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NEWS IN FOCUS

Want To Know What Campers Really Want?

April 17, 2015 by   Leave a Comment

Courtney and Phillip Butts and their daughters  pose at the sign for Golden Pond RV Park in Shirley, Ark.

Courtney and Phillip Butts and their daughters pose at the sign for Golden Pond RV Park in Shirley, Ark.

A simple question on Facebook by the owners of the Golden Pond RV Park in Shirley, Ark. has led to more advice than they ever could have bargained for.

Phillip and Courtney Butts have been busy trying to rehabilitate both the facilities and the image of the 57-site campground ever since they bought the property last July. As part of that effort, the two posted the following question on Wednesday (April 15) to the 28,665 members of the “RV Tips” Facebook group:

“Hello campers! Last July me and my wife bought an RV Park. We have been making updates and sharing ideas with campers of what they are looking for in an RV Park. Could you give your opinions of what you are looking for in an RV Park would be most appreciative. Happing RVing and camping.”

In two hours of posting they had 150 responses, and by the next day it was pushing 400 and still growing. After just five minutes while talking with Woodall's Campground Management, Phillip Butts said another five comments had been posted.

“I was only expecting about maybe 20 or 30 or maybe 40 responses,” said Butts. “No way did I ever expect this.”

As you can imagine, the advice pretty much runs the gamut. Requests have ranged from what you would expect, such as large, level sites and reliable Wi-Fi, to the more unusual – one commenter asked for “a certain area for those that like to party? Some of us relax better with a little herb and a drink.”

Butts, a Mississippi native who previously worked for 12 years on a PGA-caliber golf course, said he always wanted to own a campground.

“I grew up n the Ozarks, riding four-wheelers all over and camping, so it was something I knew I wanted to do eventually. We’d been looking the last few years and when this opportunity came up we were ready,” he said. “The same campground in Florida would have been $3 million, but it’s $300,000 here. Plus, I love the area and I love the people.”

The park offers free cable, updated Wi-Fi and 50-, 30- and 20-amp hook ups. They have full shade spots overlooking the property’s one-acre Clear Pond with boulder rock walls, and a barbecue stand was moving into a vacant site this month. In addition, Golden Pond RV Park is a leash-only pet-friendly campground, and offers showers, restrooms, laundry, activity/rec room, outdoor patio, full kitchen, walking trails, propane and free boat storage for campers.

Golden Pond RV Park has a few other things going for it – its natural beauty being in the Ozarks being one and another being its proximity to Fairfield Bay Marina and 44,000-acre Greers Ferry Lake.

But Phillip and Courtney – the couple has three daughters ages 5, 1½ and 3 weeks – have also had to deal with a lack of campers, primarily due to an influx of natural gas pipeline workers that had commanded 95% of the campsites over the last several years. The workers installed 20,000 wells in three years and have since moved on, but Butts said the tourist campers have not come back.

He said it’s been rewarding, but difficult. He works seven days a week and they’ve probably dipped into some credit cards more than they would have liked, but he’s intent on making Golden Pond RV Park a thriving, successful campground.

“If I won the lotto I’d make it the greatest place in Arkansas,” he said.

Judging by the responses, he might have to win the lottery twice to afford everyone’s wishes.

In addition to large, level sites and reliable Wi-Fi, some of the most common responses were friendly staff, clean facilities, concrete pads, pool, and to post and enforce campground rules.

Ironically, while some people asked that the park be dog friendly, others asked that it not allow dogs at all.

Some people even suggested that children only be allowed in certain areas of the campground, while others asked that there be nightly kid parades so the parents could have 30 minutes of alone time.

Using Facebook in this way is a good foundation for using social media to create buzz, but now the trick is to convert that buzz into business, said Evanne Schmarder, the principal at Roadabode Productions, a firm specializing in digital marketing strategy, consulting, and education for the outdoor recreation industry.

“You should use social media to generate buzz, but ultimately you want to drive that traffic to your website,” said Schmarder, who writes a regular column on digital marketing for WCM’s monthly magazine.

She suggested that Butts embed his successful Facebook question-and-answers to his website, and added that he continue to update everyone on the progress of the RV park’s improvements as well, making sure to tag his “virtual focus group” along the way.

“He might even want to take a video of himself answering people’s suggestions and thanking everyone for their comments and post that on his website,” Schmarder mentioned, adding that he could create bumper stickers or T-shirts to give out to further market the RV park. “This will drive interest to other people so it will build the online buzz off-line.”

