Pelland Blog

Mobilegeddon?

May 13th, 2015

No doubt you heard the cries of alarm a few weeks ago, when so-called experts warned of the end of Internet search as we knew it, effective April 21, 2015. Perhaps you have also noticed the eerie silence since the uneventful passing of that date.

This past winter, the national news media spent two days ignoring real news events to warn of the impending “storm of the century” that was headed toward my home base in Western New England. We were in the bullseye of the forecast map, with a prediction of 30 or more inches of snow. After all was said and done, I believe that we received 6 or 7 inches. A few local meteorologists apologized for the inaccurate forecast that was fed to them by the National Weather Service. Other than that, the “story” was dropped – for obvious reasons – like a hot potato.

I am embarrassed that so many of my peers jumped on the sensationally-named “Mobilegeddon” bandwagon. It was particularly disturbing when the dire warnings were used by companies that were in a position to exploit the fear that was generated by the spread of this misinformation. Let’s face it: If his midnight ride was based upon unconfirmed rumors that “the British were coming”, Paul Revere would be long forgotten as a little-known Boston tinsmith.

As I pointed out at the time, many self-proclaimed “experts” cited a Google blog post, a comment reportedly made by a Google employee, and a speculative article that had appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine as the bases for a warning that was an outright exaggeration. What the new Google algorithm means is that sites that are mobile-friendly will gradually gain an edge over sites that are not mobile-friendly, being flagged as “mobile friendly” alongside mobile search results. This rise in the ranking of mobile-friendly sites will come at the expense of sites that are not deemed mobile-friendly, but it does not mean that those latter sites are suddenly going to be dropped from being indexed. Mobile-friendliness is only one – although a very significant one – of over 200 ranking signals that Google employs to determine the best search results.

Using historical – and factual – Google Analytics data that I drew from actual client websites, I was able to draw the following conclusion: If we presume that 35% of the traffic to a website comes from search engines, and that 50% of that traffic comes from Google, and that 50% of THAT traffic comes from users of mobile devices, it would mean that a site that was not mobile-friendly would lose approximately 9% of its traffic if the website was totally dropped from mobile search results on Google (something that was not going to happen and did not suddenly happen on April 21, 2015.)

According to statements made in a live stream on Google’s Webmaster Central on May 8th, the search giant realizes there are “small businesses who (sic) don’t have the time or the money (to have built a mobile-friendly site yet) … that are still fairly relevant in the search results, so we need to keep them in there somehow.” For example, if you run one of the leading campgrounds in Sturgis, South Dakota, Google is not going to drop your website from mobile search results just because your website is not deemed mobile-friendly. That would run totally contrary to the delivery of accurate and comprehensive search results, the overall basis for Google’s commanding success in the search market. A non-mobile site will still rank highly if it presents the content that users seek.

Mobile search rankings have always been different that desktop search rankings, and that gap is going to gradually but continually widen over time for sites that are not mobile-friendly. According to a recent report by digital marketing agency Merkle|RKG, fully 46% of Fortune 500 companies and 29% of the Internet Retailer 500 businesses do not yet have mobile-friendly sites. Even among the Top 10 of the Fortune 500, there are companies that do not yet have mobile-friendly sites: Phillips 66 (# 6 on the list) and Valero Energy (# 10 on the list). On the other hand, Google reports that there was a 4.7% increase in the overall number of mobile-friendly sites that were introduced in the two months leading up to the April 21st algorithm update. You can expect the numbers to increase, along with the volume of mobile-based Internet access, by less proactive companies that slowly embrace the inevitable.

As of May 1, 2015, Google has confirmed that the new search algorithm has been fully rolled out, although the differences that have been measured by both major online marketing agencies and the people who earn a living by monitoring the inner workings of search engines have been almost immeasurably lackluster. This was not the “storm of the century”; however, to use another weather-related analogy, neither the presence of that storm nor the lack thereof would represent a reason to deny long-term global warming. In other words, the mobile-friendliness of your website is in the ultimate interest of your business. Just don’t panic.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Your Website: It’s All About the Results

April 30th, 2015

So many people obsess about the amount of traffic that their websites receive, putting far too much emphasis on the numbers of visitors rather than the behavior of those visitors. This would be somewhat similar to a suburban shopping mall acting like business was great because the mall is packed with teens on a Friday or Saturday night, out to enjoy a social experience but spending little if anything with any of the mall merchants. Anybody who has ever worked in sales quickly learns the difference between people who like to try on clothing versus people who actually buy the clothing if it fits, people who like to kick tires versus people who are actually out to buy a car, or people who like to attend open houses versus people who are prequalified to buy a new home.

