ARVC Business Forum Maps Out Strategy
Read this and other stories in the July issue of Woodall's Campground Management going out this week to more than 13,000 campgrounds in North America.
The ARVC Business Forum convened June 7-8 in Alexandria, Va., to begin working on what it feels could become the basis for a five-year strategic plan for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
Chaired by Ann Emerson, vice president and publisher of Woodall Publications Corp., the Forum drew key representatives from the RV park and campground sector who serve in an advisory role to the national association.
Their assignment coming in was to begin working on the strategic plan to move ARVC forward, suggest where realistically ARVC could be down the road and to map out strategic planning goals and timetables.
Emerson and Paul Bambei, ARVC president and CEO, ran the meeting.
“The input from Business Forum members in crafting a five-year Strategic Financial Plan for ARVC was phenomenal,” Emerson told Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM). “We are fortunate to have members who are willing to share their business and industry insight and knowledge to ensure the growth and success of ARVC. Paul Bambei has shown great leadership in steering the association and the Business Forum on finding non-dues, revenue-generating opportunities. It was a great meeting and I appreciate the time the Business Forum members devoted to this important topic.”
In summary, the gist of the meeting was to identify opportunities for ARVC – increase membership, find non-dues revenue opportunities and look at partnerships. Members also talked about the need to make changes to the Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo to better meet member needs and to make it more affordable so more members can attend.
Bambei Wants a Greater Percent Of U.S. Parks as Future Members
“Many of the things in the five-year plan are just extensions of business principals that have already been put in place but will now be managed and improved upon,” Bambei told WCM, who declined to discuss many Business Forum specifics until he’s had a chance to report back to the full ARVC board.
Bambei said the five-year plan should not be taken lightly. “That is a practice every company I have worked for has done religiously. There was no long-term strategic financial planning that was leading ARVC down the right path,” he said.
“We spent about a day and a half really pouring through the assumptions how our revenue, expense and capital expenditures are related to ARVC. We tried to frame it in a way where each line item was forecast over a five-year period using percentage drivers we all felt comfortable with and were realistic. It’s a great exercise because you get a variety of thoughts and opinions on a multitude of things that drive our business.”
“The other thing that I think is really well-timed for ARVC is the board has initiated strategic committees that are delving into some really important issues. Hopefully that opens the doors to allow better relations between ARVC and the states to go after business in tandem. It has to be in tandem. We’re really forcing the issue. We’re trying to build the bridge and make it rock solid so that partnership builds and thrives.”
One of the basic goals of the Business Forum was discussion on how ARVC can grow its membership from the present 3,300 park members. It’s about a third of the nearly 10,000 privately owned campgrounds in the U.S., and Forum members agree ARVC should find a way to attract new members.
“We weren’t passive about it,” Bambei said. “Everybody felt to be a thriving organization we need to grow. We’re not going to sit on our hands.”
Toward that end, Bambei says ARVC is currently doing some promotion among non-members. “Many of the 10,000 are in non-affiliated states. We want to go directly and try to attract them,” he explained. “We want to build a base in each state and help them form their own state organization that eventually becomes affiliated with ARVC.”
Jeff Sims, ARVC’s director of governmental affairs, will be the point man on that effort but all ARVC staff will join in, Bambei said.
Further, ARVC is trying to build membership in affiliated states as well.
“We’re aggressively going after it right now,” he added. “We’re involved in a non-member campaign. A direct mail piece is being mailed to thousands of campground owners throughout the U.S. We know thousands of them are out there and we’re attempting to grab them. It comes down to educating them on the benefits of ARVC, which I maintain is one of the best-kept secrets in the country.”
Bambei: The Internal Agenda Is Not to Raise Member Dues
ARVC members should be encouraged by another financial viewpoint of the Forum.
“The incentive of the group was not to raise dues,” Bambei said. “We’d like to grow on the revenue side through non-member ways. We are becoming very active in brand sponsorship in retail stores.”
