Portable water purification comes in many guises these days. The phrase once was associated strictly with camping, hiking and backpacking gear, whether the solution was an iodine tablet, a hand-pump filter or more recently, pour-through filter pitchers and filtered water bottles. Of course, this is assuming you’re not going to carry a bottle (or bottles) of pre-treated water with you.
Two markets—RV/motor homes and yachts—have seen this niche’s evolution as it grew into an outlet for more permanent water treatment equipment, albeit no less portable. This equipment can be installed or movable, whether on wheels or on the waves. Technologies range from simple inline filters—carbon, sediment or other cartridge types—to ultraviolet (UV) or ozone disinfection, specially designed softener resin units and reverse osmosis (RO) desalination membranes.
Oftentimes preferences, as in the residential market, are determined by affluence and investment in the vehicle or boat. But there are other factors at play. A number of companies target both markets, but a few specialize in one or the other. This article is the first in a two-part series looking at these market niches. Here, we’ll focus on RVs primarily. Next month’s installment will focus on yachts.
Fifth wheels & mobile homes
There are roughly 10 million recreational vehicle (RV) owners in the United States with California, Texas, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania being the states with the largest number, according to Phil Ingrassia, spokesman for the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association in Fairfax, Va.
“About 1-in-10 households has an RV in the United States,” Ingrassia said.
In Canada, there are 1-to-1.5 million RV owners, with most in the western provinces, particularly British Columbia; after which, Ontario has the second largest number.
“There’s a very small percentage that are snowbirds,” said Louise Morel, marketing director of Go RVing Canada, a coalition of associations, manufacturers, dealers and campgrounds. “In our surveys, those using an RV more than a couple weeks in the winter works out to about 8 percent. That’s not to say they’re not camping in the cold, but chances are they’re heading south.”
Diane Batten, editor of The RV Gazette near Toronto, said Texas, Arizona, Florida and California (to a lesser degree because of new restrictions on vehicle lengths on highways) are the most popular destinations for Canadian RVers. RV shows, rallies and clubs—like Good Sams Club—are popular for gatherings as are sunbelt RV campgrounds and resorts.
“I’d say from speaking with RVers and being involved in the industry for 12 years, a minimum of 75 percent have some sort of water filter system,” Batten said. “It’s the same as in your own home. How many people do you know that own water filters or a Brita pitcher? I think it’s on par.”
For the most part, she added, systems are simple filtration units—”unless they’re going to Mexico.”
Bob Livingston agreed. Associate publisher of Trailer Life and Motor Home in Ventura, Calif., he’s also a contributing editor to Good Sam Clubs’ Highways magazine.
“Most people either purchase one to get hard stuff out of the water so it doesn’t clog up their systems or to purify drinking water,” Livingston said. “Not many are very high tech systems. Probably more people use inline filters to remove sediment… One that does a lot and has been around for years is Everpure.”
Ingrassia added SHURflo, General Ecology and O-So Pure as players on his list of associated suppliers for water treatment equipment.
“As for importance in the RV world, water treatment is very high,” Livingston said. “People are always concerned about it. RV people are mobile, so they’ve no idea what the water’s going to be like from one place to the next. It’s just prudent to protect yourself and a lot of people use bottled water.”
But that can weigh a lot and take up space, not to mention the cost—which makes a treatment system more practical, he added: “It doesn’t take long to amortize the $200 a good water treatment system costs. And if you look at Camping World’s catalog, which is the largest for us, it devotes two full pages just to water treatment products. This is certainly a big market for your readers.”
Everpure is an old campaigner in the RV market—doing after market sales and working directly with manufacturers—as well as supplying water treatment solutions to the marine industry.
Eleni Vlahos, Everpure marketing manager, names off a long list of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)—from Airstream to Winnebago—that Everpure has agreements with to supply “filter ready” head options in the vehicles to simplify cartridge installs for RV buyers.
“What we have that others don’t really offer is a full water purification system—a chlorination-dechlorination process,” Vlahos said. “Most just have carbon, which removes chlorine. But if you’re at a campground or location where water’s not pre-chlorinated, this addresses that. It also removes cysts. We filter down to a half micron.”
The same systems are sold into the boating and commercial marine industry as well, she said. And Everpure’s marine division produces a bromination system, for which the U.S. Navy is a major customer.
As for pumps, 99 percent of the RV market is cornered by SHURflo, said Hal Voznick, pointing out it has specialists in the RV and marine industries for filtration systems as well.
RV specialist Chris Beh, an applications engineer, said SHURflo just introduced its filters for that market in January and, in early May, was in the process of finalizing agreements with Camping World—a major after-market reseller for RVs—and working with OEMs.
SHURflo’s lineup includes undercounter inline filters for kitchens with single-touch faucets, as well as whole coach solutions and screw-on canisters for garden hoses to wash the vehicle’s exterior. Similar to new options in the home market, SHURflo also has an undersink cartridge unit that unscrews on the countertop so the filter can be replaced without removing the housing or stopping water flow to the coach.
