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Acquisitions Reflect Publisher's Affinity for Recreation Market


A customer base of more than 1 million apparently isn't enough for officials of Affinity Group Inc.

The Camarillo company--which owns recreational organizations such as the Good Sam Club, publishes Trailer Life and a number of other recreational magazines and markets related products and services--has purchased Camping World Inc. and Ehlert Publishing Inc.

Affinity officials said the new acquisitions, purchased for a combined $139 million, will expand the company's membership list and provide a new market for its recreational merchandise.

Camping World, headquartered in Bowling Green, Ky., operates 26 retail outlets worldwide through which it sells specialty products for recreational vehicle owners. The company also manages a 450,000-member club of its own.

Ehlert Publishing of Minnetonka, Minn., publishes magazines for enthusiasts of snowmobiling, personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles and archery.

The companies had revenue of $324 million in 1996.

"We are an aggressive, very fast-growing company that has experienced part of that growth through acquisitions," said Michael Schneider, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Affinity Group. "We think by combining these synergies, we will be able to capitalize."

Schneider said Camping World stores will provide new venues for sale of Affinity Group memberships, magazines, directories and videos, as well as its associated credit cards and financial services.

"This is not being done because we want to be in the retail business," Schneider said. "We are doing this because we want access to a larger area [of recreational enthusiasts]."

Ehlert magazine subscribers also represent a new audience for Affinity Group, Schneider said.

In addition to the nearly 1-million-member Good Sam Club, Affinity operates the 260,000-member Coast to Coast RV resort club, the 140,000-member Golf Card International and the National Assn. of Female Executives, which has 140,000 members.

Schneider said there are no immediate plans for further acquisitions. However, he said the recreation market, particularly the recreational vehicle segment, is as strong as ever.

"It is certainly a good growth area," he said.

"When you look at the average age of the RV owner, it generally is retirees or pre-retirees who have time and discretionary funds to pursue this activity," he said. "The baby boomers are just coming into that pre-retiree age bracket, so we think that only spells good news for the recreational vehicle industry."

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