With a website, the metrics that count are goals and conversions. Goals in the outdoor hospitality industry are generally going to be reservation-related calls to action, and conversions are when visitors respond to a website’s persuasive abilities. Until that happens, your website is simply spinning the wheels on one of those old-fashioned hit counters that were ever-present on websites in the early days of the Internet.

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The conversion of traffic to buyers is a complex process that relies upon several factors. Discount incentives are always the most effective online selling tool, but those are not always practical for every type of business. More subtle but equally effective factors might include time-sensitivity (Enter “free firewood bundle” in the comments box when making your reservation before midnight tonight!), limited inventory (Only 3 campsites still available for Father’s Day Weekend!), or a connection with another event (Reserve your site for the weekend of July 25-26, camping only 4 miles from the Downtown Food Festival!) are all viable incentives.

Incentives should not be limited to a single call to action. Your website should offer far more than simply a means for making a reservation. The time of that reservation (or the reservation confirmation) is also the time to offer an incentive for an extended stay, offer upgrades, and offer add-on services.

Okay, you understand the concept of website conversions, but how do you convert your basic traffic into buyers? If you are running Google Analytics or another traffic analysis tool on your website, you are probably familiar with the concept of “bounce”. These are people who visit your site and leave almost as quickly as they arrived for any one of a variety of reasons. (Note that the vast majority of traffic that appears in bounce rates consists of robots. Our concern is with actual visitors who get frustrated and leave.) It is quite simple to deduce that the means to reduce your site’s bounce rate is to increase the time that visitors spend on your site. The bonus here is that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time that a visitor spends on your site and the likelihood of that visitor taking your prescribed course of action.

Quite simply, your challenge is to determine ways to get visitors to increase the amount of time they spend on your site. Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket (otherwise known as your site’s Home page). Distribute useful content throughout the pages of your site, encouraging visitors to click through to learn more.
  • Keep your site’s navigation highly intuitive. Make it crystal clear how a first-time visitor will find his or her way from point A to point B. Navigation should be consistent from page to page, located either across the top of the page or in a left side column, and it should be clearly labeled. Few people are going to click on a navigational link that presents a shortened equivalent of “Can You Guess What You Will Find If You Click Here?”
  • Present a visual flow that encourages exploration. A wall of text will not work. Balance text and graphics with a liberal dose of “white space”, a visual relief from sensory overload.
  • Keep the most essential content front and center, in newspaper parlance what is called “above the fold”. To sell newspapers, the lead stories are not buried at the bottom of the front page, initially invisible to a prospective buyer at a newsstand. With your website, try to present your case without requiring the user to scroll down the page (because that scrolling might never occur).
  • Keep your content easy to read. Choose font sizes and colors wisely, ensuring that there is sufficient contrast with background colors. Use headlines, bullet points, sidebars, and graphics to encourage engagement but, above all else, keep things simple.
  • Provide at least some content on your site that is not easily found elsewhere. Most people enter a site through its Home page (a website’s equivalent of your home’s front door); however, unique content that is of interest to your potential customers can present a side entrance with a very prominent welcome mat, particularly once that unique content gets indexed by search engines. This could be a blog, a consolidation of information compiled from other resources, or links to articles of interest to your visitors.

The common obsession with traffic, at the expense of conversions, misses the function and purpose of a commercial website. Focus on what is truly important, and you will be putting your website truly to work for your business.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Have a Question? Ask a Vendor!

April 21st, 2015

Early in the summer of 2014, one of my campground clients e-mailed me to let me know that she had sold her campground. She provided me with the name and cell phone number of the buyer. The following day, I called the new owner to introduce myself, encountering a highly unprofessional outgoing voicemail message but leaving my own message that explained the purpose of my call and asking him to get back to me. There was no response. I tried again a few days later with the same outcome.

