RV Park Mastery: Episode 69

Is A Lifetime Manager Possible?

We have employed hundreds of managers over the past few decades, and some properties have suffered through two or three manager changes in one year. After you have owned and operated RV parks for a while you start to lose hope that you can make a single hire and that manager will last until you sell the property decades into the future. Yet it happens. In this podcast we try to identify the traits and methods required to attain a “lifetime” manager.

Episode 69: Is A Lifetime Manager Possible? Transcript

A lifetime manager, is that truly attainable? This is Frank Rolfe, the RV Park Mastery Podcast. We're going to talk about the dream, the idea of you could hire a manager one time and have them operate and manage and oversee your RV park all the way to the end, right until you sell that RV park many, many years into the future. Now we've been owning and operating RV parks for over 25 years. We've seen a lot of managers come through the doors. Some people, huge disappointments. Others did a great job, but they just didn't last. So what we've noticed is there are some certain attributes to lifetime managers, those who stick around the longest, that we need to first comment on. The first is that they're not just in it for the money. Now in the RV park business, it's not from a manager's perspective, a great career choice. You don't see anyone graduating from Harvard Business School who says, "I want to be an RV park manager." So those who entered that trade, they shouldn't be totally focused on nothing but dollars and cents. There has to be more to it. And what we found is our longest lasting managers are those who take the job not just for the money, but also because they like to have varied activities throughout the day.

They like to be outdoors. They like to be around people. They like to problem solve, wear many hats. So it can't just be about the bucks. A manager who is simply in it for the money traditionally is not going to stick around for the long haul. They'll find something bigger and better down the road to take them away from you. But those who understand the overarching benefits of being an RV park manager, those are the ones who last a long time. Second, they must have great people skills. This is a people job. If someone wants to be the manager but they're horrible with people, in fact they can't even look them in the eye, they have no grace, no style, can't shake their hand, can't say, "How's it going today?" with even a weak sense of passion, it's just not going to work. Because what you need in a lifetime manager is somebody that attracts customers, customers to return to tell their friends to have a pleasant experience. So they have to have good people skills. Number three, they have to understand punctuality and dedication to the job. Now whether they're sick or well, the show must go on.

If they agree to be the manager and they're supposed to be in that office every day at 8 AM, they have to be in there at 8 AM They can't come wandering in at 10. They can't call in sick once a week and say, "Oh my stomach hurts." or "I think I have a cold." No, they have to be in the office. A lifetime manager, a long term candidate is someone who understands you don't have any depth of management. The manager is just it. There isn't a backup. It's not like the airplane where there's a pilot and a co-pilot. No there's just one. And they have to understand they have to show up. If they don't show up it's going to greatly harm your business.

Number four, they must be in good physical condition because this is a job that requires getting around. Whether it's walking around the property or meeting with customers or walking out to see why there's a problem with the sewer connection in lot 163, they have to be mobile. They have to be hardy because this is an indoor outdoor job. This is not just sitting at a desk. A successful lifetime manager is one who manages the entire business and that means being outdoors looking first hand at the property on a continual basis. So a good lifetime manager is someone who is in good physical shape. Now they don't have to be young. We've had many lifetime managers who are seniors and beyond. But the issue is they have to be able to get out there and walk the property and meet with customers on a continual basis. Finally they have to have the desire to be a lifetime manager. It doesn't work if you're the only one who does. So if they say to themselves, "I want to be your manager forever," well that's a great start.

But if they're always just looking for a better job offer, if they're constantly scanning the paper and online offerings to see what else there is out there that they could do for a living or even just to jump over to a different RV park, then that's not going to last as a lifetime manager. No, instead that's going to be somebody who's going to fill a gap for a while and then they will ultimately leave. So just as you are hoping that they will be there forever, you need them to share that and also agree that yes, they want to be there forever. Now what are some of the additional things that we've learned over the years that allows a manager to become a lifetime manager? Well number one, you have to use proper hiring. You have to select the right person for that job. And if you fail, if you pick the wrong person, then you know what's going to happen. It's not going to work out long term and that opportunity is lost. So when you're out there looking at different candidates, which one of these candidates do you think can truly do the job successfully and who do you think will stick around the longest time? 