Other responses to Butts' Facebook question included:

  • “Try something different and cater to the younger RV crowd, because that will be your future!”
  • “Wi-Fi, cable, cleanliness and level sites are always welcome. A well-stocked store with prices that don’t gouge, and we don’t like RV parks with long-term campers unless they keep their sites clean and orderly. Too many places we’ve been to where some long-term campers ruin the ambiance and junk is piled everywhere. Please avoid that at all cost.”
  • “Lots of trees for privacy and shade big sites, and clean bathhouses. Delivery of firewood and friendly checking-in people that can tell you where to go and what there’s to do in the area.”
  • “We have four kids. So for us it is playground and general stuff to do. Kids love mini golf no matter how fancy or complicated.”
  • “A lot of RVers are senior, retired and looking for a laid-back casual campground. Consider having ‘Adult Swim’ times for pool/hot tub so people can relax and not have someone’s little darling cannonballing inches away from where they are trying to relax.”
  • “I applaud your asking what campers want rather than having the basic accommodations and standard amenities. Many campgrounds are so in search of the $$ that they forget the people they’re serving. Do the last and the first will follow. Word of mouth (and this site) is priceless advertising.”
  • “Playground for the kids, pet friendly, bike trails and clean shower/bathrooms are all very important to my family!”
  • “First, stay solvent, budget improvements within a plan, don’t dig your debt deeper. No one has mentioned how important a good electrical system is. Not sure how it is currently, but with all the sensitive gadgets in RVs these days a good strong power system is really important.”
  • “Decent space between sites. By this I mean at least 20 feet from my door. I HATE being packed in where I can barely put my awning out and no room for a safe campfire. Level sites. Don’t nickel and dime. Include fees in your rates.”
  • “Guess there's not a big demand for this since I’ve never seen it: A big rig friendly service station with diesel and gasoline on the premises or right at the gate. Everybody would fuel up when departing.”
  • “A bathtub!”
  • “On-site therapists, massage, nail and hair! A must for a weary traveler!”
  • “We like when a campground has two pools, one for children and one for adults only, both heated. Also a concession that sells food and ice cream, snacks, Wi-Fi and cable access, space between campers, trees, grass.”
  • “Honestly if possible have some space between sites so you’re not on top of each other and a fire pit that is not right next to the camper.”
  • “Definitely separate childless adults, pets and singles. Too much drama otherwise.”
  • “Wow if they can do all of these things they will make the entire world of campers happy, LOL. How about just super clean bathrooms and showers?”
  • “A centrally located kiosk that has a beer tapper, wine keg, and ice cream dispenser, LOL”
  • “Music on Saturday nights, horseshoes, shuffleboard, bocci, paddle boats, small fishing boats, playground, laundry, pavilions, Halloween Christmas in July, tournaments, golf carts (our own) volleyball, basketball, crafts, church, bingo …”
  • “Nice well-lit showers that don’t look like a freaky scary movie that Jason is hiding around the corner, concrete pads for RVs with enough room to let a dog out or kids play, fire pits or barbeque pits, place to wash clothes, place to fish and Wi-Fi is a must! Maybe a restaurant on site for when you don’t want to cook. Pool would be nice also. Good luck and happy camping!”
  • “Personally we look for things to entertain our kids. They love water slides and the campground activities, especially when they are age appropriate, as our youngest is now 12. They do not want to color, they want Gaga ball tournaments!”
  • “Free activities! Pools, mini golf, horseshoes, etc. Parents don't want to be ‘nickeled & dimed.’”
  • “Is Henry Fonda there?”
  • “Easy pull-through with some room and a little privacy when possible. I always hate it when people walk through our campsite. Hopefully quiet so we can enjoy the nature.”
  • “I just like there to be some space between campsites. I have been to so many where it feels like a parking lot instead of a relaxing space.”
  • “Would love a hair salon that takes walk-ins.”
  • “Maybe a friendliness test at the check-in, LOL.”
  • “Landscaping adds a lot to a campground. Some large containers of flowers and blooming shrubs and trees where they won't be in the way are nice. I see too many campgrounds with little or no landscaping. They look more like RV parking lots than anything else.”
  • “Maybe one or two areas where you can make a square or circle with all the awnings facing in for their own little camping pad. One fire ring maybe two or three picnic tables for that area.”
  • “If you decide to publish rules or policies please enforce them. I read the policies before I make a reservation and will not return to the parks that don’t enforce their policies. Leash rules, quiet hours, and site tidiness are the big ones for us. We also like to be contacted after we depart so we can provide feedback.”

 

 

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