To SEO or Not SEO…..That is the Question

From a recent article in Campground Industry E News (June 10th issue)

The snake oil of the Internet age is search engine optimization, commonly known by its acronym: SEO……..In a recent phone call with the former president of one of the world’s leading e-commerce companies, I was struck by his advice to “never hire an SEO agency.” Wasting time trying to find a legitimate SEO company is like trying to find a “good” fortune teller, used car salesman, or payday loan company. They are all truly good at trying taking your money. SEO is nonetheless big business. Be suspicious of companies that offer SEO reports as a means of getting their fool in the door, offer to fix your website so that it will “start ranking higher on the search engines” or show you Google Analytics charts and graphs with misleading annotations that allegedly document their expertise.

In the same issue Campground Industry E-News, just a couple of pages later:

……Google has raised the bar and developed sophisticated search tools that enable the company to sort the stagnant websites from websites those that are constantly being loaded with fresh content…….(name omitted) provided participants with search engine optimization reports which enabled them to see how well their websites were optimized and what needs to be fixed. “We will run search engine optimization reports for anyone who wants one. These reports will provide operators with information on what’s working on their website, what needs to be fixed and where they rank on particular keyword searches.

…….offers SEO services, which enable park operators to not only update their websites, but to develop content strategies that can help them achieve higher rankings on Google searches. This company, the article states, is the “official SEO company of the campground industry.”

Given the disparity of opinion on the value of SEO from these two long time industry experts, I thought I’d turn to my expert, Evanne Schmarder. Evanne is the architect of the industry-first Digital Marketing Benchmark Study for Outdoor Recreation, and co-author of Unconventional Wisdom Works – the industry’s premier digital marketing handbook, and has been active in outdoor recreation marketing for over a decade. Schmarder is an international digital marketing speaker most recently addressing audiences in Germany, France, Australia, and RVDA in the US, and a go-to resource for online marketing in outdoor recreation.

Here’s Evanne’s two cents on the SEO: Yes or No? question.

Regardless of what SEO camp you belong to — snake oil, significant tool, or somewhere in between — appearing on the first page of search engine results still matters and search engine optimization still plays a significant part in online success. Keyword stuffing, non-relevant links, and multiple pages of meaningless content among other tactics are no longer effective. Instead longtail keywords, specific title tags and H1 headers, video and social content, and mobile functionality rule today’s SEO world. Smart businesses take advantage of analytics, researching how a site is being found, how visitors are flowing through the pages, and the entrance/exit pages. They stay on top of relevant, valuable content (including curated content), are active on relevant social sites, optimize their YouTube videos, optimize their site speed, and review their competitor’s SEO strategy. It is in these small but critical details that businesses can benefit from hiring a web-aware SEO practitioner, all the better if they are familiar with the outdoor hospitality industry.

RV Park Development Heating Up

As I’ve written in earlier columns, as RV sales continue on a 6 year run up and as RVing and camping continue to gain popularity in the press, soc ial media and product marketing (see the recent series of ads being run by Expedient about credit scores that take place in an RV), developer and land owner interest in building new RV parks is heating up. there is certainly a need for new parks in many areas of the US, I think a word of caution is called for at this point.

In my opinion, developers should exercise extreme care in evaluating opportunities for new RV parks. With the recession of 2007 – 2009 still fresh in mind, very conservative planning is how I am approaching clients with an RV development in mind. In fact, in recent months, I’ve discouraged several developers from moving forward when my analysis of property or location caused concern and raised a red flag of caution and higher than acceptable risk.

I’ve recently reviewed several development prospectuses and have been surprised by some of the plans I’ve come across that are being touted as sound investments by some of my consultant colleagues.

*I continue to be amazed at a projected $100 million RV park project that is planned to be essentially a time share or membership park in St. Augustine, FL. What are they thinking and what industry are they looking at as a model?

*A proposed high end luxury RV park with over 400 sites located midway between Phoenix and Los Angeles anticipates selling 100 sites prior to construction. Is there any park in the US that has ever sold 100 sites prior to development or was even able to keep up that pace of sales over 4 years? If one park exists that has been that successful, I must have missed it. This projection is being circulated to potential buyers or partners who to get into this deal. I’m on the sidelines on this

*On another project, I recently saw a fundraising or feasibility study prospectus that used a property appraisal from 2007 to justify today’s valuation.

*And one of the industry’s long term condo developers whose successes go back to the 1970s, is back at it again in Jupiter building a new park with sites proposed to sell into the mid-$250,000s. And he’s back to the class A motorcoach only model that severely limits the market and to be successful has to be located in the best of the best locations – Naples, Hilton Head, Napa, Aspen, places like that where the rich and famous like to hang out. Jupiter’s nice but the location of this project is a sizeable drive to the beaches, is not waterfront and is not on the higher end Jupiter Island.

While the time is surely right for new park development, conservative planning is the key word. Take it easy, plan carefully, study and know the market and innovate in small increments with small risk.

What Are the Industry Associations Up To?

The three leading industry associations involved in RVs and camping are the RV Industry Association representing the RV manufacturers, the RV Dealers Association representing exactly what their name says, and the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds representing that group.

To some degree with some more or less openess, each organization reports in some form to its members what it is up to in programs and activities, how much money the collect from each source of income, how they spend the money on salaries, programs, tax-exempt activities and on non-exempt activities.

Members and others who want to know the real scoop on how the associations are operating can access the annual 990 Tax Return each organization is required to file with the Internal Revenue Service. These returns are supposed to be available upon request to any member or to the public. The returns are also available at Guidestar.org, an organization that tracks non-profits and their subsidiaries.

A quick look at the three organizations returns provides one interesting finding……..RVIA is of course the big cahoona with an annual budget in excess of $15 million. The surprise is that ARVC has surpassed RVDA in the number 2 position among our industry organizations. ARVC reported revenue of $2.284 in 2014 while RVDA reported $2.075 million.

Lots of other interesting facts and tidbits are available on these forms for those interested in learning more.

Big Move for the Park Model Business

It takes a lot these days to get me excited about something in the RV industry, but a recent announcement about what I think is a major move in the park model business really caught my attention.

For years the park model business has been trying to capture the public’s attention – the RVing public as well as the general public. And now comes a big announcement from the most recognizable brand in the RV world – Winnebago. The company has signed a licensing agreement with Champion Home Builders for Champion to build Winnebago park models! Champion owns park model builder Athens Park Homes and is a major player in the manufactured housing arena.

The fact that Winnebago sees park models as an extension of the Winnebago brand should come as welcome news to the park model community although it no doubt will be a major competitor in the market.

What might come next? A Fleetwood Park Model? A Jayco Park Model? Maybe Fleetwood? The move of a main line RV manufacturer directly into the park model business certainly helps solidify the position of the park model as a main line RV that deserves all of the recognition accorded to other Winnebago and other brands.

