The American dream, part 2

If you can’t educate ’em, join ’em.

In my last post I reported on an RVtravel poll of its readers, published May 22, that asked whether they would like to own and operate an RV park if given the opportunity. Judging by the first returns, RVtravel’s early readers are a dyspeptic bunch, as the initial response was overwhelmingly negative. But then the cheery brunch crowd woke up and took note, and ten days later the results are still rolling in on a tsunami of positivity, now approaching 6,000 replies and more than two-to-one in favor of owning and operating a piece of paradise–proof, yet again, that the American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

Or maybe just a sign of how desperately people want to work for themselves. Or to have a place to call home. Or both.

For a writer–for this writer–that could be dismaying. Last fall, after all, I published a slim paperback, Renting Dirt, that for 128 pages described the crushing forces that after eight years convinced our family to sell our Shenandoah Valley campground and RV park. I detailed the never-ending workload, the onslaught of first-timing RVers and the toll they took on our property, the crippling lack of reliable employees and the public’s ever increasing expectations of us and our facilities. No wonder, I wrote, that mom-and-pop campgrounds get sold, on average, after just seven years.

Yet judging by the RVtravel poll results, either there’s a whole lot of RVers who never read my book (likely), or RVers have read it but remain unconvinced by my jeremiad. Maybe the latter believe I was ill-equipped for the job, or that I ran into unusually adverse conditions. Or maybe they believe they’re made of sterner stuff, and can succeed where I eventually bailed. Whatever the case, it’s clear that there’s a substantial number of people out there who really, really want to have their own RV parks.

That’s why I’ve now written: Turning Dirt: A step-by-step guide for turning dreams of campground ownership into reality. A 156-page paperback scheduled for release the first day of summer, Turning Dirt is exactly what its subtitle promises: a methodical introduction to the process of searching for, negotiating the purchase of, and taking over the operation of an existing campground that meets the buyer’s needs. Divided into three successive sections, Turning Dirt begins with a discussion of current market conditions and environmental concerns, then walks the reader through several key decisions that should be made before he or she even begins to look for the “right” property.

Section two then describes various ways to identify potential acquisitions, what kind of information should be obtained at this stage of the process, how to analyze financial statements and the red flags to look for in an initial walk-through. This section also explores the ins-and-outs of a purchase agreement, walks the the reader through the various elements of a comprehensive due diligence inspection period, and describes some of the factors that may prompt a decision to pull out of the deal. Three appendices provide a sample offer letter, a due-diligence checklist and an outline of the elements of a comprehensive sale and purchase agreement.

Section three moves on to discuss the particular aspects of campground management that don’t get covered by general “how-to” business books. Included are discussions about employees, the various kinds of campers (and which kinds you may not want), the many ways to structure rates, and the importance of having clearly defined policies–and what those policies should include. Additional covered subjects of interest specifically to campground owners include bed bugs, golf cars, pets and electric vehicles.

Unlike Renting Dirt, which was a candid description of our family’s experiences, Turning Dirt is agnostic about its subject matter: it’s not my intention to convince the reader to make one set of choices or another, or to adopt any particular approach, philosophy or set of expectations. But based on our family’s experiences, as well as my interactions with other RV park owners, my education in the business and my following the industry as a journalist, I believe there are certain things that anyone contemplating the purchase of a campground needs to think about. Turning Dirt presents those issues and concerns as objectively as possible, as well as providing additional resources to address them further.

So yeah, this is a sales pitch. But it’s pretty straightforward, and if you want to know more–including the discounts I’m offering for orders placed by June 20–click on this link or on the “About my books” button at the top of this page. Thanks.

RV parks as the American dream

RVtravel.com, an online publication for RVers of all shapes and sizes, regularly runs reader polls to take its audience’s temperature. Most are of only passing interest to me personally, but the one that ran May 22 hit home–as did the responses and how they shifted over time.

The question was: “If you were given the opportunity to own and operate an RV park, would you?” And unlike most RVtravel polls, which typically provide a range of possible responses, this one expressly did not. As the poll makers wrote, “You’ve got to choose between a simple ‘yes’ and a simple ‘no.’ Some of you may say something like, ‘Sure! If it only had five spaces and it was next to a beautiful waterfall and kids and dogs and campfires weren’t allowed . . . ‘ It’s just gotta be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ No ifs, ands, or buts!”