I realize that some people have an aversion to what they may perceive as sales calls; however, my call did not include the words “I need to speak with the person who orders your office copier supplies.” I was not trying to sell him anything, I mentioned the name of the seller, and suggested that he might like to discuss changes that should be made to the website that my company had built and was hosting. He might like something as simple as having us add a notice that said “Under New Ownership”. There was no response, and I moved on to other things … such as being of service to people who return my calls.

About a month after the park changed hands, I started getting error logs from people submitting reservation requests on the campground’s website. The request forms were set to be sent to the campground’s Comcast e-mail address, and the new owner had cancelled the previous owner’s contract with Comcast. After four reservation requests were rendered undeliverable over a weekend at the height of the summer camping season, I made another round of calls to the new owner’s cell phone. I listened to his same childish outgoing message, and told him specifically why I was calling, that he was losing business, and that he needed to provide me with a new e-mail address for the reservation request forms on his website. I also called the campground’s main phone number. Once again, no response.

As of this writing, there have been 82 people who have attempted to make reservations through the campground’s website, some of whom were inquiring about multiple sites or stays of one week or longer. Let’s presume that the average request was for a two-night stay at the campground’s $35.00 average nightly rate. That translates into $5,740.00 in lost business from the undelivered forms alone. Stated another way, this is $5,740.00 in lost business because my phone calls were not returned. Of course, I have no alternate e-mail address, allowing me to reach out in another manner. The campground’s website hosting service (prepaid by the former owner) expires in July. Will he call me when his website is disabled? Time will tell.

The point of all this is to stress the value of industry vendors. Yes, we sell products or services. However, selling is not a crime. In fact, it is the backbone of our economy. I have always had a policy of providing up to an hour of free consultation services to anybody who calls me and who would like to plug into my expertise. There are no sales attempts or strings attached, and my base of knowledge extends well beyond the services that my company provides. For example, at the recent Northeast Campground Association conference, I participated in the “Learn from the Experts” roundtable sessions, where my topic was online and office security standards.

If you have a question about payment processing, insurance, wi-fi installation, or which store merchandise will provide the greatest return on investment, ask an industry vendor. If you want to know the pros and cons between alternate lines of laundry equipment, golf carts, power pedestals, lawn mowers, or picnic tables, ask an industry vendor. With very few exceptions, the people who I know who are serving the family campground industry are truly committed to the industry and can be relied upon for honest and objective information. I believe that most put the interests of their customers and the overall industry ahead of their own interests. There is a tremendous resource at your disposal. Put it to good use. Those who fail to do so may suffer the consequences.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

From Percolators to Pods

April 14th, 2015

If you are a typical American, you probably started your day with a cup of coffee. According to the most recent National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT) report, published by the National Coffee Association, 54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink an average of 3.1 cups of coffee each day. More casual coffee consumption is practiced by 83% of the public. Of these coffee drinkers, 65% enjoy the beverage with breakfast. In total, consumers in the United States spend $40 billion on coffee each year. Impressive statistics, but what do they mean for you?

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Just as there are all types of coffee products, there are all types of campgrounds. Trends change over time, and demands ebb and flow for various types of coffee and styles of camping. Remember the days of coffee percolators? They were an integral part of a long-running advertising campaign for Maxwell House. Today, half the population could probably not even identify a coffee percolator in a line-up of obsolete kitchen appliances.

Today, there is a market for high-end artisanal brews, as evidenced by the $950 million in annual sales at Starbucks; however, the vast majority of Americans do not have an appreciation for single-origin coffee brewed from freshly-ground beans. Those markets are limited, in a similar manner as the markets are limited for other high-end beverages such as loose teas, cask conditioned ales, single malt Scotch whiskies, or small batch bourbons.