Be interesting to see how the sales of park models goes in the coming year or two. Sales seem to be trending upward month by month as reported by RVIA and this new Winnebago/Champion partnership should give the numbers a boost.

Sales Event Selling Coming to the Park Industry?

Most readers of this column are probably familiar with the big glossy postcards that arrive in your mail or the full page newspaper ads promoting 10 acre mountain land parcels with streams and great mountain views for just $29,000 (or sometimes even less)! The adsprovides a day and date for this once in a lifetime opportunity to buy mountain land for you and your family to enjoy forever. Usually the roads and utilities are in the development and the land is surveyed and staked for each parcel. All you need to do is call to set up an appointment for the day of the sale so you can be among the select group who will take advantage of this great opportunity.

Sound familiar?

Well, maybe it’s time for this sales method to be adopted to the RV park industry and used to pre-sell RV sites in some great locations.

I recently had occasion to spend a day with a client in the Smokey Mountains who has successfully used this technique to sell RV sites at an RV park that had been trying for a number of years to sell the sites as RV condominiums. Some sites had been sold but a majority of the sites remained unsold.

Well, this client of mine used what he refers to as a land sale event to sell out most of the remaining sites in one day at prices that were very acceptable to the seller and in line with the prices of the few sites that were sold earlier.

Check out this You Tube video to see what the sale event looked like: https://youtu.be/sR_iYmS-QEY.

The client is now preparing to execute a sales event to sell RV sites on a beautiful tract of land right on Douglas Lake in the Smokey Mountain area of Tennessee. The property will have about 190 sites on a peninsula into the lake – these sites will have boat dock possibilities and direct lake access. And additional 100 or more sites will have lake views and access. Clubhouse, pools, and recreational amenities will be part of the development. Using the land sales event technique, the seller will sell 3000-4000 square foot lots suitable for a camping, RVing or park model site. The lots are sold unfinished and the buyer can improve the lot at their own pace and as they feel it best suits their needs.

The lot prices will be at a level that makes them available to just about any middle-class couple or family that wants to have a lake front recreational site that can grow with them as they wish. Imagine starting with a pop-up or even a tent, and over the years moving to a travel trailer, 5th wheel, motorhome and then a park model cabin.

Will it be successful? We’ll have to wait and watch to see how the event goes but if it is successful, it may well be a technique that can help expand the number of camping and RV sites available in some great scenic, cultural, historic and recreational places in our country.

If you’re interested in learning more about this land sales event technique and the company that is pioneering it in the RV park business, give me a call (703 448 6863) or drop me an email to david@davidgorinassociates.com

I fully realize that there may be some skeptics out there wondering if Gorin’s going to far or if he’s lost his mind by advocating this type of sale. I can assure you that neither is the case. My client is a well-respected developer and marketer who has a great track record of conducting these sales in a no pressure, 100% ethical and legal manner. He’s not selling swamp land or selling land that is inaccessible.

Recognizing Two Long Time Industry Friends

There was a recent announcement that came across the online news wires that Jo Ann Mickelson has been awarded the Jack Denton Memorial Award from the Arizona Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. As a friend of both Jo Ann and Jack, I know he would have been thrilled that Jo
Ann has been recognized with an award in his memory. Jack and JoAnn were colleagues, friends, neighbors and I suppose competitors in the Flagstaff, AZ market where Jack owned the Flagstaff KOA and Jo Ann and her husband Harvey own J & H RV Park in the same town.

In the probably 25+ years I’ve known Jo Ann, she has been a stalwart leader of the AZ park industry serving over the years as President of the state association, a board member probably for all those years, and probably as an office and committee chairman. And now, Jo Ann continues to serve the association as its Executive Director. In a state association comprised to a great degree of large mega RV parks, Jo Ann has represented and been a leading spokesperson for the smaller parks in the state

Industry InSites – May 2015

What a Winter!!

In more ways than one, it’s been quite a winter. On the one hand, the northern tier of the country has experienced all kinds of record cold temperatures while Boston and a lot of New England experienced record snow falls to go along with the cold. No doubt large numbers of Americans are suffering from cabin fever and are ready to get outdoors.

For me, it’s also been quite a winter. For the first time, I actually spent the winter in Florida, arriving on December 10th and getting ready to head north to Virginia in a couple of days. But what really stands out in my mind about this winter is not just the sunny warm winter Florida days but the intense interest I’ve seen in the RV park industry.

This winter has been the busiest on record for David Gorin Associates. As the RV industry was in its 6th straight year of growth since the great recession, my business growth is obviously feeling the wind at our back. We have fielded more telephone and email inquiries since early January than ever before in a 3 month period. Developer and investor interest in the RV park business seems to me to be at an all-time high. And as my travel schedule certainly attests, the increasing level of interest in the RV park real estate asset class appears to be at its highest level since I entered this end of the business in 2002.

For the first time, business was actually getting in the way of social activities, golf and enjoying the outdoors! Feasibility studies are not quick consulting jobs. They are time intensive and involve significant travel, research, contemplation, financial analysis and study.

I’ve no idea how my consulting colleagues around the country are doing this winter, but for DGA we’ve done projects in Tennessee, New Jersey, Georgia, Alabama (2 projects), Arkansas, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Florida and South Carolina. And another Ohio, another New York, and Mississippi are still to come. If half of these projects actually materialize and produce new RV parks, it will add significantly to the number of new, state of the art available RV sites. And new product in the market place is certainly a good thing.

Man, I wish I were 20 years younger so I could really take advantage of this exploding market opportunity.

And by the way, much to my disappointment, this winter marked another milestone in my life……I actually turned 70 (freakin’) years old! No fun. Can’t believe I was just 42 when I joined NCOA (the National Campground Owners Association, the forerunner of ARVC) and that was 28 years ago. What a ride it’s been and there’s still much more to do. To the three wise men of NCOA at the time – Dan O’Connell, Al Daniels and Erv Banes – who gave me the opportunity to join the park industry, I wish them a happy 70th also. I’m not sure exactly when they go over the big 70 but if I recall, we were all about the same age 28 years ago.

Baby Boomers v Millennials

For just about as long as I can remember, the RV industry has hitched its star to the baby boomer generation. The post World War II generation, born between 1946 and 1964, were to be the generation that would put the RV industry on the map. Affluent, successful, and getting ready to go over the age of 50 and enter the prime RV buying years, this generation was to turn 50 beginning in 1996 at the rate of 11,000 a day! Surely, there would be RV buyers aplenty out there.

In a recent issue of RoadSigns, a quarterly economic review publication of the RV Industry Association, economist Richard Curtin has turned some attention to the next coming generation, the Millennials.

Curtin points out that the Millennials, the oldest of which were born in 1980 and are now 35, are now the largest US generation, outnumbering the baby boomers. The most important characteristic of the millennials, says Curtin, is that they share core RV values – a deep attachment with family and friends to the outdoor lifestyle, and have an active interest in exploring nature and traveling. They are attracted to products and marketing strategies that reflect these characteristics. Millennials are more diverse in their ethnicity, living arrangements and lifestyles, and they face a less positive economy than prior generations. They are the first generation of the internet and social media age. Forward looking companies and industries recognize that enormous changes are required to serve this millennial market and successful companies will adapt their products and marketing to meet this new group.

