Overpromising and Underdelivering

Recently I went on a road trip to view parks for clients to purchase. Some were just WOW and others, well, overpromised and undelivered.

At one of the parks, I obtained the site map prior to arrival. I was excited to see it as it had a fitness center, kitchen, group catering area, group fire pit, and a restaurant on the map. These are great amenities and when guests see them on a site map, it encourages them to book.

When I arrived to tour the park, it was NOTHING like I had imagined. I am sure the guests felt the same way. I had to do a double take to make sure I was at the right location.

The fitness center was old and dusty with equipment that appeared to be twenty years old. The group catering kitchen was filthy and most of the appliances look like they had not been cleaned in some time. No group I know would cook in that kitchen.

The funniest part was the “Group Fire Pit.” It was a rusty old fire ring with two lawn chairs.

When my 2 PM diet coke attack hit, I was so taken back by the condition of the facilities I would not even purchase a canned drink from the store. I wanted OUT of there.

I can only imagine what guests thought when they, like me, downloaded the map only to arrive and find these conditions. Do yourself a favor, take good photos and market properly, but do not try to pretend all is well when things are falling apart. Make sure if you have amenities, they are clean and in good operating condition, and if you do not have them, do not pretend you do. This park was a franchise park and it should never have been permitted to fly the franchise flag.

Overpromising and underdelivering is a sure fire way to create a negative guest experience from the start.

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“Drink Because You Are Happy, But Never Because You Are Miserable.” G.K. Chesterton

Liquor Licenses at parks are a hot topic, and one size does not fit all.

The first rule of thumb is to know your guest. If you are a family oriented park where most folks are there to go hiking or do activities off site, there may be very little upside to having a bar on site. You may wish to do carry out at your store, but having a full fledged bar may not be in the cards.

However, if your park caters to families or adults and they spend most of their time around your pool or inside your park, you may do well to think of a pool side bar or serving alcohol along with your standard food fare. This allows the adults to enjoy an adult beverage while spending time with the kids, family, and friends.

If you are a resort campground, you should almost certainly consider this amenity to your amenity mix. A true resort will have this as an option.

We have bars at many if not most of our parks. They can be highly profitable and safe if run properly. First and foremost, this starts with your bartenders.

Make sure you hire mature, responsible bartenders who have been trained in either the TIPS or TAM certification classes. These certifications teach bartenders how to spot fake ID’s, see the warning signs of intoxication, and how to handle those who refused service. No bartender should be behind your bar without TIPS or TAM certification.

Secondly, make sure the setting and hours do not interfere with the overall enjoyment of the park. Try to set it off in a common area or a secluded ares where guests will not have their recreation hindered by the bar. Make sure the bar is shut down before quiet hours begin and guests leaving the bar do not interfere with those who are sitting around their fire or having a late dinner.

Lastly, run a tight ship! We make sure our guests know our bars are a place to have a drink or two in a responsible manner. They are not the local club or the place to get your groove on. They are there for the simple pleasure of having a few drinks with friends. Also, language is an issue. Make sure your bartenders know that cursing or rough language is not to be used since a child or non-bar going family may be right outside and should not have to deal with this kind of talk.

By adhering to these few simple guidelines, a bar inside your park may be the additional revenue stream you need to add to your bottom line.

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Taking The Easy Way Out

In the course of a week, I read a lot industry news and blogs.

This past week, I was reading a thread regarding reservation systems. Different people were commenting on the ones they like, and a reoccuring theme on one was it is, “Easy.” I would never target a particular system, but I will say, “Easy is not always better.”

Yes, a system should be easy to use, but the problem is, the easier systems often come with less functionality. Therefore, things backend functionality often suffers for the sake of ease of front of house use.

There are numerous systems in the market that provide both ease of booking and robust back end functionality. Pay attention the the following when checking out a system:

  • Reporting-is it solid, does it do both cash and accrual accounting, and is it easy to read on screen and by day, week, month and year
  • Rate Yielding- it easy to manipulate rate based on supply and demand
  • OTA Connectivity (especially if you have Cabins)-does it connect to Air BB, Booking.com and Expedia
  • Online booking-does it do online booking and what is the cost per online reservation
  • Does it allow you to option to book by site type rather than specific site
  • Does it allow you to use your credit card provider of choice, or does it force you to use their provider
  • How easy is it to do group and split bookings

These are just a few of the criteria you should consider when choosing a reservation system. Most are pretty easy up front and booking a site is simple, pay attention to group and split booking functions. Some are better than others.

