sun Belt.
Other Chains and Independent Dealerships
The four dealerships above are expanding quickly. The RV backlog and multiple manufacturer price increases have weakened independently-owned dealerships. Sales are still breaking records every month, but price guarantees and other factors make overhead costs increase. For example, suppose you bought a travel trailer for $35,000 (to use simple numbers). While you waited the four months for the RV to come in, the manufacturers increased their pricing by 5%. When the dealership does the math to pay the manufacturer that additional amount on your RV, it cuts into their profit and overhead costs.
National dealership chains with volumes in the hundreds, nationally, that 5% addition spreads out, so the RV sales in California help offset those in Connecticut. However, for an independent dealer that may have sold 6 RVs that month, the only hope they have is if one or two of the units had a high profit margin. Otherwise, that small dealership lost money.
That trend happened from January through May 2021, where the manufacturers increased pricing every month. As a result, independent dealers had to find solutions to brave the rough financial waters. The manufacturers increased their pricing due to suppliers increasing their pricing. Lumber, foam, and many other essential components had production issues. Prices to produce these materials increased due to production issues. Accessibility and distribution were the primary concerns.
Are Partnerships In the RV World Going to Continue?
As you can see from the partnerships above, most of them were unexpected. If we were to sit down and start brainstorming which companies would make great RV business partners for the RV World, how many of you would have paired up KOA and Love’s Truck Stop? We’re still waiting for the companies to pair up for the Alaska-Russia bridge.
Once these partnerships’ goals start producing results, it’s a safe assumption their competitors will follow suit. We could see Pilot/Flying J partner with another campground chain, Lazydays get the contract to sell the Tesla Cybertruck RVs or similar situations. Whatever happens, rest assured, you can rely on the partners of the RV LIFE Network, Camper Smarts, RV LIFE Campgrounds, Do-It-Yourself-RV, and the many forums to stay on top of the latest news.
About the Author
Although he’s from Motown, Brian Newman is a legacy RVer who grew up on I-75. He, his wife, and two working-class fur-babies have enjoyed the full-time RV lifestyle since 2017. Like John Madden, he hasn’t “worked” in years because he gets to write about his passion. When Brian’s not writing, he supports his daughter’s dog rescue efforts and disability causes.