Attention Campground Owners – the millennials are not too far way and its not too early to begin to think about what this next cohort of RV owners may find attractive. The average age of the RV buyer, especially buyers of travel trailers and toy box trailers, is already in the low 40s and dropping. Pretty soon they will run into the millennials on their way up. Take a look at your own family, listen to your millennial aged kids and watch what they like and what they do. They are your future customers.

Shoot Out at Walmart

A March 23rd shoot out in a Walmart parking lot in Cottonwood, AZ may have a cooling effect on overnight camping at Walmart that the park industry has been hoping for over the years. The shoot out and brawl involved 8 police officers and 8 civilians.
According to the newspaper account of the incident, the suspects had been staying (living…camping) in a Suburban vehicle for at least four days in the parking lot, according to a man camping out in an RV in the parking lot. The man would not give his name nor do we know how long he’d been camping out there.
The man said he looked out of his RV’s window after the brawl and shootout woke him up Saturday night. He heard screaming and saw people running around and firing guns.
Over the last many years, the issue of safety of staying in Walmart parking has been raised repeatedly. There have been numerous incidents of shootings, kidnapping, carjacking, robbery and other crimes in these parking lots not unlike these types of incidents in almost any city and in almost any large parking lot.
I remember one RVer writing to ARVC years ago when an editorial about overnight parking raised the question of safety. The writer was irate and was sure that ARVC was just trying to scare RVers to staying in campgrounds. He said something like “don’t you try to tell us what to do. We all have loaded guns in our RVs and let anyone come near us and they’ll be sorry.”
Maybe now the Walmart lawyers will decide that overnight camping in Walmart lots, in RVs or Suburbans, isn’t really a necessary feature of Walmart. We’ll see what happens this time.

Salute to Richard Coon

RVIA President Richard Coon has announced he will retire at the end of September. A lot will be written and said about Richard and the outstanding leadership he has provided to RVIA since taking the position in 2006 but the one thing that truly stands out in my mind is his stable, solid leadership of the industry during the recession years of 2008 and 2009. Those were incredibly difficult years for every industry but not many took a hit of the size of the RV industry that endured a sales decline of over 50% during those years. Richard’s strong leadership that steered the manufacturers through that tough time stands out in my mind as a super accomplishment. Taking over in the record high-water mark year of 2006, watching sales plummet and then rebound over the last 6 years is surely a sign of a superb executive.
Congratulations Richard on a job very well done. Enjoy your final months at the helm of a great association. I know campground owners should be on the lookout for the Coon family as you most likely enjoy an RV retirement – at least some of the time.

Final Word

I know it’s been a booming winter season in Florida and expect it’s been the same in Texas, Arizona and southern California. And as the summer season is just around the corner, I wish all the summer parks all the best for a safe and prosperous summer season. All the stars are aligned for a great camping year.
KOA recently announced that’s its reservations taken during the first 60 days of 2015 were the most in its history. Great news for KOA and hopefully it’s a signal for the rest of the industry – a good summer is ahead.

Industry Insites – February 2015

Eye Catching Headline

A headline in the December 2014 daily on-line RV Business newsletter really caught my attention: Work Underway on $100 million Florida RV Resort. The story describes The Fountains of St. Augustine to be “located in the nation’s oldest permanently settled city.”

Having worked now for about 13 years as a consultant primarily doing feasibility studies for developers and investors interested in building new RV parks in various places around the country, I was intrigued by the headline and the scope of the investment. To my knowledge (and I may be wrong here), there has not been a new RV park built on this scale or any where near this scale EVER. Some condominium RV parks built in the early 2000’s came in the mid $20 million range and to the best of my knowledge nd those built in that price range have struggled to make the business model work.

I wish the developers of The Fountains great success as that would be provide strong evidence of significant strength in the high end of the RV and RV resort market. However, I must admit to considerable skepticism that this project can be successful with that kind of investment.

The Fountains is offering 246 sites each with a “casita” or villa ranging in size from 485 square feet to 2 story homes up to 1447 square feet. While the promotional materials and website refers to the resort as a premium motorcoach resort or a class A motorhome resort, the project comes close to being a home or residential community with RV parking next to each home.

Based on the announced $100 million investment, that comes to about $406,000 per site at cost so we are probably looking at $550,000 to $600,000 retail/site! Does anyone know of any motorcoach resort that has been successful at that level?

It is interesting to note that through November 30, 2014, the industry shipped just over 20,000 class A motorhomes. In 2013, the number was 19,000+. This is about 1 class a unit for every 10 towables. Based on 11,000,000 or so RVs on the road today in the US, about 1.1 million may be class As and this includes units that may have been on the road since the 1980s. Given the size of this class A market, would seem to me that the developers of The Fountains have their work cut out for them – a relatively small market size of class A owners, a nice location but hardly a world class area like Hilton Head or Napa Valley or Aspen, very high development costs and pretty high prices.

Will be interesting to watch the development and hopefully report back on a smashing success sometime down the line.

ARVC: Washington, DC to Denver

While attending the recent Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo (OHCE) sponsored by ARVC in Las Vegas in early December, it was interesting to note how the ARVC’s education program now centers entirely on the Outdoor Hospitality Education Program (OHEP) and how the OHEP is being integrated throughout the ARVC program. Good idea, I thought. It flows nicely through the education sessions at the conference, is being integrated into the curriculum of the National Schools of RV Park & Campground Management in West Virginia and now in Colorado in July. It appears in the ARVC Voice articles and I understand a text book is being created to use in all seminars and classes taught for OHEP credit at state conventions and elsewhere. And now even a special designation – Superior Quality Staff – to recognize those parks that enroll all of their staff and have them all certified at some level.

I applaud Barb Youmans, Mark Mahacia and Saundra Brynn for their hard work in developing and bringing this program to the forefront of the industry. I only hope that ARVC members embrace the program although I expect that the numbers of participants may be slow to grow as the program is far from simple, requiring participants to complete assignments, undergo reviews and prove their learning – not a bad idea but something that I think will be hard for many small business owners to get excited about.

The other thought that occurred to me during the convention was that its been 7 years since ARVC left Washington in covered wagons and headed across the great Applachian Mountains and the western prairies for Castle Rock outside of Denver, Colorado. As I recall, the primary reasons for the move were twofold.

First, it was the sense that the cost of living in the Denver area would be significantly less than in the DC area and the first rate staff could be hired at lower cost than a similar staff in DC. Secondly, the original move was to Castle Rock where the ARVC building would be situated on a large property adjacent to a campground on property where the Center for Outdoor Hospitality could be developed by the
ARVC Foundation.

