Lemons Into Lemonade

As of today, the whole world seems to be on lockdown. Schools closed, workers sent home to work virtually, and events cancelled across the globe.

While traditional hospitality is hardest hit, Outdoor Hospitality faces a golden-or shall we say-lemon yellow opportunity.

This article out of Japan tells us exactly what is happening to Outdoor Hospitality in that country post WuFlu.

In this environment, the industry there is thriving. People want to get out, and they want to be in wide open and “Socially Disconnected” spaces. RV parks , glamping resorts and campgrounds are the perfect solution to meet their needs.

Unique situations call for creative solutions. Making sure our common area and cabins are cleaned with bleach, having hand sanitizers at our desks, and postponing close contact events until a later time help ensure we are open and welcoming, but remain vigilant.

At AOS, our team has jumped on this early and have started to reach out to all those cancelling foreign vacations and welcoming them to our unique spaces. With the great outdoors calling and spring weather at hand, the great outdoors is the greatest way to experience -“Life not Cancelled.”

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Turning Dreams Into Destinations-Coming To You Soon

Most of our clients have come to us with a dream in their head….with or without a piece of land. We found this to be especially true at last year’s Glamping Summit.

To this end, we are very excited to be presenting again this year and our subject matter is, “Turning Dreams Into Destinations.”

It has been a tagline of ours for a very long time, but it is not just words. We have helped our clients invest over 500 million dollars in the Outdoor Hospitality Industry and have helped design guest friendly and award winning parks since 2003.

Our seminar will teach you the ins and outs of the strategies such as: how to choose your location, avoiding rookie mistakes, how to plan for the right mix of accommodations, what type of amenities are needed for my resort, where to go for lending and investors, and how to make your mark in your niche—even with strong competitors as neighbors. Bring your best questions-since we are really into Q&A and LOVE giving free and useful information.

Mark you calendars and join us in beautiful Aurora Colorado October 13-14 for the best this industry has to offer.

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Penny Wise and Dollar Foolish

One of the services we have been busy with in 2020 is research and writing Marketing and Feasibility reports.  So Far in 2020, we have completed or are working on no less than twelve reports.

Wise investors know money spent on such reports can save them from making horrible financial decisions and can save millions in investment or cap ex dollars. Investors excited about a property have been met with a “Hard No, or a “Hold Off,” from us once the research is complete.

One of the elements of our research is to look at the competitive set and chart their strengths and weaknesses against our subject property.

While doing my study this week, I came across the perfect example of this blog’s title. “Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.”

Our subject park is in an area where most parks are sub-par in nature. Deferred maintenance, a lack of professional staff, and tired amenities abound

However, there is one glaring exception. Recently, a beautiful new park opened about 20 minutes away from our subject property. It is well amenitized, spacious, and my construction background tells me the all in costs were in the 20M dollar range.

As I studied the area, it took me a little time to find their beautiful website. They have made almost no effort to debut themselves in the digital space.  There seems with little to no marketing efforts on their part. When I searched the main keywords they should have been using, they were halfway down Google page one, with no pay per click campaigns or ad words bringing them onto potential guests radar. They were, as I like to say, “All Dressed Up and Going Nowhere.”

For a like kind AOS park-we would have built an appealing Wordpress site and then super charged the back end. We would have spent money to get them noticed on Google, built out the SEO, researched and managed the keywords, and maximized their digital presence. This park, which cost millions to build, seems to be either unwilling or uneducated on how to spend the few dollars it would take to get them noticed and get guests parking in their park. So they are sitting there on a multi-million dollar investment and guests would have to scroll to the bottom of a Google page to find them. I can tell you confidently, that is NOT going to happen.

Americans like instant gratification. We want quick, convenient and easy. We are not going to go to the bottom of Google to find what we want. If it does not smack us in the face, we move on.

When buying, building, or running your park-do not forget to pay attention to the pennies that will eventually make you dollars. A few well placed marketing dollars can turn into bottom line revenue and happy guests in your park.

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Mismatching Mistakes

We often find clients struggling with decisions regarding amenities, activities, and vendors. What might look like a great idea or a perfect fit could be money poorly spent and guest experience diminished.

Take Food and Beverage for example. This is a perfect example of where the wrong fit could come back to bite you in a big way. Let me share an example from the real world.

Outdoor resort X catered to families. Their market niche was two adults with two school aged children. Their heavy checkin day was Friday, but since most parents work, they arrived at this resort sometime around 9 PM.

