I’m taking a quick break from The Big Switcheroo series to fill you in on an experience we had last week in reference to the purchase of LP gas (propane) for the tanks on the travel trailer. Please note that I’m not affiliated with either Camping World or Tractor Supply Company, I’m not being paid in any way by either one, and I am most definitely not recommending that you buy (or not buy) stock in one or both of these companies. I’m just sharing our experience with you, and offering my opinions which, by the way, are worth exactly what you paid for them.
After a quick camping getaway for a week or so of R&R, Alan and I found ourselves in need of a propane tank refill upon our return home. Then, a few days after that errand was crossed off the list, the propane tank for our backyard grill called it quits. So, it was back to town on another propane run.
If the phrases “frugal shopper,” “good deal,” or “saving money” appeal to you, I encourage you to keep reading. If shopping isn’t an Olympic sport in your house like it is in ours, but you’d like to hear my opinion, in general, about Camping World and Tractor Supply Co., read on. If you think that someone couldn’t possibly write an informative and entertaining post about refilling a propane tank, stay with me and I’ll prove you wrong. However, if you’re not interested in any of that, please feel free to go grab a beverage, find a good book, and come back for the next post which will be, I promise, a continuation of The Big Switcheroo series, and a recounting of our visit to Everglades National Park.
I have a love-hate relationship with Camping World. When Alan and I bought our first travel trailer back in the spring of 2006, the kids and I gifted Alan with two special Father’s Day presents – a road trip to the nearest Camping World (which, at the time, was almost three hours away) and a blank check. With that one shopping trip, we outfitted our travel trailer, and began an ongoing relationship with Camping World. As with any relationship, it has its up and downs.
When we first became members of Camping World’s “Good Sam Club,” we began receiving so much junk mail that I feared for the safety of trees across America. The sheer quantity of marketing material that poured into our home truly bothered me. Luckily, it seems to have tapered off in recent years. I don’t like the fact that much of Camping World’s promotional literature is not a straight forward piece of marketing. For example, at one point, we were enrolled in one of their programs for a trial period without being asked. When the trial ended, an “invoice” arrived in the mail looking more like a bill for services owed than an optional choice to continue the program. Happenstance? I think not. On the other hand, we’ve always taken advantage of various discounts offered to Good Sam members, and know that we have easily covered the cost of our membership through discounted purchases of propane alone.
Some of the staff members at the Camping World nearest to our home are exceptionally pleasant, knowledgeable or both. One cashier, in particular, is always happy and helpful. Another staff member has been there for years, and is our go-to person whenever we have questions on just about anything. She really knows her camping gear. On the other hand . . . When one customer overheard my conversation with another customer in reference to four-season travel trailers, he started asking questions about the features of our Creek Side from Outdoors RV Manufacturing. A nearby salesperson immediately hijacked the conversation, dismissively interrupting my glowing recommendation (of a brand that his Camping World didn’t carry).
I’ve hit some excellent sales at Camping World, and have been exceptionally pleased with the prices I’ve paid on some camping-related products. On the other hand, I’ve walked out of the store in disgust on more than one occasion due to the ridiculous “regular” price of items that can be found for much less at other retailers. See what I mean? Love-hate. It’s a complicated relationship.
Let’s talk about Tractor Supply Company. I don’t have a love-hate relationship with Tractor Supply. I really, really like Tractor Supply. We didn’t have a Tractor Supply store in our neck of the woods until 2014, but the retailer stocks such an intriguing inventory of items, that we often visited its locations when we were traveling. Now we have one of our very own. Yay! As it so happened, our son, Ryan, was looking for full time employment when Tractor Supply came to town. Ryan is a hard-working, conscientious young man with a strong work ethic who can produce stellar recommendations as a result of his work history. He was the manager’s first hire as the new store’s Receiver, and worked for the company for more than four years with good benefits and a typical salary for the retail field. At the time Ryan left Tractor Supply, they were talking about adding propane sales at that location, but he moved on before that transpired.