On the cost of living side of this discussion, current data strongly supports the move to Denver, According to the online bank BankRate.com, salaries in the Denver area are approximately 22% below Washington DC salary levels for comparable positions. An individual making $100,000 in DC would be able to take a 22% pay cut to about $78,000 while maintaining the same standard of living in Denver. So it would seem that ARVC could be employing a more professional staff at significant savings.

As far as the Center for Outdoor Hospitality and a showcase campground, when the deal on the Castle Rock building and property went south, that idea apparently was put on the back burner. Whether is ever comes back on the table, is anyone’s guess.

In early January, I sent an inquiry to Paul Bambei, ARVC President and CEO, asking him his impressions of the ARVC move to Denver. Paul was a Denver resident prior to his position with ARVC and chances are neither he nor any of the current staff would have ever been associated with ARVC were it not for the move. And as Paul noted in his response, he was not a part of the ARVC decision to move the association.

How the current salary levels would compare with those necessary to operate ARVC in DC is not the subject for this article but perhaps that subject will come up in the future.

For what it’s worth, here’s the exchange of emails with Paul’s view of ARVC in Denver as opposed to Washington, DC.
Gorin to Bambei: It’s been about 7 years since ARVC left the DC area. Do you have any thoughts on the pros and cons of that move and any thoughts on advantages or disadvantages of ARVC being in Denver as opposed to the DC area? What’s the current breakdown on ARVC membership east and west of the Mississippi River? Does ARVC maintain dues paying membership in the Small Business Legislative Council? The American Recreation Coalition? The US Travel Association? Is the association represented on the boards of these organizations?
Bambei to Gorin: “Let me try to give you an overall perspective of the move from DC to Denver, which as you know occurred before my start at arvc. One of the more important positives resulting from the move has been a lower cost structure incurred by the Association. According to recent data, DC ranks about 30 basis points higher than Denver in the cost of labor. Additionally, Denver’s overall cost of living is remarkably lower as well, which affects many day to day operating costs of our business. Arvc is in a much stronger financial position than it was seven years ago, due in large part to this move.
Regarding involvement in DC based associations such as SBLC, ARC, and USTA, we are dues paying members in organizations where the benefit and value is clearly demonstrated. I personally stay connected to these and many other organizations by reviewing the constant communiques that come on a frequent basis. I do not sit on their Boards, as it would be a tremendous commitment of time that I consciously choose to devote in other ways, but make no mistake I’m aware of what they do.
Of course, we have a dedicated staff person in Jeff Sims who stays on top of industry activity impacting arvc, which I don’t believe was the case prior to the DC move, and have also subscribed to the State Net service since 2011 to stay abreast of all regulatory and legislative activity affecting our industry at the local level. Should any issues of national impact require lobbying effort, we also employ the DC law firm McDermott, Will and Emery, whom we selected for their respected lobby influence.
In conclusion, I’d say the arvc Board made a wise financial choice by deciding to come to Denver, and feel we haven’t sacrificed our industry connections to DC from a lobby/networking aspect in the process. In fact, based on the direct work we conduct through staff, a very active Public Affairs Committee, State Net, etc., I feel we’re actually serving our members extremely well. “
What do you think? Has the move to Denver been beneficial from your perspective as a member of the association? How’s ARVC doing as a western-based organization?

Industry Insites – December 2014

Random Thoughts on the Business…….

The Latest HUD Park Model Issue

Sure hope the industry is looking at exactly what happened here. After a number of years of quiet, what suddenly prompted HUD to revise the method of measuring the size of a park model. I know they claim they haven’t changed anything, but for practical purposes measuring a park model to include the porch is a change in the process.

In Washington, nothing happens without a reason. Who is behind the October memo from Pamela Danner, the new HUD official overseeing manufactured housing? Somehow, I doubt that she woke up one morning and decided to screw the RV industry and the parks. More likely, someone put a document in front of her to get the ball rolling, followed by a visit from someone with a particular interest and then it just happened. Sure would be nice to know what the industry is up against because the same forces are most likely to be on the scene if and when congressional legislation becomes likely. My guess is that the new Congress in January is not going to be spending much time worrying about the RV industry and if the issue is at all controversial in the House or Senate, passage is going to be quite difficult if not impossible. So, who’s behind this?

Perhaps we should start by looking at Ms. Danner. Her long legal and government service career has many intersections with the manufactured housing industry.

What is the RV Park & Campground Business?

I’m pleased that the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association invited me to present a seminar this Tuesday on Trends in the Park Industry. I’ve done a similar seminar at various meetings in recent years and always find it interesting to use the opportunity to track the relevant changes in the park industry.

As I prepared for the PA seminar, I decided to take a look at the various business lines that park operators are engaged in every day.

Here’s a quick rundown of the lines of business that come to mind: Camping……Outdoor Recreation…..Hospitality……..Entertainment……..Travel…….Amusement Park……Attractions……… Lodging……..RVing……..Tourism……..Sports. And you can probably think of many others.

In thinking about this question, I’ve concluded that a campground or RV park is really an amusement park. Yes, a different business model than we normally associate with that business, but an amusement park none the less.

A campground has activities and events intended to amuse and entertain the audience. The park has food services at varying levels ranging from park-wide meal events (pancake breakfasts, holiday themed meals) to snack bars, ice cream parlors and restaurants of various service levels. A park has a wide variety of amenities and facilities designed to amuse and entertain such as swimming pools and water-related features ranging from large water parks to water slides, splash pads and lazy rivers, hay wagon rides, various styled bikes from three wheelers to water bikes, laser tag, zip lines, holiday parades, basketball courts and soccer fields, themed events like Water Wars, Christmas in July and murder mystery weekends. Most campgrounds operate on a seasonal basis with some special shoulder season events. Stores that sell souvenirs, t-shirts, hats and special fun cups and other unique items are found in m ost campgrounds. Most parks offer a single price that includes all of the facilities and amenities while other parks offer an admission fee (camping fee) plus an extra fee for the amusements and entertainment. And special park discounts at certain times of the year encourage visits for different markets.

Now the amusement park. Try re-reading the above paragraph and substitute amusement park for campground or park. Pretty much the same thing, right?

When you have a chance, go visit an amusement park in your area. Guaranteed you’ll come home with some new ideas on how to please your guests.

Praise for Suppliers

Every now and then on Facebook or Linked in or in some other venue, there’s a supplier posting or talking about how they find campground owners to be among the nicest, most down to earth and hospitable people to be found in every industry. They praise park owners openness and willingness to help others, even their competitors.

Rarely if ever have I seen a Facebook or Linked in post or other comment from a campground owner praising the services of a supplier to their business who plays a role behind the scenes in their success. So, here I go.

Suppliers I met in the park industry, especially those I’ve known for 25 years or more are among the nicest folks I’ve known or worked with in any venue. Their desire to provide the best products and services and competitive prices is unsurpassed in any industry.

