Monday, April 23, 2018
Business

Tampa RV dealership sees opportunity in six-figure trailers for horses — and their owners

TAMPA — Walking down a road in the Florida State Fairgrounds, Glen Soper points out two parking lots: one with rows and rows of RVs and another scattered with horse trailers.

Hundreds of people have driven here with their horses to compete in the Florida Gold Coast Quarter Horse Circuit, and many of them came separately — horses in their trailers, people in their motor homes.

Soper and the RV dealership Lazydays, where he is sales manager, think they'd like to travel closer together. They see a chance to tap into the big money in the equine industry, betting that people will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on trailers that will let them sleep close to their horses.

But step inside, and these are hardly spartan digs.

Touring a top-of-the-line model, Soper shows off a trailer with an electric fireplace, a shower with a sliding glass door and enough room for a king bed. There's a leather sofa, a TV and space up top for a satellite dish. But it doesn't have everything, Soper said: "No bidet."

It's nice enough that the manufacturer, Featherlite, boasts on its website that the "living quarters may make your horse wish it walked on two legs."

Walk through a door in the bathroom, and in the back, there's space for three horses, a generator and a hay loft.

"The latest and greatest," Soper said, pointing to the strip of LEDs lighting the trailer.

The list price: $113,794.

In the big-money world of raising and training horses, though, it doesn't seem like quite so much.

In 2014, the average Florida-bred weanling — a horse only a few months old — auctioned for $22,558, according to the Jockey Club, which tracks the thoroughbred industry. A 2-year-old horse sold on average for $37,951.

Even routine expenses can pile up. Buying hay to feed one horse can cost hundreds of dollars a month, Soper said. Entering last week's show in Tampa cost $599 a horse, and many competitors planned to enter their horses in another show in Venice. Many horses will spend far more time on the road than they do at their home stables.

The average horse in Florida costs its owner more than $13,000 a year in feed, transportation and other expenses, according to the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association. Keeping a horse in shape to race can cost even more, often over $25,000.

Soper, who boards horses at a ranch in Riverview, had seen the amount of money swirling in the equine industry firsthand, so he pitched the idea of selling trailers to Lazydays. The dealership inked a deal with the trailer manufacturer Featherlite last summer, and now, it has ambitions of becoming one of the industry's top sellers, he said.

Lazydays, founded in 1976, already has a big business selling RVs. Its store in Seffner is spread across 126 acres, and Soper said he has a staff of more than 100 salespeople. The company says its location here is the largest RV dealership in America.

"In our business, we're No. 1 in everything, and we are expected to be No. 1 in the horse industry someday," Soper said.

The dealership's decision to get into the horse business comes as the industry is growing in Florida, said Tammy Gantt, director of membership services at the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association.

The number of foals being bred here is growing, and the state is North America's second-largest breeding area, behind Kentucky, Gantt said. The association's membership is on the rise, especially in central and north Florida, where horse owners have better luck finding big tracts of land.

Purses for horse races in Florida swelled to more than $100 million in 2014, up 9 percent in a year and 38 percent since the depths of the recession, according to the Jockey Club.

And nationwide, luxury spending is on the rise. The market research firm Euromonitor expected spending on luxury goods to rise to $79.3 billion in 2015, a 26 percent rise in five years, suggesting that Americans are willing to shell out for high-end products.

Soper said Lazydays has already sold "quite a few" horse trailers, and he expects its horse business to keep growing. Walking by the rows of motor homes at the fairgrounds, he says the opportunity is clear.

"This is what it's all about," Soper said. "We're in the RV industry, so why would we not want to be in the horse industry?"

Contact Thad Moore at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434. Follow @thadmoore.

 
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