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S. Hall camping business defies economic slump

Company completes 5-acre, $1 million expansion

POSTED: September 30, 2012 11:28 p.m.

OAKWOOD — Luxury items typically don’t sell in an economic downturn, but Camping World is more than defying the odds — it has finished up a nearly $1 million expansion of its South Hall business and is looking at further improvements.

“This industry and camping in general is very important — it’s a way of life for a lot of people and has been for a long, long time,” said Joel Cline, general manager of the business at 4696 Smithson Blvd.

Avid campers may not spend or trade up as much as they used to, “but they’re still going to go camping,” he said.

“And it’s still cost-effective for families to go camping versus taking traditional vacations via an airplane or a long car ride to the beach.”

In a way, camping meets a primal need to be one with nature.

“It’s important for a lot of families to get their kids out there, to get them unplugged and away from iPads and iPods,” Cline said.

The camping industry, however, wasn’t exempt when the recession began taking a heavy toll in 2008.

“Along with everyone else, we lost a lot of competition,” Cline said. “We really got better at running a business, as far as expenses and catering to a customer’s needs. When things kind of turned the corner, it was phenomenal to see the result.

“We were really constrained by our fence lines at our particular location, and we often wondered if we had more, could we do more without overextending ourselves.”

Camping World, which is part of a national chain founded in 1966, has inventory ranging in price from $10,000 to $100,000.

It opened a new office and sales building, which includes a retail store, in 2006. And on Aug. 1, it completed a five-acre expansion, doubling the size of its sales lot, and quickly filled it with recreational vehicles.

The new lot sits in a highly visible spot — between Interstate 985 just south of Exit 16 and Thurmon Tanner Parkway, a new four-lane road completed in October 2011.

The business, which is holding a grand opening Oct. 8-14, also added two new service bays at the end of its service center and is looking at adding six more service bays.

That move would enable Camping World to open an entrance off Thurmon Tanner and become the first commercial site since the parkway opened.

Tim Evans, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for economic development, said “For some buyers, (campers and RVs) may be a more affordable alternative to buying the cabin they thought about buying a few years ago.

“Instead of buying a time-share or committing on real estate, they can buy a nice camper or family pop-up instead of spending a couple grand on a family vacation every year,” Evans said.

It doesn’t hurt that Camping World sits between metro Atlanta and the North Georgia mountains, where camping is a major recreational activity, he said.

“They’re pretty smart in the location they picked and the visibility they’ve got,” Evans said.

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