No matter whether it’s park furniture such as picnic tables and patio furniture, or site furnishings like fire rings and grills, most campground owners have a very simple philosophy: Buy the best quality you can afford.
Quality doesn’t always mean it’s the most expensive, but it hardly ever is the cheapest and it’s usually the better deal in the long run.
“I look for quality because I only want to have to buy something once,” Theresa Isaacson of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Caledonia, Wis., told Woodall’s Campground Management. “I want quality, and I want it from a company with good service who stands behind their product.”
Isaacson provided one example of just such a company: Lynkris Patio Furniture, a manufacturer and retailer of PVC commercial outdoor furniture based in Sparta, Wis. She estimated she had about 150 lounges, chairs and tables from the 35-year-old company and freely admits she has no idea how Lynkris’ pricing compares with others — she has never felt the need to shop around.
“Except for this year, we’ve bought from them every year for nine years. Each year we bought a little bit to add to what we had, and the only reason we didn’t buy anything from them this year is because we didn’t need any. We haven’t needed to replace any of it — and that speaks for itself,” Isaacson said.
She said they like the Lynkris furniture because it’s light enough guests can move it around, yet durable enough that it can take the abuse. The sling-style furniture is comfortable, and she appreciates its contemporary look. She also likes that if ever a piece does break or a sling does rip, Lynkris sends a replacement piece without delay.
Another reason to buy quality is because campground owners who opt for less expensive furniture run the risk of an unhappy camper. There’s nothing like a rusty cooking grate to ruin a campfire-cooked meal.
Bryan L. Kastleman, owner of Hill Country Cottage and RV Resort in New Braunfels, Texas, said buying less expensive, but inferior, furniture and furnishings are too much of a risk to take in today’s day and age when digital criticism spreads faster, and does more damage, than garlic mustard.
“I personally stayed at a pretty nice condo complex in Belize this winter, and while it was a pretty nice place the one thing I’ll remember is they had cheap, crappy plastic pool furniture,” Kastleman said. “I mean, why would you do that? Spend a little extra money on nice, more comfortable furniture. Sure, a picnic table is a picnic table and you certainly don’t want to get a bad one. But you also want to spend your money where it counts. We just got some nice couches for the inside of our cottages and some nice patio furniture around our pool. If you can spend a little extra money and get nicer things, then do it.”
Yet another reason to buy quality is because it can help turn a standard campsite into a premium site that commands a higher rate.
Gwen Craig, owner of Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring, Texas, said while the majority of the luxury RV park’s 115 campsites features a standard composite picnic table and fire pit, 14 premium sites offer a paver brick patio, propane grill and sling-style rocker-swivel aluminum patio chairs. The premium sites cost about 25% more than a standard site, but Craig said they have a waiting list every weekend.
“We set our rates based on what it costs to put that site together and the premium sites are always in high demand. I have no problem renting them out,” Craig said, adding that the premium furniture adds to a premium experience.
“Sitting on a picnic table for three or four hours isn’t a load of fun,” she said. “People want to sit on something that’s just as nice as their patio furniture back home. They want to rock and relax. And when I drive around the campground, I see people at the premium sites sitting outside more than I do at the other sites.”
Perhaps in large part due to the Texas sun, Craig said they purchase new furniture every two or three years for the premium sites, with the old furniture typically donated to underprivileged or senior housing. Either in person or in end-of-stay surveys, guests mention how much they appreciate the nicer furniture.
“There’s no doubt about that. When you talk to RVers, they’ll tell you how they feel,” Craig said. “They’ll say they really like so-and-so park, but that it’s really starting to go downhill. Maybe it’s because they get Winter Texans and snowbirds and they’re used to that, so they don’t feel they need to make that reinvestment. But we’ve found that people like it when they see that reinvestment back into the park.”
Distributors Echo Owners’ Advice
Liz Caldwell, the marketing manager for Jamestown Advanced Products Corp., a distributor of outdoor furniture, site furnishings and related park accessories based in Jamestown, N.Y., agreed that park owners should first and foremost be looking at the quality and durability of the campground furniture and site amenities to ensure they will withstand the rigors of daily use.
