Life is pretty good right now for the Livingston, Texas-based Escapees RV Club, one of the nation’s leading RV owners’ clubs comprised in large part of “full-time or heavily seasonal RV enthusiasts,” according to CEO Shawn Loring.
As the Escapees club continues to distance itself from the Great Recession and the damage that downturn inflicted on recreational vehicle owners’ clubs and the industry in general, Loring reports that the group has reached record membership levels with about 34,500 active members. Inasmuch as that usually includes two to a household, he said, that puts the actual total at about 69,000 active Escapees members.
“These are the de facto experts. These are the enthusiasts that have really committed to the lifestyle, giving up their sticks and bricks (meaning their homes),” said Loring, an attorney by training, adding that the club is also making substantial progress in drawing a younger demographic of working full-timers affiliated with the Escapees’ four-year-old “Xscapers” community.
“Four years ago, we had nobody in the 20-, 30-, and 40-year-old age brackets in our club or, at least, no measurable population there,” Loring told RVBUSINESS.com. “In four years time, we have grown that Xscaper’s community to be 16%, or roughly 11,000 people for whom we’ve developed several resources and specialized events. They cater to working RVers and, in some cases, those who are raising families on the road.”
Looking back at the club’s roots, Loring points out that the emerging Xscapers element is very much in the DNA of the overall club started 41 years ago by Joe and Kay Peterson, a traveling electrician and itinerant nurse who started a newsletter to stay in touch with friends before the Internet and cell phones were invented.
Now, under the direction of the Peterson’s grandson and his wife, Travis and Melanie Carr, the club’s president and vice president, respectively, the Escapees RV Club coordinates a full menu of services including events like the national “Escapade” rally that in March drew some 2,400 RV enthusiasts to Tucson, Ariz. On tap for that national event were 80 seminars, several of which were presented by staffers from Winnebago Industries Inc. with whom the club partnered with recently.
While next year’s Escapade is slated for June 21-26 in Rock Springs, Wyo., there are several other events on-site that the club sponsors – among them a new series of regional “Hangouts” facilitating the interests of those younger, more active Xscapers.
Along with a decades-old, mail forwarding service, the Escapees RV Club also hosts RVers Boot Camp classes, RVers Online University and a SmartWeigh program. There are vendor discounts and special rates at the club’s eight commercial Rainbow Parks campgrounds as well as 11 other co-op parks — not to mention trip-routing, a bi-monthly magazine, a job board and a weekly newsletter.
Bottom line, count the Escapees among the industry’s club survivors. “Yes, and flourishing” said Loring, who participated in the RV Industry Association’s (RVIA) Committee Week proceedings in early May. “The industry, owners’ clubs included, did take a nose dive there in 2008, 2009, in the wake of the downturn.
“It took a lot of hard work from the best staff in the industry, a lot of dedicated people,” he added. “Not only on our staff, but the members themselves. It’s members bringing members into this club. I don’t mean to sound syrupy about it, but our club is based on values, and there is a community there, and a sentiment of ‘we’re all a family’ that has not only brought us back to the levels we were at before but has us growing and trending younger in absolute terms.”