WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida RV dealer has filed suit against the promoters of a major equestrian show as well as Camping World plus 10 other firms and individuals, RV Daily Report has learned.
Gigi Stetler, owner of RV Sales of Broward, has been involved in the horse show industry since 1992 and is a competitor in the adult jumping division. She has been competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., for several years, an event she describes in the complaint as the premier horse show and equestrian competition in the United States.
In 2000, Stetler approached the organizers of the Winter Equestrian Festival and a private land owner about acquiring a large plot of land near the venue and constructing, at her expense, an RV park for competitors and spectators to use. She said she invested $320,000 to create the campground hookups and covert the land for use as an RV park.
According to the complaint David Burton, Sr., owner of Littlewood Farms, agreed to rent her the land and make Stetler the exclusive provider of RV park services for the show. Stetler indicated that Burton also agreed to allow her to operate the RV park on the site for as long as he held the lease on the land. The agreement was honored for six years, and Stetler was also able to generate revenue by supporting other horse shows at the venue, the complaint noted.
In 2008, Bellissimo Entities acquired the rights and ownership to the Winter Equestrian Festival plus the Littlewood Farms horseshow, which included the land upon which Stetler’s campground was situated.
After the acquisition, Stetler indicated that Bellissimo Entities agreed to honor the contract for the RV park and amended it to include first rights of refusal to renew. The complaint indicates Stetler was allowed to remain the exclusive RV sponsor for the festival.
The complaint notes that, in 2009, Stetler and Bellissimo Entities entered into an oral agreement that she would not be required to pay sponsorship fees in exchange for her loaning the festival more than $200,000 in restaurant bar equipment from another venture she had operated.
Forced to reveal customer info
After the 2009 Winter Equestrian Festival in August, Stetler attempted to negotiate terms for sponsorship of the 2010 event. But, the complaint alleges, Bellissimo Entities required Stetler to release the names of her camping customers, how much they paid for their campsites and the total income generated from the business. That information was to be used to determine compensation for the 2010 festival.
Stetler claims Bellissimo Entities required her to forward her confidential client list, her budget, copies of client contracts, financial information about her clients, a profit and loss statement, her business model for the campground operation as well as her entire business plan — before the amount of rent was determined.
On Oct. 21, 2009, Stetler claims Bellissimo Entities informed her that the firm had entered into a contract with Camping World and that her services would no longer be needed. Four minutes after the call ended, Stetler said she was e-mailed a press release announcing the Camping World partnership for the 2010 Winter Equestrian Festival. In addition to sending the press release to Stetler, Bellissimo Entities also sent it to all of Stetler’s customers by mass e-mail, the complaint noted.
Stetler claims she was approached in 2008 by Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, who expressed interest in buying her dealership. However, she rejected the offer. According to the complaint, Lemonis then engaged on a path to put her out of business.
After rejecting the offer, Stetler reported the next shipment of RVs her dealership received were severely damaged. According to the complaint, Lemonis called again, explained he knew about her problem with the broken RVs. He offered to fix the problem, to buy her business and give her a job. Stetler again refused the offer.
Shortly thereafter, the complaint notes, GE Commercial Finance notified Stetler that she was in default on her loans, which Stetler claims was untrue. A short time later, Lemonis called Stetler again indicating the he was aware of her financial problem and offered to buy the dealership. She declined and GE seized all of Stetler’s inventory.
According to the complaint, Lemonis again called Stetler and stated that since she no longer had any inventory or floorplan credit, he offered to give her a job, which she again refused.
In the suit, Stetler is charging that Camping World induced Bellissimo Entities to obtain Stetler’s trade secrets in order that the firm would share them with the company. She also claims Camping World then took her inventory and customers, put them in the same RVs they had previously used and on the RV park Stetler had built with her own money. Bellissimo Entities gave Camping World use of the land including several hundred thousand dollars of equipment Stetler had paid to install.
Both companies then conspired to ban Stetler from the horse show grounds as a competitor, exhibitor, spectator and participant. She claims both firms also threatened her with trespassing charges if she came onto the festival grounds, the complaint notes. Stetler claims the U.S. Equestrian Federation, which governed the event, unanimously decided that the defendants violated federation rules by wrongfully excluding her from the 2012 festival premises.
Bellissimo Entities also refused to return the restaurant bar equipment Stetler had lent the company, the complaint charges.
Lemonis vehemently denied the charges in a statement to RV Daily Report.
“It’s a complaint that was filed years ago that didn’t include us. It’s odd that several years later she amends the complaint to include us,” said Lemonis. “She should get her facts right. Any attempt to be a nuisance will not result in any sort of settlement. When we are wrong we own it. She can count on a counterclaim for slander.”