As someone who wrote a book last year about this very topic–one that detailed our family’s eight-year history of being ground into the dust by the weight of operating an RV park–I was intrigued to see the results and encouraged by the early returns. By that evening, 72% of the thousand-plus respondents had turned thumbs down on the idea, sometimes in vehement terms in the comments section. “No option for ‘No, Hell No!’. Too much work for too little appreciation of it!” wrote one poll-taker. “A simple ‘no’ doesn’t BEGIN to express the no-ness of my no,” wrote another, with Zen-like simplicity.

 Explanations for why this is a truly asinine idea included the amount of work involved and the realization that owning a campground would put an end to one’s own travels. But the most cited objection was, strikingly–other campers. There are a lot of RVers, it turns out, who don’t like the way other RVers behave. “Dealing with the public would be the primary issue–and we’ve lost a sense of civility as a society,” explained one of the more civil respondents. Added another: “Big NO! Too many messy, inconsiderate (not to mention lazy and stupid) people camping now. Pick up after your dog, pick up after yourself, your family may not mind that you are rude but we do. Keep your music to yourself, save the profanity until you are in your own camper, leave the bathroom as clean or cleaner than you found it.”

And then there were the rants like this one:

“Big NO.
Sick of cleaning up after PIGS.
They don’t own the property so people just throw crap wherever they feel like.
Bathrooms are the worst. Did I mention PIGS.
Try to poop IN the toilet. Put the tissue IN the toilet.
Aim for the drain of the urinal, not the floor.
Don’t write your complaints on the mirrors.
Cans and bottles strewn outside.
I guess it’s too hard to use the cans management has provided.
I often wonder what their home and yard looks like?”

But then a curious thing happened. As the hours slipped by and more RVtravel readers took the poll, the sentiment quickly reversed. Within 24 hours the “no” votes dropped from 72% of the respondents to just 43%; by Tuesday the gap widened even more, to 63% “yes” and just 37% “no.” And as of this morning, with more than 5,400 respondents to the poll and 213 of them weighing in with comments, the turnaround is almost complete, with 68% saying they’d love to own and operate a campground and just 32% grousing about the workload and the public.

Wow.

In digesting these results, as well as the comments they elicited, I have a couple of takeaways. One is that of the 16 or so comments made by people who’ve actually owned a campground, or at the very least worked at one, the overwhelming majority were too happy to walk away and wouldn’t want to repeat the experience.

A second is that a significant number of those saying they’d jump at the chance did so on the basis of their experience as RVers, with little if any understanding of the difference between being a producer and being a consumer. To use my go-to analogy for this sort of thing, it’s as if I were to say that I’d like to become a rancher because I like to eat steak. That’s probably not the best strategy for making life choices.

A third takeaway is that an equally significant number of affirmative respondents are, if not desperate, at least wistful in their wish for something more than what they have, such as the commenter who wrote simply, “I’d really like to own something.” Several seemed to interpret the poll as a job posting; some said they think of campground ownership as a retirement plan; and some apparently just need housing, as in “We are looking for an RV park to make into a homeless shelter!!”

A fourth conclusion, and one I’ll explore in my next post, is that not enough RVtravel readers have picked up my book, Renting Dirt–or that they have, but were not deterred by our experience. The siren song is strong indeed!

Mountain lions to the rescue–not!

News coverage of what’s known as the “urban-wildlife” interface–that area beyond the inner suburbs but before wilderness, in which people build homes in an untamed landscape–tends to focus on the growing risk from wildfires. And with good reason. High heat and prolonged drought have greatly increased the odds that homes in the urban-wildlife interface, especially in the western U.S., will be be torched by wildfires that each year are consuming areas larger in aggregate than several eastern states.

