Privileged Access, a private company based in Frisco, Texas, has acquired Thousand Trails as the first of a series of acquisitions designed to consolidate and transform the membership campground business.
“I hope this is the first of many acquisitions,” said Joe McAdams, the president and CEO of Frisco, Texas-based Privileged Access, which he founded in October after leaving the board of directors of Equity LifeStyle Properties, a Chicago-based Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that owns or co-owns 285 U.S. campgrounds, RV resorts and manufactured home communities, including 59 Thousand Trails parks with more than 17,000 sites.
While ELS retains ownership of Thousand Trails’ campgrounds, McAdams now owns the Thousand Trails membership business, which had been owned and operated by Kohlberg & Co., a New York-based private equity firm, for the past three years.
McAdams, ex-CEO of Ventura, Calif.-based Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), said he plans to grow Thousand Trails by nearly doubling the number of parks in the Thousand Trails network and by making the membership program much more flexible than it had been in the past.
“We’re eventually going to offer all types of accommodations, from bare camping sites all the way to supersites and cabins,” McAdams said. “There will be a variety of products and they’ll be based on customer needs rather than one-size-fits-all, which frankly had been the Thousand Trails modus operandi.”
McAdams said details of new the Thousand Trails membership opportunities would be announced in the coming weeks. But he said members ultimately will be able to customize their membership programs to suit their vacation needs. “What I want to do is broaden the value proposition so people can buy what they want to buy when they want to buy it,” he said. “We hope this approach will result in greater value for the members.”
McAdams is currently negotiating with GE Consumer Finance, which has agreed to provide varying levels of financing for Thousand Trails memberships based on consumer credit scores. “This will allow people who can’t come up with the full down payment for membership to be able to get one,” he said.
McAdams also has finalized an agreement with ELS, which will give Thousand Trails members access to five premier ELS resorts, including:
• Tropical Palms RV Resort, Kissimmee, Fla.
• Royal Coachmen RV Resort in Nokomis, Fla.
• Monte Vista Village RV Resort, Mesa, Ariz.
• Viewpoint RV Resort, Mesa, Ariz.
• Mt. Hood Resort, Welches, Ore.
McAdams said he plans to grow the Thousand Trails network by acquiring the real estate assets of additional campground membership companies and by making agreements to provide Thousand Trails members access to additional ELS parks. “I expect to eventually grow the Thousand Trails business to more than 100 different resorts,” he said, adding that the Thousand Trails brand name will remain intact with Privileged Access being the parent company.
McAdams also hopes to improve the quality of services provided by Thousand Trails as he continues to expand the club’s network of campground and RV resort properties. “We believe that if you get size and scale in this business it will allow you to instill best practices in everything from training and hiring of employees to providing better systems,” he said. “And if you get all that, you should be able to provide better value for the members.”
McAdams also plans to broaden the marketing of Thousand Trails through cross-marketing arrangements with RV manufacturers and other RV product and service providers.
Ultimately, he added, this approach could enable Privileged Access to not only grow the Thousand Trails business, but transform the campground membership niche across North America. “I never would have bought this business if I didn’t think we had the ability to bring in new customers,” he said. “And, frankly, I believe that we can bring in new customers again and again.”
In fact, McAdams maintains, the market for memberships remains relatively untapped. “There are only about 26,000 new members sold each year into membership,” he told RV Business. “That means that the penetration of private membership camping has not kept up with the growth in RV sales.”