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Improvements Help O’Leary’s Resorts Succeed

January 31, 2017 by   - () Comments Off on Improvements Help O’Leary’s Resorts Succeed

When Craig Dolbeer decided to become a snowbird, he knew he wanted to spend the winters at an RV resort in Tucson, Ariz.

The challenge, he said, was deciding which resort would be the right fit for him. After all, many of them have swimming pools, spas, exercise rooms and other nice amenities.

But when he arrived at Rincon Country West RV Resort, he knew in an instant that that’s where he would want to spend his winters. The reason? The 1,100-site park has a G-gauge outdoor railroad, complete with themed villages that represent distinct periods of time in American history from the Old West days to the Victorian era to the 1950s.

Built around a 50- by 100-foot garden area next to the park’s main office, the train set features curved wood trestle bridges, tunnels and streams. The train set is maintained by a 60-member Garden Railroad Club, which organizes its own fundraising barbecues and other events to generate funds for new buildings, trains and other supplies.

“When I saw the railroad, that was it,” said Dolbeer, a 62-year-old native of Ontario, who has spent the past six winters at Rincon Country West, where he enjoys model railroading in the Arizona sun.

Dolbeer is one of a growing number of snowbirds who have made Rincon Country West and its sister resort, Rincon Country East, their winter home.

Snowbirds flock to the two Rincon Country resorts not only because of their amenities, which include swimming pools, spas, exercise rooms and banquet facilities, but because of their activities, which take place every day of the week.

At the two Rincon Country RV Resorts, snowbirds can choose from more than 50 different types of classes, clubs and activities, from bocce ball, hiking and swimming pool exercises to line dancing, square dancing, golf and pickleball.

There are classes in creative writing, digital photography and videography as well as jewelry arts, stained glass window making and wood carving. There are also several different sewing groups that specialize in a variety of needle crafts ranging from Brazilian embroidery to Norwegian Hardanger and Swedish weaving to traditional American quilts.

The West park even has two drama groups and two choir groups who perform for park guests. These activities, which are organized and managed by volunteers, complement half a dozen professional entertainers who Rincon Country brings to the resorts for each winter. The performances often sell out a year in advance.

Rincon Country also offers a shuttle service to take snowbirds back and forth so that they can participate in different activities at the two resorts, which are 20 miles apart. The resorts also offer planned excursions to Steward Observatory, cultural festivals and other points of interest in Tucson and surrounding areas.

“We have a fantastic activity program for the winter months,” said Rincon Country founder George O’Leary, 85, who operates the two resorts with his wife, Sandra, their sons, Danny and Matt, and several staff members who have been working alongside the O’ Leary family for decades.

Despite his advancing age, O’ Leary remains deeply involved in park management and doesn’t hesitate to hop on his backhoe when there’s work to be done. He often arrives at his parks as early as 6 a.m. to inspect the grounds, monitor progress on various improvement projects and provide guidance to park staff and doesn’t return home until after dark.

He also converses with his snowbird guests so that he can monitor their satisfaction and evolving amenity and activity needs.

O’Leary said today’s snowbirds are vastly different from the sedentary snowbirds he met 30 or 40 years ago during his early days in the RV resort business. “In the 1970s and 80s,” he recalled, “if we had a pot luck dinner that was a big deal. It’s different today. Activities are key.”

At the 460-site Rincon Country East RV Resort, snowbirds in the woodshop club work to help their fellow snowbirds make everything from dollhouses to rocking chairs, hand carved bowls and Andean flutes.

“We have a lot of guys who are very talented,” said Willie McCuistion, 79, of Corvallis, Ore., who has spent the past 20 winters at Rincon Country East. “We buy our own lumber and our own supplies, but the wood club provides the tools and the work area,” he said.

O’Leary said he got the idea to provide his East park guests with a wood shop from other parks. But he strived to make it stand out from the rest by equipping it with a better selection of table saws, band saws, grinders, sanders and other power tools than parks typically provide.

Members of the 58-member Woodcarvers Club even do woodworking projects for widows at the park — but don’t assume it’s just men who have an interest in woodworking. Starting this month (January 2017), Rincon County plans to have regular ladies nights at the wood shop.

As one might expect, friendships often develop between members of the various clubs. Park activities provide the same kinds of opportunities for guests to get to know each other. “It’s the relationships snowbirds build with each other through all of the clubs and activities that bring them back each year,” said O’ Leary, adding that 80% to 90% of Rincon Country’s business is repeat business.

Snowbirds also enjoy Rincon Country’s onsite amenities and facilities, which are constantly being improved.

Four years ago, the O’ Learys invested more than $1 million improving the roads at the two Rincon Country resorts. They also added four more pickleball courts at the West Resort, doubling the number of courts for pickleball enthusiasts. They also resurfaced two tennis courts at the same park and started work on a two-story building that will eventually house a larger gym.

Meanwhile, at Rincon Country East, Sandra O’Leary expanded and improved the park’s pet play area and provided more seating for dog owners. The East Park also tripled the size of its park model rental pool to 20-plus units. The O’Learys’ in-house carpenters are also constantly upgrading their fleet of rental accommodations, adding Arizona Rooms and decks for additional living space.

The improvements didn’t stop there. Earlier this year, the East Park installed an observatory with an 11-inch Celestron reflector telescope, which is used by the resort’s Astronomy Club. Park guests can now view the planets and constellations every Thursday night with the help of Astronomy Club members.