Less publicized, however, has been the growing interface conflict between humans and wild animals–the former sometimes exploiting the latter for cynical purposes. I don’t mean the occasional headline-grabber, like the recent mountain lion attack in California on a hiker and her dog. I mean the wholesale invocation of a threatened species to justify a political decision, usually over something to do with housing, and usually resulting in still more pressure on public lands–whether on city streets or in national forests–as people scramble for shelter. The upshot, ironically, is that both people and wildlife end up the losers.

Exhibit A is a recent but long overdue decision by Vail Resorts to build housing for 165 of its ski-resort employees in Colorado, where the company’s success in attracting a high-dollar clientele has in turn driven housing costs in the area so high that its employees can’t afford to live where they work. Many, indeed, end up boondocking in vans and tents in surrounding national forests, in a scene reminiscent of medieval peasants sleeping in a castle’s stables and animal pens. But Vail town officials, who you might think would be supportive of such a plan, are in fact actively fighting against it.

Claiming that the land Vail Resorts wants to use for its proposed low-cost apartments is a wintering site for bighorn sheep, the town this month voted to start condemnation proceedings for the property–even though it had previously approved the project. And even though–and one might suppose this is the real problem–a number of luxury homes already occupy the sheep habitat that is causing so much concern, some developed fairly recently.

That same pattern–of claiming to protect wildlife to keep low and middle-income housing out of upper-income enclaves–is on even more nauseating display in Woodside, California, where the listed median home price is $5.7 million. California has, in fact, the highest real estate prices in the country, sustained to a large extent by restrictive zoning laws that make it impossible for sufficient low- and moderate-priced housing to be constructed, giving the state the dubious distinction of also having the largest number of homeless people living on its streets.

Seeking to address the housing shortage, the state enacted a law that took effect Jan. 1 making it easier for homeowners to split their lots, convert their homes to duplexes or build second units on their property. Posh towns and cities reacted by scrambling to find ways to block an imagined invasion of thousands of new, scruffier citizens, such as Pasadena’s decision to declare swaths of the city as “landmark districts” and therefore beyond the new law’s reach. But Woodside, apparently not in a position to do likewise, took the dance to a brand new level: it claimed that the entire town is a mountain lion sanctuary.

Or as observed by Joe Garofoli, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle: “You know, because mountain lions like to live large in the burbs. Or something like that.”

Woodside got slapped down by the state’s attorney general, Rob Bonita, and rightly so, while the ongoing conflict over bighorn sheep in Colorado–whose numbers are declining, in part because of inadequate wintering grounds–is more nuanced. But both cases illustrate a growing tendency toward using wildlife as a bargaining chip by monied interests, almost invariably to the detriment of working class people and the animals themselves, and it’s not a stretch to predict that more such examples are coming.

Because, you know, people with money like to live large in places that are home to wildlife, without really thinking about what that means for the wildlife itself. Or anyone else.

More RV stats–with an ironic twist

Just like an onslaught of gift catalogues in the mail lets you know Christmas is around the corner, a recent burst of studies and surveys about campers and RVers must mean Memorial Day is fast approaching. But there’s always room for more!

Enter the “First Ever Campspot Outdoor Almanac!” as breathlessly announced in a press release yesterday. Issued by one of the more aggressive competitors in the crowded campground reservation industry, the almanac is an obvious bid to stake out a leadership position similar to the one pioneered by KOA in 2015, when it issued its first annual North American camping report. KOA’s reports paint a detailed picture of who’s going camping and why, and in that respect the Campspot effort isn’t breaking much new ground. (One notable exception: a finding that RV and van campers are “taking 3.8 bathroom breaks outside per day–signaling some adventurous escapades taking them far from the RV . . .or a faulty septic hose?” Bathroom habits are a topic KOA has yet to plumb.)

But while KOA’s reports clearly target the industry, Campspot’s almanac–prepared in partnership with Pinterest–just as clearly speaks to the camping public itself. So in addition to the kinds of statistics KOA touts, such as why campers do what they do (91% are in it to relax) or what they get most peeved about (the number-two complaint is drunk neighbors), the almanac offers fishing tips and key tournament dates, expert advice on bird watching and photography, a calendar of meteor showers and outdoor recipes. And sprinkled among the predictable stats is the occasional wry aside, such as the claim that “23% of campers have regretted the things they said while backing up the trailer or setting up camp.”