“They need to consider the area the products will be in, and how they will be used. The campground owner should also consider products with theft-deterrent features, which will help keep replacement costs to a minimum,” Caldwell added.
Last fall, Jamestown Advanced Products introduced a new exclusive product to the market with the Luxury Fire Pit Kit, which features two fully removable cooking surfaces, a log grate and a pull-out ash pan.
“We have been seeing a lot of campground owners purchasing the Luxury Fire Pit Kit for common fire pit areas, as well as for individual campsites,” Caldwell mentioned, adding that their Fire View Ring also has been popular because it offers a 360-degree view of the campfire, is complaint with Federal Accessibility Standards and is another exclusive product for the company.
Allen Smith of Chadwick Manufacturing, a Chadwick, Ill.-based picnic table and grill supplier for about 50 years, urged park owners to buy commercial grade products from distributors such as his rather than lesser-quality items from familiar national retailers.
“I have guys call me all the time saying the picnic table they bought from the big box store isn’t any good. I tell them, ‘Of course it isn’t any good,’” Smith said, adding the national retailers are more interested in price and volume, not quality. Reputable distributors such as Chadwick understand the durability a campground requires, so their products are built to last.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years, building picnic tables and fire rings and grills. I’ve seen it all,” Smith said.
Perhaps one of the more well-known campground furniture brands over the years is Gerber Tables of Madison, Wis.,whose galvanized metal-frame picnic tables have been around since 1969 and are known for the longevity.
Jeff Urso, owner of Gerber Products for about 2½ years, has been adding other products, such as fire rings, park benches, park grills and bike racks, to complement the tables. Other new lines include dog park products, cityscape products and a line of electrical power products such as pedestals. “We’re trying to be everything you need to be an RV park or a campground,” Urso said, mentioning that the company — formally known as NexGen LLC, is transitioning to become known as Great Outdoors Direct.
Urso echoes Kastleman’s advice in that you should buy the best quality you can afford.
“As far as picnic tables go, the metal frames are your best bet. They’re going to hold up over time and, in a non-salt environment, they say the galvanized product will have less than 5% rust over a 50-year period. You’ll have to replace the wood every 10 to 12 years, but it’s something you buy and it’ll last. I would recommend going to an 11-gauge, which is a little thicker metal, but it’s just going to add longevity.”
Likewise, Urso said fire rings and grills should be made with durable material at least 3/16-inch thick. Fire ring grates need at least a half-inch rod to properly support it, he added.
“Don’t buy the flimsiest piece. Buy something with a little more beef to it that’s going to last longer than anything else out there,” he said. “It’s a cliché, but you get what you pay for.”
A new product they have developed is called the Easy Dump Grill, Urso pointed out. One of the reasons why grills age prematurely is leftover ash hastens the corrosion process. The Easy Dump Grill combats that by making it much simpler to remove all the ash. Simply release a lever and the grill pivots to dump the ash into a bucket that attaches to its front.
“If you keep that cleaned out, you’re going to get many more years out of your grill,” Urso explained.
Frosty Kimbrough, owner of Frosty’s Park Equipment, which manufactures tables, benches, grills, fire rings and related park furnishings in its Morristown, Tenn. facility, also has a solution to keeping park grills protected from the elements. It’s called the Adjustable Covered Grill, a new product for Frosty’s this year. In addition to keeping the weather out, Kimbrough said the cover helps hold in heat and smoke so meals cook better. The grill is manufactured with 16-gauge steel and “stay cool” handles for easy lifting, and the 14-by-20 inch grill adjusts to four different cooking heights.
The new grill is one of the rare times Kimbrough has added a new item to his product lineup, saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He said he believes in making things that last, and his materials and craftsmanship reflect that.
Kimbrough added that one of his products, the 63-inch Octagon Fire Ring, is perfect for group camping. It features a 322-square-inch cooking grate and a handy pot hanger, both of which rotate for easy access. The 8-inch high ring is built from 3/16-inch thick steel plate, while the cooking grate is made of ¼-inch thick round steel bars supported by 5/8-inch thick steel.
