Road widening

Palmetto RV off S.C. Highway 41 in Mount Pleasant sells new North Trail travel trailers along with pre-owned motor homes.

Temperatures wouldn’t budge from the high 80s and there was no wind to speak of, but Mike Arnau was scooting between travel trailers, modified vans and 40-foot motor homes at Palmetto RV earlier this week.

“You’re gonna like this one,” he told two guests, who were hustling to keep up. The 2009 Tiffin Phaeton he picked out was priced at $169,000. “It’s a road machine.”

There are a lot of those “road machines” these days at the Mount Pleasant dealership off S.C. Highway 41.

In the past year, Palmetto RV solidified its lineup of new North Trail 21- to 33-foot travel trailers by Heartland, parking 30 of the latest 2016 models side by side. The business intends within two weeks or so to open an accessories outlet so customers can pick up parts and gear east of the Cooper, he said.

Arnau’s wife, Lin, just launched a rental center where customers can lease campers and RVs for a few days to weeks-long trips as far as the Grand Canyon. The first rented motor home left on Monday for an eight-day excursion to Virginia, she said. The model: a 2014 Class C Jayco Redhawk with only 10,000 miles on it.

“People want to see America,” Mike Arnau said. Customers are “mostly people retiring who don’t want to sit at home and get old.”

To assist the beginner motor home owner, Palmetto RV maintains a camping and drivers school operated out of the KOA campground in Mount Pleasant. “A lot of people say they’d like to get one, but they don’t know how to drive it,” he said.

There’s also a new main office to go along with a full-time service center.

Perhaps most notably, the venture continues with its signature business of buying used RVs in trade, fixing them up like new and reselling the 4- to 12-year-old Monacos; Fleetwoods; and Winnebagos among others for $75,000 to close to $200,000, or half to two-thirds their original prices.

All this growth has doubled the size of the company, which now has 10 employees. “It’s gotten a lot bigger,” says Ross Holmquist, general manager. “Sales have been steady. It changes but all in all, you can tell the economy is picking up.”

Dozens of models, from new North Trails that arrived from the Midwest in March to pre-owned RVs the size of a city bus, encircle the company’s facility. Many sport long-lasting diesel engines, which are also lighter than their gas counterparts.

Arnau this week showcased scores of models for sale. A new North Trail 26-foot “Rear Living” priced at $24,000 serves up deluxe features such as Corian countertops, black appliances, TVs and LED lights. The cabin’s living quarters are at the back of the RV, hence the rear living title. Seats fold up into beds that sleep 10 people. Another model, the 28 BRS, includes an electrically-controlled awning that provides cover when sitting outside at the campground. Bathrooms possess stainless steel sinks and porcelain toilets, which Arnau called a “big deal. The plastic one rocks and rolls” when the travel trailer’s in motion. One of the larger models on the lot counts a big screen television that swivels around to face an opening so that people can also watch TV outside. The trailer extends to reveal a metal rack to carry bicycles.

Travel trailers are towed by half-ton pickups, attached to the trailer hitch. “Your Tahoe can pull it,” he said.

Palmetto RV sells the North Trail “Caliber” edition. Arnau calls it the top-of-the line travel trailer, featuring electronic stabilizers and “Wide Trax” suspension while priced in the mid $20,000s. “We sell a lot of these. They are really well made,” he said. “I won’t sell anything that I wouldn’t drive myself.”

Pre-owned models remain a key part of the business. Palmetto RV carries at least one Sprinter van, a 2011 Roadtrek edition fitted with a Mercedes diesel engine and priced in the $130,000s. Built specifically with camping features, the van sleeps three people, includes a bathroom with shower and toilet and boasts 22 mpg fuel economy. The Roadtrek is a full camper, he said, “but you can park it anywhere downtown” since it’s van sized, not RV length.

At the top end in terms of size is the Phaeton, a 42-footer that sleeps six, houses three TVs, showcases pull-out drawers and includes a full-sized refrigerator complementing a stove and other kitchen fixtures. The “bath and a half” model touts a powder room as well as a full bath with a semi-circular shower as part of the master suite. “It looks wonderful,” he said.

Nearby, there’s a “very spacious” 40-foot, 2006 Monaco Windsor graced with just 14,000 miles and priced at $139,000.

While the costs sound onerous, Arnau said a six figure motor home can require payments as little as $600 a month financed over 15 years.

Palmetto RV’s growth spurt stems from the popularity of campers, trailers and motor homes for touring the country, running about your home state or visiting the local campground. The decision to open a 2,000-square-foot RV parts store highlights the pastime’s popularity. It enables East Cooper owners to shop locally instead of travel to North Charleston for accessories.

“We are trying to fill that gap (in Mount Pleasant),” Arnau said.

Arnau calls Palmetto RV a family business. “Lin and Ross (who isn’t related but is a long-time manager) are running the company,” he said. Two of his daughters are also involved in the venture.

“We are not corporate guys. We do it a different way,” Arnau said. “You sit on the couch,” he said, and talk with the sales rep about whether to buy a “go and do” vehicle for trips or get “an RV (to have) at the lake.

“We try to match the customer to the motor home,” he said.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.