Editor’s Note: For an expanded version of this story, be sure to read the April issue of Woodall’s Campground Management, in the mail this week to your office or campground.

The 46th Annual Northeast Conference on Camping & Trade Show, March 18-20 at the Sheraton in Springfield, Mass., seemed to reflect – like other state and regional events held so far this year – the solid expectations many in the RV park and campground business are harboring for the 2010 camping season.

“I see things here very positive,” reported Mike Irons, newly elected president of the sponsoring Northeast Campground Association (NCA), which is based in Stafford, Conn., and represents 11 state associations comprised of 1,100 parks. “Everybody is up and excited. Reports around the table are that RV sales are up. Travel shows are up, and attendance is up at the RV shows – 15% to 25%.

“Of course, our industry is not bulletproof, “ added Irons, of Old Mink Farm Recreation Resorts, Thurmont, Md. “But we are looking for a great season. We do have some expansion going on. People are putting money into their parks. Even though times are bad and unemployment is way up, people are still going to go on vacation. Camping is the way to do it.”

A second generation park operator who’s been actively involved in running his park with his family for 37 years, Irons feels that the same fun and familial spirit that pervades many successful parks and NCA itself – along with America’s compulsion to recreate – will continue to spell good news for the campground sector.

“Right,” says Irons, a past president of the Maryland Association of Campgrounds. “Memories are made in campgrounds, and people are going to continue to get out. The tougher things get, the more people need to get away. We’ve been in an economic downturn for a year and a half and people are saying they are going (camping) anyway.”

As for NCA’s current political concerns, Irons said regulatory issues and taxes are on the front burner amid a “tough” governmental atmosphere at the moment. “They say any person who makes any less than $250,000 a year is not going be taxed,” he said. “It’s going to be a very small campground or recreation organization that would make less than that. So, we are going to get hit on the tax issues. I don’t know how we get around that.”

“In addition,” he noted, “room taxes are showing up and they (states) see us as another opportunity to make a few bucks. They don’t realize the impact that we have on the industry and how much money we put back in the economy. Maybe an economic survey within our organization would be a good thing to realize how valuable we really are.”

While attendance didn’t meet NCA’s expectations – about 100 parks were represented at the conference — most registrants apparently came away enthused with the agenda and trade show, which attracted 126 representatives from over 70 vendor companies, filling the third floor of the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel.

“Those in attendance were impressed by a program packed with quality seminars, fun events, time to listen and learn from others in the industry, and three state meetings for Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts,” said Cyndy Zbierski, executive assistant for the association, noting that NCA plans to return next year to its traditional site at the Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center in Sturbridge, Mass.

A Cruise Through NCA’s Hotel Trade Show Exhibits

On hand for the trade show at NCA, which will hold its “2010 NCA Great Escape” Sept. 14-16 at Danforth Bay Camping Resort in Freedom, N.H., were a wide variety of exhibitors. We chatted with a number of them, including:

  • Representatives of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were there to talk to campground owners about invasive insects that could impact their properties and their livelihood – the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle and Asian Longhorn Beetle – which are often transported in firewood. “We know individuals come to campgrounds and bring their own firewood,” said USDA’s Sharon Lucik. “So, we want to increase awareness of people about the risks.” www.aphis.usda.gov or www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/eab or www.emeraldashborer.info
  • First-time exhibitor Cloutier Direct Inc., Scarborough, Maine, a specialty marketing company set up to do custom downloadable photobooks for campers. www.cloutierdirect.com; (866) 244-8234.
  • Network Management Services Inc. (NMS), Portland, Maine, was promoting Wi-Fi equipment, bridges, repeaters, tunnels, hotspots and so forth. “We don’t sell the actual Internet Service,” says NMS’s Eric Currier. “We sell the equipment that delivers that.” www.net-admins.com; (207) 773-6866.
  • Wildthings Snap-ons Inc., Fairfax, Calif., showed an array of glow-in-the-dark T-shirts onto which snap-on toys attached. In the store, Pat Phillips points out, the shirts are displayed without the snap-on toys on them. “Actually,” she said, “they come in a little package so the children don’t steal the toys off the shirts before you can sell them. The package comes with the shirt, and the parents will snap the toys on the shirt.” [email protected]; (888) 404-7627.
  • Trailer Life Directory Publisher Cindy Halley, also vice president of marketing for the Good Sam Club, was promoting the web-and-print services of her Ventura, Calif.-based company, which also publishes Woodall’s Campground Management. “It’s a great opportunity to get face to face with campground owners,” said Halley, who helps oversee a network of 1,600 independent Good Sam Parks. “So we look at these shows as the best way not only to support the associations, but actually get in front of the campground owners and talk to them about our products and services. This is a very important show for us.” www.trailerlifedirectory.com; (800) 765-7070.
  • Pelland Advertising’s Peter Pelland was representing his Haydenville, Mass., firm’s website, brochure and site map development services. A lot of people, he said, don’t realize that Pelland Advertising produces value-priced site maps. “What’s exciting about this show is, as good a show as it is, we are simultaneously doing the (WACO) show in Wisconsin this weekend, which has a large number of exhibitors,” said Pelland. “Wisconsin is interesting for us because it’s a new market for us. That will be establishing some new name recognition. On hand for that is our sales rep based in Michigan. This (the Northeast) is our home turf. Basically, everybody we are meeting here is either already our client or already knows us really well. Yet, we have quite a few people who approached us here who we consider hot new prospects.” www.pelland.com; (413) 268-0100.
  • Kathleen Ferguson, sales operations manager for Ventura, Calif.-based AGS was talking up the advantages of being an AGS Guest Services Guide customer. “We have been a leader in the industry for over 24 years producing a quality guide customized to fit the needs of campgrounds and RV parks and resorts,” said Ferguson, whose company is owned by Affinity Group Inc., the parent firm of WCM. “I am also spreading the word concerning a benefit exclusively available to AGS Guide customers, offering them the opportunity to display their custom AGS Site Map as part of the park’s online listing on three major camping websites: goodsamclub.com, woodalls.com and trailerlifedirectory.com. This feature offers tremendous exposure for our AGS Guide customers at no additional cost.” www.agspub.com; (800) 245-9666.

Talking About Holding Tank Chemicals, Toilet Paper & More

  • Nathaniel Millward, vice president of sales for Telamode, a manufacturer and distributor of biodegradable holding tank and septic system products from Ingleside, Ontario, says his company is just starting to break into the U.S. market by exhibiting at CONY and ARVC shows and warehousing at two U.S. locations. “All of our products are engineered to liquefy, digest and degrade mold, mildew, scum and buildup in holding tanks,” explained Millward. “Our products contain no formaldehyde, phosphate or ammonia. What’s most important is that these products are designed to clean the sensors inside the holding tank; it will clean off whatever is stuck on to the sensor, which is a problem in holding tanks to begin with. www.telemode.com; (800) 263-2951.
  • Dometic Corp.’s Mark Hathaway, whose Swedish firm’s U.S. operations are based in Elkhart, Ind., was extolling the virtues of his company’s toilet paper, environmentally friendly holding tank chemicals and new residential-style 310 RV china bowl toilet to park store operators. “The new 310 (toilet) is for travel trailers or motorhomes,” said Hathaway. “It’s only 18 inches high, which makes it easier to get on and off. It has a seal that is easily removed so it can be cleaned or exchanged without taking the toilet apart. It’s got a real nice flush on top and a residential style toilet seat on it. It makes replacing a plastic toilet real easy and it’s less expensive than plastic. You put this in the stores and sell it as a do-it-yourself replacement toilet.” www.dometicusa.com; (574) 596-3416.
  • Fork Creek Cabins Sales Associate Ed Kelly was trying to open the eyes of park operators to the idea of purchasing park rentals from Fork Creek, a manufacturer of higher-end log cabins and luxury park models headquartered in Christiana, Pa. “If campground owners are not involved in a rental program now,” said Kelly, “we are showing them the features and benefits of getting involved in a rental program and how our product will generate revenue for them and also upgrade their campgrounds.” What sets Fork Creek’s products’ apart? “We don’t mass produce,” added Kelly, whose Amish-style company started as a shed builder in 1984 and launched its first cabins about seven years ago. “We build made-to-order units. Everything is handcrafted by the Amish. We make all our own cabinetry. We don’t use wallboard. Everything is solid wood, even on the interior of our most inexpensive cabin, and everything is tongue-and-groove. About the only things we don’t make are the roof, the appliances and the chassis frame. Otherwise, everything else is made at Fork Creek.” [email protected]; (717) 260-5101.

Extolling the Virtues of Hose Bits & Automatic Hand Sanitizers

  • Brian Groff, a project manager for Keystone Engineering Group, Frazer, Pa., talked about how his company designs water and wastewater systems for campgrounds, among other things. “We understand that the flow and load requirements of a campground are different than a normal flow,” said Groff. “A lot of engineering firms may not understand the dynamics of a campground. We specialize in that. We work independently with each campground rather than coming up with a cookie cutter approach and hoping it works for everybody. Every site is different from one state to another. There are different regs, soils and system limits.” www.kegi.net; (610) 407-4100.
  • A familiar face at trade expositions, Scott Stankus, director of marketing for Kings Supply Co., Manchaug, Mass., sells a wide variety of operational items to RV park operators – from backfill preventers to Teflon-sealed hose bits, general plumbing supplies, automatic hand sanitizers, hand dryers, shower and propane valves, coin-operated devices for monitoring guests’ water use, outdoor and emergency lighting and a long list of “no-nonsense, everyday products that we know you’ll need.” www.KingsSupply.com; (888) 852-5340.
  • Centrum Systems Inc., Camarillo, Calif., specializes in automated campground management systems, specifically a 2-year-old, online reservation system integrated with a campground management module and QuickBooks accounting capabilities called Virtual Campground Director. “We want people to know that we offer a product that nobody else offers – seamless integration, real time,” says Kevin Hogan. “There’s no stepping on reservations online or on the property. At the same time we offer a great campground management and accounting solution for your campground, not to mention a search engine that will expose your park online as well.” www.centrumsystems.com; (805) 384-5400.
  • Tim Comstock was promoting another familiar trade show exhibitor, Jamestown Advanced Products Corp., Jamestown, N.Y., which was displaying fire rings, grills, power outlets and picnic tables. “Business has been good,” says Comstock. “Last year we had record campground sales. It’s been good for us. Because of the economy being so bad, people are turning to campgrounds to save money and still get in vacation time. We’ve benefited from other markets as well. We sell to municipalities and we have a contract with the federal government to supply campground equipment and power outlets. We do competitive bidding and if a national park has had our products before and they just need a few things, they give us a call.” www.jamestownadvanced.com; (800) 452-0639.
  • CheckBox Systems LLC Owner James Ganley, marketing Checkbox Wireless Hotspots to cafes, clubs, stores, hotels, motels, marinas, resorts, schools churches, restaurants and about 900 campgrounds and resorts for seven years now. “CheckBox products allow properties to deliver wired and wireless Internet access to campers,” said Ganley. “It’s a property-owned system so there are no monthly fees. They (park operators) can choose to give away the access or charge or both.”
  • Although his company has a hand in a wide variety of products, Norm Boucher of LCN Outdoors LLC, Windsor, Conn., is especially focused this spring on electrical boxes and a new T-shirt imprint program acquired recently from another vendor. “Our business last year was up substantially,” he told WCM, “but it was pretty much due to electrical boxes and people realizing that we have them for a respectable price.” As part of the T-shirt program, LCN Outdoors can imprint a variety of natural scenes with RVs onto shirts that include the campground’s names. “The year started a little on the slower side compared to last year,” added Boucher. “But it ramped right up to back-against-the-wall and ‘how-fast-can-you-get-it-to-me?’ Whether it was the weather or those people (customers) sleeping, I don’t know, but it’s catching up to last year quickly.” www.lcnoutdoors.com; (800) 552-2267.