Tag Archives: campground management training

Campground Management Myths Debunked – Part 2

Campground Management Myths
David Gorin

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.

Myth 7

 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.

Myth 8

 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.

Myth 9

 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.

Myth 10

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!

Comments?  Criticisms? Suggestions?  Weigh in on the campground management myths discussion by leaving a reply below.

RV Park and Campground Management Myths Debunked

After many years (maybe too many) in the park industry there seem to be some popular beliefs held by park owners. I recently spent some time talking with Evanne Schmarder, a full time RVer, host of the RV Cooking Show, co-author of Unconventional Wisdom Works and the instructor of the Digital Workshop and digital marketing expert.  Evanne and I came up with what we think are popular campground management myths being perpetuated through the park industry.

Evanne Schmarder
Evanne Schmarder

Below are some of the campground management myths we’ve identified.  Among the readers of this article there’s likely to be some others you’ve come across.  Why not share them with us and we’ll include them in future Myths columns coming down the line.

 Myth 1

 A campground is a seasonal business.

 Yes, the doors may be open 6 months more or less but the use of the off-season period is critical to growth and success. Every park has at least two seasons – peak or prime season and planning and rejuvenating season.   During the open period the days are often packed with the day to day trials and tribulations of running a business with hundreds or even thousands of people on the property 24/7.  The off season is key to planning, strategizing, expanding, hiring, buying, marketing, educating, and installing.  And it’s time to relax – but not too much, vacation – but not too much, and otherwise energize and re-vitalize. 

 Myth 2

 During the winter people planning for summer camping  understand that we can’t always respond to calls or emails right away (or read during the summer, people planning for winter camping….).

In today’s world, campers (like most of us) want immediate gratification.  We are ready to make reservations now…we want answers to questions now.  Any obstacle to fulfilling my needs now make it very likely that I’ll go elsewhere until I find a business that meets my needs.  If they don’t respond during the winter (or summer) why would I expect they’d do any better when I’m camping there.

Meet the consumer on their terms.  Always have a system in place to meet those needs.

Myth 3

No one’s complaining, so everything must be ok.

All of my comment cards are positive and most of my on line reviews are great.  Sure, there’s the occasional disgruntled camper who takes it out by posting a nasty review on Trip Advisor or RV Park Reviews, but we really don’t get any complaints.  So things are really going well.

No one’s perfect.  Complaints are the best way to learn what needs to be improved.  Seek out complaints.  Don’t disregard any complaints – even those like the mosquitoes were really bad.  There are ways to deal with any complaint.  Use complaints to continuously improve your business.

And it’s common knowledge  that a majority of people who have real complaints won’t really voice them.  They will simply move on to another park and you may never no why.  Keep careful track of your first time guests and whether or not they repeat within a 12 month period.  For every camper who stayed at your park and never returns there may be an unresolved or unknown complaint. 

Myth 4

On the job training is sufficient for campground staff.

If you want a truly high quality staff that can offer your guests the highest standards of hospitality and service, it’s a good idea to have both a formal training program for all staff and to seek out off site opportunities (Chamber of Commerce seminars, local community college  opportunities, state and national industry meetings and education, etc.).  On the job training is one part of a training program.  Manuals, check lists, shadowing, meetings, on line webinars and training, and mentoring programs are also part of a training program.

You can never over-train.  Sending employees to off-site meetings and education opportunities both provide valuable training to the employee while reinforcing how you value the employ and want to help them do better in their jobs and qualify for bonuses or advancement.

Myth 5

We’re a rustic campground so our guests don’t expect much.

Rustic campgrounds are great and have a large market of people who love the rustic atmosphere and ambiance in many campgrounds.  However, that doesn’t mean they don’t expect your park to be the best rustic park it can be. 

Keep in mind that rustic does not equate with old and poorly maintained.  Rustic does not mean old restrooms that appear dirty no matter how clean they may be.  Rustic does not mean buildings in need of a paint job.  Rustic does not mean small, unlevel RV sites or tent sites with tree roots and rocks where the tent goes. 