According to the market research firm Euromonitor, only about 8% of the coffee purchased in America is whole bean coffee, meaning that sales of pre-ground coffee outpace whole bean coffees by 12.5 to 1. When it comes to coffee, it seems that most of us prefer convenience over quality. Driving that fact home is the astronomical growth in sales of K-Cups, the ubiquitous pre-portioned coffee pods. Years ago, the coffee kings in America were Folger’s (owned by consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble) and Maxwell House (owned by another giant, Kraft Foods). Today, K-Cups from Keurig Green Mountain account for 20% of the total coffee market, not only more than any other company but more than Folger’s and Maxwell House combined. Again according to Euromonitor, the sales of coffee pods have grown by 138,325% over the past 10 years!

Going back to the National Coffee Association’s NCDT, it is important to note that Hispanic Americans far outpace all other ethnic groups in the consumption of coffee, including gourmet coffees and espresso-based beverages. Also comprising the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, this is a very positive sign for the overall industry.

Henry Ford, in the days of skyrocketing sales of his Model T, commented that he could “sell to the masses and eat with the classes.” In other words, fortunes can be made by providing products or services that appeal to the broadest possible market. In today’s world, most businesses succeed by appealing to mass markets through low prices (the Wal-Mart and Amazon models,) although small businesses usually excel by catering to the niche and local markets that might not be profitable pursuits by mass marketers. Let’s translate this information into concepts that directly relate to your campground.

  1. Keep in step with current trends. Coffee consumption has been on the increase in recent years, in large part thanks to the coffee pods that have made things quick and easy. Are cabins and other rentals the quick and easy way for new people to be introduced to camping? If so, are you making the process as simple as possible, or are you still requiring your guests to bring their own towels and linens?
  2. If you think of your campground as a supermarket, are you still devoting all of your shelf space to Folger’s and Maxwell House? When the world is changing around you, you cannot succeed by becoming stagnant. If your guests want 50-amp electric, pull-thru sites and free wi-fi, it is time to meet their needs.
  3. Starbucks has proven that people will not hesitate to pay the price for premium products and services. If you are running the Starbucks of campgrounds, you can probably raise your rates without fear of losing business.
  4. The Hispanic-American market has outpaced every other ethnic group in the consumption of coffee. Are you surprised? What is your campground doing to reach out to this large and expanding market of consumers … or are you continuing to miss the boat?
  5. Are you capitalizing upon the fact that 65% of coffee drinkers consume the beverage first thing in the morning? A selection of fresh-brewed coffees in your store can draw people in every morning, encouraging the sale of a long list of other merchandise that goes far beyond donuts and the morning newspaper.

In general, it pays to keep an eye on industry trends, only one of which centers around coffee consumption. Put the old percolator in the attic of your logic, and do your best to reach out to both existing and prospective guests in new and innovating ways.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Sky Is (Not) Falling

April 6th, 2015

Chicken Little was well-intentioned when he hysterically warned of impending disaster. The only problem was that his predictions were based upon conjecture rather than facts. Back at the turn of the millennium, modern-day Chicken Littles mongered fear over the impending “Y2K” disaster that, of course, never happened. More recently, there has been more than a bit of press about the implementation of the next round of Google search ranking algorithms that will only begin to be rolled out on April 21, 2015. Without doing any research of their own, many self-proclaimed “experts” are citing a Google blog post, a comment reportedly made by a Google employee, and a speculative article that recently appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine as the bases for their warnings of dire consequences for today’s typical website. Like grade school students spreading rumors in the schoolyard, it is time for some people to take a “time out”.

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Like the news networks that love to exaggerate stories and develop sensationalist headlines like “Stormageddon” and “Blizzard of the Century” (and, of course, the aforementioned “Y2K”), the new buzz word amongst the uninformed is “Mobilegeddon”. People using this type of terminology remind me of those who blindly share urban legends on Facebook, without taking a moment to first check the facts. The stories may generate excitement, but they lack credibility.

The fact is that Google will be rolling out a new set of search algorithms starting on April 21st; however, this does NOT mean that a website that is not deemed mobile-friendly will suddenly drop from the results of Google searches made from mobile devices. That is an outright exaggeration. What the new algorithms mean is that sites that are mobile-friendly will have an edge over sites that are not mobile-friendly, being flagged as “mobile friendly” alongside those search results. This rise in the rankings of mobile-friendly sites will come at the expense of sites that are not deemed mobile-friendly, but it does not mean that those latter sites are suddenly going to be dropped from being indexed.

