Perspective Not Panic

One of the advantages of having been in this industry for so long is it has given me perspective during times of national panic.

I started in Outdoor Hospitality back in 2003. In 2005 real estate started taking a hit, and by 2007 we were in a full blown recession.

A few years later, in the middle of peak season, we were hit with an early hurricane and evacuated a park at almost peak capacity. Almost $100,000 in refunds were processed in one day. I was sick every time I had to hit the credit button.

Then, gas prices skyrocketed and we were terrified it would put a complete halt to our upcoming season. We strategized and worked very hard to stay ahead of that issue. It was a time when travelers were having to choose between groceries and gasoline-not a good time to be driving a rig that gets 10 MPG.

This brings us to today, and COVID. Again, we face a national crisis and once again, our parks are weathering the storm. Getting creative in our approach has assisted our parks in not only maintaining, but in many cases, thriving.

In all states to date, we have been considered “Essential Services,” and have been able to continue to take care of our guests and their needs. If you have ever wondered about your state ARVC’s and what they do-you know now. They have been at the forefront of keeping parks open and making sure our residents are able to access our services. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

They say, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” We have seen this over and over again and know this too shall pass. Until then, let us know your needs and how we can help. We are all in this together.

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Casting and Catching

When it comes to hobbies, there are few things I love more than fishing. NFL and College football probably top my list, but fishing is a close second.

We live in a fishing community, and we are often on the water. Out of my entire family, I catch the most fish. When someone asked my husband about my angling success, he said, “It’s easy-she never takes her line out of the water.” I have to admit, this is true.

I catch more fish because I am tenacious. While the others are eating, or drinking, or looking for shells-I am fishing. When we are headed in, I am fishing. When we are almost at our lift and in our own canal-I am fishing. When one lure does not work, I switch lures. When I find the magic one, I keep using it.

This principle also applies to the way we do business at AOS. We keep our line in the water, always looking at what works, what does not work, and what needs to be changed to exceed expectations. We never rest on yesterday’s success, but always look for ways to improve upon revenue, followers, marketing trends, or guest services. We keep at in day in and day out in order to provide the best in class service to our parks.

These are not easy times. Working alone in the office is eerie and I miss my staff. However, now more than ever, they are committed to the process of making sure our parks are staying ahead of the curve, picking up bookings, and keeping our line in the water.

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Paying It Forward

Today my good friend, Ben Quiggle, from Woodalls Campground Management reached out to me. He was getting a lot of questions regarding setting rate at a time of crisis. I am always happy to chat with Ben, and he quickly put out my advice here.

I am a person of deep faith, and believe the scriptures teach us how to care for one another. During times of crisis-hurricanes, wildfires, or as now, a pandemic, it is always a good policy to err on the side of compassion. Managing revenue also means doing the right thing, knowing it will make you part of the solution and pay mighty dividends in the end.

Do not, however, toss our revenue management for future bookings. When making reservations for future stays-keep yielding in place and continue to use the solid business principles of good revenue management. Remember, revenue management does NOT mean raising rate, it means balancing rate and occupancy for optimum revenue.

In a time like this, it is easy to panic and toss aside common sense practices. Keep doin the things that successful operators do and stay the course. Caring for your guests now, and managing your future business, will get you through this storm and ready for sunnier days ahead.

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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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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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