One of the seminars that took place during last month’s ReV up in Reno convention focused on the “20 best business practices” in marketing, finance, operations and management.
Randall Hendrickson, president and founder of Phoenix, Ariz.-based Horizon RV Resorts, a campground and RV park management firm that manages 2,300 RV and park model sites and motel units in seven states, shared several kernels of wisdom on the marketing front. Among them:
- Develop a marketing calendar. Know when your advertising renewals are coming up and be prepared to make changes to your listings to make sure they are as up to date as possible. Also be sure to schedule updates to your website as well as your listings on GoCampingAmerica.com and every other website you do business with. “If you have inaccurate or out of date information (on your website or in other forms of advertising), you’re really shooting yourself in the foot.”
- If you’re cutting back your spending on print advertising, don’t pocket the money. Instead, spend it on increased online advertising to promote your park.
- Consider using ReachLocal.com to maximize your “pay per click” online search term advertising.
- Make sure you are utilizing and participating in all of the public relations and marketing services that are available to you through your state and national campground association memberships.
- Conduct an analysis of your website traffic to determine where your website visitors are coming from.
- Use the GuestRated survey program. “I don’t know what we would do without it,” Hendrickson said, adding that the data collected is “beyond imaginable.”
- Regularly monitor RVParkReviews.com, a website where campers post comments about their experiences at campgrounds and RV parks. “You have to be informed about what others are saying about you,” Hendrickson said, adding that it’s also helpful to “Google yourself,” pairing “your park’s name” and the word “review” as search terms.
- Keep in mind there’s a difference between “transactional hospitality” and “experiential hospitality.” That means having front desk staff members who are friendly, professional and helpful to your guests, both in person and on the phone. “If you fail to deliver at the front desk, you have failed miserably,” he said.
John Croce, managing member of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Team RV Management LLC, whose properties include Yosemite Pines RV Resort & Family Lodging in Groveland, Calif., offered several financial management tips, based on his 40 years of experience managing real estate, including RV and mobile home parks:
- Develop an accurate financial statement using established accounting systems. You need to know exactly where you stand financially so you know what you can afford to do. You also will need to provide accurate financial data if you need to refinance or sell the property.
- Don’t hide income because it will cost you down the road. “Your net operating income is how banks and buyers look at your park,” Croce said. “The higher the NOI, the more you can get in refinancing or to sell the property,” Croce said, adding that no one really cares how much money you put into the park or what you paid for it. It’s the park’s ability to produce revenue that counts.
- Find a good CPA and a good attorney. Croce said that financial and legal counsel can advise you on more issues than taxes and business problems. They can also help advise with business opportunities as they come up and also provide other counsel to help you make the most of your business.
James Urquhart, CEO of Petaluma, Calif.-based Campground Management Group, offered his advice on ways park owners can improve their operations. His recommendations include the following:
- Check out ChaosOver.com. It’s a training program that will help you improve your organizational skills and efficiency, and give you some breathing room.
- Use a computerized reservation system: Urquhart said a web-based systems that enable you to process real-time reservations are best so that guests can make reservations at their leisure.
- Make sure your Internet service provide (ISP) can support your Web-based reservation system.
- Develop a standard operating procedures manual for your park by department and by job function. Develop a calendar or timetable for the completion of all park tasks.
David Gorin, a former president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), longtime campground industry consultant and founder of Best Parks in America network, offered these tips on campground and RV park management:
- Manage by walking around your park every day. “Leave the desk and see first hand what’s going on,” Gorin said.
- Set measurable objectives and inspect what you expect. How many times does the phone ring before someone picks it up? How often do the restrooms get checked? How long does trash sit outside people’s rigs before it gets picked up? How long does a tear in a screen door remain as is before it gets repaired? How often is touch up painting done? Do you have a system for reporting scratches in paint and other repairs that need to be addressed? These are just some of many issues that should be addressed.
- Provide your staff with all of the tools they need to do their jobs
- Honestly evaluate your employees’ compensation. Are you paying them enough?
- Stick to your strengths and use outside resources for projects or services, such as tree trimming and Wi-Fi, which often require specialized expertise.
- Consider direct mail for outreach. Lists can be good and very effective, he said.
- Consider some of the things you could do to be a good corporate citizen.
Manufacturers have long touted the merits of investing in recreational park trailers or “park models” as rental accommodations, which can generate anywhere from two to five times as much annual income as a typical RV site, according to a news release.