Just 23%?

But being a Campspot publication, the almanac also features campgrounds that are tied in with its various editorial features–campgrounds if you’re into star-gazing, for instance, or campgrounds best situated for exploring a national park–and all of which, it might go without saying, are Campspot clients. Nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as the reader understands that Campspot’s clients are just a segment–albeit a substantial one–of the campground universe. When the almanac highlights Angel Fire RV Resort as “the number one campground in North America,” for example, almanac readers should understand that there are more than 12,000 private campgrounds in the U.S. and thousands more on public lands, compared with the 1,500 or so in Campspot’s roster. So your experience may differ.

Meanwhile, in an ironic footnote, the almanac includes a “fun fact” about its number one campground that probably has its editorial staff cringing: “Angel Fire’s name originates from the Ute Indians’ observation of the orange and red skies and likening it to the ‘fire of the gods,’ which was later interpreted as ‘the place of the fire of the angel.’ ” The gods must indeed be crazy. The same day that Campspot released its almanac, the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire in northern New Mexico had spread to within 13 miles of Angel Fire “and fire managers said that’s a generous estimate,” according to local TV news.

The timing, as they say, could have been better.

At last, numbers to confirm crowding

If you’ve been having a hard time finding a place to park your RV, it’s not your imagination. In what may be the first comprehensive effort to inventory the nation’s supply of campgrounds and camp sites, the RV Industry Association today released a survey in which the number one finding–ta-da!–is that campgrounds during peak season are basically full.

No surprise, right? Yet while the study’s conclusions are unremarkable, what’s interesting are their underlying data and the fact that it’s taken this long to assemble them. KOA, The Dyrt and others have been taking the pulse of campground demand, and ARVC periodically samples the universe of private campgrounds, but an overall understanding of the supply side of the equation has been so primitive that the industry hasn’t been able to agree on even how many privately owned campgrounds there are. (CHM Government Services, the Massachusetts-based consulting firm that did the RVIA’s legwork, cited four sources that had a 40% spread in campground census numbers.)

CHM eventually settled on 12,290 private campgrounds, of which 12,118 have RV sites. Those campgrounds, it further concluded, have 1.4 million RV sites, yielding an average of 116 each. Yet apparently more than a third of the private RV sites can be considered “primitive,” since only 63% have water and electric hookups; roughly half (51%) also have sewer connections.

Public campgrounds, meanwhile–comprising federal, state, county and municipal facilities–outnumber their private counterparts, at 15,119, but because on average they’re significantly smaller, have a total of only 607,014 camp sites. More to the point, fewer than half of the public camp sites–264,861–can accommodate RVs, and of those, only 30% have water hookups and a mere 8% have sewer connections. That latter statistic is especially telling at federal campgrounds, among which just 11.3% have dump stations.

Smushing all those numbers together and contrasting them with camper demand in 2020, the RVIA report concludes that overall campground occupancy during the summer was 76%, and 54% for the year overall. Keeping in mind that these occupancy figures are an aggregate that doesn’t distinguish between weekends and mid-week, summer and winter (for the annual rate) or by region, that suggests that yes, RVers overall would have had a helluva time finding a camping spot–and even more so if they needed utilities, especially sewer hookups.

The space crunch, according to Margaret Bailey, CHM’s project manager for the survey, has been a significant factor behind the recent explosion of boondocking. Dispersed camping, she said, “is partly a choice but partly a default” because of a lack of alternatives. And while some significant amount of funding has recently been devoted to public campgrounds, that money “is going to fix what’s broken” and not to expansion. Any growth in RV sites, she added, “has to come on the private side.”

An RVIA spokesman said he hoped the report will further encourage investors to view campgrounds as more than just a niche market. Campgrounds, he noted, are just another segment of the hospitality industry, comparable to hotels. Indeed, one of the study’s more telling observations is that the national hotel industry had a peak season occupancy of approximately 70% and annual occupancy of 66% in 2019, the most recent year of normal operating conditions.

In other words, you stand a better chance of booking a hotel room this summer than of landing an RV park reservation.