The challenge to be a rustic park is to be a modern rustic park capable of providing guests with high quality facilities, amenities, services and activities in a rustic setting. 

Do you have some myths you’d like to share? I’ve got many more that I’ll share with you in the coming months but I’d love to hear from readers about the campground industry myths they see.  Post a reply below and you just might see it in the next Myths column.

ARVC

Superior Quality Park designation from ARVC needs more industry discussion

The RV park industry is very competitive and awarding competitive designations  like “Superior Quality Park” should not be done lightly.

Thumbing through the recently distributed ARVC Member Handbook I came across an interesting logo that caught my attention – “Superior Quality Park” (SQP) in the shape of a seal with 5 gold stars in the middle. ARVC Superior Quality Park program

Reading through the accompanying text it became apparent that ARVC will be awarding this designation to parks where the owners, managers or other key employees had completed certain certificates in the new Outdoor Hospitality Education Program (OHEP).

Karl Littman, Chairman of the ARVC Foundation and President of the Virginia Campground Association (VCA), had reported in passing to the VCA board in early April that such a designation might be coming so I was I somewhat aware of the idea but I was unprepared for it when I saw it announced in print in the Member Handbook that had obviously been to print well prior to the ARVC Board and Foundation meetings in early April.

It seemed to me that a designation as strong and clear cut as Superior Quality Park seems to be – complete with its 5 stars in the logo –  is not something that should be introduced to the park industry  without some pretty broad discussion.

Barb Youmans, ARVC’s Senior Director of Education and Membership, responded to an inquiry about the new designation.  Here’s Barb’s take on the SQP.

Just so we are clear, this designation is not intended to be a “rating” for the park, but rather a designation that recognizes a park owner’s commitment to improved quality service and guest experiences overall through learning supported by OHEP. We believe strongly that individuals who successfully complete the criteria for an OHEP certificate will grow personally and professionally. With enough full-time (seasonal and year-round) employees receiving certificates, we also believe guest experiences will be positively impacted.

We want to recognize parks who have demonstrated their commitment to developing their employees, who are the ultimate ambassadors to the consumers, and that strive toward better delivering operational excellence and experience through those ambassadors and their participation in OHEP.

This was an internal ARVC decision that was made for the purposes of recognizing efforts in this area. The program was presented to the Board at the recent Spring Board meeting, as part of the Foundation and Education update given by Karl Littman.     

Barb’s explanation of the desire to recognize educational achievements is certainly appropriate, laudable and no one would quibble with that.

Just to be clear, if awarding the designation of “Superior Quality Park” is not offering a rating, exactly what is it? As a consumer, if you saw that seal on a park, what would be your logical conclusion?  If it’s not a rating, what is it and what information is it intended to be for the consumer?

Participation in the OHEP is one way for a park to demonstrate a commitment to developing employees. Is it the only way? I don’t think so. Is it the best way? Maybe, but the OHEP program is brand new and is essentially untried and untested at this point.

Is this a designation that signifies an educational accomplishment of an individual? What happens when the individual, maybe the owner, sells the park? Or employees leave the park. Is it no longer a Superior Quality Park? What’s the connection between the educational attainments of an individual or a group of individuals to the overall quality of an RV park? Sure, we expect that educated individuals might operate good RV parks and campgrounds and may have an understanding of quality service and facilities, but knowledge as we all know doesn’t automatically translate to a “superior quality park”. Operating a superior park involves far more than a certificate from OHEP or elsewhere.

Awarding such a rating or designation is a quantum leap into new territory for ARVC. The park industry is very competitive and awarding competitive designations should not be done lightly. Do the members feel that a decision to award such a designation should be an internal staff decision or is this move sufficiently significant that the ARVC board should be involved and that perhaps membership input might be warranted.

I could be way off base but I don’t think so. An ARVC designation of a Superior Quality Park on the Go Camping America website and then in individual park marketing could be an important competitive edge and certainly needs more careful industry discussion.

Combining ARVC’s Guest Reviews program with Superior Quality Parks designations on the GCA directory and in individual park marketing certainly seems to be moving the national trade association into the rating business.

Your thoughts?