Chicken Littles have suggested that half of a site’s traffic is suddenly going to disappear effective April 21st, if the site is not mobile-friendly. This is patently untrue. Using historical Google Analytics data that I have drawn from actual campground websites, let’s presume that 35% of the traffic to a website comes from search engines, and that 50% of that traffic comes from Google, and that 50% of THAT traffic comes from users of mobile devices. Do the math. That would mean that, if a website was totally dropped from mobile search results on Google (which is NOT going to happen at this time), that site would lose approximately 9% of its traffic. That is the reality, rather than conjecture and misguided speculation.

There are plenty of valid reasons why every business should be moving to replace a conventional website with a new mobile-friendly site, and to do so sooner rather than later. However, the people who are suggesting panic are doing a tremendous disservice by encouraging the jerking of knees rather than the exercise of a careful plan for execution that includes properly methodical planning and budgeting for the long-term investment in mobile-friendly technology.

In years past, many businesses were advised to buy into expensive mobile apps or separate mobile websites, in an attempt to capture the market for users of mobile devices. In retrospect, those dollars were generally not well spent. Today, the dust has settled and responsive website technology has taken its place as the mobile-friendly solution that Google and the other search engines prefer, with one site presenting full content that is optimized for every device. If your site is not currently mobile-friendly, make plans for the transition – as I have said, sooner rather than later. In the meantime, don’t panic. The sky is not falling, and the world is not about to end on April 21st.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Nobody Likes the Surprise of Hidden Charges

April 2nd, 2015

Last week, on a quick trip to Nebraska, I rented a car at Eppley Airfield in Omaha. I had reserved the car rental online in advance. My basic rental fee with Thrifty Car Rental came to $155.72. Sort of like a base rate for a campsite … or is it?

Transparency in pricing is more important than ever these days. Consumers do not want to feel cheated or like they are being subjected to fraudulent pricing practices. When you dine at a restaurant, you are not charged extra for the use of a table, to have your meal served on plates, using the restrooms, or for the use of flatware and napkins. These are part of the overhead of being in the restaurant business. Yes, we all know that there are so-called “extras”, many of which apply to various types of recreational services. Unless there is special package pricing, if you schedule a round of golf, you expect to pay extra for a golf cart; if you go skiing, you expect to pay extra for ski rentals or lessons; and if you hit the bowling lanes, you will pay to rent bowling shoes if you need them.

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Unfortunately, the rental car industry takes add-ons and hidden charges to a whole new level in the stratosphere. My $155.72 car rental came to $275.56 when I returned the vehicle. Mind you, this increase is despite the fact that I declined all of the added insurance (which is covered by my own auto insurance) and declined the added driver charge for my wife (a fee which is actually illegal in the State of California). The previously undisclosed, added fees included:

  • An “RAF” fee of $4.99 per day (which presumably has something to do with renting a vehicle at an airport, even if you simply take a shuttle from the airport to a nearby rental location in some instances).
  • An “Occupancy Tax” of $8.00 (which I presume is an added fee that helps to pay Thrifty’s rent).
  • An “AP Rec Fee” of 12%. I have no idea what this is.
  • An “SEC Fee” of 2%. I also have no idea what this is.
  • A “Vehicle Tax” of 4.5%. This one is also difficult to explain.

Part of the problem with the rental car industry is the lack of competition. Most of us can rattle off a list of rental car companies; however, according to a report published in the IndependentTraveler.com, the fact is that 94% of the rental car industry in America is controlled by only three companies:

  1. Hertz – which also owns Advantage, Dollar and Thrifty
  2. Avis – which also owns Budget and Zipcar
  3. Enterprise – which also owns Alamo and National

In fact, when we landed in Omaha and went to the car rental counters, the Thrifty Car Rental booth was unoccupied, with a sign directing customers to the adjacent Dollar Car Rental space. A near-monopoly is never in the interest of consumers. As a case in point, let me present one more tidbit from my car rental experience.