And if you make the right choice, then that will create the lifetime manager environment. So who you hire has a lot to do with the ability for them to stay around for the long haul. Number two, you have to properly train them. So many managers blow out because the owner never bothered to show them what an RV park manager is to do. Instead they said, "Oh, you're the RV park manager, now just go out and do it," but without even explaining what 'go do it' actually meant. So if you want to have a manager stick around for the long haul, show them precisely what you want them to do. Everyone likes to please their boss. Everyone likes to do a great job for the owner, but you got to show them what that actually means. Some owners fail to want to put in the time to get the job done, and then what happens? Well, even the manager who had the skills was going to leave because they feel like they aren't really respected or cherished or a treasured member of the group. So you've got to give them proper training. Next you've got to give them the proper amount of contact.

Now what does that mean? Well, you know, when you have the manager and you have the owner, they have to speak on a continual basis unless the owner lives on site. So in that case, you need to tell them the expectations, how often you will contact them, how you will contact them, what you're going to talk about, what you want to be focused on. So it's very, very important on the front end you say, "Okay, here's how it works. Here's how we communicate." A lot of times the manager and the owner become at odds over time because either the owner feels slighted the manager doesn't contact them more or the manager feels slighted that the owner doesn't contact them enough. So just tell them what you have going on. Once someone knows the expectations on contact, they won't have those feelings anymore. But if you don't properly explain to them what the rules of the game are, then how in the world can that really ever work? Also show them the systems and the gauges they will be judged on. So whatever you feel the top drivers to your business are, that's what they need to be doing and that's how they need to be judged.

Everything needs to boil down to stats. People do not like being judged on anything other than stats. Stats are 100% fair. Stats you can monitor how you're doing. People do not like arbitrary decision whether their job is doing well or poorly based on something that you internalize and don't ever tell them how they're being judged. And that can be a terrible way to end what might have been a lifetime manager relationship. Finally, you have to acknowledge there is a part of sheer luck to having a lifetime manager. Now, all of us do the best we can. We run ads, we look at potential manager candidates, we try to make the best choice we can, but it's based on the pool of managers who are there at that one certain time. However, you can't really alter the fact of what's in that pool. If the perfect lifetime manager for your park isn't out there looking for that job at that moment, now they are a week later or a month later, but not at that exact time, then what's going to happen to you? Well, you're going to miss that opportunity. But there's not a thing you could have done about it. Now, are there things we can do to increase our luck? Yes, there are. It's called volume.

The more candidates you can look at, the better you will do. So the more sites you can post the need, the fact that you're hiring, the better it will be overall. If you look at 10 candidates or if you look at 100, you will do far better in choosing the right one if you have that 100 in the pool. So try to expand it as far as you humanly can. Some RV park owners, what they fail to realize is they need to really look at all the candidates and so they only decide to look at a few out of laziness. They say, "Ah, they're all about the same. I don't want to waste my time." That's not what someone looking for that lifetime manager is going to be thinking. The one looking for the lifetime manager is like a matchmaker saying, "Who is the best possible fit for this job? Who can I get here that I only have to train once? Who is there out there that actually could be my dream lifetime candidate?" Think of all the time savings you'll have if you hire managers who basically stick around forever. Think how many hours you'll save in training various managers over the years.

Imagine how efficient you will become as a team. Imagine how wonderful it will be already having someone on the staff who knows exactly what they're doing and how simple and easy your communications will be. The goal of a lifetime manager is attainable. We have done it. But you have to put in the effort to do it. And you have to have the goal and dedication to make it happen. But is it worth it? It's absolutely worth it. Every RV park owner should at all times be on the lookout, be on the hunt to try and find that lifetime manager. This is Frank Rolfe with the RV Park Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.