Carlos Costa’s love of recreational vehicles has drawn more than 26,000 people to his social media group, and it’s still growing.
In March of 2018, the long-time Bradford resident decided to create a Facebook group for Ontario Recreational Vehicle Owners (ORVO), as a way to reach out to other RVers and share stories, tips, photographs and technical advice, in advance of the upcoming camping season.
“I actually started the group from scratch while I was at home in Bradford, and there was a really nasty ice storm, and I had purchased a new trailer in a campground,” he said.
Costa was worried the weather would delay delivery of the trailer from the builder in London, Ont., to the campground in Owen Sound.
“I thought, I really need to talk to somebody about this,” he said.
With the help of his friend Ellen Walker, Costa started reaching out to invite all the RV owners he could, and by the end of the first day he recalled already having 300 members.
“I was surprised. I started talking about it in the Bradford local groups. It just seemed like what I was thinking and how people were looking forward to the season, there were other people who felt the same way,” he said.
Like many online groups, ORVO started out as casual way to meet others with the same interest, with Costa providing updates detailing the journey of his family’s new trailer from build to its eventual delivery in Owen Sound on the May long weekend, more than one month after it was originally scheduled to arrive.
It was a hit with group members.
While Costa acknowledges there were already other RV groups on social media, he felt they focused more on buying and selling RVs and equipment, whereas ORVO gave members a place to share their stories and experiences, to discuss all the variables of the hobby and to help each other with the technical aspects — all within a family-friendly atmosphere.
“We just created this instant community that didn’t really exist before this came along,” he said.
In the five-and-a-half years since its inception, the group has grown and evolved as more people told friends and friends of friends about the group, both virtually and in person around the campfire.
Then the RV industry gradually started taking notice of the group.
In 2020, the Toronto Spring Camping and RV Show, reached out to Costa and asked the group to present a seminar at that year’s conference, which was being held virtually due to pandemic restrictions.
“That was actually our first gig, where we actually didn’t even go to the show. We did it virtually because there was no show to go to. ... That’s how the initial invitation for us to go to shows started and then it just blossomed from there. What started off as a fun community thing, is actually growing into more of an organization,” he said.
Afterwards, Costa said the exposure from the show and from ORVO’s branding on websites and marketing material had a snowball effect, as even more people discovered the group and other shows asked the group to present as well.
Their next appearance is scheduled for the Ontario Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association’s (ORVDA) Toronto Fall RV Show from Oct. 13-15, where ORVO is expected to have a lounge area set up for campers to sit, chat, have a cup of coffee and meet some of the people running the group.
While Costa is happy for the opportunity to engage with people in the industry, he still wants the group to focus on the community aspect.
“We want to focus on the actual owner instead of the person with the RV dealership, but we have people in the industry who want to talk to us now, just because of the positive vibes that we’re creating and the friendly atmosphere,” he said.
To that end, Costa said the group is working to find sponsors and make partnerships that will help meet the needs of members, like finding preferred dealers, better options for insurance or discounts on campsite bookings.
“We want to grow and offer our members more options in terms of what’s available to them, in terms of helping them out instead of selling them stuff. We want to provide them things that they need to go camping instead of things that are frivolous,” he said.
In the meantime the group has started offering some branded clothing items, like sweaters and hats, that members can buy and wear, and maybe even have an easier time spotting each other while out and about.
Another big step for the group was trying to branch out from online and create more opportunities for members to meet face-to-face, including by hosting their first rally at Quinte’s Isle Campark in Prince Edward County in May of this year, which saw more than 100 attendees and included 70 bookings for RVs — a number they’re hoping to double for next year.
Of course, will all of that growth comes a lot of extra work, and Costa relies on an ever-expanding team to help keep everything working smoothly.
“To care for the group itself, we have a lot more volume, so we have a lot more admins on the day-to-day approving posts and reviewing them, making sure we’re keeping with our policy of keeping it family-friendly and happy and cheery,” he said.
The memories he’s made through the group have been more than worth it, though.
Costa’s mind quickly went to a coupe who share their camping adventures with the group — adventures that take them farther and farther every year.
First they took their RV all the way to B.C., then the Northwest Territories, and most recently, all the way to Alaska.
“They’re posting about their camping adventures and posting pictures of caribou and moose and that sort of thing. That’s the thing we don’t see down here in southern Ontario in Bradford. It just captures the essence of what our group is: people sharing their travel stories,” Costa said.
A more recent example included a couple who were sharing photos of camping with an interesting companion, their cat Fred.
While Costa imagines taking a cat camping would be quite tricky, the couple seemed to make it look easy with Fred’s easy-going attitude and comfort being put on leash.
“When we started going to RV shows, they actually came with their cat. It sort of became a popular theme, where the cat became our unofficial mascot, and everyone wanted to take pictures with the cat,” he said.
Fred isn’t the only one to get recognized though, and Costa says group members frequently spot him, both on the street and at conventions.
“I get people I don’t even know who look at me and then come to me and say ‘Are you the guy who runs ORVO?’ ” he said.
While Costa may sound as if he’s become an RV guru of sorts, that wasn’t always the case, and he didn’t even take a serious interest in RVs until 2016.
That year, he and his wife were looking for something fun, outdoorsy and family-friendly they could do on weekends with their then two-year-old-daughter, so Costa picked up a magazine and started looking into RVs.
Shortly after that, they took a drive up to Owen Sound to take a look at a parked trailer.
“I was sitting in the trailer in this campground and I had a view of the lake, and I thought ‘This feels like I’m in a cottagey sort of atmosphere,’ ” Costa said, noting that a used trailer could be had for about $20,000 at the time — much less than the cost of a cottage.
“As we were driving away from this campground, I didn’t think we would buy it, but I turned to my wife and I said ‘What do you think?’ and she said ‘I think we should turn around and buy it,’ ” he said.
Up to that day, Costa had never set foot in an RV, and then the first day he did, the family ended up buying one.
“We knew right away and we didn’t hesitate. It was the same thing with Bradford, too. Coming from Toronto at the time, we didn’t even know where Bradford was, but we saw a house we liked, and me made an offer and bought it. We’ve been here ever since,” he said of their move to town in 2007.
The ORVO group is always looking for new members interested in the RV community, according to Costa, and happy to provide advice to newcomers who may have questions, whether they’re about technical aspects, favourite campsites or anything else to do with RVs.
Anyone interested can find the group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/OntarioPrivateRVOwners/