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.