The first quarter of 2017 has now ended. But most RV parks are more defined by seasons than quarters. And that means that we are entering one of the most important times of year: spring. For many RV park owners – except for those in the south – winter is the worst time of year. So most budgets for the first quarter are not a very high bar. But spring is an essential time to be hitting your marketing hard and opening and preparing all your amenities for a new year. So it’s time to put the coats in the closet, get out the rake, and get in position for a strong 2017. With the continuing trend of 10,000 Baby Boomers per year retiring (and many buying RVs), low gas prices, and the American passion for hitting the open road, this year should be another banner one for RV park occupancy. And to start the season off right, we have dedicated this month’s newsletter to ramping up your revenue.
Memo From Frank & Dave
How To Keep Customers Happy!
The restaurant industry is extremely competitive. As a result, they spend a great amount of time and money learning about their customers and what makes them dissatisfied with their dining experience. Many new innovations in customer service begin with the restaurant industry, as it is one of the highest grossing in the U.S. (since we all have to eat). So what can the RV park owner learn from the restaurant studies on keeping customers happy?
Understand what the customer wants
Let’s start with a simple process but important question: what does your customer really want? Typically, it’s all about value. They want a great experience for the price, and they want to feel valued while they’re there. Basically, they want the exact same thing that you do.
Accept your limitations and set their expectations
Now take apart your RV park piece-by-piece and see what you have to offer the customer. Comp the other RV parks nearby, and see what a good price should be that offers a good value. See how you can improve your amenities. Think about your processes from the moment the customer checks in to the minute they leave the property. Are you giving them a positive experience? Is the staff courteous and respectful? Also think about your marketing and the expectations that it is setting. Don’t promise things you cannot deliver on. If your fishing lake is small, don’t market that it’s a championship fishing opportunity. Make sure that all photos are representative of what the customer will find when they get there (but make the best of each item photographed). You can create customer disappointment by setting their expectations to a high level and then being unable to deliver on that “promise”.
An unhappy customer made happy is more loyal than one that never had a problem: redemption is key
One unusual study conclusion from the restaurant industry is that an unhappy customer who has heir problem fixed is more loyal than a customer who never had a problem. That doesn’t sound fair, right? So if you screw up and the customer gets mad and you make them happy again, you have a customer for life over those cases where you do everything perfect and the customer is still not loyal. The big moral? Redemption is possible with all customers and you should always make any unhappy customer satisfied, even if it costs you money to do so (think about the word of mouth). The best RV parks never let a customer leave unhappy. That should be your mantra, too.
Exit surveys can give you direction
Restaurants are huge on getting exit surveys to see how they are performing. The best way to collect these is to offer a chance for a prize drawing to those who turn them in. You can also do these surveys on-line. What’s important is that you just do them. Getting impartial views on your performance is the key to providing a great customer experience. Sometimes you will learn new things. And sometimes you will be forced to accept things you knew were already wrong like “the pool needs to be repainted”.
The Golden Rule
Going back to the start, the key to customer happiness is simply in following the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would want them to do unto you”. So many times the RV park owner may be anxious to save a dollar or two and then lose hundreds or thousands of dollars in poor customer recommendations or in customers who don’t return.
Restaurants are very focused on customer happiness and retention. You should do the same.
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This Could Be Your Office
Many RV park owners find the best thing about their investment to be their quality of life. If you owned and managed an RV park, then this would be your view from your office. And rather than sit inside, you get to go outside as much as you like, as well as have a variety of interesting duties. Did I forget to also add that you select your own hours and have no boss? One think is true of all RV park offices: they are happy places to be. Are you interested in this office upgrade?
The Biggest Driver To Profitability In An RV Park
Thor had his hammer. And the RV park owner has his marketing push as his greatest weapon to increase revenue and, as a result, profitability. So how can you unleash your hammer?
Sell, Sell, Sell attitude
“Chainsaw” Al Dunlap – one of America’s most famous corporate turn-around artists – had a simple motto: “sell, sell, sell”. It’s more than a motto, it’s a mental state. If you are constantly focused on ways to increase your occupancy, you will be amazed at how many new marketing avenues you can establish. As long as you always have your mind centered on the how to ramp up occupancy, you will never run short of things to do.
