The Outdoorsmen

Andy Cates and Yale Spina of RVC Outdoor Destinations discuss … ▶ glamorous camping ▶ disrupting the RV industry ▶ success through equity ▶ keeping pace with the hotel evolution

RVC Outdoor Destinations provides RV owners with a glamorous camping—or "glamping"—experience.

Andy Cates is a “spoiled camper.” He loves the great outdoor settings but also loves beds and air conditioning. Knowing there were others that would also enjoy such amenities, he founded RVC Outdoor Destinations in 2007. Avid camper Yale Spina joined Cates’s venture two years later—bringing with him his background in hotel hospitality—to help expand operations. Today, the company, headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, owns and maintains campsites that provide RV owners a glamorous camping “glamping” experience with concierge services, Wi-Fi, swimming pools, fitness centers, coffee/wine bars, and 50 amp power hookups. RVC currently has 20,000 customers in its database and continues to plant stakes in new ground across the country.

Why did you start RVC Outdoor Destinations?

HAPPY CAMPER Andy Cates lets people camp on their own terms.

Cates: RVC was created five years ago to disrupt and improve the outdoor hospitality industry.

Spina: I joined Andy in early 2009 in order to improve the current offerings in the RV/camping industry. As an avid but frustrated RVer, I have encountered many rustic sites and, after being in the hotel business for 15 years, I knew there must be a better way. The RV industry has not kept pace with the hotel evolution.

Were you both outdoor enthusiasts prior to starting the company?
Cates: Where Yale is the rock star who would have been an X-game guy, I’m someone who wants to camp on his own terms. There’s a very large audience that loves the outdoors and loves nature but also wants air-conditioning and a comfortable bed at night.

Spina: I spent the early part of my adult life traveling the world as a professional ski acrobat. I’ve also owned a sport shop and have been seriously involved in windsurfing, kiteboarding, and cycling.

Can you each explain your role in the company?
Cates: As president, I am responsible for the vision and strategy of the company as well as capital allocation. We have three great challenges: selecting the right property; appropriately and respectfully developing it; and operating it at the highest level, which is Yale’s expertise. We are democratizing great land by making it highly accessible and user friendly. We provide amenities and allow our guests to camp on their terms and within their own comfort level.

WORLD TRAVELER Yale Spina spent most his adult life globetrotting as a professional ski acrobat before joining RVC Outdoor Destinations.

Spina: As vice president of operations, my job is everything that has to do with operations and marketing. Finding the right leaders is my current focus. Our managers must believe in our concept and be willing to go well beyond minimum standards to help us deliver on the promise of a memorable vacation experience.

What is the “Glamping” experience?
Spina: Our version of “Glamping” (or glamorous camping) is to allow guests to get close to nature on terms that are more palatable or comfortable. Imagine camping in a tent, but with hardwood floors, a comfy bed, and a deck from which to observe nature. We also make it our mission in life to find ways of getting our guests on the water. We find that fishing and other water activities tend to be a focal point of many vacations, so we strive to make these activities easy and more enjoyable.

Can you describe your company’s competitive edge? What makes RVC stand out from its competitors?
Cates: RVC has a competitive advantage from both an operational and capital standpoint. We have specific high-end hotel and commercial real-estate management expertise, and we are the only fully-funded outdoor hospitality company in the country that is actively growing.

Spina: The fact that we are all equity is a huge competitive advantage for us. Many of our competitors are struggling for funding and are therefore unable to be agile enough to improve their properties as the market demands. We offer a multi-accommodation type [of] outdoor experience that does not limit us to the RV enthusiast alone, but also all outdoor enthusiasts. Our facilities offer a fitness room, Wii-dia room (Wii on a big screen), free Wi-Fi, and fenced off-leash bark parks.

What are your goals for the company?
Cates: Our specific goal is to control the higher-end segment and be the “Hilton” or “Marriott” of the industry.

Spina: We are striving to develop a brand under a quality flag that represents great service and consistently superior locations in nature. Specifically, we will be expanding our concept into new markets through joint ventures and other acquisitions that will provide a meaningful network of locations as well as design refinements.

What is a “Frequent Fueler” card?
Spina: RV’ers are impacted the most by high gas prices. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Pilot Flying J and are giving our guests a “Frequent Fueler” card that takes off 2 cents on gasoline, 3 cents on diesel, 10 cents on propane fuel, and $5 off all dumping fees. When you’re on the road as much as our guests are, the savings add up quickly. Plus, due to their cleanliness, efficiency, and professionalism (all of which are applicable traits in the campground industry), we think Pilot Flying J is the best-run travel-center company in the nation, so it makes a heck of a lot of sense for us to do more things like this with them in the upcoming future.