People who have met Earl B. Hunter Jr. would call him a “hundred percenter.” He is all-in on whatever task or business he sets his mind to.
Hunter cut his teeth in the RV industry five years ago when he left his position as an executive at a sourcing company and joined SylvanSport. He helped take the company from less than $1 million in sales annually to more than $17 million over four years.
In joining the company, Hunter figured what better way to learn the industry from the inside than to start camping himself. He says, “I knew nothing about the industry before I arrived. Zero. I had never been camping before. I saw a product and then I saw the industry. I figured, let me go learn the product and the industry and if I learn it, I can change it.”
On a 14,000-mile road trip with his son, Hunter realized almost 100 percent of the people at the campgrounds did not look like his family. Specifically, after visiting 49 campgrounds across 20 states over 3 months, Hunter and his son met only one other Black family camping.
In August 2019, Hunter left SylvanSport to start a company born out of that camping trip. On Oct. 10, at the Outdoor Economy Conference, Hunter announced the start of Black Folks Camp Too, a company that has become an absolute passion for Hunter. The company has grown to a team that includes strategic planning and marketing.
Looking back, Hunter believes he may have been the only Black executive at an RV manufacturer and one of only a few Black executives in the entire industry, but Hunter doesn’t want that to be the focus.
He seeks to educate Black folks on the benefits of camping and to show the industry how to embrace diversity, which can lead to a more inclusive outdoors and, ultimately, more sales. As Hunter cheerfully says, “Black people have money, too, so why not invite them into the outdoor lifestyle?”
Fear, Knowledge, and Invitation
Hunter believes the lack of diversity in the outdoors, particularly of Black folks, comes down to three things: fear, knowledge, and invitation. In an article, posted on Feb. 25 on RV PRO, Hunter talked about a deep generational fear by Black folks when it comes to the outdoors.
Hunter explains, “The woods were not a safe place for Black folks, particularly in the South. The woods were where horrendous and frightening acts took place.”
Hunter, though, wants to focus on the here and now and make sure people know that Black Folks Camp Too isn’t just about Black folks camping together by themselves. He wants everyone camping together. And part of that comes down to his second point: Knowledge.
Explains Hunter, “When you see somewhere as a place of fear, you don’t want to gain any knowledge about it. They don’t have any knowledge of what the outdoors is and why it can be a sanctuary force.
“In terms of the RV industry, we don’t know that outdoors camping has evolved to the point where it’s not just tent camping. Where you can camp in a motorhome or travel trailer with all the amenities of a shower and bathroom,” he adds.
Hunter’s third point (invitation) may come across as critical, but he expresses it without any sentiment of judgment in his tone.
Hunter elaborates, “The third thing is that we simply haven’t been invited into the outdoors. The industry has so much room to grow. The outdoor industry and the RV industry. We can work together to invite Black folks – and all people of color – into a world of health and happiness in the outdoors.”
That’s where Hunter feels the message needs to be heard.
“People don’t choose something if they don’t have any knowledge about it and they don’t show up unless they are invited,” he says. “We need the industry to help us touch more people, but they haven’t been able to really make this happen. I believe if they did, we would have been invited.”
Dealers Join In
Now, with Black Folks Camp Too, the industry is starting to respond, according to Hunter. He says some dealers he worked with before have reached out. One dealer principal was Lee Pickard from Mid-State RV in Byron, Ga.
According to Hunter, Pickard told him, “Earl, I believe you have a life-changing idea and I want to get behind it.”
In an interview with RV PRO, Pickard shared his thoughts about Hunter and what he is doing.
“I admire his work ethic and integrity. He is a good man,” he says. He adds, “We, as dealers, have been trying to find a way to invite the Black community appropriately and do it the right way. There is an education process and Earl Hunter knows it.”
Pickard wrote Hunter’s company a check so Mid-State could get onboard.
Browns RV Superstore, RV Connection, and Vancouver RV also were early believers in Black Folks Camp Too.
In fact, Vancouver RV was the first dealer to partner with Hunter’s venture. Tom Lewis, who owns Vancouver RV, says, “I met Earl about three or four years ago when he did a demo for his product. First thing about Earl is, when he sets his mind to something, it’s going to work. I remembered him telling me the story about his camping trip with his son. We wanted to help.”
Hunter is looking for other dealers to get involved.
“The first thing they have to ask themselves is: Do they want to see more black folks buying campers. The answer should be yes. Number two: What do we need to do to drive them there? Do we need another company to help us do that? This is what Black Folks Camp Too can do. We drive folks there with inspiration, content, and knowledge. We can bring content and education into spaces that dealers aren’t in.”
Hunter believes this will increase traffic sales and ROI and that he can help many other dealers. He looks forward to working with the RV Dealers Association to accelerate his message of inclusion and diversity in the outdoors. Hunter says, “We can help them across the board with all their dealers. With our depth of knowledge and expertise, we can change the landscape, the way they do business.”
Hunter has developed marketing materials to support the outdoor and RV industries which include the Black Folks Camp Too logo. In the middle of the logo is a campfire and, as he explains, the campfire is symbolic by design.
The Meaning of the Campfire
“My family took a trip to Lakewood Campground in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and we were one of the only Black families. As you know, when folks are camping, they are always asking each other about what they are eating. The moment we started that campfire, we talked about all the things that are happening in the world. We talked about social unrest, we talked about COVID, we talked about people being furloughed, we talked about our families.
“The campfire in our logo represents the portal to amazing conversations because there are no walls,” he adds. “You have something in common – you are all camping. Your race, your gender, your age does not matter. We all have something to say. The campfire is going to bring America together.”
As far as short-term goals, Hunter says he wants to partner with every part of the industry. He has even bigger long-term goals.
“I want to see the industry look more like America and Canada,” he says. “Let us show you how to invite us and the industry can just write orders. I want the outdoor industry to be on the front end of diversity and inclusion.”
According to Hunter, there is a learning curve. He shares a recent story he knows of a Black family that went to buy an RV. He says, “The wife was a trial attorney, her husband was a surveyor – they lived a Huxtable lifestyle, but they weren’t treated well by the dealership. It was not until after the dealership checked their credit that they were good to go.”
Hunter explains, “I get it, no dealer wants to waste their time with tire-kickers, so they run their credit. They do that with everyone. But you have to be especially sensitive with Black folks because we believe, in many cases, you don’t want to sell us anyways.”
Ultimately, Hunter says he believes that his company can show people from the consumer side and the industry side about how to get it done. He believes it is time for a reset. Even before the recent civil unrest, the new entrepreneur started his company with the belief that not only do Black folks camp too, but that the industry wants them to – they just do not know how to have the conversation.
Given the recent political and social unrest, Hunter has been a busy man, speaking to many people in the outdoor space. In all of it, he remains upbeat and positive no matter what the task.
He is all-in.
To learn more about the company visit: https://www.blackfolkscamptoo.com.