Make every customer an ambassador
You can amass the largest sales force on earth if you make every customer a walking advertisement. And people trust in personal reviews more than any other form of marketing – just look at your own buying habits and the success of such websites as Yelp. If you go out of your way to make every customer happy (see the article above) you will create an unstoppable marketing engine for your RV park.
The internet is an incredible tool – yet too many RV park owners are failing to take advantage of it to its full potential. You must have your RV park pop up on any Google search of RV parks in your area. And once you’ve been found, you need to have a fantastic website that puts your property in the best possible light.
If you want to pull the RV traffic off the highway, you need superior signage. Not just the average small “RV Park” sign on two posts. You need a giant sign – well lighted – and a bunch of flags and other attention-getters. It might also help to put something memorable at the front, too, whether that’s a decommissioned railroad caboose or a giant inflatable. You should also consider a couple signs before your exit for traffic going both ways down the highway. If billboards are too expensive, consider some “bandit” signs or painting your message on a building or truck.
Flyers at all high-traffic areas
Despite the widespread use of the internet, you should keep a steady supply of flyers promoting your RV park at all installations that cater to RV travelers, such as rest stops, highway department welcome centers, tourism information centers, RV repair shops and propane dealers. You only have to book a few RV users from this effort to make it a profitable use of your time, and don’t forget that many RV users are of a generation that is not extremely internet-friendly.
Join a Club
Consider joining an RV club such as Good Sam, which promotes your property to their members. Look at the options and see if this might work for you.
If you have unutilized areas of your RV park, consider installing and renting out “park models”, which are basically hotel rooms for those who would rather stay at an RV park. These are not inexpensive to purchase – often costing around $20,000 to $30,000 – but can rent for $100 or more per night. It makes the most sense to test this concept before you jump in with a big investment, but it can make portions of your RV park income producing that you have in the budget for zero.
There is no shortage of ideas to bolster your revenue. Get creative. If you think up one new idea each day, you will be amazed at how many winners you can come up with.
Thor never owed an RV park, but he would agree that the biggest hammer you have is your ability to push your revenue with superior marketing and a winning mindset.
Using Cars To Promote Your RV Park
Many RV park owners are unaware of the marketing opportunities available with the good old American automobile. Have you considered the potential?
Americans are fascinated with automobiles
Americans love cars. They like looking at them, and they like driving them. Nothing draws a crowd like a cool car – just check out the car shows around the country. Cars of all ages are of interest to the average American, from the 1920’s to current sportcars.
Non-running cars are not that expensive to buy
What many people don’t know is that cars for “display” are not that expensive. While a “running” car might cost $50,000 – such as a 50’s Chevrolet – a “non-running” car might sell for $10,000 or less. Take away the engine, transmission, interior and all running gear (so it’s just s shell) and it’s cheaper still. Let’s say you wanted to put a Lamborghini in front of your RV park. You can buy the fiberglass body of a kit car Lamborghini – and stick wheels on it – for maybe $5,000.
Cars have a long association with RVs
The history of the automobile and the RV is completely intertwined. Owners of RVs are extremely into cars, and when you display a car you are displaying a piece of RV history. So there really is no greater display piece if you are trying to provide something of interest to your customers.
Places to put them
You can put them up on a pole on the frontage. Or you can park them in front in a landscaped setting with bright lights. Or you can park them in front of the office. You can’t really go wrong. I was in an RV park recently that had a classic (but non-running) car parked right in front of where you check in. But I’ve also seen them very effectively parked inside a building as a display piece.
Cars make excellent promotional tools for RV parks. They are relatively inexpensive (if you buy them non-running) and require little maintenance. Have you thought about adding a classic car to your RV park?
The Importance Of Determination
Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda has the longest involvement with the Dodgers of any player or coach in history. And he has learned over time that the most important ingredient you can have in success is determination. So how can you apply determination to buying and operating an RV park?