For example, ARVC distributed a news release earlier this summer to Advertising Age to reach out to the advertising community. “We just want to educate them that we have a great retail exposure through 90% of our members who own stores on the premises,” he said. “These are great consumer touch points. We feel we can attract some powerhouse brands that want to be aligned with the outdoor hospitality industry. We’re just connecting the dots.”
Bambei also outlined work with cable TV’s the Outdoor Channel and the Travel Channel and ongoing talks with DISH Network to promote the campground industry.
“You eventually get to four numbers: a revenue line, an expense line, a profit line and a capital expenditure line,” he told WCM. “The ultimate numero uno is, what is your cash position going to be when all that is put together. At the end of the day, this is all about a non-profit organization. My interest is to put away some sand for a rainy day and build some investment capital behind ARVC so when there are some business opportunities, we have some dry powder to act on those opportunities. We’re trying to create a war chest to be able to expand ARVC. Now, I don’t want the IRS to think ill of us. We are not a powerhouse profit center. But we need funds so we can expand. That’s what I’m doing, creating fuel for the engine.”
Bambei, in turn, says there is interest in bridging to the Chinese marketplace. “A group there is trying to form a partnership with us,” he said. “The government in China has established funding to build out 800 parks in the next five years. We hope to be part of that. That’s done only when your own house is in order in North America and the U.S. We need to grow internally in the U.S. first and foremost and spread as growth will allow.”
And he wants to (re)grow the ARVC conference in Savannah, Ga. “We’re trying to reverse a trend,” said Bambei. “The national conference has not been well attended in recent years. It used to be. The last few years it has declined. We renamed the conference to be more inclusive and we’re doing things that are going to be better to attract attendance. For example, we have 100% of the speaker schedule confirmed. We have knocked down rates. We’re going to have a Kids Camp for the first time for members who bring their children to the conference. We talked about how to build that momentum and keep it going. I got some good ideas from the group.”
Other ARVC Business Forum Members Respond
David L. Berg, ARVC chairman, for his part, approves of the financial planning that’s underway. “The input from the business forum was the same as we have been hearing from all of our industry partners, state leadership and moreover our members,” said Berg. “They are very happy with Paul during his initial six months of employment and are excited about all of the changes going on within ARVC.”
“It is obvious that ARVC is working hard to ‘rebrand’ itself as a nimble, responsive and forward thinking organization,” noted Deb Kohls, senior vice president, Leisure Interactive. “The time spent recently with Paul, board members and other industry leaders provided us an opportunity to share perspectives, provide insight and advice on structuring realistic and achievable revenue goals for the organization.”
Equally positive about the whole process is Mark Anderson, owner of Camp Chautauqua, N.Y., and ARVC chairman 2007-2008. “It was all quite encouraging,” said Anderson. “In 30-plus years I’ve been involved with various state and national organizations in board positions, this committee is by far the most pleasurable to sit with. They’re enthusiastic, upbeat. They are ‘solution people,’ not problem creators.”
At the same time, Anderson, a former ARVC board chairman, claims ARVC needs to continue to work on improving communications and relationships within the industry. “We’re going to continue to work with our alliance with state associations. There has always been a type of disconnect between ARVC and state associations. I hope this will bring more clarity to those issues, so we can put all that behind us,” he said, adding that the trade association will continue looking to form new partnerships.
“I believe it was the most productive business forum meeting since the business forum began nearly 10 years ago,” added Lucas Hartford, president of Evergreen Insurance.
“There were a lot of issues that long term will make ARVC a better association and will provide more direct benefits and services to its members,” noted Vic Nolting, vice chairman of Leisure Systems Inc. “One issue has always been the connectivity: when you have a state association that is part of the process, the communications can be confusing to the park operator.”
The ARVC Business Forum will convene again during the ARVC conference in Savannah, Ga., in late November.