Tractor Supply Company was incorporated in 1938 (82 years ago), and its headquarters are in Brentwood, Tennessee. According to the company website it has 1,881 stores in 49 states, and employs more than 38,000 “Team Members.” The company’s tag line is, “For Life Out Here,” as it caters to farmers, ranchers and residents of rural communities. Note that it’s “Life Out Here,” not “Life Out There.” In my mind, that’s a telling choice of words, making it quite clear that Tractor Supply considers the company and its customers to be a part of the same community. In its Earnings Report for the 2nd quarter of 2020, Tractor Supply reported that net sales increased 35% to 3.18 billion over the 2nd quarter of 2019, and gross profit increased 41% to 1.6 billion, also as compared to the 2nd quarter of 2019. When I checked real time stock prices via the Wall Street Journal just after 3:00 p.m. on August 6, 2020, Tractor Supply Co.’s stock (TSCO) was priced at $148.01 per share, up $0.66 from the closing price of $147.23 the day before (an increase of 0.48%).
Camping World Holdings was incorporated in 1966 (54 years ago), and its headquarters are in Lincolnshire, Illinois. According to the company website, it has more than 200 locations in 36 states. The Camping World website didn’t indicate the total number of employees but, according to Dun & Bradstreet, the company employs more than 12,000 people. Camping World’s current tag line is, “If you’re happy, I’m happy” – a quote from the company’s CEO, Marcus Lemonis. So, it really does sound like it’s all about me. And him. In the Earnings Report for the 2nd quarter of 2020, Camping World reported that net sales increased 9% to 1.607 billion over the 2nd quarter of 2019, and gross profit increased 19.2% to 488.6 million, also as compared to the 2nd quarter of 2019. Just after 3:00 p.m. on August 6, 2020, Camping World Holdings' stock (CWH) was priced at $33.29 per share, down $9.00 from the closing price of $42.29 the day before (a decrease of 21.28%). In all fairness to Camping World, I think the company’s stock was trading in the $30’s earlier in the week, but there was a jump in price immediately after the positive 2nd quarter earnings were announced on August 5th. So, that anomaly is probably and simply due to bad timing on my part. Since Tractor Supply announced its 2nd quarter earnings back on July 23rd, any fluctuation in price due to that announcement has, most likely, been absorbed in the trading that’s taken place over the past couple of weeks.
Interestingly, before I researched the numbers for this post, I would have thought that Camping World was the larger of the companies. But that’s not true, and the numbers are actually quite disparate. Tractor Supply employs over three times as many staff members as Camping World, and has over six times the number of locations. One share of Tractor Supply’s stock is worth more than four times one share of Camping World’s. Incidentally, both companies had solid 2nd quarter results that can be attributed, at least in part, to COVID-19. With homebound people concentrating on their homes, their land and their animals, and travelers looking to RVs and camping for safety and isolation, both companies profited as a result.
I couldn’t find a specific Mission Statement for Camping World Holdings. This appears on the Careers page of the company’s website: “What began as a way to fulfill campers’ requests for supplies has continued to build over the decades into the largest outdoor lifestyle retailer with hundreds of locations and tens of thousands of employees. Our mission has not changed. We’re here to be your hometown outdoor outfitter.” After a time consuming search for anything else related to the company’s mission, I found this sentence in the Earnings Report for the first quarter of 2020: “Our vision is to build a long-term legacy business that makes RVing fun and easy, and our Camping World and Good Sam brands have been serving RV consumers since 1966.” The fact that I had to dig long and hard to find anything on Camping World’s website related to the company’s mission is not reassuring.
When I typed “Tractor Supply Company Mission Statement” into a search engine, the first hit was the company’s “Mission and Values” page on its website. Although I copied the images below from the Tractor Supply website, Ryan was provided with a printed copy of the Mission Statement when he was hired, and it’s still in the employment files he kept at home.
