“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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Outdoors Here We Come

As I have been writing since COVID began-our parks remained hot commodities.

Now that the year of COVID seems to be somewhat waning, everyone is writing that the outdoor industry is THE vacation craze of the future.

Even Forbes came out with this article recently. Since 2003, we at AOS have been all about Outdoor Hospitality, but it seems COVID and Social Distancing are going to bring in a whole new wave of folks who wish to space out and breathe deeply the fresh air that comes with outdoor vacations.

Thinking RV’s are the only ones booming? Not according to our data. Our glamping and rental units still booking heavily during COVID and we are SOLD OUT for the holiday weekend. Again, space and lack of crowded rooms call to those who want to vacation, but with a little less contact.

Never had the industry been hotter and never have we been so thrilled to be at the forefront of grabbing those guests and getting them into YOUR parks. We have always known the outdoor industry was the way to enjoy life-we are just happy to see more people getting on board.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

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Heating Up Hotter?

As I write today’s blog post, we here in Florida are headed toward Phase II of post COVID reopening. Fingers crossed, we are moving along well with very little to no uptick in our cases.

As many of you know, the industry as a whole fared very well during the COVID crisis. It was not by accident that our parks weathered the storm, except for way up north, kept the doors open and the fires burning.

To this, I credit the good Lord, the smart staff, the great team members at the properties, and the owners who allowed us to do our thing. I also give enormous credit to the state associations who battled endlessly to be deemed, “Essential Services.”

What everyone keeps asking is, “What do you see in the future?” Given how well the parks did during COVID-and reading the tea leaves, I dare to suggest we may come out even hotter than we were going into COVID.

Why you may ask?

First of all, European vacations are not going to happen anytime soon. Trust me, I love Europe, but even I would not go right now. I was to be there for three weeks this month, and we have rescheduled for October. I am going to again reschedule since October is too soon for me. Given I am pretty adventurous, I am sure I am not alone.

Secondly, social distancing is a built in amenity when you take advantage of Outdoor Hospitality. Wide open spaces, fresh air, and plenty of room to stretch and separate is part and parcel of an outdoor vacation.

Finally, outdoor adventures are still, for the most part, and cost effective way to vacation. The come with built in amenities and activities, plenty of perks included, and if you RV, you are sleeping with your own germs every night.

We here at AOS are always looking for ways to improve and capitalize on what we are handed. Lemons into lemonade was our mantra pre-COVID, during COVID, and we aim to be a part of the post COVID boom we see coming.

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Driving Traffic

I wanted to share a one day screen shot from two of our parks. During this time of panic and COVID, we are thrilled that our portfolio parks are thriving. These screenshots, sent to me each morning, shows me what is happening across our portfolio. This particular one, shows me how our marketing department is reaching guests.

First thing to note, 166 people were driven directly to our Book Online Button from our “Call To Action,” campaigns.

139 were driven to the same site through our enhanced Google showing, and 60 directly to Madison through our Adwords. Keep in mind, this is ONE DAY. Most importantly, 239 of the 263 were NEW visitors.

Marketing is always important, but marketing during COVID has been a whole different animal. For the states that have allowed us to remain open, the team has absolutely slayed the competition.

If you are not seeing these kinds of results, you are with the wrong team. No one is more aggressive in their thinking than the team at AOS. We beat the data to death and then tweak each day as needed. It is what we do, and we do it well!

This screen shot tells you a couple things.

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When There Is A Fork In The Road-Take It

The first half of my career was spent working for my mentor. I started working for him right out of college. I worked as his CFO for twenty years and almost everything I know about business I learned at his feet. He was, and still is, one of smartest men I know. He long ago became one of my dearest friends, and every day I open my mouth and he comes out.

One of his oft repeated lines to me was, “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.” And he meant it! I cannot recall one time in all those years going to him and saying , “I can’t.” It was not that I feared him; it was that I never wanted to let him down. Armed with that attitude, problem solving became almost as much a part of my job as running his company.

This has always been my attitude when dealing with issues. COVID is no exception. Early on in March, we took an aggressive approach to dealing with this demon. Now that we are on the tail end of it, I am happy to report that the vast majority of our parks not only survived, but most thrived.

In life, there always has to be a “Plan B.” We have to be able to maneuver situations and find ways over and around them. My former job forced me to solve problems and make them go away. I was always challenged with finding a way when there seemed to be no way. I have my mentor to thank for the boot camp training I received. He often handed me things that I had no idea how to do-but he had enough faith in me to know I could figure them out.

This same thinking drives us at AOS. We will look at problems, turn them over, throw every idea against the wall until we figure out a path forward. G-d has blessed me with some of the most creative minds in the industry-and their dedication to our client success is something I wish our clients could witness. I see it day in and day out when and what they have done with our parks during COVID has been nothing short of amazing.

We hope we are at the end of this painful period in our nation. I have been humbled by the goodness of Americans.

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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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