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Guest Roundtable: Some Tips on Campground Staffing

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One of the great benefits of owning a campground is that it is seasonal.

One of the big headaches of owning a campground is that it is seasonal.

Being able to take a few weeks (or even a few months) off to go and enjoy the outdoors yourself is a luxury that most people will never realize during their working lives. The best part may be that you can do so after the tourist crowds have thinned. Of course, one of the downsides is adjusting to inconsistent cash flow. And another major hurdle is finding and keeping good employees to help run the place year after year under these kinds of seasonal circumstances.

Staffing is always one of the most demanding aspects of running any type of small business, no matter the location. But the seasonal nature of the campground business creates circumstances that make it even more trying.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • The pool of employees is limited.
  • They are often younger and less experienced.
  • They are often only there for a season or two before they move on.

It should be pretty obvious why these factors can make it tough to find good help and why the problem presents itself year after year, so I won’t go into details. Instead, I’d like to tell you about two specific traits I’ve noticed that nearly every good, and successful, employer in seasonal resort areas possesses.

They make work fun. Let’s face it: most people who spend the season working in a campground aren’t there to advance their careers. They may be high school or college kids who want to enjoy the summer. Or maybe they are semi-retired and looking to keep busy. Either way, making money may only be a secondary, or tertiary, priority.

This mindset can be very difficult for a business owner to cope with, especially when their livelihood rests on four good months of business. The owner must accept this as the nature of the beast. No matter how hard you may try, you cannot change this reality.

This doesn’t mean that a Caddyshack air needs to permeate the operation; you can still be firm and professional while maintaining an enjoyable and somewhat casual working environment.

They relate to their employees. The attitude of “I’m the boss and you’re the help, so it’s my way or the highway,” often doesn’t cut it. Keeping your workers’ personal lives at arm’s length can be a necessary strategy in the corporate world, but we’ve never seen the benefits of it in a resort-type atmosphere.

Go fishing with your employees; show them your favorite trail; sit around a campfire on Monday nights with your help (you buy the beer). It will make emptying trashcans and cleaning bathrooms on Sunday morning a much less annoying experience for them. It’s important that they see that you are there to enjoy yourself as well… and that is the reason you bought a campground in the first place, right?

Even if you never see most of your employees again, the word will get out that you’ve got a great place to work. Having returning employees, or potential employees that were recommended to you beating down your door is a great way to start off every new season.

The most important benefit of maintaining a great working environment for your employees is that it will spill over to your guests. After all, the campground business is also a customer service business. It’s not all “location, location, location.” So, creating a friendly interpersonal atmosphere with your staff only adds to your campers’ enjoyment of the natural atmosphere, which brings them back again season after season.

Brian Lantzy is the co-founder and CEO of Resort Business Opportunities (go-rbo.com), a leading online marketplace of businesses for sale in resort, vacation and outdoor recreation areas around the country. Growing up in a beach town and spending his adult life in mountain communities, Lantzy has had every type of seasonal job imaginable, including working as a lifeguard at a campground.

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