Part 3: Parks Must Provide 'The Experience'
Editor's Note: WCM Publisher Sherman Goldenberg interviewed a number of vendors at the 2012 ARVC conference in Las Vegas. In this final installment of a series published online, he shares his findings in a story that appear in its entirety in the January issue of Woodall's Campground Management.
Veteran campground consultant Bud Styer, of Bud Styer & Associates, Lodi, Wis., insists that park operators who make the right moves these days can go a long way toward controlling their own financial destinies. “Looking at the campground business,” said Styer, who also represents a group of 12 Wisconsin campgrounds under the heading of Camping for the Fun of It, “we grew between 2% and 4% this year. We’ve been very active with different kinds of themed weekends and we have a lot of rental units. But I’ll tell you, the industry has evolved today to be all about family and experiences. And if you can’t provide the experience, they are going to go elsewhere.
“The days of just going to a campground and relaxing and looking at the fire — there are a lot of people who still do that — but the growth is in the experience,” said Styer, an ARVC board member. “You’ll see zip lines, waterparks, dog parks, unique rental units, yurts, cabins, gazebos, Conestoga wagons. They want that experience — and the parks that are delivering it are seeing growth.”
Styer, at the same time, is a big booster of the annual convention hosted by the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO), for which he also serves as a board member. While WACO’s last convention in March drew a crowd of 565 park operators and industry representatives, he sees more growth for the next round, March 20-23 at the same venue in Stevens Point, Wis.
“We have the largest trade show in the country,” said Styer. “The ARVC show has 117 vendors. We average 195. And in 2013, we’ll have 50,000 more feet. Our hope is to have 250 vendors by March. We’ve invited all our neighbors (parks in neighboring states). They have shows, yet the vendors only have one thing on their mind: they want buyers in front of them who are ready to buy.
“We’ve designed our show so that we want our people to come with trucks and trailers prepared to buy things and haul them home. We want our vendors to have show specials and understand our people are here to buy. So give us a great product and give us a great price and everybody wins.”
Leisure Interactive Making Waves With Integrated Hercules Software
Located at a visible front-row display at the ARVC Expo was Orange, Calif.-based Leisure Interactive LLC, a leading provider of online reservation technology, front office software, property management solutions and consumer marketing networks for campgrounds and RV parks and a growing variety of other applications.
Leisure Interactive first made a name for itself in the campground circuit as Friend Communications. But the name was changed a couple of years ago because “Friend” didn’t really reflect the company’s evolving mission, explained President Gary Pace, a former Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. executive. “So, as we started moving from Reservation Friend as just an online booking engine and we saw the technology, we finally caught up to build a fully integrated platform, which included property management, distribution to websites and portals and supporting different kinds of companies, we named the new (software) product Hercules.”
Although the bulk of Leisure Interactive’s business today is still directed at the RV park and campground sector, Pace said the company has been “dabbling” in other niches in the outdoor recreation sphere and morphing its software as it goes to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of different allied business sectors in the outdoor hospitality space.
Look for more on this California company and its expanding reach into campgrounds — including state parks — plus the marine industry and mobile applications in a future issue of WCM.
Fairmont Park Trailers Gaining Ground in U.S. ‘Cabin’ Business
Bryan Cira, general manger of Fairmont Homes, was manning a booth in Las Vegas to promote a new vinyl-sided rental cabin, a hyper-affordable recreational park trailer selling as a show special for $17,995. Adding to that pricing edge, Cira reported, is the ability of his Nappanee, Ind.-based firm to ship long-range units two-at-a-time on one frame, thus splitting the freight in half.
“We also are promoting the fact that Fairmont Park Trailers is the fastest-growing park model company out there,” said Cira. “We’ve grown enormously over the last five years, and a lot of people aren’t really aware of us. And there have been a lot of park model manufacturers go out of business the last few years, and they (potential customers) are happy to see somebody in it the way we are in it. I know the park model industry was down this year, but Fairmont’s park model sales were up more than 35%.”
Further separating Fairmont from its competition, Cira maintained, is the fact that his cabins are built out of a housing facility.
“Instead of getting basic RV construction, our homes are built like a house — 2-inch by 4-inch interior walls, thermopane windows, residential cabinet design, hardwood stiles, half-inch side panels, dovetail drawers, all the advantages you’d get in an expensive modular home you are getting in a park model,” said Cira, whose firm had a “great” product showing at RVIA’s Louisville Show that same week. “We also have a lot of economies of scale because of the size of our housing company. We can offer prices like $18,000 for a fully equipped park model where other people don’t have that kind of ability.”
AGS Re-establishes Name Under New Independent Ownership
Area service guides are the long suit of AGS, a well-known name in the RV park and campground business that was owned and operated until 2011 by Good Sam/Camping World. Now running the show as a division of Texas Advertising and overseeing two dozen rep teams on the road all over the country and Canada are new owners Brian and Debra Schaeffer.
Brian, as most in the campground business well know, also serves as executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
Establishing its name under the new ownership remains a key emphasis for AGS, which relies heavily on those rep teams, many of whom have established solid relationships with customers over the years.
“We acquired AGS about a year-and-a-half ago,” reported Michael Moore, general manager of AGS, Crowley, Texas, who was also promoting a related website service, TXAD Internet Service. “Some of the work is to establish the ‘new’ AGS. We have all new products. We have a whole new attitude as far as what we are promoting out there. Coming to the shows is part of that. It’s trying to re-establish that relationship, whether they did or did not have the greatest relationship with the old regime.”
AGS’s guest guides are available in different formats with customized covers for park operators to hand out to their customers.
“When you get the RVer to check in, they need some information on not only the park, but the area, too — where to go, how to get there. And what we do is sell sponsorships in the community to produce that directory,” said Moore. “The local Mexican restaurant and local RV dealer can take a sponsorship, and those people are responsible for financing, essentially, the directory we then create, design, print and ship out.”
All is all, he added, things are going well. “Yes, it’s going great,” said Moore. “We’ve been very pleased and busy. “