Forbes mangles the RV park story

There was a time when, for all its excesses-and there were many!–Forbes magazine at least could be counted on for insightful reportage on American capitalism. Such coverage, to be sure, was steeped in unabashed boosterism, but it also looked beyond surface appearances and poked at deeper trends and developments. It was smart and literate, and it took its numbers seriously. Alas, no more.

Last week, Forbes ran a piece headlined, “Growing Demand Fuels Rising Tide of New, Expanded RV Parks,” which sounded promising only as far as the first sentence. There, the reader was informed that “this past winter saw construction of more than 50 new campgrounds and RV parks, offering more than 15,000 new RV sites”–a statement which on its face is absurd and should have been red-penciled by any copy editor with an ounce of mathematical smarts.

Although Forbes would have us believe that 300-site RV parks were being thrown up in a matter of months all across the U.S., none of the three examples it highlighted to give readers “a sense of the wholesale explosion of the RV park phenomenon” comes close to meeting that hyperbolic description. The largest, Gulf Shores RV Resort, will have an “anticipated” 175 sites this summer; the “brand-new” Red Coach Resort hasn’t started advertising its 47 sites, only 17 of which have hook-ups; and River Ridge Retreat, which opened last fall with 23 sites, added 31 more in March.

In other words, the “wholesale explosion of the RV park phenomenon” is more of a whimper than a bang, at least within the pages of Forbes magazine.

The story missed by “The Capitalist Tool,” as Forbes used to brand itself, is the extent to which capitalism run rampant is rapidly destroying the campground industry as we’ve known it. The same widening of the wealth gap that has splintered American society overall is seeping into the way we camp and use the outdoors, transforming a formerly egalitarian form of recreation into an economically stratified one anchored at its low end by people desperate for shelter. The RV park phenomenon is no longer just about “camping,” but about housing of last resort.

A decade ago, Forbes changed its tagline to “Change the World,” a limp retreat from the jaunty in-your-face insouciance of “The Capitalist Tool,” so maybe it’s not surprising that its coverage of RVing is equally mealy-mouthed and shallow. Were it otherwise, perhaps it might follow up on stories like that of Garlic Farm RV Park in California, midway through a three-year conversion of all 160 of its RV sites into a subdivision of 400-square-foot “tiny homes.” Or perhaps it could look at Payson, Arizona, where the mayor is urging changes in the city code to allow people to live in their RVs permanently because the school district is losing teachers who can’t find a place to rent or buy. Or it could report on the Flathead River in Kalispell, Montana, where complaints of RV sewage and portable potties being emptied into one the country’s most iconic waterways are pressuring the U.S. Forest Service to severely limit public access, if not shut it down altogether.

To the extent that the “RV park phenomenon” is an outgrowth of the explosion in RVing and camping, the story is far more nuanced and ultimately tragic than Forbes has recognized. Then again, Forbes is hardly unique. The industry overall has been so enthralled with itself that it rarely casts a critical eye on its own excesses, and at the extent to which it is contributing to the degradation of the natural environment it purportedly celebrates. “Change the world,” indeed.

We’re all fiddling while Rome burns

Here it is, another three weeks before we get to Memorial Day, and already fire sirens are wailing all across the west. Blazes in Arizona and New Mexico have started pushing smoke into Colorado and Utah, reminiscent of last year’s West Coast fires that cast a pall over the eastern seaboard. Fire restrictions and bans are being ramped up throughout the Mountain West, affecting not only campfires but cigarette smoking and the discharging of firearms. The country’s largest reservoirs have been drawn down so far that decades-old corpses are emerging from the depths.

The causes of all this are well known. In the Sierra Nevada, the first three months of this year have been the driest in California’s recorded history, resulting in a snowpack that currently stands at only 35% of the average. One consequence: the state’s wildfires this year to date already have burned 35% more acreage than they did last year. In Colorado, meanwhile, the below-average snowfall of this past winter is raising fears among state officials that they’re heading into the worst wildfire year in state history. As reported by the Denver Post, for example, the snowpack in the San Juan Mountains is less than 25% of what it should be and is melting at a “ridiculous” rate.

