Category Archives: 2015 InSites Archives

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.

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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.