Art Rouse, founder of Southern California-based TL Enterprises Inc., an influential force in the growth of the recreational vehicle industry, died Friday in St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif.
An 89-year-old Malibu resident whose company published RV magazines and campground directories and operated a large membership club for RV owners, Rouse died as the result of an accidental fall a few days earlier, which resulted in a head injury.
As an advertising executive in 1958, Rouse saw increasing public interest in travel trailers, motorhomes and other types of camping vehicles (RVs) as new vacation-travel options. He bought a magazine, Trailer Life, that had been operated by an industry association, established an office in Toluca Lake, near Hollywood, Calif., and quickly developed a keen sense of what RV owners and prospective buyers would find interesting about this emerging travel-related lifestyle.
He brought sons Denis and Richard into the family business and, together with a small staff, increased circulation from about 11,000 at the time of the purchase to more than 300,000 in less than 10 years, dramatically building advertising revenue and expanding to other RV-related products in the process. Trailer Life magazine today is published by Ventura, Calif.-based Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), the parent company of RV Business and more than 40 other recreation-linked titles.
As public awareness and industry momentum increased, Rouse founded MotorHome magazine in 1968, recognizing a trend toward motorized RVs. During the same year, he acquired the fledgling Good Sam Club, an RV owners organization that has since grown to more than a million families. Other outgrowth divisions published campground directories and offered RV insurance and road service. Rider, a motorcycle magazine, was founded as a diversification move.
“I bought the magazine (Trailer Life) as a business because I thought the (recreational vehicle) industry would do well,” he recalled in a 1991 interview in the Los Angeles Business Journal. “For two years, it cost me almost every cent I had. Little by little, we passed our competitors, and I gradually bought them out one by one. The circulation grew and grew.”
Having become an RV enthusiast himself in the process, Rouse penned a monthly column in Trailer Life and was widely recognized as “Mr. RV” during his tenure at the helm of the company he founded. He wrote an autobiography, My Life on Wheels, in 1984, and was inducted into the RV Hall of Fame in 1986. An estimated 8 million RVs are currently in use.
Rouse’s company was acquired in 1988 by AGI, led today by Mike Schneider, an employee of Rouse’s from his earliest publishing days. “Art Rouse set the bar for all of us who serve the RV consumer,” said Schneider, president and CEO. “His passion and commitment to the RVer, combined with his innovation and savvy business sense, played a large part in shaping today’s RV community.”
Survivors include his wife, Toni, sons Denis and Richard, daughter Lori, 12 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.
Services are set for Tuesday.