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As Economy Fizzles, Business Picks Up for RV Rental Company

Category: RV News
Source: The Capital, Annapolis, MD
Publish Date: Thursday, March 27, 2008
Summary: Pleasant RV rental experience made this MD family converts.

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KATIE ARCIERI Staff Writer

Skip Tate Jr. and his wife, Katharine, pose with Ty Pennington, center, host of ABC's 'Extreme Home Makeover Edition.'If she wanted to travel, Linda Woodall typically turned to nice hotels and cabins as places to stay - not RVs. But after the Eastern Shore resident and her husband rented a 31-foot luxury Winnebago motor home and drove it to the Florida Keys this month, Ms. Woodall said she can't wait to do it again.

"I loved it. I even drove the thing," she said. "I'm not afraid to drive a bigger one."

Happy Travelers RV Rentals, off Route 50 before the Bay Bridge, is hoping more customers such as Ms. Woodall will rent a recreational vehicle as they cut back on discretionary spending in a weaker economy.

"A lot of folks are choosing to rent instead of purchase," said Owner Skip Tate Jr., who has seen an increased interest in rental RVs over the past two-and-a-half years.

As the economy slows, RV sales typically follow suit. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Virginia, RV shipments to dealers declined 9.5 percent last year after five consecutive years of record growth. Kevin Broom, association spokesman, said the industry is typically a "bellwether" for economic downturns.

"When shipments go down, it usually precedes a recession," he said.

Meanwhile the RV rental industry is growing, he said.

"We might see increased rentals until consumer confidence improves," he said.

Happy Travelers is marketing its fleet of luxury Winnebago RVs at its new facility on Busch's Frontage Road, giving the business a prominent and visible spot off Route 50.

It is targeting everyone from baby boomers and campers to TV studios, NASCAR fans and tailgaters.

Katharine Tate, Mr. Tate's wife and the company's sales and marketing director, said she expects rental sales to reach $600,000 this year, a roughly 18 percent increase over 2007. She said the company has already exceeded its first quarter revenue goals.

Mr. Tate and his father Rod started Recreation World RV Center, which sells RVs, and Happy Travelers, on Ferguson Road in 1992. The rental business gained a loyal following throughout the mid-Atlantic area and became a destination for the stars: "Wheel of Fortune" host and Severna Park resident Pat Sajak and Ty Pennington from "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" have requested Happy Travelers luxury rental units, Mrs. Tate said.

Last year, Mr. Tate bought his father's share of the rental business for $1 million. His father retired after shutting down the less profitable sales company and selling the building and land.

To market Happy Travelers, the company launched a new logo and Web site in January and invested in search engine optimization so the company shows up first on Web page hits. The company also is promoting its delivery program that transports RVs within a 60-mile radius. Additionally, Happy Travelers can make drivers available for one-way or round trips.

The Tates, who enjoyed a recent RV trip to Disney World, said their rental prices provide customers a chance to test out RV life without the hassles of ownership: Customers can rent the smallest 24-foot Winnebago model for $189 a day. A 32-foot model with slide-out rooms costs $370 a day during the peak season in July and August, Mrs. Tate said.

To keep its model units current, the company sells motor homes that have been driven approximately 25,000 miles or been used for up to a year, whichever comes first, she said. Happy Travelers then uses money from those sales to purchase new rental units that retail between $80,000 to $110,000, she said.

"By doing that, it still offers value for a pre-owned unit for a client that wants to purchase," she said.

The company continues to promote its celebrity customers. Last October, Happy Travelers donated motor homes to the designers of "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" who were building a home in Port Deposit in Cecil County, and at another shoot in Delaware in January.

"Ty (Pennington) always asks for units in our area," Mr. Tate said, referring to the show's star.

Mrs. Tate also said Happy Travelers transported Mr. Sajak from Anne Arundel County down to Florida to film "Wheel of Fortune" when the airlines were shut down after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's very rewarding to know that we are able to provide these quality motor homes with such pride to such a phenomenal clientele," Mrs. Tate said. "It's such an American tradition and they trust in us and our product."


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