This resort leased food operations to a local restaurant. All went well…at first. After a few months, the tenant was struggling with labor and costs and starting setting his own hours. So the front desk sends their very hungry guests to the deli at 9 PM only for the guests to find the “Closed” sign hung and the staff long gone.

When the deli lessee was confronted, he said he had lost his night cook so he decided to start closing early. The front desk had no idea, since they knew he was to be open until 11. So the property suffers from a tenant who has issues of his own and the guests are the collateral damage.

Worst of all, when the guests get online to write a review-the closed deli is a major complaint. They do not care it was the properties tenant, all they knew is they were hungry, the deli was to be open, and it was not. This complaint is lodged against the property as a whole-not the tenant.

This is just one of the ways a property can be mismatched with the wrong vendor or amenity. Some other examples we have seen are spending money on a mini golf course at a resort with an adult market niche, building expensive pickle ball courts at a park that caters to kids and families, or parks on a lake thinking there is no need for a pool. All of these are examples of mismatched vendors, market niches and amenity packages. These mistakes can be VERY costly and planning correctly from the start can not only be a money saving exercise, but it makes the guest/amenity match a perfect fit from the start.

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Turning the Corner

There is a lot to be said for making the hard decisions and finally turning a corner. This month has been that kind of month for us at AOS.

We have worked hard with clients all across the US-trying to change the culture of their parks and team members. It is a tough process-and there is always pain along the way. However, if everyone hangs on and goes along for the ride, the final results are rewarding.

One of our GM’s told our owners, “The AOS team has taught me more in a month than I have learned in years. There is never a time I needed something or needed a question answered that they were not able to assist me”

Another team member at a park said, “Thank you for sending your staff to our park. We have learned so much and are finally becoming the type of park we always wanted to be.”

These comments make our day and they remind us why we work so hard and travel so often. It is why we have established guidelines, procedures, SOP’s, and support systems so our parks and their staff can succeed. There is nothing better than seeing dedicated team members finally have the support they need to not only survive, but thrive.

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One Size Does Not Fit All

When pricing your sites, most parks realize that backs in sites, pull thru sites, etc. should be priced differently and they do so accordingly.

What many parks do not take into account are the nuances between like kind sites. Thus they price all back in sites the same, or all pull through sites the same, though there are nuances between the same site class that would allow for differentiation in pricing.

This week I am out west and visiting new clients along the Pacific Coast. As I walk the parks, it is clear that the pricing structures need to change. For instance, one park has all back in sites priced the same. Yet-four of the sites have stunning, and I mean stunning, Ocean Views. Looking at the occupancy, these sites are in high demand. They should NOT be sold at the same price as the regular back in sites.

Another park has back in sites on the interior, but near the pond. Again-as we say at AOS-“There is waterfront and there is everything else.” Thus, waterfront or water view should never be the same price as other sites.

This seems simple, right? All waterfront or water view should be higher, but there are other circumstances that are not as evident. Even if parks up-charge for premium views, they often fail to charge for desired locations. Some desired spots are near pools, playgrounds, or cul-de-sacs. Others might have sites close to bath houses or amenities that cause guests to covet those sites above others. Look at the guests behavior and their requested sites and you will quickly see where are few more dollars added to the ADR can mean tens of thousands of dollars added to your bottom line.

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The Why Behind The Rules

Rules and structure have always been very important to me. It is probably why I chose to study accounting in college. Accounting follows very logical rules, and at the end of the day, the math adds up and is reconcilable. Black and white thinkers like me love this about accounting.

Rules, however, must make sense. There must be a method behind the madness. We often go into parks and find rules and regulations in place than not only make NO sense, but they are a hinderance to the overall guest experience.

One recent example is a park with, “No Dogs Over 40 pounds permitted in the park.” When I asked if it was a local code ordinance, they said, “No,” When I pressed further and asked why they had this rule, there was no reason. It was just always there. I pointed out that Labrador Retrievers are the number one breed in the US, and they are almost always over 40 pounds. The park, without any good reason, was banning guests who own the most popular breed in the nation.

Another absurd interaction was with a GM who had refused to allow coffee makers in the cabins. When we ordered them and they arrived on site, there was major pushback. There was-again-no good reason for this rule. When pressed, the GM replied, “They can walk to the office to get coffee.” Clearly, guests do not want to get dressed and walk up the road just to get a cup of coffee. Again, rules with no diminishing the guest experience.

