Last month’s column featured 5 popular campground management myths and this month we continue that conversation with 5 other myths that seem to be particularly popular these days. And once again, my thanks to colleague Evanne Schmarder for sharing some of her campground management myths.
As always, reader contributions are encouraged. Are there other campground management myths you’ve come across that you would like to share? Leave a reply below so we can share them with our colleagues.
Myth 6 (we left off last month at Myth 5)
Work Campers are Free Help. Or at least they are inexpensive help.
Nothing could be further from the truth but it’s this campground management myth that makes the concept of having RVers work in a park so attractive to many park owners. Everyone who works in a park carries some cost equal to at least the federal or state minimum wage. Federal law requires businesses to pay their employees and generally volunteers are not permitted. Every worker must be compensated in some form, either cash or a combination of cash, living expenses and other benefits to which a cost is clearly assigned (electricity, use of a company car, etc.).
As an aside here, if you are hiring minimum wage staff, there’s a good chance you’re getting minimum quality people.
ADA compliance isn’t terribly important; in all the years I’ve owned this park, I’ve had only one or two persons with disabilities as guests.
Assuring that your park is compliant (or working towards compliance) with the various provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act is important for several reasons. First, the ADA is a federal law and your business must be complying with federal laws. Failure to comply can open you up to federal lawsuits brought by the US Department of Justice if a guest files a complaint with the Justice Department. Second, parks that offer ADA compliant facilities and services and welcome persons with disabilities will find that niche market to be a profitable addition to their business. Approximately 8% of all Americans have a disability that is covered by the ADA – and that’s a market that is as large as the RV market – about 8% of all American households own an RV.
Compliance with ADA not only makes your park accessible to people with disabilities, it also makes your park more attractive to senior citizens and to families with young children, both of whom share the benefits of ADA compliant facilities and amenities.
A large majority of my guests come from more than 50-75 miles away. There’s really no reason for me to advertise locally or be very involved or concerned about my community.
When they review the geographic distribution of their guests, many park owners are quite surprised to see how many guests come from 25 miles or less from their park. Local folks who own RVs are always looking for places to go and even just 25 miles from home can feel like a real vacation – even for just a day or two.
Being known locally, being involved in local civic, business and other groups will surely lead to referrals from people in your community who may have friends, relatives, friends of friends and so on. Just 25 camper nights resulting from local referrals at $40/night is an extra $1000 in revenue this year and over the next 10 years as fees rise and your reputation grows locally you could be looking at way more than $10,000 in revenue as a result of local involvement.
One other thing. You never know when you will have an emergency need that someone locally can help address. People help people they know and like and that will help them when needed. Buying locally, supporting community and being an active player in addressing community needs will put you in a position to where others will want to help you in times of need or trouble.
I’ve owned and run many successful small businesses – a restaurant, a HVAC company, and a self storage facility. And I own some rental vacation properties. Running a campground is a piece of cake and I really don’t need to go to industry meetings and conventions. Not much more I can learn.
Like any business, while running a campground may not be rocket science, an RV park or campground has many unique characteristics and aspects not found in most other businesses.
There are very few businesses where the customer is in the “store” for 24 hours at a time, where you have to provide for their basic needs like water and heat or a/c, and take care of their hygienic and bodily needs.
There are very few businesses where the customers are in such close quarters with each other for long periods of time, where they are sleeping, eating and doing whatever else they do in a small box maybe just 15 feet from their neighbor, where they often share bathrooms with strangers, and where their conversation, music, television, and kids can be heard by surrounding neighbors.
And how many businesses are there where the owner or manager has to be a store keeper, a utility operator, a recreation director, a swimming pool operator, a social worker (to deal with difficult people and seasonal campers), personnel specialist, maintenance expert, and do all of this not just with the guest looking over their shoulder, but often their spouse and kids watching and commenting on every move.
Fortunately, there are numerous ways for the new park owner to gain the knowledge necessary to transfer from former businesses to owning and operating a campground. Trying to build a successful campground business based on your previous business experience could be a fatal mistake.
Walmart is killing my site nights and taking my business.
If you are simply providing amenity-free, no hook up, parking lot camping and charging for it, yes, you may be losing site nights to Walmart to those campers looking for that type of overnight camping. Walmart (and other parking lots) offer amenity-free, no hook up, parking lot camping for free so if you are offering a similar experience and charging for it, you will probably lose some business.
However, if you are a full service RV park and are priced appropriately for your market you will attract those RVers who seek a full service RV park experience. You and Walmart are competition with each other the way a Motel 6 is in competition with a Hilton. Both levels of accommodations will attract a specific market each night. Motel 6 customers will always go to a Motel 6; Hilton customers will go to Hiltons. Only rarely will a Hilton customer go to Motel 6 or a Motel 6 customer go to a Hilton.
Yes, sometime Hilton guests will stay at a Motel 6, but that’s generally when no Hilton is nearby. And yes, some campers will stay some nights at Walmart, but generally that’s when there is either no full service campground nearby, or it is difficult to get to, or the price is out of the ballpark.
How to compete with Walmart for campers?
Here are some ideas: Add value to your overnight experience – offer a complimentary continental breakfast each morning; provide a discount coupon for use in your park on a return trip; charge non-overnight RVers full price to use your dump station; offer a travel rate for arrivals after 7 pm and departure by 8 am; offer complimentary shuttle service from your park to Walmart for guest shopping, etc.
I don’t mean to minimize the damage a Walmart parking lot can cause to a nearby campground. But Walmart’s focus is on retail sales. Your focus is on overnight camping. Walmart knows more about retail then you do – and you know more about RV parks and RVers than Walmart. Focus on your strengths and think out of the box. Rather than wasting time and energy on Walmart, put that time and energy into attracting more guests to your park. It’s not always about the money.
Campground Management Myths – We Want to Hear from You!
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