The “facts” are unmistakable, but as the Covid pandemic demonstrated (and unfortunately continues to underscore), there are people for whom facts can be terribly inconvenient. Calls to change behavior for the greater good–to do something that will protect the lives and well-being of others, such as wearing a face mask or refraining from watering a lawn–are resisted at best, attacked as government oppression at worst. All sorts of spurious arguments and fantastical rationalizations get spun out, but rarely is there any acknowledgment that something must be done, much less what that something might be.

What brings this to mind most vividly is yesterday’s decision by Colorado’s Democratic legislators to abandon their attempt to address the vulnerability of homes built in wildfire-prone areas, such as the thousand homes in Boulder County that were torched last December. The forsaken proposal would have created a 17-member state board charged with adopting strict statewide building standards for the wildlife-urban interface by 2024, but was immediately attacked for its top-down approach. With more than 200 other bills pending and the legislative session supposedly ending today, Senate Republicans threatened to stall the entire process if the bill didn’t get yanked, forcing the Democrats to capitulate.

The Republicans, it should be mentioned, did not have a substitute proposal. That would have required acknowledging that a problem exists, and that the role of government is to deal with problems that threaten public welfare.

Colorado thus remains one of only eight states in the country without a minimum wildfire mitigation building code, even though its four largest and most destructive fires all occurred within the past two years. Moreover, the state’s lack of such a building code costs it big points when bidding for FEMA grant money, which flows more readily to states with a more pro-active approach to fire prevention. But, hey, how you can put a price tag on independence from the yoke of big government?

In southern California, meanwhile, an estimated 70% to 80% of urban water use is devoted to landscaping–in a state where agricultural fields are being left fallow because there isn’t enough water. But when water district officials impose restrictions, such as a demand that water use be reduced to 80 gallons per day per capita, public pushback has been immediate and vehement. Despite water bills of more than a thousand dollars a month, affluent homeowners who have spent as much as half-a-million dollars on landscaping are defying both regulatory pressures and common sense.

“A lot of people out here, they just feel kind of entitled,” Thomas Anderson, a security guard for entertainers, told The Washington Post earlier this week. “So they be like, ‘We got the money we’ll just pay whatever it is. Whatever the penalties is, so what? We’ll just write it off.’ They’re just going to suck up all the water anyway.”

Maybe all the numbers and statistics are too abstract for some people to absorb, so here’s one final sobering fact to drive reality home: as the fires in northern New Mexico continue to rage, various news sources are reporting that the moisture content of some of the timber they’re consuming is less than is found in kiln-dried lumber.

And yes, these are all things to think about if you’re camping, and especially if you’re boondocking.

How do tiny homes make any sense?

Let me state at the outset that I love the idea of tiny homes. In a society still besotted with outsized everything, there is something satisfyingly modest and efficient about these little houses on wheels. They’re cute. They’re snuggly. The pictures of new ones marketed by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. look remarkably well finished and appointed, with clean lines and good lighting. They’re adorable–and way too expensive and in oh-so-many ways completely impractical.

What got me going on this line of thought was the email I received a couple of days ago from Tumbleweed, promoting its sale of a 2020 Elm model that apparently (“bank-owned,” the pitch asserts) was repossessed, which is never a good sign. This 26-foot version can be had for $15,000 off its list price, which translates to $770 a month after an $11,000 down-payment–or $983 a month if you can’t come up with a down-payment of more than $1,000. This latter option, it should be pointed out, may be why this particular little house is back on the market.

Before you start day-dreaming about having your every own home for as little as $770 a month, consider some other numbers. The first is that the loan you’d be buying is for 25 years at 7.75% interest. That interest rate is at least 250 basis points higher than a regular mortgage because tiny homes have questionable appreciation value: they’re more like cars, in that respect, than actual real estate. Moreover, it’s questionable whether a tiny home will even last 25 years, which means that when the loan is all paid off you may be left with nothing more than an immoveable shack.

Here are some more numbers: the 26-foot Elm has 204 square feet on the main level, plus an additional 73 square feet in the sleeping loft–which, as the name denotes, is not tall enough for a short person to stand upright. With an after-discount price tag of $99,879, that works out to $489.60 per square foot if you disregard the loft, $360.57 per square foot if you throw in the munchkin footage. Either way, that’s easily twice the cost of building a, you know, real house.