AOS is NOT a software developer. We look at all systems and we recommend what is best for the client. We know all systems in the market and have worked on almost all of them. Trust us when we say, “Easy is not always better.”

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Let Freedom Ring

When I entered college, I was torn between three majors-English, Accounting, and American History.

I eventually chose accounting because I felt it gave me the best chance to make a living. All in all I was correct, but there is still a little part of me that would have loved to teach American History.

As an elementary school student I remember reading every blue cloth covered biography written about our founders and early American heroes. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Patrick Henry, James Madison, all came alive in the pages of those books. It gave me an enduring love for my country and the sacrifice it took to bring about freedom and liberty.

All these years later, I still prefer history books and the History Channel to fiction and sit coms. I still get goosebumps when I watch documentaries on the American Revolution or WW II. I listen to old speeches and read impassioned pleas about courage and patriotism.

Therefore, I love the 4th of July!

So this July 4th-take time to remember the sacrifices of our founders, and in this day and age of dissent, remember we are still the proud residents of what is still the greatest nation on earth.

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Finally-Elbow Room!!

If you have been to our offices in Matlacha Florida, you will notice two things:

First of all, our view is second to none. Our offices are located direct waterfront on the stunning Matlacha Pass. Credit to Jon Hunt capturing what is our island in the photo below.

Secondly, you will notice we are bursting at the seams. We knew we needed more office space, and we are finally getting it! Attached are some renderings of our new offices to be constructed on the same location as our current offices. To say we are a little bit spoiled is an understatement and we look forward to calling Matlacha home for the rest our our lives! We will be right up the street in rented offices while our new offices are under construction. Stay tuned for the Open House Invitation once we are back at home at 4700 Pine Island Road Matlacha! Thanks to all our clients who have trusted us and allowed us to grow beyond our wildest dreams. Let’s keep doing this thing together!

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“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” Fred R. Barnard

Fred R. Barnard is the advertising executive who first spoke these famous words. He said this he was referring to book jackets, and how the graphic on the front of a book could be the very thing that entices people to purchase it.

Little did he know how advertising would change and how much more true these words are now than ever before.

We sent our in house team out to shoot some of our parks this past week. The images they shot will completely revitalize these parks websites and show the bucolic nature and settings of each.

Case in point, the two photos below.

The first photo below is from the old website. It is dark, pixelated, and unwelcoming.

The second photo is from our recent shoot. It is focused, the lighting is right, and it invites the viewer to come and sit a spell by a lovely pond. Same location-vastly different look and feel.

Pixelated, Dark and Unwelcoming

When it comes to your property, DO NOT cut corners on good photos and video. Today’s outdoor enthusiasts shop and book online. Your photos are their first impression of your park. Make sure it is an inviting one.

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Buy Cheap Get Cheap

If you know me, you know I love Shark Tank. I especially enjoy Kevin O’Leary. If you watch the show, he always wants to know two things: 1. How did you come to your valuation 2. What is your cost of customer acquisition?

Question #2 infers you are spending money to get your customers. If there is one thing you must understand in marketing, you must spend money to gain customers and get exposure.

“According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, they’ve suggested 7% to 8% of your gross revenue should be spent on marketing. 50% of that marketing budget should be dedicated to digital marketing in 2019. … The average company is spending 35% of their marketing budget on digital campaigns, and that’s not enough.”

SBA January 2020 Report

We are always amazed at parks who are unwilling to spend money on marketing, but expect to be at the top of Google Searches and in everyone’s social media feeds. It just DOES NOT work that way. You must buy your way into the searches and the feeds in order for your ads to be effective. You must have the proper SEO and realize that in markets where many parks are vying for the same keywords, only by paying attention to your marketing and making the right moves and spending the right dollars are you able to achieve your goals.

On average you will see an average of $4 for every $1 spent on digital advertising. This is a good rule of thumb when you determine if your digital marketing spends are working. The good news is, with today’s technology, it is easy to track what is working, where you are getting the most ROI, and adjust accordingly.

Digital advertising is how here to stay and making the most of it by budgeting for it is the most efficient and effective way to get your park on the map.

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Road Trip Ramblings

This week, I took my first road trip in three months. My clients have been chomping at the bit to go look at parks, so we donned our masks and hit the road. We drove, flew, walked, hiked, camped, and met a pot belly pig who may become a mascot.

