Ellenton management company ranks as big player in mobile home, RV parks

mjohnson@bradenton.comApril 4, 2014 

ELLENTON -- When a Florida mobile home or RV park has a problem, more park owners make a call to Ellenton than to anywhere else for help.

Newby Management, a fee-for-property management company officed along U.S. 301, has been ranked the largest such enterprise in Florida and 17th in the nation by the industry's most well-known publication, the Allen Report. It's a distinction that hardly seems possible for a 39-year-old business that has grown by 42 percent in the past 14 years on a word-of-mouth and referral basis.

With 41 Florida parks under its umbrella, Newby Management is unusual in that it owns none of the properties it manages. It acts an intermediary between park owners and residents who rent the plots of land under their mobile homes and RVs.

It's a job that requires the company's property managers to be responsive to more than 10,000 residents in those parks, and Newby's upper management to keep the parks profitable for owners.

"It's more than cutting the grass and collecting the rents," said Tim Newby, the company's CEO. "We have to keep our residents happy, our investors happy, and our team members happy."

Park owners pay the management fees, and seem to take little issue with Newby's approach. The company pioneered the industry standard, 24-hour response time to residents' complaints. It's also pushing park owners to keep their properties attractive as baby boomers replace the people who started the manufactured home and RV boom a half century ago. That is a necessity in a part of the housing industry that hasn't seen a new park built in Florida for at least 20 years.

"That's at the top of our list," said John Booth, owner of the Winterset RV Park in Palmetto. His park has been under Newby management since it was founded nearly 40 years ago. "They're very aware

this is a new generation of travel users."

Winterset installed a Wi-Fi network for park residents six years ago, and is on the verge of building a new clubhouse with facilities that appeal to younger users.

The approach has apparently worked. George Allen, a certified property manager who runs the Indianapolis-based Community Owners Business Alliance, said Newby is almost alone in the top 25 of his eponymous 100-company survey. Allen said there are about 500 companies involved in this sector of property management nationwide, but four-fifths decline to be in his survey. If they were included, Allen said, Newby would still be a top-25 company.

The top company in the survey, ELS of Chicago, Ill., owns 376 properties in 33 states, Allen said.

Newby works with many investors who own smaller parks. The appeal of having a property manager comes in being able to turn the day-to-day responsibilities over to someone else. Some of those responsibilities require expertise and resources -- such as marketing and selling homes or vacant lots. The company uses websites, a real estate division of the company, and social media to keep parks full and attractive to potential residents shopping for a place in Florida to call home.

Others duties have the potential to be downright unpleasant. The company recently had to notify three residents at one of its parks, Aloha Estates in Bradenton, that they would have to move because a portion of the park was sold to accommodate a new WaWa convenience store.

"A lot of operators, we find, don't like to evict someone," Newby said.

Tim Newby's uncle, Martin, founded the company in 1975 after getting his start in the industry selling manufactured homes in Bradenton. It kept its offices on Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota during its early decades of operation. Tim joined the operation in 1985, and his brother, Todd, the company's chief operation officer, joined the business a few years later.

They bought into the company and took over the daily operations 15 years ago. Ten years ago, they moved the office to a 5,000-square-foot building in Ellenton that was much closer to most of their central office employees.

Twenty-three people work in that office, but the company employs 193 people. Most are involved in management and maintenance at the properties Newby manages.

Every day, three or four central-office employees drive to parks around the state to work with onsite park managers. To get those people home to their families at night, Newby long ago stopped managing out-of-state parks.

One employee does generally stay out on the road: Newby's corporate chaplain Rick Chaffin. He puts on about 40,000 miles a year to hold worship services, conduct weddings, and provide other ministerial services in the parks the company manages.

Having a chaplain on staff is a natural for the company because it is operated along Christian values. Every morning at 8:30 a.m., central office employees gather to share their life concerns and to pray about the coming day.

The coming years will require Newby to continue to have a hands-on approach where they and park owners decide upgrades are needed. The company is updating one of its parks in Ocala with a 17,000-square foot activity center that comes with two swimming pools, computer work rooms and fitness facilities that appeal to people who are more physically and socially active than past residents. The company is selling some new homes in existing parks by moving new manufactured homes into infill areas and park expansions.

It is also rehabbing older homes, going so far as to install new kitchens and granite countertops.

Newby's local parks include Fiesta Grove in Palmetto, Buttonwood Inlet RV Resort in Cortez, and Bradenton Tropical Palms.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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