In finding the right property
You can always tell who will be successful in finding a good RV park to buy: the person with a lot of determination. Finding the right RV park is all about volume. Once you know the basic metrics of what you are looking for, the more deals you sift through, the better your odds. Someone with extreme persistence will always find a better deal than someone who is not 100% committed.
In offering a great product
The best RV park owners are obsessed with the late Steve Job’s mission of creating “insanely great” products. If you see your mission as to make your RV customers the most satisfied in the U.S., you will have a very successful business.
In finding the right management team
There is an old adage that “it’s easier to change people than to change people”. Of course, the training you give will have a lot of impact on that but, in general, you can’t afford to keep people on who are not the best at their job. So you should always be determined to field the best team you can afford.
You should always be determined to find new ways to drive revenue higher (see the article above). If you are determined to increase your occupancy by 10% each quarter, then you will make that happen. With an RV park, virtually 100% of additional revenue falls to the bottom line (the only cost that you have is the electricity) – so having the determination to boost revenue has immediate gratification.
In cutting costs
It’s a very valuable exercise to think of outside-the-box concepts to cut costs on each line item on the RV park’s expense statement. You will be amazed at how many creative ideas you have if you apply sufficient determination. Be careful, however, to not confuse cutting costs and cutting net income. If you stop all advertising, for example, you’ll cut cost, but the impact of lower revenue any gains.
In hitting and exceeding budgets
Your RV park budget is your road map to success. You have to be absolutely determined to meet or exceed your budget. Those who have true determination to succeed will do whatever it takes to stay on track, studying each month’s budget/actual/difference and drilling down on any item where you missed the mark. Any business – Rv park or not – will occasionally enter into a tough time where things are not going exactly as planned, and at those moments the most important trait an owner can have is determination. Winston Churchill once said that “when you are going through hell, they key is to keep going”. Now that’s true determination.
Determination is the quality that separates the good RV park owner from the great. If you have been lacking in determination recently, it’s time to get determined to be determined!
Why You Need Three Back-Up Plans For Every Element Of Your RV Park
The reason that commercial airplanes crash less frequently than private airplanes is that they have three back-ups to every system, so the same issues that would disable a private plane are avoided using the commercial plane’s back-up options. For example, if the landing gear won’t go down, the commercial plane has back-up hydraulics and even a manual method to lower them. Maybe your RV park needs to learn from that example.
All RV park owners have to admit that life seldom goes as planned. It rains when you thought it would be dry. Your pool pump goes out right when you were ready to open the pool for the season. Your credit card machine crashes right when you’re checking in a new customer. So if you’re willing to acknowledge that life holds surprises, then you have to admit that you need to have a plan for when those things happen.
It’s too late to plan when they do
You also have to admit that it’s too late to come up with a plan when something has gone wrong and the line of people is backing up. Dave Thomas (the founder of Wendy’s) called this concept “riding the wave” and that means that you have to be ready to tackle all problems seamlessly without disrupting your business – and that means thinking through the potential pitfalls and how to solve them.
What would happen if you had a medical emergency and had to go to the hospital? What if your manager had a heart attack? These really happen, and you have to be prepared. You should make plans for these type of issues, so that there is no impact on your business. Maybe there is someone you know who could step in during emergencies to keep things going until you get back. Possibly someone who lives near the RV park, or a family member. Set up this back-up today, while you are free of issues.
Take a look at all the systems you depend on throughout your RV park, such as pool filters, water and sewer lines, etc. You need a back-up plan in case of emergency, to patch things along until the permanent fix can be achieved. If the pool breaks, have some inflatable water slides ready to keep the good times going for the kids. Having these back-up plans ready will massively reduce your stress, as you know that, no matter what happens, you have it covered.
Better yet, make these into a manual
Take a ring binder. Put “Emergency Manual” on the cover. Fill it with plastic sleeves that you can put paper into. Write the emergency plan for each item in your RV park and place it into the sleeves, with an index at the front. Keep this manual right by your desk, and you know have the ultimate stress reliever – the 24/7 master plan of all back-up systems. You’ve taken your RV park from the dangerous private plane to the safety of a commercial jet.
The best way to stay out of trouble is to anticipate it and plan accordingly. Every RV park owner should have an “Emergency Manual”. Do you have one?