As campers have many choices of where to camp, so too do campground owners have many choices when it comes to where to purchase the essential needs of running their business. Many campground industry suppliers have been around serving the industry for many, many years while others are new to the industry, having been drawn to it by the great positive publicity the camping and outdoor recreation and RVing has received in recent years.

The suppliers I’ve known for many years are great folks who, like campground owners, rely heavily on good reviews and repeat business (sound familiar?).

When you can and when you feel its deserved, why not write a comment or review of a supplier experience you’ve had and post it on Facebook or on Linked In. Or visit Yelp or other review sites and share your positive experiences.

Go Suppliers!!!!

The KISS Principal

Time to remind everyone of the KISS principal – keep it simple, stupid!.

Check out your website – is it intuitive, simple and quick to respond to commands, available for Ipads, smart phones and any and all other media, clean and not too cutesy, is any music appropriate and at a reasonable volume?

Arrival and check in process is often fraught with delays and time consuming processes. Is it easy, quick and simple for your guests to arrive?

You get the idea. Take the time to review all of your policies, practices and so forth and see if you can KISS them to make it easier for you, your staff and your guests.

And a word to associations out there – national, regional, state and local campground associations. Want to gain new members? Want to retain current ones? Want to increase involvement and attendance? All programs and activities should be reviewed for KISS compliance.

Small business that comprise the majority of the campground and RV park business don’t have time or the inclination to engage in complex, confusing or lengthy steps to take advantage of the values of the membership. The longer it takes to take an action, the less likely it is that the action will be taken. And the less actions taken by members, the greater the likelihood that they will explore whether or not the membership is worthwhile.

Nine times out of ten, measuring your business processes against KISS will lead to business improvements. Try it.

Industry Insites – November 2014

43 Years…..Moving On

On September 30, 2014, I turned over the management of the Virginia Campground Association to Derek Dick, a former ARVC staffer now living in Virginia. With that, I concluded 43 years in the association management world. Over those years, I’ve been associated with the American Jewish Congress, the American National Metric Council, the Solar Energy Industries Association, the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds and finally the Virginia Campground Association.

Association management has been a fulfilling career but its time to turn my full time attention to consulting work in the RV park and campground industry as the industry steps up its growth and development into a modern 21st century hospitality and recreation business. And it’s time to pursue some new ventures and advocacy in the business.

Advocacy

In the August issue of Campground Management and also in RV Business, I wrote a column suggesting that it is time for the terrific Go RVing promotion program to expand its horizons into Go RVing……and Camping promotion.

I feel strongly that the time has come for the three legs of the RV industry stool – the manufacturers, dealers and accommodations – to re-establish the close relationship that created the Go Camping America program in the 1980’s and was the foundation for the eventual emergence of the Go RVing program. While it’s clear that RVs have multiple uses depending on the desires of the owners of the rigs, it’s equally clear that the dominant use of an RV is camping in one form and one place or another.

RV parks are popping up in many places. NASCAR and other racing venues are moving to formalize camping in RV areas that were previously informal parking areas for tailgating. The same is happening around major universities where RV tailgating is a major event combined with college football. And golf resorts, ski resorts, amusement parks are increasingly recognizing the growing popularity of RVing and the need to provide campgrounds or RV parks (the terminology is not really important). Federal, state and local parks are sprucing up their camping areas to serve the growing RV market.

It’s kind of like the old days in Las Vegas when hotel rates and food costs were incidental and the profits were all from gambling. Many entertainment and sports venues provided for RVs but either didn’t charge or charged very little. Now, there’s an awakening that there’s money to be made in RV parks – why give away what can become a profitable revenue source.

The Go RVing program has over the years focused on the many uses of an RV – taking the kids to soccer games and tournaments, tailgating, “pursuing passions” of all kinds, getting “away”, and so on. But most of these uses include nights out in campgrounds and RV parks.

Go RVing has the mechanism in place to raise additional funding to expand the Go RVing program to include camping. It’s up to the leaders of Go RVing and, more importantly, to the leaders of ARVC and the park industry, to get together and figure out how to expand the program to include camping. Demonstrating to potential RVers the many diverse campgrounds available for their enjoyment and use should certainly contribute to a better understanding of the joys of RVing and help increase RV sales while supporting the growth of the park industry.

It was somewhat disappointing to note that the column proposing this expansion of Go RVing received not a single comment or response – pro or con – from readers. As the campground industry would be the major beneficiary of the expansion, I expected that there would be some response from that end of the industry.

As a long time member of both ARVC and RVIA for many years, I would encourage the leaders of those organizations, chief executives and elected leaders to let the industries they represent know where they stand on this proposal to expand Go RVing. If it’s a lousy idea, say so and tell us why. If the idea is positive, say so as well.

At least from the park industry perspective, expansion of the promotion program should be something with broad support. The silence is deafening.

RV Site Ownership

Back in the early part of this century, RV condominium site ownership was growing rapidly in many parts of the country. As the real estate market pushed land and home prices skyward, many park owners in key locations were selling out to developers who had plans for a higher and better use of the land. RVers, especially in Florida, became concerned that their winter RV parks would be sold out from under them and they would have to relocate elsewhere. The popular thinking was that RV sites in desirable areas would become fewer and fewer and RVers would be forced to settle for second rate locations.

And thus was born the RV condominium park where an RVer could buy a site, become an owner of the campground and assure its continuation for years to come.

The own your own site business flourished in many areas from 2001 to the real estate implosion and the recession of 2007 to 2009. RV condo site sales dropped dramatically – in fact almost disappeared. Developers were forced to drop prices significantly and while that helped in some cases, for the most part RVers like the rest of the country, were not in a spending mood. If the price was down 50% today, why not wait until it goes down 75%?

As the recession has eased, site sales have edged a bit in certain areas where price declines have put the sites in the range of affordability for more RVers. But it is now appearing that except in some very special circumstances where the location of the park is too good to pass up, the price declines have not been sufficient to show RVers that it is less expensive to own then to rent.

And as the building boom in Florida and elsewhere has not come back to the fever pitch of the period before the recession, few RVers are worried about their favorite RV park disappearing to make room for re-development. And the view of RV site ownership as an investment with strong upside

The keys to a successful RV site sales program are several. First and foremost, as noted above if the lot price is set at a point where owning is as good or better than renting. For a broad segment of RV owners, this is most important in a successful sales program. Second, the location has to so strong that it has a wide appeal to RVers of all types and where pricing to secure the location is reasonable and within reach of a large market segment. Third, the development has to be so exceptional in terms of location, limited number of sites, amenities, aesthetics, service and high end appeal that it will capture the attention of the small cadre of RV owners for whom price is no object.

The RV condominium business is likely to continue to come back as RV sales continue to expand. In certain areas, RV site supply may fall behind site demand and the condo market could heat up again. In this case, owning sites in a quality park with high demand for rentals could prove to be a solid investment over time.

Keep a careful eye on this market segment as converting an RV park to an ownership resort is a good exit strategy in the right circumstances.