As one might expect, the O’ Learys have won considerable recognition for their efforts over the years, the latest being the 2016 Park of the Year Awards from the Arizona Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds for the both East and West Parks.

But while it may seem as if George O’ Leary had always intended to develop RV parks, his initial plan was to merely to build a mobile home park in Tucson and return to St. Paul, Minn., where he had established himself in the construction business after immigrating to the U.S. from Ireland.

O’ Leary started building the 550-space Rincon Country Mobile Home park in Tucson in 1970. “It was just a construction job,” ‘O Leary recalled, adding that he had a business partner who was going to run the mobile home park.

O’ Leary soon took an interest in the business, however, and eventually took over his partner’s interest by mutual agreement. O’ Leary later took note of rising consumer interest in RVs, particularly as other developers started building RV parks in the Tucson area.

In fact, when developers Doug Mercier and Tilton Newell ran into construction delays as they were building Far Horizons Tucson Village RV Resort in 1972, they asked O’Leary if he could provide spaces for about 20 guests with towable RVs for a few weeks until Tucson Village was ready to accommodate them.

O’Leary not only agreed, but he did the math and realized he could make more money with RV sites than mobile home sites because of RVs were smaller than mobile homes.

“The income from RVs was much better than it was from mobile homes,” O’ Leary said. “The density for mobile homes was about six to eight per acre. That’s what was allowable by the local codes. But you could have up to 20 RVs on the same amount of space. We settled on 15.”

Mathematically, he said, it was feasible in the late 1970s to generate $975 per acre with RVs, while mobile homes could produce only about $600 using the same amount of space.

O’ Leary sold Rincon Country Mobile Home Park in 1978 and transitioned into the RV park business. He started building Rincon Country East in 1979 and Rincon Country West in 1983. He has focused his attention on making improvements to both parks ever since and his business has continued to grow.

But while O’Leary has clearly developed successful RV parks, O’Leary has also learned several lessons through his nearly five decades of RV park ownership that are useful for dealing with park guests as well as contractors he hires to make park improvements. His advice to park operators:

  • Stand up for yourself. “You have to be courteous and nice to everybody. But it’s essential you that you learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. You have to stand up for yourself and stick to your guns,” O’ Leary said. This applies to everything — ensuring guests abide by park rules, that employees meet job requirements and that contractors fulfill the terms of their contracts.
  • Make sure you have a handbook of rules and regulations for your employees.
  • Get good legal advice and make sure you are aware of everything you need to do to comply with the law.
  • Get a completion date from contractors or vendors involved in your construction or other park improvement projects. Make sure that penalties are specified in the contract for each day that a project remains unfinished. O’Leary said he has learned this lesson the hard way with contractors and construction people who haven’t completed their projects on time.
  • When working on a major construction project, hire an independent contractor or architect to certify the percentage of the work that has been completed. Don’t rely on your contractor to certify the percentage of work they have completed because they may overstate the amount of work that has actually been completed.
    • Avoid hiring a contractor who does double duty as an architect. O’Leary said he has learned through experience that this creates an inherent conflict of interest because it enables the architect to inspect his own work and certify it for payment. This invariably leads to problems.
  • Hire the best people you can find and compensate them well. O’Leary said this advice reflects a certain level of maturity and life experience on his part, but he feels it is good advice.

More than 30 of O’ Leary’s staff members have been working with him for more than a decade and several of them have been working with him for more than 20 or 30 years.
Doreen Fuller, who served as O’ Leary’s office manager for both parks, recently retired after serving 35 years.
Other longtime employees who continue to work at his two parks include Annette Weinell, the front office manager for the West Park, who has worked with him for 30 years, while CFO Wendy Bykofsky has been with him for 24 years. Other longtime employees include Bob Smith, O’ Leary’s “concrete guy,” who has worked with him for 31 years, while many other staff members, including maintenance staff, housekeeping and mailroom clerks, have worked with him for a decade or more.

Although O’ Leary continues to be in good health and has no plans to retire anytime soon, he said he feels very much at ease knowing that he has a well trained and loyal staff who are committed to ensuring the continued success of the two Rincon Country RV Resorts.

 

Parks Overview

Name: Rincon Country West RV Resort

Address: 4555 S. Mission Road, Tucson, AZ 85746

Number of Sites: 1,100

Season: Open year-round.

Website:www.rinconcountry.com

Contact: 520-294-5608

 

Name: Rincon Country East RV Resort

Address: 8989 E. Escalante Road, Tucson, AZ

Number of Sites: 460

Season: Open year-round.

Website:www.rinconcountry.com

Contact: 520-886-8431

Physical Descriptions: Both parks have heated swimming pools, spas, exercise rooms, tennis and pickleball courts and banquet facilities as well as rooms for club meetings. Specialty clubs have a woodworking shop, a pottery room, a lapidary room and a sewing room, which are shared by guests at both parks. The East Park has an observatory with an 11-inch telescope, while the West Park has a garden railroad.

Rates: Standard RV sites range from $49 per night or $270 per week plus tax at the East Park to $53 per night or $280 per week plus tax at the West Park. Monthly rates are $725; $2,055 for three months; $3,275 for five months; and $5,145 annually at both parks. Park model rentals range from $450 off-season per week to $630 per week from January through March. Monthly rates range from $900 to $1,400 per month off-season to $1,950 to $2,500 per month from January through March.

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