Now that you were kind enough to bear with me as I voiced my opinions, and waded through all those facts and figures (you can take the banker out of finance, but you can’t take finance out of the banker), let’s move on to the topic of liquid petroleum (LP) gas, also known as propane. Over the years, Alan and I have consistently filled our propane tanks at Camping World, using our Good Sam membership card to obtain a discount. Good deal, right? Yup, so far, so good. When we returned from our recent camping trip, Alan refilled one of our tanks at Camping World. According to the receipt, the regular price was $4.09 per gallon. With our Good Sam discount, we paid only $3.49 per gallon, a savings of 15%. Good deal, right? Wrong. Within a week of refilling that tank, when we found “mostly” cooked burgers languishing on the grill, we decided to see if our local Tractor Supply was selling propane yet. It was, and we filled the tank for our grill at Tractor Supply’s regular price of $2.69 per gallon, no special memberships or discount cards needed. That translates to a whopping savings of 34% over Camping World’s regular price, and even a savings of 23% over the cost using our Good Sam discount. Good deal, right? You bet it is!
As a result of our recent experience which, unfortunately, emphasized the “hate” portion of my love-hate relationship with Camping World, we’ll be refilling our propane tanks at Tractor Supply from here on out. I have contemplated not renewing our Good Sam membership when it expires. When we purchased our first travel trailer, the kids were young, and we were staying at RV parks with amenities they would enjoy like pools and children’s activities. Back then, we occasionally took advantage of the Good Sam discount offered by certain RV Parks. As the kids got older, our focus switched to camping in State and National Parks, and enjoying outdoor activities like hiking, biking and kayaking. As a result, we rarely stay in private RV Parks now, and a Good Sam camping discount doesn’t do us much good. However, because we often stop at Pilot/Flying J locations for gas, and have used their dump stations, the Good Sam discount offered for both might make a membership renewal worthwhile. Honestly, it will all come down to the numbers, since there’s not a whole lot of love left in my heart for Camping World. If Tractor Supply can sell propane at $2.69 per gallon and, I assume, still make a profit, is Camping World just stealing money from my pocket to line theirs? Having voiced that question, in all fairness to Camping World, I must point out that Tractor Supply with its 1,800+ locations (as compared to Camping World’s 200+ locations), may simply be able to obtain better volume pricing. Even so, the bottom line is that, with 7 gallons of propane in every 30 lb. tank, we can save $5.60 every time we fill a propane tank by purchasing our propane at Tractor Supply. Ka-ching! That’s the sound of money in my pocket – a good deal, for sure.
In the fields of sales and marketing, perception is important. Perception about price, perception about quality, perception about service. Here’s my perception: Camping World is an in-your-face company that offers an exceptionally wide range of products and services related to the camping and RVing lifestyles, bombards customers with communications about fabulous sales that are not always so fabulous, requires a paid membership in order to be eligible for certain discounts, and hides its Mission Statement somewhere in the fine print. Here’s another perception: Tractor Supply Company is a solid and steady retailer that doesn’t require its customers to pay more to spend less, proudly proclaims its Mission Statement and lives by it, and quietly and efficiently goes about its business of supplying lifestyle-related goods and services to rural residents.
When we told friends and family members that Ryan had signed on with Tractor Supply Company, we were amazed at the number of people who responded, “I love Tractor Supply!” Tell me, when was the last time you heard someone say, “I love Camping World?” One more thing . . . Every year, I get to visit the babies – the precious little chicks and ducklings that Tractor Supply sells on location in their stores. In fact, I was just there yesterday, and the sweet little creatures are as appealing as ever. The staff members who handle them are specially trained, and the babies are well cared for. Not that they last long in the store - it amazes me that they consistently sell out so quickly. Although I actually had a reason to be in Tractor Supply yesterday, I’ve been known to stop by just to inject a day-brightening, heartwarming dose of “cute and adorable” into my day. That, my friends, is a perk you’ll never find at Camping World.