Industry Insites – September 2014

Jayne Cohen Joins DGA as Senior Consulting Associate

I’m really pleased to announce that Jayne Cohen has become affiliated with DGA as a Senior Consulting Associate with a specialty in park operations and marketing. Jayne has over 35 years of hospitality and customer service experience. She and her family owned a large and very successful family camp resort in New Hampshire until it was sold in 2003. For 8 years, until October 2011 she was the President of Adventure Bound Camping Resorts, a privately owned company that owned 10 camping resorts. Jayne uses her skills and experience to assist clients to improve their revenues and profits by creating better experiences for their guests and creating systems, procedures, and strategic plans to obtain a client’s financial goals. Jayne earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Whittemore School of Business & Economics with concentrations in Marketing and Finance.
The addition of Jayne to the DGA team further enhances the firm’s ability to provide the most expert and comprehensive consulting services in the outdoor hospitality industry.
Welcome aboard, Jayne.

Regulating Campgrounds & RV Parks

A recent release from National ARVC described some renewed efforts by the association to try to use the NFPA Standard 1194 as a vehicle to address some long simmering regulatory issues that impact on campgrounds and RV parks in certain areas of the country. By addressing some of these issues in the NFPA standard, ARVC hopes to educate planners and regulators on positions that are favored by the industry.
In addition to the NFPA work, ARVC and RVIA are collaborating on improving the understanding among officials and the public of the park model RV. Park Model RV is the new designation for what was previously referred to as a recreational park trailer or a park model.
These two important initiatives raise questions and issues that need to be addressed as these efforts move forward.
The first question that comes to mind is……..does the park industry support regulation that goes beyond the traditional area that NFPA standards address – issues of life, health and safety of RVers and campers. Remember, NFPA stands for the National Fire Protection Association and its standards are focused on standards linked to life, health and safety issues. Setting standards for separation of RV units within a campground would seem appropriate. However, setting a minimum size for an RV site is probably unnecessary if you have a unit separation. Is the NFPA standard the right place to address issues outside the life, health and safety realm?
The second question has to do with full time RVing vs. year round RVliving. Until the recent merger of the former park model unit into RVIA and its renaming as an RV park trailer, it was generally accepted that park models were not intended for year round living but were specifically for temporary, short term recreational use. Now, with the merger of the RV park trailer into the range of traditional RVs, how does the industry differentiate full time RVing from full time, year round RV park trailer occupancy. Full time RVing has been an accepted use of an RV by tens of thousands of Americans who opt to downsize their lives and live fulltime in their RV. Now, if full timing is an acceptable practice, should full timing in an RV park trailer also be acceptable? To what degree does mobility of the unit regulate its use?
Another key question of concern in many areas around the US has to do with the treatment of RVs as personal property or real property.
Generally, the industry has long agreed that RVs of all kinds are personal property and therefore the owner of the property is responsible for taxes on that property. Some jurisdictions around the country have ruled that RVs left of a site for an extended period of time are real property as many cannot be moved and therefore the park owner is responsible for the tax on that property. The real issue now comes into play with RV park trailers that are legally RVs if the industry has its way, but are not easily moveable and are likely to be tied down to the ground either for protection against wind and hurricanes or for utility connections necessary to power residential size refrigerators, residential sized toilets and showers and sometimes add-a-room or screen room attachments. While technically an RV, have these units moved into a different class and are they now real property as opposed to personal property since they are at least semi-permanently attached to the ground?
What about RV park trailers that are used solely as rental units? Personal property or real property?
Should the industry work towards a definition of RV for personal property purposes and of RV for real property purposes? Are two categories necessary?
Another key question that needs to be considered has to do with the acceptable length of stay in an RV park. Some jurisdictions limit the period of time an RV may occupy a site; others limit the time that an occupied RV may remain on a site and some differentiate between an occupied and unoccupied RV on a site. And the time limits for any placement of an RV can vary based on the jurisdictions preference – 30, 60, 90, 120, 180 days or more or less.
Clearly, an RV park model generally has to be on a site for 365 days a year. Moving that unit into storage or to another site is probably not realistic on any regular schedule. So are RV park models regulated differently from other RVs?
Length of stay rules obviously impact the ability of a park to offer seasonal sites of varying lengths. And let’s say, town A has a 90 length of stay rule. Is a park in this town not permitted to accommodate RV park models? What about a full time RVer? Are they subject to that length of stay if they pay a daily or weekly rate rather than a 90 day seasonal rate?
And will it ever be possible to get jurisdictions in 50 states to ever agree to a national standard on length of stay?
ARVC and RVIA have a difficult road ahead to work out and resolve these and other regulatory questions that can sharply impact park operations. Hopefully, working cooperatively, and b ringing in the RV Dealers Association whose members probably have relationships in many jurisdictions around the US into the working group to address these issues some reasonable approaches to these issues can be achieved with at least some uniformity. Working together within the NFPA structure and perhaps through a renewed development of a national model code as a guide to local regulation, some semblance of national balance can be found that will work the advantage of all – consumers, campgrounds, RV manufacturers, RV dealers and local communities.
Best Parks in America
I’m deeply disappointed and saddened that the Best Parks in America brand and marketing group whose operations were suspended last winter, has not re-emerged, has not been re-tooled and is not yet ready to move forward with a new platform and program.
In today’s world, as the industry segmentation continues and as camping and RVing are showing rapid growth and expansion, the park industry still lacks a high end, premium brand that speaks to RVers and outdoor enthusiasts who seek that upscale premium experience.
I’m still hopeful that this situation may soon change and that Best Parks in America will re-emerge to serve that special market segment.
I hope that the summer camping season was terrific for those who serve that business. The early forecasts for winter travel and RVing in the southland seem quite encouraging.

Industry Insites – August 2014

Go RVing…..and Camping

In recent weeks, a series of meetings and articles have led me to now propose in all seriousness that it is time for the RV manufacturers, dealers and campgrounds to get together and broaden the focus of Go RVing to include camping. Imagine, a Go RVing…..and Camping campaign that stands as the industry’s national brand bringing together all the legs of the industry and wrapping Go RVing and Go Camping America into a single national effort.

The recession of 2008, 2009 and 2010 saw a dramatic decrease in the sale of RVs combined with a steady pace of RV park and campground business and a renewed interest in extended stay and seasonal camping. While RV sales have rocketed back to pre-recession levels, extended stay and seasonal camping has continued to capture the interest of Americans across the nation. And this strong consumer interest in this camping style has manifested itself in the RV manufacturing side in a couple of significant ways.

As the strength of seasonal camping hit home with the RV manufacturers, they have responded by creating and marketing the largest travel trailers and 5th wheels as “residential” trailers, seasonal vacation homes, and similar terms focusing on extended stay use in a single location. These units, while legally towable down the highway, are designed and built for destination use – parked in a campground and used as a vacation home by the owners.

