Economy hits the gas more buyers seeking high-end rvs with all the comforts of home gasket t 1995

"It’s freeing to get rid of all your stuff and travel where you want, when you want,” said Doug, 59, who works remotely part time as a recruiter for hospital executives. "You meet the greatest people who you have something in common with right off the bat.”

The Craigs join a growing number of people buying top-of-the-line motor homes, the last category of RVs to rebound after the recession. Shipments of RVs to dealerships grew nearly 10 percent to 192,065 units in the first half of this year compared with 174,918 last year, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. Shipments of the most expensive Class A RVs climbed 23 percent to 11,274.

At Lazydays, the nation’s largest RV dealership, the recovery started with less expensive towable RVs (travel trailers, fifth wheels, truck campers) and gradually shifted to Class B and C camper vans and medium-sized motor homes. Most recently, sales have rebounded for Class A motor homes, bus-like RVs that can cost upward of $1 million.

Those needs go beyond dinettes that convert into beds. Today’s high-end RV buyers want all the comforts of home, from satellite TVs and king-sized beds to LED lighting and instant hot water systems. Kitchens must have granite countertops and bathrooms need big showers.

To cater to those upscale customers, Lazydays offers Crown Club memberships to anyone who buys a new RV priced $300,000 and up and certain used versions of those models. Memberships last three years on new RVs and two years on used ones. Membership can’t be bought, and the only way to renew is by buying another RV.

Lazydays started the club in 2001 to pamper its elite customers and add extra incentive for buying another RV from the 126-acre dealership off Interstate 4. Members stay at the Crown Club campground for free and have access to a clubhouse with a swimming pool and restaurant serving free meals and drinks (up to three drinks in one sitting because some people abused it). Members also can take classes on how to drive, operate and even cook in their RV.

The club grew to about 4,000 members a decade ago but dropped significantly during the economic downturn as the customer base dwindled and Lazydays struggled amid layoffs and a bankruptcy reorganization. Today membership stands at about 3,000, a number that’s growing, Sheehan said.

As sales have returned, the dealership has refocused efforts on the Crown Club to attract and retain its top customers. Over the summer it repainted the interior of the 10-year-old clubhouse, installed new pavers and speakers in the pool area and added white tablecloths in the restaurant to reduce noise and create a more upscale experience.

"Our customers are very loyal, and we don’t want to do anything wrong that would cause them to leave and go to a competitor,” O’Connor said. "They are people who have worked hard their whole lives and have been frugal with their money and this is what they want to do. We want to take care of them.”

About 15 percent of Lazydays buyers are Crown Club members, who come from across the United States and Canada. They typically come for weeklong stays to get their RV serviced in one of 41 bays devoted to the Crown Club (out of a total of 220). They often meet up with traveling friends.

At 6-foot-3, Doug wanted an RV with a high ceiling so he wouldn’t have to slouch. Nicki, a former fashion designer, wanted enough storage for a sewing machine and a large bathroom with space for her four Yorkshire terriers — Bandit, Layla, Tori and Mac — and their doggie beds.

The Craigs bought the RV with the intention of living in it full time for at least two years. They’ll visit their children and grandchildren in Texas and Ohio and visit sites on their bucket list, like the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

So far, all the togetherness in close quarters hasn’t driven them crazy, even after 31 years of marriage. Getting 6 miles per gallon isn’t so bad, they say, when you consider the cost of airfare and hotels. Driving from Lazydays to Mount Rushmore, for example, would cost about $1,300 in diesel.