Sun Communities, which earlier this year announced plans to aggressively further its stake in the campground industry throughout the U.S. and Canada, has purchased Leisure Systems Incorporated (LSI), the franchisor for all 75 Jellystone Parks campgrounds.
The sale was announced to LSI franchisees in a December 21 letter from LSI President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Schutter.
Sun Communities has been a part of the LSI/Jellystone Parks franchise base for nearly a decade, growing their ownership from a single Jellystone Park in New York to more than a dozen franchised Jellystone Park locations around the U.S.
Sun Communities is an umbrella company that includes RV resorts; 55+ communities; and all-age, full-time park model communities. The RV resort arm of the company was called Sun RV Resorts until this past November, when it was rebranded as Sun Outdoors to better define its offerings to consumers and fulfill its promised aggressive ownership move into the “total outdoor experience.” Sun Communities Inc. is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange as the trade symbol SUI.
The Sun Outdoors brand includes four sub-brands, including Sun Outdoors for short-term vacation resorts; Sun Retreats for longer term, seasonal vacation resorts; Sun Resorts & Residences for 55+ resorts; and Sun Uncharted for glamping resorts.
Prior to the recent purchase of LSI/Jellystone Parks, the newly branded Sun Outdoors had 175 RV park locations in 26 states and the Canadian province of Ontario.
“In preparation for today, I have witnessed Sun’s eagerness to collaboratively invest in the Jellystone Park franchise,” Schutter said in the January 21st letter to current Jellystone Park franchisees. “I am looking forward to the resources they will provide to Camp Jellystone Park through their experience as operators and their proven desire to invest capital and create value for their stakeholders.”
Schutter said he and his LSI management team will remain in place and continue to manage the LSI franchise system. He said Sun Outdoors plans to add more personnel to the newly purchased LSI franchise system soon to enhance the services provided to franchisees.
Rapid shift in campground ownership and camping systems
The Sun purchase of LSI immediately changes the landscape for both campground ownership groups as well as for campground franchising companies.
Investment firms and large outdoor-oriented companies continue to bring millions of dollars to the table, purchasing existing parks, building new campgrounds, and birthing new consolidated ownership groupings and/or new or expanded franchise systems.
Campground franchising has long been dominated by Kampgrounds of America Inc. and Leisure Systems Inc. KOA currently has about 520 owned-or-franchised parks in the U.S. and Canada, and LSI had about 75 franchise locations prior to the recent sale. The sale of LSI to Sun Outdoors immediately brings Sun’s owned-or-franchised park portfolio to nearly 250 locations.
In a recent interview with Woodall’s Campground Magazine, Sun Outdoors Director of Marketing Nate Philippsen said Sun Outdoors will continue to aggressively add parks to its portfolio, as well as build new locations in desirable locations.
“We’re going to continue to look in markets and look for resorts that are unique and special, that may want to come to the portfolio, and then on the development side, too,” Philippsen said. “We’ll continue to look and build resorts as well, maybe one or two a year or so, just depending on the opportunity with land. We’d love to continue to grow through additions to the portfolio and then building our own as well.”