These new trailers and 5th wheels have blurred the lines between the traditional RV and the recreational park trailers or park models. With the merger of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) and the RV Industry Association, the RV industry has moved to recognize the critical importance of campgrounds as the home to these extended stay units and the role that these units will play in the continuing growth and expansion of the RV market.

In the last 18 months, under the leadership of RVIA President Richard Coon, RVIA has created its own Camping Committee, a Destination Camping Committee and the RV Park Trailer Committee. These committees are moving towards expanding consumer interest in seasonal camping and campgrounds with new research now ongoing with the Richards Agency that handles the Go RVing program, and with the Park Trailer Committee studying new promotional campaigns under the Go RVing umbrella to promote those units.

On the other side of the industry – at the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) – in a recent article on the direction of the campground industry, ARVC President Paul Bambei noted that ARVC remains underfunded and unable to conduct the kind of consumer promotion campaigns under Go Camping America that many feel are necessary to grow the park side of the industry. Having a successful Go Camping America website that attracts a significant number of visitors without having the resources to market camping to the non-camping world and really build the value of Go Camping America as a place to go to for camping information as Go RVing provides for those interested in learning more about RVs, is not enough.

ARVC funding has most likely bumped up against the upper limits of potential dues revenue it can generate. Membership expansion has long proved elusive with ARVC membership in the 3000 range for many years. Even adding another 1000 members at an average of even $400/member would only bring in $400,000.

And ARVC’s income from other sources – convention and trade show income, commissions or royalties from companies providing member benefits , sale of publications, and Foundation fundraising – may also be approaching the upper limits. With few national companies serving as product or service suppliers to the park industry, revenue and support from suppliers is also somewhat capped.

So how to fund a campground promotional campaign to educate and inform Americans of the joys and pleasures of America’s campgrounds?

The source of funds for Go RVing are the manufacturers who pay a small amount of money each time they purchase a certification seal to place on a new RV. Each RV sold has an RVIA certification seal affixed to it indicating it is certified to be in compliance with certain construction standards. RVIA sells the seals to the manufacturers and the cost of the seal covers the cost of the RVIA certification and inspection program and includes a Go RVing fee based on the type of unit sold.

Spreading the costs over the tens of thousands of RVs manufactured each year is a far better option than trying to extract more money from commercial businesses whose bottom line is directly affected by association dues, education and training costs and other non-operational expenses.

About 15 or 16 years ago, the ARVC board held a workshop session to discuss the feasibility of adding a $ .10/night “camper promotion fee” to each camping party. It was thought that this fee might even substitute for regular association dues both on the state and national levels. The board agreed to conduct a pilot test at 6 or 8 campgrounds to see if and how consumers would respond to an additional ten cents per night added to their camping bill. Although the results of the pilot project showed no negative consumer response, the ARVC board voted to table the idea and it has never been brought back to the table.

The Go RVing program relates directly to the purchase of a new RV. I would suspect that not a single RV sale has been lost or even delayed by the $40 to $60 fee added to the cost of the rig. And as a result of this technique of building support, the Go RVing campaign has annual budgets as high as $18,000,000 or more.

I’d propose that RVIA add to the cost of a seal an additional $15 and earmark the funds for the “……and Camping” component of a new Go RVing….and Camping promotion program. The collection mechanism is already in place and as RV sales have shown, the slight increase in cost of the RV is in no way an obstacle to the sale.

And, dare I say, that if this were to happen, RVIA and RV manufacturers might have considerably more influence in creating, setting and enforcing some key guest service standards among the campgrounds. The RV industry would be pleased to see the quality of the campgrounds improve substantially, and perhaps by working cooperatively with the park industry, RVIA and others in the RV side of the business might be more successful in influencing the park industry to up its game to a higher level.

While there is no doubt that RVs are used in many ways outside of camping, there is also no doubt that without quality campgrounds to accommodate the RVs and RV park trailers RV sales could suffer. With the RV industry moving more closely to the campground industry in recognition of the role the campground plays in the RVing experience, the merger of Go RVing and Go Camping America seems a natural and the industry leaders should begin now to move towards that unification.

Industry InSites July 2014

Competition Heats Up

Over the years, independent park owners that comprised much of the industry prided themselves on their openness and willingness to share information and experiences with other owners or new comers. This spirit of cooperation was a hallmark of the industry for many years. A rising tide – better operated campgrounds – would raise all boats – and everyone would benefit. While this spirit of cooperation can still be found in the business, there’s no doubt that competition is heating up among parks in many parts of the country. Several factors are contributing to the emerging competitive environment within the park business.

First, on the heels of the recession of 2008-2009, many campers and RVers are staying closer to home and traveling far and wide less frequently. The local and regional markets are the primary source of business for many campgrounds and attracting local and regional business is increasing important and competitive.

Second, there are more large companies expanding their network of campgrounds by acquiring parks in many markets, promoting their brands with considerable financial resources and expertise, and providing real competition where it may not have existed previously. Companies such as ELS, Sun Communities, Carefree, RVC Outdoor Destinations, Yogi Bear Jellystone Parks and KOA are bringing new marketing energy to the industry and working hard to expand their market share.

The deep discount camping clubs – Freedom Resorts, Passport America, Escapees – continue to expand, adding a competitive factor into the marketing plans of many parks.
And of course Good Sam and the new Amerigo Camping Club have more than 1.5 million members combined that they are pushing to their affiliated parks.
And for the independent campgrounds and RV parks around the US, we can’t overlook the new competitive force of Kampgrounds of America. Always a force in the market with more than 500 franchised and corporate owned properties, the new KOA initiatives to re-brand their affiliates to better help the RVer and camper find a KOA that meets their needs and now their plan to launch major national television advertising, KOA is rapidly repositioning its brand to gain wider appeal to all segments of the RVer and camper market and to expand their markets into the non-camper segment by aggressively promoting their cabins. KOA has always been a powerhouse marketing engine within the industry, but now with these initiatives, they are changing the popular perceptions of KOAs as good but not great places to camp to great places to visit. Raising their standards and demanding that affiliates become better and better, they are likely to grab market share across the US.
Finally, the competitive field is being challenged by federal, state and county parks that are expanding campgrounds and upgrading to a higher and more developed standard in order to attract more business and raise rates to support public recreation and public parks. There is no doubt in my mind, that these facilities are going to increasingly challenge private, commercial parks for market share.

The future is clear for independent campgrounds – step up your game in all aspects of your business to compete successfully or risk being the victim of declining occupancy as others “eat your lunch” in your market.

With the growth of RV sales and the rising popularity of outdoor recreation and camping, it’s a new era for the park business, one that calls for everyone to be on their toes all the time.

Technology Comes to the Laundry Room

I remember being impressed when my kids were in college and they could use their credit cards or school-issued meal cards to pay for the washers and dryers in the dorm laundry. Great idea. But I was taken by surprise by the latest development in laundry technology that I saw recently at a campground.

