DC Lanier of Surf City loved camping, eventually using his entrepreneurial spirit to create a family endeavor around his favorite pastime.
Camping “was definitely in his blood,” said Donna Lanier, one of four children of DC and Wilma Lanier. “We traveled everywhere with a tent. We had jaunts to Florida all the time and the mountains. And there were six of us in that tent.”
Eventually, they ditched the tent for an RV, with DC eventually owning a 44-footer.
But that came later. In 1975, after working as a pipefitter, a welder, a farmer, leasing out farm equipment and helping another landowner establish a camping business, DC Lanier opened a more than 44-acre RV campground of his own on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Lanier’s Campground in Surf City recently changed hands in a $21 million deal with buyer TRG Resorts, an outdoor hospitality company based in Florida. TRG officials said they plan to modernize and improve the landmark property, now called The Inlet at Lanier Pointe RV Campground.
TRG Resorts owns nine properties, four of them within 30 minutes of The Inlet at Lanier Pointe.
The RV Industry Association estimated in a 2022 report that the industry the group represents had a $140 billion impact on the U.S. economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the popularity of RV camping, with RV dealerships selling out of vehicles.
“The industry boomed,” Donna Lanier said. “Campgrounds boomed.”
During the height of the pandemic, people looked for ways to vacation safely, and outdoor options topped the list, said Dylan Marma, president of TRG Resorts.
But he sees other reasons for the ongoing popularity of the RV industry.
“There's just a huge trend for people to invest into experiences rather than invest into material things,” Marma said. “And I think that's something we're seeing not just with your baby boomers and retirees. It's really something that is driven heavily by the millennials, and it seems to continue to become a trend for younger generations.”
New owner’s plans
Marma said his company is working on bringing The Inlet at Lanier Pointe up to date.
“The needs of modern-day campers have continuously expanded over the last few years, especially with COVID accelerating the growth of the industry as a whole,” he said. “With a campground that has been in existence for as long as Lanier’s has, we have an opportunity to go in and just give it a fresh set of eyes and a nice improvement budget to be able to go in and bring the campground up to modern day camper needs and wants.”
TRG will pave all of the roads, some of which are dirt and gravel; renovate and upgrade the bathhouse; and install a dog park, among additional changes.
About 50 to 60% of the campground’s RV sites are rented to annual guests, with the rest of the sites available for short-term stays.
The campground has 408 sites total, including a small number of tent sites, and also has a few cabins and a short-term rental home.
Marma said TRG has retained the campground’s staff, including Linda Wiggins, community manager.
While some campgrounds are being lost to the development of housing, Marma said, “our intentions are completely to run it as a campground for the long term.”
Back in the day
Donna Lanier, 65, and one of her sisters, Sandra Raynor, 62, previously worked full-time at the campground.
The Lanier children worked with their mom and dad from a young age.
“At about 12 years old, I learned how to drive a stick shift,” Raynor said, with a laugh, as she reminisced about good times. “So when we went to pick up the campers’ trash, I was the driver and everybody else was throwing trash in the back of the truck.”
Their parents died in 2019 within six months of each other. The sisters said if it hadn’t been for their mom’s dedication along with her father’s, the campground might not have achieved the level of success it did.
“She put every effort in and she worked hard as Dad,” Donna Lanier said.
Asked why they wanted to sell now, Donna Lanier said, “We are ready for the next phase of life,” which for her includes doing more of her own traveling with a tricked-out RV.
For Raynor, her nearly 1-year-old grandson, who is her first grandchild, was a persuading factor.
“I'm the babysitter and I want to build a house next to him,” Raynor said, “because when we were growing up there, Daddy’s mama lived across the ditch, on the same side of the road, so I'd go to Granny's house anytime I wanted to. I want to make those same memories. I’m ready for that stage.”
Before the sale, the Lanier family knew they wanted a buyer who would continue to operate it as a campground.
Of TRG, Donna Lanier said, “They want to make it better and they will keep it as a campground. They have good ideas. They're young, full of energy.”
For Gwen "Page" Hawley, of Wilmington-based Intracoastal Realty Corp., who represented the buyer and seller in the transaction, working on the campground sale was one of the highlights of her career.
“It was the highest sale in history at Intracoastal as well as my 38 years of doing business,” Hawley said. “Being the only agent involved in the transaction, working with the Laniers as well as with [TRG Resorts], they now are both friends as well as future clients. It has been a rewarding and memorable journey and I look forward to watching what the new owners do with the campground in the future.”
Jen Ullrich, operations manager for TRG Resorts, said the unique property will keep RV campers, many of which are annual renters, coming.
“If you're looking for a vacation destination,” Ullrich said, “it's hard to beat anywhere besides here – the proximity to the beach and the views that you just don't get many places like that.”
Donna Lanier predicts continued success for the landmark her family worked so hard to build.
“We've always learned that even in a depression time, people want to get away,” Donna Lanier said. “You got to get away from life."