Comfy Camping

RVC Outdoor Destinations helps people camp out on their terms

rvc-outdoor-destinations-comfy-camping

RVC Outdoor Destinations founder and president Andy Cates (center) with his team in the nine-year-old company’s Downtown offices (from left): Yale Spina, Alex Embry, Matt Uselton and Gladys McGowan. (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

By Bill Dries [via Memphis Daily News]

The way Andy Cates explains it, camping out hasn’t changed a lot in about half a century.

And while “roughing it” appeals to many of those in search of outdoors experiences, for others – sometimes in the same family – it doesn’t or it isn’t possible.

That was the basis for Cates’ involvement as CEO of RVC Outdoor Destinations – the Memphis-based company started in 2006.

“We concluded that folks want to camp on their terms,” Cates said. “They want to enjoy and appreciate nature. But that doesn’t mean they want to get bitten by a mosquito at three in the morning or that they don’t want to have a bed.

“They want to hike,” he said. “But they want to know where they are hiking and what the game plan is. And they want to get in the water, but they may need a boat to do that. And they may want to go fishing but they want a guide so they know what kind of fish they are fishing for and that they have the equipment. We do all that.”

The 10 RVC locations in eight states offer RV sites as well as cottages, cabins and yurts – sometimes a combination at the same location along with other amenities. And the company seeks out the locations as well as investing in installing items like zip lines and swimming pools and trails.

In closing the books on 2014, RVC reported revenue growth of 18 percent. Holiday weekend activity was up significantly over 2013, including 27 percent more business for the Fourth of July weekend than in 2013.

And social media guest reviews on independent sites like Trip Advisor are glowing.

Meanwhile, RVC continues to expand. Last year, the company bought 100 acres in Durango, Co., for a development that will be RVC’s 11th location.

RVC’s original Colorado property, Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, was also its best performing site in 2014 and an example of the growth as well as the promise RVC is looking for.

“Three years ago, they were fighting a wildfire in that area,” Cates said. “And two years ago, they were fighting flash floods that were exacerbated by the burn scars.”

In the past year, RVC also built a bridge at Mountain Springs Cabins in Asheville, N.C., added a 50-acre 12-line Zip Line Tour to its Catherine’s Landing site in Hot Springs, Ark., and renovated Medina Highpoint Resort in Medina, Texas.

Cates is an entrepreneur involved in the city’s pursuit of the Memphis Grizzlies pro basketball franchise and as project developer and founding board chairman of the Soulsville Revitalization Project.

He’s also a veteran of commercial real estate transactions and investments on a large scale as well as managing member of Value Acquisition Fund, a Memphis-based real estate acquisition and asset management company. For that experience, however, Cates said RVC is more hospitality industry than real estate concern.

When RVC was in its due diligence phase Cates acknowledges that he and others at RVC tended to look at the forming collection of resorts and facilities as “an interesting investment.”

It’s an observation he hears a lot today from “real estate geniuses who want to get into this space.”

“Until you realize that it is as much a hospitality business if not more so than a real estate business, it’s extremely challenging,” he said, noting there are lots of aggressive buyers looking to buy existing, ready to run, stabilized properties. “We’re clearly the highest quality provider in the space. There’s nobody yet competing with us.”

To compete, others would have to be “soup to nuts” as Cates put it.

“Most of our properties are either ground-up greenfield properties that we developed completely new or they’ve been radically redeveloped and renovated,” he said.

What RVC is looking for is not only a great natural location but the ability to allow groups of friends and family to gather for a memorable time in a lakehouse or at a ranch they could otherwise not afford on a permanent basis.

Those visitors have also changed since the Great Recession, Cates said, wanting to go “back to the basics.”

“That doesn’t mean just back to the basics of enjoying nature,” he said. “It includes spending more quality time with family and friends versus trying to keep up with the Joneses and find out what place they might go that might be wildly expensive but doesn’t necessarily feed their soul.”

The guest base has grown quickly in the last nine years with three generations of families and friends at the RVC sites for reunions to weddings and other occasions. And owners of some properties are coming to RVC, Cates noted.

“We want to grow. We’re well funded,” he said. “We have a team of great professionals who are committed. We all believe in the vision and now it’s a question of how do we grow intelligently.”

Low interest rates and investment money in the markets is also a positive factor.

“We’ve got a good strong pipeline. So I’m pleased with the options we have,” Cates said. “But the next three years are going to be really important to us, to see how we can take advantage of this phenomenal foundation we’ve built.”