But, you may reply, a tiny home is so much more than a house–it’s portable, a modern version of a nomad’s tent or a gypsy (sorry, Roma) caravan. Which is true enough, provided that you also have a 1-ton truck to pull the thing, since it weighs 12,200 pounds. Add the cost of such a tow vehicle and now you’re looking at a total price tag that would cover virtually any Class C on the market and quite a few Class As–and those come with holding tanks, which tiny homes don’t have, further limiting their functional portability.

The other thing that most Class As and Class Cs have that you won’t find in tiny homes is slideouts, not to mention a helluva lot more storage space. In fact, for all their good looks and typically fawning press, tiny homes are, well, tiny. At eight feet from port to starboard they’re only two feet wider than a standard prison cell, and without the ability to push those walls out you may feel just as confined. Do a virtual tour of one of these units and think about where you could put tools, books, sports equipment or crafts supplies, and you’ll quickly realize that anything that can’t be digitized wouldn’t remain a significant part of your life.

For all that, look for more of these Lilliputian dwellings to pop up at more and more RV parks and trailer courts. Tumbleweed, for one, is also promoting “tiny house hotels” to campground owners, offering bulk discounts of up to $6,000 per unit when ordering five or more. Could be fun to visit, if not so much to live in long-term.

Sell, sell, sell and cut, cut, cut

Frank Rolfe, already well-known for his predatory approach to mobile home park investing, has been preaching the same gospel to RV park investors in his RV Park “University” offerings and in regular podcasts and email broadsides. I’ve written about him before, mostly as a warning to others, but lately he’s upped his game to such an objectionable level that he’s worth a return mention.

His most recent screed is titled “The three best methods to improve RV park net income,” and it kicks off by turning to “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap for inspiration. Dunlap was “a well-known corporate raider and business efficiency stalwart,” Rolfe would have you believe, and Dunlap’s guiding motto of “sell, sell, sell and cut, cut, cut” is “not a bad mantra for RV park owners, as well.”

Rolfe goes on to write that there are three “key areas” that have maximum impact on the bottom line, the first being an unremarkable emphasis on improved marketing. It’s in the second and third key areas–“increase rents and occupancy” and “cut operating costs”–where Rolfe shows his true colors, and RVers should not be surprised to learn that in this zero-sum game, whatever benefits Rolfe and his acolytes will not benefit them at all.

Step one, “increase rents. Yes, it’s that simple.” Step two, “bring in extended stay customers,” taking advantage of “a large and growing category of customers who want to live in their RVs full time.” Moreover, Rolfe adds, there is a growing fleet of tiny homes “that can only be placed in an RV park by law,” providing campground owners “an extremely dependable (read: captive) source of income.” Step three, put more emphasis on park models and glamping, creating “more of a ‘hotel’ format, where the customer brings no RV of their own.”

Having thus jacked up rates while decreasing the number of transient RVing sites, Rolfe moves on to the expense side of the ledger, starting with “horribly bloated and completely unproductive” payrolls that must be slashed. That non-specific analysis is followed by the equally vague observation that a “simple line-by-line review of each cost item may yield huge dividends,” especially if approached with an “analytical and creative” mindset.

And there you have it: sell, sell, sell and cut, cut, cut.

Oh–but one more thing. Al Dunlap, who earned his “Chainsaw” moniker after cavalierly firing 11,000 employees at Scott Paper, for which he received $100 million in compensation, went on to try the same “analytical and creative” tactics at Sunbeam. He eventually got fired by Sunbeam’s board of directors– creating the memorable headline, “Board Cuts Chainsaw”–and subsequently settled a civil suit, filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, accusing him of several counts of accounting fraud that misrepresented Sunbeam’s financial results. He paid a $500,000 fine and agreed to be barred from ever again serving as an officer or director of a company.

Three years after it fired Dunlap, Sunbeam filed for bankruptcy. Two decades after that, Frank Rolfe has found his mentor.

%d bloggers like this: