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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“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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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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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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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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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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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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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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What Not To Do Wednesday-Argue With Market Price

I am originally from the Eastern Shore-“The Delmarva Peninsula,” as we call it. This stands for the Delaware/Maryland/Virginia Peninsula. Delmarva is known for agriculture, amazing beaches and Maryland Blue Crabs! If you are from Delmarva-and Maryland specifically-you most likely LOVE crab and know how to pick them.

When you buy crabs at any time of year in Maryland, you are going to pay, “Market Rate.” There is no set price-the rate is based off daily supply and demand. Marylanders know it, don’t argue with it, and if they want crabs, they pay it. If the crab industry gets this concept-why are we still so backward in the Outdoor Hospitality Space?

Too often, we hear owners say to us, “Our rate is too high; we are not worth this.” I remind them, the market is telling them otherwise. Their revenue is up and the market is paying the rate.  The market is telling them they will pay that rate and they are worth it.

They seem to be very scared to allow rate to be pushed. I say to them what I say to my staff…“Numbers don’t lie.” Numbers will tell us when the market has not been pushed enough or when it has been pushed to the limit. Yet, daily we have park staff or owners want to buck the market and go rouge.

I find this to be a battle unique to this industry. Never did we have Marriott micromanage our revenue managers. They cared about the rate and occupancy balance, and if these were working, they never drilled down into what we were charging or the occupancy percentages. They just wanted revenue managed.

Here at AOS we find it takes very savvy owners and investors to understand Revenue Management. Some are just never going to get it-and that is the struggle we see this industry when managing revenue. The familial relationships they form with their guests, and the contra-market thinking lead them to lose revenue every day because they are not willing to agree with the market and charge market rate. 

Take a lesson from the mighty crab industry, allow us to set your prices at market rate and make you money while doing it. By doing so, you will see overall revenue increase even if occupancy falls. This is the magic that happens when the market is heard.

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