But while there’s no question that these units can generate significant revenue, private parks that go into the accommodations business also encounter additional costs, according to park operators who discussed the cost, management and marketing of park models Jan. 13 during CalARVC’s Education Day at Newport Dunes Waterfront RV Resort and Marina in California.
“Houskeeping has been a challenge,” said Michael Gelfand, president of Terra Vista Management, which rents 24 park models at Newport Dunes.
Gelfand said his company initially rented park models without linens, but later switched to a daily maid service, which he offers free of charge to his guests “to minimize the thrashing of the units.”
Gelfand said renters tend to take better care of their park model when they know someone will be coming in to clean the unit each day. Housekeeping staff can also alert management if the guest breaks something or causes damage to the unit so that they can be held accountable to pay for any damages before they leave. In this sense, the value of having a daily maid service goes far beyond that of simply making the beds or cleaning the unit, he said.
But not every park operator sees a need to offer daily maid service.
The Fountain of Youth Spa RV Resort in Niland, Calif., finds it worthwhile to provide weekly maid service for its seven park models, which it rents on a weekly and monthly basis, said Jolene Wade, the resort’s managing partner.
John Croce, managing member of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Team RV Management LLC, whose properties include Yosemite Pines RV Resort & Family Lodging in Groveland, Calif., said his guests do not really expect or require daily maid service. However, he does provide linens for the park’s 26 park models and eight yurts, which collectively require about $30,000 worth of linens.
Each unit requires at least two sets of sheets, blankets, bedspreads and pillows, not only in case of loss or damage, but because it’s not possible or practical for park operators to quickly wash and replace the same set of linens in units when one set of guests leave at 11 a.m. and the next guests arrive soon after that. “At peak season in Yosemite Pines, we may turn 20 or 25 units a day,” Croce said.
Park operators who have large numbers of park models will also need to invest in commercial grade washers and dryers. “You can run maybe three to six park models and use your existing laundry. But once you pass six, you need commercial laundry equipment,” Croce said.
The park’s housekeeping staff needs will also vary, depending on the season, Croce said. In peak season at Yosemite Pines, for example, Croce has as many as 12 people handling housekeeping duties. “Sometimes we only need a half a dozen. Sometimes we need a lot more,” he said.
Croce added that park models should also be set up in “little villages,” Croce said, partly to keep them separate from transient RVers and partly to make it easier for housekeeping staff to maintain the units.
But while private parks take different approaches with maid service, park operators say it’s imperative to invest in high-quality units that can withstand wear and tear. “Don’t go for a stripped down version,” Gelfand said, because they won’t hold up.
Gelfand, Croce and Wade also offered other tips in terms of what park operators should ask for when they order park models for rental use:
- Choose laminate flooring if possible. It’s more durable than linoleum, which can tear, and it’s easier to clean than carpeting.
- Equip the units with instant hot water heaters. Standard water heaters are often too small for rental use.
Park operators who invest in durable units will be glad they did. Croce said he’s had units last nearly eight years at very high occupancy rates at Yosemite Pines and he doesn’t yet see a need to replace them. “I think their lifespan can go on for years if you maintain them,” he said.
Maintenance, from Croce’s standpoint, includes removing all of the furniture and thoroughly cleaning each unit once a year and replacing or repairing anything that is broken or needs attention. “In the mountains, you have to reseal the cedar every three or four years,” he said.
In terms of marketing park model rentals, Gelfand, Croce and Wade all said they generate most of their leads and bookings online.
“It’s essential to have online reservations,” Croce said, adding that parks need to invest in their websites and make it easy for consumers to find them easily through web searches. “The more you get out there (on the web), the easier it is for people to find you,” he said.
Croce added that online reservations can generate cash flow for the park months before the guests actually arrive. “We’ve done great in February and had an empty park,” he said, adding, “If you have limited marketing dollars, invest in your website.”
Gelfand, for his part, said most of his marketing is also web-based. However, Gelfand has also hired a public relations consultant who promotes Newport Dunes in newspapers and magazines.
Gelfand and Croce also said that one of the key merits of park models is that they can turn “dysfunctional” campsites into moneymakers. In fact, Croce said the park models and yurts at Yosemite Pines generate as much income as all of the RV sites in the park combined. But despite their revenue generating potential, Croce recommended that park operators start with a small number of park models. “Start with two or three and let demand determine what you need,” he said.
At one point during the discussion, Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) asked the park operators attending CalARVC’s education Day if any of them had regrets about investing in park models. Not one park operator raised his hand.