“The fire rings and the grills pay for themselves,” Kimbrough said. “People will need firewood for their campfires in the fire rings, and that’s something campground owners can sell them. And if they’re cooking, they’ll buy hot dogs from your camp store.”
Another fire ring manufacturer, Cadillac Culvert Inc. in Cadillac, Mich., annually sells 25,000 corrugated steel rings across the United States, including an exclusive contract for Michigan State Park campgrounds.
Sales Representative Dave Galvin said the company manufactures round and square fire pit rings in both single wall and concrete-reinforced double wall designs. Round sizes vary from 24 to 72 inches in diameter, while square pits come in 32-by-32 and 44-by-44 inch dimensions. Also available are steel mesh grates for any size fire ring.
“We sell a lot of the 36-inch (outside diameter) by 24-inch (inside diameter) by 12-inch (tall) fire pits to private campgrounds because, after they’re filled with concrete, they weigh 650 pounds. They’re too heavy to move, so you don’t have burn spots all over your campsites,” added Galvin.
Bruce Webster, owner of Lynkris Patio Furniture, said his company didn’t expand into the campground market until the mid 2000s. The business had been a fixture at the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners events, but it really started making headway into the campground arena when it started exhibiting at the Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI) Symposium Expo. Since then, a number of LSI’s Jellystone Park Resort owners – including Isaacson’s Jellystone in Wisconsin – have outfitted their pools and waterparks with Lynkris’ products.
“We originally started out with the hotels and waterparks. Now that there’s a lot of campgrounds putting in these spray parks, I think that’s a big reason why our business has picked up,” he said. “We’re seeing our tables in snack bar areas and food service areas because the table tops are fiberglass so they’re very simple to clean up.”
In fact, Webster estimated Lynkris has grown 25%-35% each year over the last two to three years in the campground industry.
“I think it’s just since the recession hit, but I don’t know if people aren’t spending the money at the bigger waterparks or they’re finding better value at the campgrounds, but I really think that has shifted our business,” Webster explained. “I do some amusement park and waterpark shows, but if I ever had a conflict between them and a campground show I would go to the campground show. It’s just that for our business, for some reason, it’s really a great market for us.”
“My belief is, if I can provide a customer with a good product, give them good service they’ll talk. And, to be honest with you, word of mouth sells more stuff for us than anything else. You can’t imagine how many people call us and say, ‘So-and-so told me about your product.’ Once that happens it’s almost a guaranteed sale.”
Webster said campground owners are drawn to the company’s adjustable beach lounge, and sling line of a couple different kinds of chairs, and tables, all of which are available in smaller sizes for children.
“Campground owners are trying to get guests to come back so they want a comfortable product, which ours is. They want something that looks nice, which ours do. And they don’t want to have to spend a lot of time maintaining it and they don’t want to have to replace it every couple of years.”
Webster added that campground owners tend to take better care of the furniture than, say waterpark staff members. “They just seem to be more hands-on,” he said.
“We have a 10-year frame warranty and everything that we have is built with components. So if anything ever does break, I can send the campground owners a component. And the slings are always removable, so if a stitch pops or one part of the sling tears, they’re easily replaceable,” Webster added.
While it’s easy to see where Lynkris furniture would be most at home around swimming pools, Webster said many campgrounds use them as an additional amenity for premium campsites.
- Allen Ventures Inc.
- allenventures.com; 877-423-9800
- Recycled and conventional material tables, picnic tables, benches
- American Hotel Register Co.
- americanhotel.com; 800-323-5686
- Wide variety of furniture and other products for hospitality industry
- Barco Products
- barcoproducts.com; 800-338-2697
- Tables, benches and related outdoor furnishings and accessories
- Belson Outdoors Inc.
- belson.com; 800-323-5664
- Wide variety of outdoor furniture and accessories
- Cadillac Culvert Inc.
- http://cadillacculvert.com; 231-775-3761
- Fire rings and grates
- Chadwick Mfg Ltd.
- chadwickmfg.com; 800-732-4602
- Picnic tables, benches, fire rings and grills
- Country Log Furniture
- shopcountrylogfurniture.com; 208-687-2729
- Log-built interior/exterior furniture and accessories
- Crazy Creek Products
- crazycreek.com; 406-446-3446
- Chairs and accessories for the outdoors
- Doty & Sons Concrete Products Inc.
- dotyconcrete.com; 800-233-3907
- Concrete benches, tables, games and accessories
- Engineered Plastic Systems Inc.
- http://epsplasticlumber.com; 800-480-2327
- Plastic outdoor park furniture and products
- FlagHouse Inc.
- flaghouse.com; 800-793-7900
- Outdoor fitness and recreation equipment
- forms-surfaces.com; 800-451-0410
- Outdoor furniture, lighting and accessories
- Frosty’s Park Equipment
- parkequipment.com; 800-376-7897
- Outdoor tables, grills and related park furnishings
- Gerber Mfg. Ltd./The Great Outdoors Direct
- greatoutdoors.direct; 800-393-9923
- Gerber-brand tables, benches, bike racks and other outdoor products
- Great American Direct
- greatamericandirect.com; 757-229 0567
- Mattresses and related products for outdoor hospitality industry
- Jamestown Advanced Products Corp.
- jamestownadvanced.com; 800-452-0639
- Metal tables, benches and related park accessories
- Kay Park Recreation
- kaypark.com; 888-468-5869 & 877-KAY-PARK
- Commercial outdoor furniture, park products and accessories
- Keystone Ridge Designs Inc.
- keystoneridgedesigns.com; 800-284-8208
- Wide variety of outdoor furniture, park products and accessories
- Landscape Forms
- landscapeforms.com; 800-430-6209
- Contemporary outdoor site furniture and furnishings
- LCN Outdoors
- lcnoutdoors.com; 800-552-2267
- Outdoor furniture and site furnishings
- Lee Recreation LLC
- leerecreation.com; 800-775-8937
- Playground and recreational equipment and site furnishings
- Leisure Craft Inc.
- leisurecraftinc.com; 800-633-8241
- Metal fabricator making outdoor site tables, benches and other furnishings
- Leisure Lite Industries
- leisurelite.com; 800-553-0071
- Aluminum furniture and products
- Lynkris Patio Furniture Inc.
- lynkris.com; 800-657-4644’
- Manufacturer of outdoor grade PVC furniture and products
- Natural Structures
- naturalstructures.com; 800-252-8475
- Water slides, shelters and pavilions, site furniture
- O’Brien & Sons Inc.
- obrienandsons.com; 800-835-0056
- Wide variety of outdoor recreation equipment
- ParknPool Corp.
- parknpool.com; 877-777-3700
- Variety of commercial outdoor furniture, accessories and site furnishings
- Pilot Rock/R.J. Thomas Mfg. Co. Inc.
- pilotrock.com; 800-762-5002
- Outdoor furniture, site furnishings and signage
- Premier Polysteel
- http://premierpolysteel.com; 877-746-3826
- Plastic coated steel outdoor furniture and amenities
- Rocky Top Log Furniture & Railing
- http://rockytoplogfurniture.com; 800-332-1143
- Indoor and outdoor log furniture
- Rustic Natural Cedar Furniture Co.
- rusticcedar.com; 800-435-7892
- Cedar Looks-brand indoor and outdoor log furniture
- Sun Patio Furniture
- sunpatiofurniture.com; 480-221-3362
- Outdoor patio furniture and related accessories
- Tailwind Furniture
- tailwindfurniture.com; 815-756-3638
- Outdoor tables, chairs and related furniture and accessories
- Telescope Casual Furniture Inc.
- telescopecasual.com; 800-451-0938
- Commercial and residential outdoor patio furniture
- Texacraft Winston Contract
- winstoncontract.com; 800-231-9790
- Commercial outdoor furnishings and accessories
- tidewaterworkshop.net; 800-666-8433
- Casual outdoor furniture
- Toronto Fabricating & Mfg. Co.
- tfmc.com; 905-891-2516
- Aluminum, steel or cast iron landscape and site furnishings
- UltraPlay PlaySystems Inc., a PlayCore Company
- ultraplay.com; 800-458-5872
- Play structures, equipment and site furnishings
- Upbeat Site Furnishings
- upbeat.com; 800-325-3047
- Wide variety of commercial outdoor furniture and site furnishings