Exploiting a niche
From its inception, O-So Pure’s Robyn Gordon of Phoenix said, her company saw RVs as a good niche in which to differentiate itself.
“We looked at going after the home market, but figured that was covered very well by the Culligans and Hagues,” Gordon said. “We looked at other areas and, in 1994, there were really only two other companies targeting this market. They’re only step is carbon filtration, though. They’re not taking it the extra step with UV like we do. There’s probably 14 magazines covering RVs, so we started running ‘free product’ press releases—and here we are.”
O-So Pure has 5-inch and 10-inch filter/UV models that can go under an RV’s kitchen sink or a newer, larger “whole-coach” unit with quick connect fittings that can sit outside and purify water for a stationary vehicle and be stored while en route from place to place. Systems include a 1-micron sediment filter and half-micron filter for tastes, odors and parasites. An inline 22-micron sediment filter is used as a “first line of defense” to protect against buildup and clogging and extend the life of filters and pumps.
The company has roving dealers and distributors that attend RV shows and rallies, popular around the country, as well as visit dealerships—and occasionally works with manufacturers for custom jobs.
“It’s an interesting market since an owner inquires about the product and it’s hard to do follow up because they’re in transit so much,” Gordon said. “We do get orders over the phone and will drop-ship it to them wherever they are. For Mexico, we’ll send it to them in the U.S. before they go. The same with Canada. They’ll buy it here and take it with them.”
The occasional dealer
Chris Lee, technical director at Seattle’s Pacific Rim Water Products, said a number of Washington RV owners like to venture to warmer southern climes in winter and his company has outfitted many, as well as yacht owners along Puget Sound.
“Many times it’s not really a portable system in that it’s installed,” he said. “But, in the case of yachts and RVs, we’ve been pretty much using UV and filtration—multipurpose filters with a combination of pressed carbon block and other media as lead adsorbers—listed for cyst removal. We’re pretty clear with them that this isn’t necessarily going to take everything out but it’s going to give them pretty good assurance on their water quality.”
In his experience, RO isn’t that popular with RVs because of issues such as space, storage and maintaining driving pressure for proper membrane function. Ozone, he added, didn’t really travel well because of road durability needed.
“The one thing you talk about with both RVs and yachts is space is a premium,” Lee said. “If it’s occupying any space in their living quarters, they get real touchy. They prefer to store it in an RV compartment and pull it out just for filling their reservoirs. That doesn’t give them a residual disinfectant but we tell them to occasionally sanitize their tank.”
David Carlile, CUNO/Water Factory Systems west regional sales manager, makes the point that when dealing with RVs and yachts the “rule of primary needs” applies. A small RV owner traveling in the Unites States is more likely to want simple filtration; a $250,000 luxury RV owner likely wants “gourmet” water; someone going to Mexico is concerned most with bacterial quality: “You may say it’s a life or death situation.” A dealer has to be a “fact finder” first to find out what solution is appropriate, he said.
Carlile also suggests partnerships with those closest to a market you’re looking at approaching, whether it’s RVs or yachts, i.e., dealerships, suppliers, associations, clubs, campgrounds and marinas. In the case of yachts, he works cooperatively with Gardena, Calif.’s Sea Recovery, which makes water systems specifically for the marine industry.
“Typically, people doing yachts don’t do homes and those doing homes don’t do yachts. But people with expensive homes may own a yacht and vice versa. The same prospect may be a lead for two different companies; so if you find them or your friend finds them, you both can be in a win-win situation,” he said.
George Wessling, Winnebago Industries project engineer in Forest City, Iowa, said he doesn’t see demand for water treatment solutions in the RV market going anywhere but up.
Currently, the company installs basic filtration units from Everpure on almost all of its vehicles—roughly 8,000 a year—and buyers have the opportunity to upgrade them at dealerships and accessory suppliers like Camping World.
“What we hear from the dealer is it’s an issue moreso than ever over the last several months,” Wessling said. “That’s coming from the consumer. There’s more awareness of water issues. Whether it’s media reports on water quality issues (like MTBE) or last year’s storms on the East Coast, all of those raise awareness.”
Part 2 of this series, next month, will discuss particulars of water treatment for the yacht and marine market.
FYI: Researching the Market
Rallies and RV shows are a good place to start. Here’s a few more sources for you to check in approaching the RV market for water treatment equipment:
Camping World: http://www.campingworld.com
Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association: http://www.crva.ca
Good Sam Club: http://www.goodsamclub.com
Go RVing Canada: http://www.go-rving-canada.ca
RV America: http://www.rvamerica.com
RV Dealers Association: http://www.rvda.com
RV Industry Association: http://www.rvia.com
Stag Parkway: http://www.stagparkway.com