Owners in WCM’s First Online Crackerbarrel
Woodall's Campground Management introduced a new featurette in the September issue called “Crackerbarrel” through which we try to duplicate, in an online sort of way, the give-and-take type of atmosphere that so often generates realistic and thought-provoking thinking and sometimes helps us alter our perspectives by just a few degrees on a given topic. The magazine will e-mail a question each issue to about 20 park operators, then present in capsule form some of those responses. Although you’ll likely see some repeat names at times in this column, our goal is to generally contact a different group of owners and operators every month.
So, here’s our first question: In your opinion, what is the most attractive element of a park to a consumer and why?
Deb Carter, Buttonwood Beach, Earleville, Md.:
As a park operator with 537 long-term site leases, my response is based on 37-plus years of experience working with the same campers year after year. In my opinion, picking a campground is much like dating. At first blush, it's the physical aspects: location, price, amenities, finding if there's a "fit" before committing to anything further. The next steps set the tone for the future: reputation, word of mouth, professionalism, letting your guard down a bit, enjoying the time you spend together and finding that it's more fun with the new than without it. Then you make new friends, share great moments and feel comfortable together – you establish trust and comfort. And just like that – you have a happy camper.
Cindy and Max Hammer, Beaver Lake Campground, Custer, S.D.:
Without a doubt, campsite space — plain and simple, site width and layout that accommodates slideouts, awnings and activities. Open space behind for back-ins or nearby for pull-throughs is the enforcer. Amenities are secondary, but are the original reasoning first-time guests research us. We are averaging 105 percent occupancy since mid-June. Guests will choose our overflow or agree to switching sites due to our policy of site-specific reservations ahead of going to another camp.
R. Lance Thompson, vice president and general manager, Ocean Lakes Family Campground, Myrtle Beach, S.C.:
In my opinion, the most attractive element of any park to the consumer has to be the smiles on the faces of the entire team. No matter how aesthetically pleasing the facilities or amenities may be, if the personnel are not outgoing, friendly, and helpful, the entire operation can seem like a less fun place than it should be.
Guests will always look for clean bathhouses, pretty landscaping and inviting pools, but more importantly, they really want to feel welcomed and appreciated, and a smiling face will do that every time!
I think it is very important for campgrounds to eliminate all “emotional vampires,” those workers who seem to suck the life out of guests and co-workers alike. A smiling face and friendly wave can light up an entire property, and we take great strides at Ocean Lakes Family Campground in trying to preach this to our team every day.
Daniel Wright, The Springs at Borrego, Borrego Springs, Calif.:
The most attractive element of a park is a friendly, helpful staff. Whether it is the person who takes a customer's reservation over the phone (you can hear them smiling), or the one who first greets him when he arrives at the park, the friendly greeting and helpful service means more than any other single element, amenity or service.
Whether the park is a low-priced overnight roadside stopover for folks on long-haul trips or a high-priced luxury destination for long-term stays, nothing is more important to the guest than genuinely friendly folks who will bend over backward to serve their needs and wants. That goes from the owner/manager on down to the camp hosts working in the park and the housekeeper that cleans the restrooms.
You can build the most physically beautiful resort in the world in the best location, with all of the most desirable and luxurious amenities there are, but staff it with disinterested, unfriendly people and you have totally wasted your money and time.
Sue and Jim Alkire, America’s Best Campground, Branson, Mo.:
The three most important and attractive elements of a park to our guests are customer service, customer service, and … customer service. Anybody can park a camper. What distinguishes us from our competition is the customer service we provide to our guests, and this was acknowledged repeatedly by our guests voting us the Good Sam Welcome Mat Award winner for nine consecutive years.
Our staff goes above and beyond to solve any solvable problems, and to make our campers’ stay as pleasant and easy for them as possible.
Our staff also works very hard on keeping the grounds well-landscaped and tended and CLEAN, and the eye-appeal is much appreciated by our guests. Their first impressions of us are our website, our front desk staff on the phones and our grounds when our guests drive in. All three point to a well-run, clean and efficient facility.
It’s as simple as the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would wish to be treated.
David L. Berg, lifetime CPO, Red Apple Campground, Kennebunkport, Maine:
The most attractive element of any park in my opinion is the customer’s First Impression. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Starting with your advertising, you must make certain that the customer can determine from your ad what type of camping experience they can expect when they arrive at your park and this also tells them what not to expect as well. After all, this may be their real first impression that makes them call in that reservation. We include our motto of "Clean, Quiet & Relaxing – The Way Camping Should Be!" on our sign and in all of our advertising. This tells the customer what to expect and more importantly, what not to expect.
Rather it is a friendly greeting on the phone, showing the customer that you really are happy to serve them, or making eye contact with a friendly hello the instant they walk through your door, the customer wants, needs and deserves to know you are happy they have chosen you and your park for their camping get-a-way.
You can have a nice sign, a clean inviting entrance, spotless restrooms, and a picture perfect manicured park, but if the customer’s initial contact with you or your staff equates to a bad first impression, you may well have lost a repeat customer – and how many others might they share that with? On the other hand, if you go the extra mile and wow your customers with superior customer service day in and day out, not only will their first impression be a good one, they will tell all of their friends and relatives!
As an example, when a customer sends us a reservation request through our website and tells us they are bringing their pet, a required field is their pet’s name. Remember, they have yet to make human contact with us if it is their first visit to our park.
So, when we respond back with a confirmation, we respond to the pet by name and ask them to inform their Mom and Dad that their reservations have been confirmed, and also ask the pet to make certain they come into the office when their parents check in as we will not only have a gift for them, (a dog bowl filled with treats with our logo and web address on it), we will also show them where the pet snacks are so they can come in each day and get their own refills!
This equates to a great first impression before they even get to our park. Once they arrive, the rest is up to us, and our goal is to wow them time after time during their stay, not only to ensure a great first impression, but also to make a lasting customer for years to come.
Tim and Michelle Wilcox, Gateway Park Campground, Hillsdale, Mich.:
Top-notch customer service is one of our main goals. Of course, we are all in business to make money. But if you provide great service and your customers feel they got value for their money, they will come back time and time again.
Customer service is more than answering the phone with a nice tone and being friendly; it is about attention to detail. Remembering your customers’ names and their kids’ names, your customers seeing you do physical work in your park, giving something for free once in a while, taking the time to stop and talk to your customers, delivering wood and sharing new campfire recipes are all different types of customer service.
When your customers know that you value them, they will be the best type of advertisement you could invest in!
Mari Garland, Junction West RV Park, Grand Junction, Colo.:
In my opinion, the most attractive element of a park to a consumer is a CLEAN park. I believe this because many RVers choose which park they will stay in based on the middle rating from Trailer Life, which reflects the CLEANLINESS of the bathrooms – even if they have no intention of using them!
As an RVer myself, I do the same since I know if the bathrooms are kept clean and nice, the rest of the park is probably well cared for as well. Most of the customers who come into the office to make a point of commenting on their stay are very pleased by how clean and nice our bathrooms, laundry and grounds are. They are so pleased and it’s obvious that it’s not what they are experiencing everywhere they go.
Also, some of the most vigorous and emotional complaints I have heard about hospitality businesses is that they were dirty.