Marcus Lemonis

A review of the potential “2017 RVBusiness Newsmaker of the Year” contenders yielded only one slam dunk candidate in the opinion of RVB’s magazine staff: Camping World Holdings Inc. (CWHI) Chairman and CEO Marcus Lemonis because of a wave of headlines generated throughout the year by the high-profile executive and his Chicago-based company.

An outspoken businessman who got his college degree at Marquette University and his professional wings at AutoNation, Holiday RV Superstores and Affinity Group Inc., Lemonis has clearly evolved into one of the most transformational characters in the U.S. recreational vehicle industry, having built up Camping World’s dealer network to some 135 company-owned RV stores in 36 states retailing RV’s, parts and accessories, emergency road service, insurance and other services as America’s No. 1 RV dealer in terms of sheer sales volume.

CWHI, through its Good Sam Enterprises LLC division, also operates the nation’s largest consumer club – the Good Sam Club – and publishes the market’s most visible consumer publications, Trailer Life and MotorHome.

“There is no question that Camping World has had a huge and significant impact on the RV industry over the past 10-plus years, quite likely as much of an impact as any RV company in the past 50 years,” said RVBusiness Publisher Sherm Goldenberg, speaking on behalf of RVB’s staff. “Certainly no corporate entity has ever dominated the two key components – retail and consumer – like Camping World. The combination of rapid and aggressive acquisitions of dealerships, the merging of the powerful Good Sam Club into their retail operations and the successful public offering in 2016 makes the organization one of the most dominant and influential in the RV industry by a wide margin.”

In fact, CWHI, which reported third quarter (ended Sept. 30) revenues up 25% to $1.24 billion and net income up 24.6% to $85.3 million, currently accounts for about a fifth of total U.S. RV retail sales. Third quarter unit volume grew to 19,107 new units, a hike of 33.3%.

Camping World’s stock price, in turn, has generally doubled, from 22 to about 46 points, since its late 2016 IPO, a gain of about 109%.

In the process, Lemonis, the host of the popular reality series “The Profit” on CNBC who was singled out as Newsmaker of the Year once before in 2007, has succeeded in drawing the financial community’s attention to the industry in a big way.

“Camping World continues to generate a lot of interest from equity investors looking at the RV industry over the past 12 months,” noted Phil Ingrassia, president of the Fairfax, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). “I’ve fielded dozens of calls from various investment groups and business reporters digging into the factors behind the RV industry’s overall strong performance in recent years. The attention generated by Camping World and other public RV companies provides a platform to communicate to the investment community and the business media that the industry has a bright future and specifically how younger buyers are driving RV shipments and sales.”

As most in the industry are well aware, CWHI, which recently fulfilled its $1 million pledge to RVDA’s Mike Molino RV Learning Center, continued to pursue dealer acquisitions at an impressive rate, having purchased the following retailers in 2017:

  • American RV, Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Cooper’s RV Center, Murrysville and Apollo, Pa.
  • America Choice RV, Ocala, Zephyrhills and Bushnell, Fla.
  • Jack Sisemore Traveland, Amarillo, Texas
  • Reines RV Center Inc., Manassas, Va.
  • Safford RV, Fredericksburg, Va.
  • McGeorge’s Rolling Hills RV, Ashland, Va.
  • Nelson’s RVs, Boise, Idaho
  • Jamatt RV, Poteau, Okla.
  • RV-Max, Sherman, Mesquite and Cleburne, Texas
  • RV World of Georgia, Buford, Ga.

As the industry’s most aggressive corporate marketer, most would agree, Camping World owns naming rights to Orlando’s “Camping World Stadium” and played a key role in recent NCAA bowl games as well as Major League Baseball’s 2017 American League and National League Championship Series in the run up to the World Series.

Equally impactful is the role Camping World has played in expanding the industry’s retailing outreach into altogether new turf – the outdoor recreation market – with the late April purchase of the 160-store, Minnesota-based Gander Mountain chain of outdoor recreational equipment outlets and Overton’s Inc. in the marine sector. A consortium of investors led by Lemonis purchased both firms for $390 million after Gander Mountain filed bankruptcy in March.

According to public statements made since then by Lemonis, who declined comment for this article, plans call for retaining fewer than half of those stores with the remaining facilities rebranded as “Gander Outdoors.” In an “omni-channel approach,” Camping World plans to blend some of the merchandising and e-commerce skill sets of Gander Outdoors, Camping World and other related assets CWHI has purchased recently: TheHouse.com, an online retailer specializing in bikes, sailboards, skateboards, wakeboards, snowboards and outdoor gear; Uncle Dan’s Outfitters, a specialty retailer of outdoor gear, apparel and camping supplies; and, as of the first of the year, Erehwon Mountain Outfitter, a Midwest specialty retailer of outdoor gear and apparel.