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Why Camping World Holdings Was No Fun for Investors in the Past Year

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated Apr 24, 2019 at 9:54PM

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The recreational vehicle giant was one of David Gardner’s worst recent stock picks.

Check out the latest Camping World Holdings earnings call transcript.

If you're looking for a strategy that will produce market-beating stock returns, you could do a lot worse than to follow the guidance of Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner. His Rule Breakers and Stock Advisor portfolios have both handily outperformed their benchmarks over the long term -- and usually the medium term, too. But here's the thing: If you're investing in the sorts of stocks that have the potential to be big winners, you are absolutely guaranteed to pick up some clunkers, too.

And that's OK. In fact, you can buy more losers than winners, and still achieve returns that are well above average, because a few big multibaggers can make up for a whole lot of underperformers. In short, The Motley Fool is relatively comfortable with the concept of owning bad investments. But we're also serious about owning up to those painful misses. Hence this week's Rule Breaker Investing podcast, Gardner's annual review of his biggest losers of 2016, 2017, and 2018. In this segment, he focuses on his second-worst performer, Camping World Holdings ( CWH -1.53% ), which lost 67% of its value since he bought it in November 2017. It's the big player in the recreational vehicle business; he talks about the myriad things that went wrong for the company, the difficulties of celebrity CEOs, and the lessons one can learn from its decline.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Jan. 16, 2019.

David Gardner: All right, what's my second-biggest loser of the last three years? Well, it's Camping World Holdings, the RV company. Camping World Holdings, also a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick I picked on Nov. 22 of 2017, right around Thanksgiving here in the U.S. It was at $41.37. Today, it's gone from $41 down to $13.83 as I quote it doing this podcast. $41 down to $13, a drop of 67%. This one is not that different, in some ways, from Trivago. It's also still worth more than $1 billion. It's a consumer brand that perhaps you would recognize. Trivago you might have used before on the internet to book something. Some of us, those of us who are interested in recreational vehicles, this is the big player, Camping World Holdings, within the RV industry.

A problem for this company -- several set in in 2018. One of them was that RV prices for new vehicles started surprising us, and especially management at Camping World. They weren't able to raise prices. Prices started to come down for new RVs. Not only that, but it got worse for used RVs. So the company started decelerating with its growth. Then, even worse, accounting problems started cropping up. The company announced it had to restate some earnings, and the market began to lose some trust, especially when it was discovered that management, including the CEO, Marcus Lemonis, the pretty popular well-known CEO of this company, had sold a lot of stock. A lawsuit then popped up in 2018, people accusing management of knowing that the numbers weren't accurate and selling their stock in advance of that or before the rest of us knew that, and then some of us are left holding the bag. So it was a year of problems for the core business, and then a lack of trust and a lack of performance on the part of management.

What is a lesson to take away from this one? I'm going to have a little fun with this, but I'm going to say beware of CEO TV stars. Marcus Lemonis is the star of CNBC's show The Profit, which is a show about saving small businesses. He's the authority, he's the driving personality. He's a charismatic person. Somebody in our initial write-up, when we recommended Camping World Holdings, we were saying, "We like Marcus Lemonis, and you can watch him on CNBC." But maybe in retrospect I should have thought about Nick Woodman, the CEO and founder of GoPro, who also had become a TV star a few years ago on Shark Tank. GoPro, which will not be featured on this year's "David's Biggest Losers," was in fact featured last year and I believe the year before because GoPro was a horrible stock pick. I picked it at about $80 a share, it touched down somewhere around $9, and these days, it's even a little bit lower than that. GoPro, Nick Woodman, Shark Tank. Camping World Holdings, Marcus Lemonis, The Profit. I have a queasy and bad feeling now when my CEOs end up spending a lot of time on TV. If Elon Musk starts to launch a reality business TV show, or if Reed Hastings decides he's going to feature himself on a new Netflix streaming series, if these things or anything like it happens, drop me a note, remind me that I'm making this point to you, that I think we should be a little leery of CEOs who are going on and spending a lot of time on TV. Because now, it's happened a couple of times, these are some of David's biggest losers.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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