It wasn’t just any ordinary summer for the Escapees RV Club, one of North America’s largest RV owners groups. During the opening ceremony of Escapees’ 56th Escapade in July at the Champlain Valley Exposition Center in Essex Junction, Vt., it was announced that both Cathie Carr, president of the Escapees, and her husband, Bud Carr, president of Escapees’ Rainbow Parks campground facilities, were retiring.
Cathie and Bud Carr represent the second generation of the same family to oversee the Escapees; Cathie’s parents, Joe and Kay Peterson founded the organization in 1978. The Carrs didn’t have to look far for their successors, though, as their son, Travis Carr, is the new Escapees president.
In addition, Travis’ wife, Melanie, is the new Escapees vice president and longtime Escapees member and legal counsel Shawn Loring takes over as president of Rainbow Parks.
The Escapees, a club founded with 82 families as original members and whose purpose was to communicate and meet with others who chose the unique RV lifestyle, has grown to nearly 60,000 members today enjoying a wide range of benefits and services, including a robust mail forwarding system and a variety of discounts with select vendor partners.
Although he had been involved with the Escapees since childhood, after having served as an Army Ranger Travis Carr began working alongside his parents. He started doing outdoor maintenance at Escapees headquarters then later became vice president of Rainbow Parks. Melanie Carr began creating and managing Escapees’ social media accounts, as well as the Escapees Travel Agency. In March of 2015, the Carrs founded Xscapers, a lifestyle group of Escapees members focused on the working RVer.
WCM: So what are your thoughts as you step into your new positions?
Travis: Growing up in this as a kid it’s always been a part of my life, so to actually step into these shoes is really an honor. It’s emotional for me to see my parents step away but – as I told them before – they’re not going anywhere. I know where they live, and I have them on my speed dial and I call them on a daily basis for advice. So, really, none of that changes other than just passing the torch.
I really want to make sure that we hold on to the values that this organization was founded on by Joe and Kay. That’s our No. 1 priority in this whole process.
WCM: We assume you had a hint that this was going to be happening.
Travis: We knew about six months ago that it was going to be announced at Escapade, so we had some time to prepare and learn and touch base on things. But even though we knew it was coming, I don’t know if you can ever truly be prepared for it.
Melanie: We have kind of been transitioning probably since January. Ever since Cathy and Budd announced their retirement we’ve been taking on more roles and getting prepared. So, yeah, we were in the know, but it’s definitely a bigger moment once it’s announced to the public.
Travis: To be honest, Melanie probably does more work than I do. She is really one of the biggest backbones of this organization. She’s awesome. She’s definitely by my side and we work on this thing together as a team and not as individuals.
WCM: Aside from maintaining the values on which the Escapees were founded, do you have a ‘to-do list’ of sorts as you get going?
Travis: Over the short-term, our big focus is really going to be on education. We have some exciting products that I can’t really go into detail about, but they should be coming online by the beginning of next year.
I think the other thing is we’re really focused on bringing more technology into what we do and making it easier for RVers to utilize technology to make this lifestyle a little bit easier. Part of that ties into the Xscapers and what they’re doing, such as remote working.
Melanie: It’s really about making more options available for people who are on the road or considering living on the road.
Alongside that, we are always revamping our current services that we have such as finding better ways to improve our mail service, and the online benefits that we have like the mapping tool we just launched. We’re currently going through another round of improving it. We’re always looking to do more to make sure they are the best that they can be for the RVer.
WCM: You can’t tell us any more details about the new education and technology initiatives?
Travis: Like I said, I can’t really give away too many details. But I think what is important is we want to make education more accessible and reliable. I think that’s about all I can say. We want education to be there for anyone to partake in and to make sure it’s provided by the industry experts, the ones who know what they’re talking about. That’s really the goal. We can all get information online, but is it the right information? So our goal is to figure out how we can do that and we have a game plan, but it just takes some time to get it launched.
WCM: It seems that, as of late, Escapees has really been adding to its portfolio of benefits and services.
Travis: It’s probably been over the past two years when Melanie and I have gotten involved with the board to really dig deep and realize a lot of new services need to be put into place.
Melanie: Of course, we’ve had a lot of help from all of the board and all of the staff; we’d have nothing without them. But, yes, there have been a lot of ideas – Xscapers, the job board, remote working and helping people find opportunities to be able to succeed on the road. We also have the articles and blog section and the mapping tool, and we’re just continuing to improve those ideas.
WCM: Since you have already mentioned some short-term initiatives, any long-term plans to relate?
Travis: I think one of our strategic goals that we are really going to focus on over the next several years that we never really thought about too much or tried to grow is our discount program. We’ve been working extremely hard to bring in new discounts and partnerships to help offset membership dues, plus get some money back. That’s really going to be another big focus for us.
Melanie: Ever since Travis and I started with the Escapees we’ve seen the value in partnering with people who are experts in what they’re doing. It’s like our partnership with Full-Time Families. They are the leader in that niche of the industry. We want to make sure that they succeed because the whole industry is better for it if we can help each other.
WCM: Lets talk about the Xscapers. How has that startup club been doing?
Travis: It’s growing beyond our expectations. Last time I checked, which was a couple of weeks ago, we had over 3,000 memberships. So if you assume that most of those are couples, we probably have between 5,000 and 6,000 Xscapers in the organization. We definitely met the goal we were expecting in a year’s time, and it’s been awesome.
Melanie: It’s been more than awesome. The Escapade gathering was a little bit different because you like to keep the focus toward the Escapade aspect of it, but all of the individual Xscapers convergences have just been great. We have the Balloon Fiesta coming out and then we partnered with “Spot the Scotts” to do a mini-convergence in southern Colorado. We are trying to grow that and provide more specific opportunities for that club to get together and just teach each other things.
Travis: It’s really been a lot of fun for us, too, because we host 90% of the events. It really helps us get involved and not lose touch with RVers; not just sitting in an office every day. This way we get to be involved with the community and have fun with them and hear their stories and share ours. It’s really a lot of fun.
I’d say our goal there, since we’re talking about future planning, is to continue to grow their job board and make it even better. Along with that comes advocacy for remote workers and on the road. We all know about work-camping and the traditional role of a work-camper working at a campground, but we want to take it a step further and make companies understand that RVers are an awesome workforce.
Melanie: Work camping is also not the only possibility, and it’s not something new. It’s just educating employers that remote workers are capable. It’s something you can make a career out of versus only using it as a short-term or temporary job while working on the road.
Travis: It’s definitely a major focus of over the next several years, but it’s going to be a long process. Obviously something like that takes time. But it’s definitely something we want to put some energy into.