Aside from the ability to charge your washing and drying on a credit card, there was a system that enabled a customer to receive a text on their phone when a washer or dryer became available and another text to alert when their washing or drying was finished. No more hanging around waiting for an open washer and wondering where the thoughtless person was whose wash was done, “why were’nt they here to take their clothes out so I can use the machine?”

A good step forward in delivering top notch customer service in today’s technology age.

Are Campground Game Rooms and Cable TV On Their Way Out?

I’m hearing that many parks are re-positioning their game rooms and arcades. As more and more kids and families are traveling with their own game devices, many of the formerly popular arcades are seeing the revenues decline, especially on video games. While there may still be a good market for pinball games, billiards or pool, air hockey and crane games, the old reliable video games are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

What’s your experience?

Along the with the changes in the game room business, it would seem that offering cable tv may also be on the decline, or at least about to head in that direction. With rapidly expanding demand for quality internet service with sufficient bandwidth to enable streaming of movies and television programs, combined with rising costs of providing cable television, it seems that the time may be coming to do away with cable television and put the savings into providing the best internet access possible. There is significant cost associated with quality park-wide wireless internet, but the savings on eliminating cable tv may compensate for the cost of providing high quality wi fi.

Anybody heading in this direction?

Digital Marketing for the Outdoor Recreation Industry

Industry digital marketing expert and RV Cooking Show hostess Evanne Schmarder is publishing a bi-weekly Digital Marketing Newsletter for the Outdoor Recreation Industry. The newsletter is available at no charge – drop Evanne a note at evanne@roadabode.com and ask her to add you to the subscriber list. If you agree that electronic marketing is the way to go for marketing your park, and even if you’ve got an expert social media marketer on your staff, you owe it to yourself to subscribe to this newsletter and keep up to date on the rapidly growing field of digital marketing.

Each issue is filled with ideas, tips, suggestions on how to improve your digital marketing and how to expand your reach.

And while you’re at it and contacting Evanne, ask her for a copy of her recently released Digital Marketing Benchmark Study, a valuable report on what your competitors are doing in the digital marketing era.

David Gorin Associates is a sponsor of both the Digital Marketing Newsletter and the Digital Marketing Benchmark Study. Digital is the wave of the future.

Industry InSites

Campground Management Myths
David Gorin

The other morning Marcus Lamonis joined me for my morning cup of coffee. Not literally, but with Matt Lauer of NBC’s Today show, there was Mr. Lamonis (ML) chatting with Matt and interviewing 2 small business owners both looking for capital to help build their businesses.

Business 1 was a couple with a new barbeque sauce they developed and are marketing. Business 2 was two men selling “crispy chick peas.”

Long story short, ML bought into the barbeque sauce business for $25,000 and to the chick pea business for $100,000. Wrote both companies checks on the spot.

As ML’s profile rises in the business and media world, and as he spreads his wealth around via the CNBC program The Profit and previously on Secret Millionaire, as well as on these segments of the Today Show, the question does come up – as ML is a key player in the camping industry, is this good for RV park and campground business? Other than being identified as the CEO of Camping World and Good Sam, is his rising image a positive factor, a negative factor or a neutral factor for our industry?

When KOA CEO Jim Rogers appeared on Undercover Boss, clearly the show created a positive image of KOA and camping. When Jim speaks at the RV industry’s power breakfast in Elkhart, at the RVIA annual meeting, at an ARVC annual meeting, he’s out there speaking about the industry, presenting new ideas, challenges, and views on how to make the industry better.

Two strong industry leaders, ML and JR, taking different approaches to becoming identifiable business leaders coming from the RV park, campground and RV industry.

How are these men playing to our industry? What are these men contributing to the industry that has launched them as media figures and raised their stature, wealth, and value to the companies they lead?

Although ML is apparently tied closely to NBC, I won’t be the least surprised to see him show up one of these days as one of the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see him go toe to toe with Mr. Wonderful, Mark Cuban or one of the sharp women on the show? Can’t imagine ML is going to stay in the financial area with CNBC when a show like Shark Tank is a highly-rated major network star show.

And I predict that Amazon and Barnes & Noble will soon be featuring ML’s good looking features on the cover of a book for entrepreneurs……Marcus Lamonis’s Keys to Entrepreneurial Success (or something like that). A book must be in the works.

And after Camping World and Good Sam, what can come next?

Personally I’d like to see ML be more of a spokesperson for and to the park industry a la Jim Rogers. He surely has a lot to share with small business people such as park owners. Be interesting to hear him as a keynote speaker at an ARVC convention. Be interesting to see him make some investments in parks that are among the advertisers in Good Sam. Be interesting to see him spend some time with park owners who provide the experiences that make owning an RV and camping so special. Maybe Just ML in an RV traveling in different parts of the country – no cameras, no press – just ML interacting with many of the people who are the foundation of the success of the Good Sam Club and Camping World.

Can the Private Sector Withstand the Growing Power of State Parks?

Anyone following the RV Daily Report published each day by Greg Gerber has to be struck by the amount of news coming from various state and county park systems around the country. Most of this news announces new or expanded campgrounds in state and county parks, talks about fees either being increased or decreased in these campgrounds, or announces new cabin camping opportunities, group activity options and even RV storage and enhanced guest services.

For many years, the commercial campground industry has been quite concerned about the expansion and competition from public parks. The competition comes in many forms – lower camping fees, tax money used for expansion, the addition of full service RV sites a la the private sector, the addition of cabins, the use of volunteer workers, and similar benefits available to the public sector and unavailable to commercial park operators.

Since the recession of the last decade, the tightening of public budgets and the strong growth in the popularity of camping, state and local park systems seem to have stepped up their campground operations as they see this as a source of revenue to counter declining public tax dollar support.

In addition, state and county legislators are apparently subject to great pressure from local constituents who see parks and campgrounds in their backyards and supported by their tax dollars as very important services provided by government. And for legislators, a ribbon cutting ceremony at a new public campground or park makes for very good PR, especially around election time.

There’s no doubt in my mind that state and county parks are going to become a greater and greater force in providing campgrounds for both locals and visitors. The revenue is enticing and the economic impact of these parks on their local communities appears to be quite significant. Reports showing huge returns on investments in public campgrounds are hard to ignore and local tourist and recreation interests see them as a pot of gold.

The park industry needs to sharpen its game and face up to this growing challenge. Small local campgrounds catering to families and local and regional markets need to work longer, harder and smarter to hold on to their market share in light of what I see as stepped up public competition.

There are many dimensions to the relationship between public and private parks and while one dimension is competition, the cooperative dimension of the relationship can be beneficial to both sectors. Perhaps putting aside the difficult areas of the relationship and focusing on the areas where cooperation can help both parties is one way to approach the challenge. And perhaps the public sector needs to be open to a more moderate pace of development and compromise rather than moving aggressively into areas heretofore found only in the private sector.

I think this is an issue that will be moving up the ladder of issues to be addressed in the coming years.

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