Code compliance rules are one thing and are meant for matters pertaining to health and safety. Random rules with no rhyme or reason are often made by staff who do not wish to deal with pets, children, guests-or coffee. This is a bad precedence to set for any hospitality venue. The goal of a park is to make the guest experience one of fun, relaxation, pampering, and overall enjoyment. Check your rules and make sure your guests are not hearing, “No, No, No,” when “Yes,” is a much more welcoming word.

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Road Tripping Through the US

The AOS team have been road warriors so far this year. We are honored to have new clients in Michigan, Tennessee, New Jersey, Washington State, Colorado, Florida, Montana, and Oregon.

We have been all up and down the state of Florida working with new clients on new projects.

We have been in Colorado working with existing clients and getting their processes and procedures in place. As we exited, one staff member told us we got more done in three weeks than they have accomplished in years.

Well-that’s how we roll. We move quickly and efficiently to make things happen.

All in all, a pretty eventful start to the year.

We are also beyond excited to have been announced as speakers at this year’s NJCOA Annual Meeting in Dover DE. This is sort of where it all began, so we are really excited to be a presenter at this conference. We have also been invited back to speak at the Glamping Conference again this coming season. We really look forward to reconnecting with the many fine folks we met in Aurora. What a pleasure it was for Rachel and me to meet everyone.

Stay tuned for other news and events …and we hope to add your park to our portfolio along the way! Thanks to each of you for putting your faith in us.

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Moving Dirt and Taking Names

Having just returned from a long road trip-we are beyond excited to see some of our land plans coming to fruition.

It is exciting enough to see our land plans on paper, but when we are on site and see the dirt moving and the sites taking shape, there is a whole other level of anticipation.

What makes our land plans better than others? Well for one, we approach all our land plans from the operational and guest experience perspective. Will it work for the guest and maximize revenue? These are our first questions.

We also want to know how to maintain the environment so that both nature and guest are protected. We plan to make sure the modern day guests and their families are able to navigate our property safely, and their four legged family members will be included in the experience.

Lastly, outdoor hospitality is all we do. Our land planners know where to place the utilities, how to arrange the sites, how to create unique amenity areas, and how to draw a flow that works. They make sure there is enough density to make the numbers work, but enough space for guests to get the entire outdoor experience

Our parks have won awards, have been nominated for ARVC parks of the year, and most rewarding, have afforded young and old alike unique vacation experiences and a lifetime of memories.

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What Not To Do Wednesday-Ignore the Loopholes

No matter how well intentioned, park owners often fail to close the loopholes that lead to lost revenue. The familiarity and family atmosphere often prevent these owners from running their parks like a well oiled machine.

In our experience here is the list of place where we clamp down and help our owners spot lost revenue:

  • Laundry-Make sure whoever empties the laundry machines is someone who is trustworthy, records the revenue immediately, and makes the deposit the same day. Ideally, it would be a two part system where one employee empties the machine while another looks on while the quarters are weighed and recorded. Better yet, move to credit card or blue tooth enabled machines that bypass cash altogether and the money land directly in your bank account.

Vending Machines-the same holds true with coin operated vending. Make sure there is accountability with the way the money and supplies are handled. It is very easy to find sodas, snacks, or money missing when you do your own on site vending.

Propane-Propane is invisible and can easily slip through the cracks. Make sure you keep a propane pumping log at the pump, there is a clear process for pumping and payment, and no guest is allowed to get tanks filled without prepayment or being escorted to the payment register for payment.

Credits and Refunds-at AOS, we watch credits and refunds like a hawk. When we reconcile night audit reports, credits and or refunds are an automatic red flag. We look at the bookings associated with the credit or refund and we make sure there are legitimate reasons whey these occurred.

Storage-It is very easy to have RV’s, boat trailers, and the like in your storage unit and not even know they are there. We ask our parks to run a storage audit once a month-listing the number of units in the storage lot, the make, model, tag number and then compare it against guests who are being charged for storage.

Extra Charges and Fees-for a park that charges for extra people, vehicles, and pets, this can be a gold mine. At one of my parks, we swept the park twice a day looking for these offenders. If a site registered (2) guests, but there were (6)chairs around the fire ring-chances are-we had missing revenue. At a busy park with hundreds of sites, a sweep through the park looking for unregistered guests, vehicles or pets can net several hundred dollars.

These are just a few ways to tighten your belt, close the loopholes, and gain some much needed revenue.

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