I often have long rides between parks with my clients. This allows some wonderful interaction and the ability to bounce thoughts off each other. This week, my client kept saying to me, “You need to write about this and you need to write about that.” This trip he was very adamant on advising buyers how to look at a sellers books.

When someone is selling a park, the adventure has just begun. All of the time, you need to make adjustments to their books. Often times, their books do not reveal what is truly happening.

The reasons are many and varied. Sometimes all their personal expenses are being paid by the park. Sometimes family members are on payroll even if they do very little at the park. Almost always, the owners do not pay themselves on payroll, so replacing their salaries must factor in to what a new owner will be realizing in expenses.

One of the most overlooked items is Goodwill. How will the owners departure effect occupancy? When the owners are tired, worn out and grumpy- a change can result in increased occupancy. However, when the owner or owner(s) are one of THE reasons guests come to a park, change in ownership can have a tremendous influence on current guests and it may take a year or two to overcome the change. Reviews will often tell you if the change is going to be positive or negative in the guests eyes.

Finally, is the park operating in a way that the market demands – or are the owners fighting the market? Most often we see this when a park is screaming to be a transient park, but owners prefer the operational ease of long term guests. Conversely, we have had owners demand to be short term family parks when the market was telling them long term guests would fill their park and generate substantial revenue.

Also, verify the inventory that comes with the purchase. Nothing can be more of a surprise than to show up at your newly purchased park, and the $100,000 worth of equipment you thought came with the park now has to be replaced. That is an immediate kick in the pants and is easily avoided with careful contracts and planning.

All of the above are careful considerations when buying an existing park. One of the reasons I travel with my clients is to review the tangibles and intangibles and to get “Boots on the Ground,” in order to make wise decisions. We can do a trip and look and ten parks and maybe only buy one, but the travel is worth the reward when the right site, at the right price, at the right time is finally chosen.

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Worker Bee Parks

When we have parks in our portfolio who cater to workers, we refer to them affectionatly as “Worker Bee Parks.”

This is a disparaging term, rather it defines the target market and how we approach rate and occupancy. There are a few things to remember about AOS Worker Bee Parks:

They are NOT work down trailer parks! We run our worker parks with the same set of guidelines with which we run our transient parks. Clean, comfortable, and NO junky sites allowed!

Secondly, they do not play second fiddle to transient parks. Worker Bee parks can be highly profitable since the teams are often paid generous per diem housing rates and will pay a nice price for nice accommodations.

Rarely are these parks just one industry. They may be wind farm workers, solar farm teams, or oil industry contractors, but throughout there are always sprinklings of traveling nurses, families, those who are building homes in the area and need a short term rental, or just folks on the road traveling through the area.

We love working with these parks and connecting our parks to the jobs happening in the area. We do this through our digital communications, connecting with the industries, and partnering with the local chambers.

We also manage revenue in these parks the same way we manage revenue at transient parks. In fact, it is more important in these parks since the ADR is lower overall and we need to eek out every penny we can.

If you own a worker bee park, it is worth your time to speak to one of our team members about how we can help build your success .

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“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin

If you own, operate, or a building an RV park, welcome to the world of trying to figure out how to collect and pay taxes.

First of all, you can be sure your local municipality or municipalities do not know. If you call ten times; you get ten different answers. The problem with this is, you have to know in order to set up your PMS system and charge your guests correctly. If you do not know, you will either over or undercharge your guests, both of which can get you in financial and legal trouble.

Adding to the confusion is short term versus long term stays, what constitutes both, and roofed accommodations versus RV sites. Do you charge lodging taxes on top of sales tax, only on cabins, on everything, or there are no lodging taxes? This is just the beginning of the issues.

The subject is so complicated, the tax site Avalara dedicated an entire story to just this subject.

Here are a few pointers. First of all, google your city, county, and state Dept of Revenue websites and learn as much as you can. Print out the policies and document what you find. Secondly, check with your state ARVC association. Most often , they will have at least some of the answers to your questions. If your state does not have an association, check with national ARVC. They may be able to point you in the right direction.

If none of these work, call local parks to ask them what they do and if they have information to backup their policy. Most will be happy to help you get started on the right track. Finally, if none of these options work, check with your local hotels to try to understand their policies and how they settled upon their taxation.

We at AOS do this legwork for our clients, but if you are not one of our clients (you should be!!) use the helpful hints above to make sure you don’t get hit by the local taxman someone down the pike.

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