I generally use a bank debit card to pay for my travel expenses. When doing so, it is typical for a hold on funds to be applied, exceeding the anticipated cost of the service by $200.00 or $250.00. According the Thrifty, there would be an additional hold of $350.00 (a bit excessive). More outrageously, if you used a debit card, they would first run a credit check (which, in itself, is harmful to one’s credit score) AND charge you a $15.00 fee for the credit report! When I questioned this practice, the clerk pointed toward the other car rental counters and said that they had “all decided to introduce this policy” the previous week. I am not an attorney, but I believe that this is the textbook definition of the term “collusion”. I used a credit card as an alternate form of payment.

Needless to say, I am not happy with my most recent car rental experience, and I will never again rent a vehicle from Thrifty or Dollar. I will probably also file a complaint with either regulatory authorities or the Office of the Attorney General in the State of Nebraska (if not both). If this experience involved camping, I would not be the classic “Happy Camper”.

If you are wondering how this all might relate to camping, ask yourself if your rates are as transparent as possible. Every campground is going to require cancellation fees, guest fees, premium rates (and minimum stays) for holiday weekends, and premium charges for premium sites. The important part of the equation is for those fees to be fully disclosed at the time of reservation, leading to no surprises at the time of arrival or final check-out. If your state or county imposes a lodging tax on your cabin rentals, be sure that your campers are aware of that fee at the time of reservation.

There are other fees that you may want to reconsider because they are difficult for your customers to rationalize. These might include early check-in fees and wi-fi access charges. Then there are other fees that are certain to meet with customer disapproval. These include surcharges for the use of credit cards, along with transaction fees (often referred to as “convenience charges”) that accompany online reservations. These, like the “Occupancy Tax” and “Vehicle Tax” at the airport car rental counter, should be built into your basic pricing.

If you try to see your pricing structure from your customers’ perspective, you will avoid the type of dissatisfaction that will only hurt your business in the long run. In order for your customers to see things clearly requires transparency on your part. Ask yourself if it is time to take another look!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

How Long Do You Make People Wait?

March 6th, 2015

I am writing this article while waiting for road service to be scheduled through a national auto club. It is a beautiful late winter Saturday in New England, with perfect snow conditions and not a cloud in the sky, what skiers refer to as a “bluebird day”. I awakened at 5:00 o’clock this morning, with plans to hit the slopes at one of my favorite Vermont ski destinations. Unfortunately, not far from home, one of my rear tires went flat, and the jack that came with my car is about as useful as a pet rock.

After attempting to change the tire with the “pet rock”, I had no choice but to call for roadside assistance. First, I was serenaded with the most annoying music on hold while waiting for the company to find an available service provider in my area, only to be told that they were having no luck in that search. Three or four phone calls and about an hour later —at least the auto club was giving me status updates— I was told that they had located a service provider that was available and would send a truck within an hour.

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If you are in the business of providing roadside assistance, the fact that people will call with service requests should not catch you off guard. When a member needs emergency service, it is not time to be negotiating arrangements with local service providers. Those contracts should have been arranged long ago. Nor is it time to wonder whether it might be time to invest in additional telephone agents. When somebody’s vehicle is disabled at the side of the road, I can assure you that they do not want to listen to music on hold.

Two and a half hours later, my day is shot, but the spare tire has been mounted and I am off to the tire store to have the flat repaired. Our leisure time is limited these days, the pace of life is fast, and nobody has either the time or the inclination to needlessly wait. How is your campground fitting into the timeline when it comes to making your guests needlessly wait?

  1. Registration – On a Friday afternoon, do you have a line of guests waiting for their turn at your registration desk? How long do they have to wait? The ideal wait time, from a guest’s perspective, is about 1 minute. Take a tip from the Montage Deer Valley Hotel, in Park City, Utah. When guests pull up to their entrance, the guests are immediately greeted by a valet, who gets their names and radios the information to the front desk. Upon entering the lobby, the guests are greeted by name and already have a folder, including room keys, ready to go. They simply sign off a confirmation of services, and the host escorts them to their room, pointing out hotel features and amenities along the way. When guests have advance reservations, their arrival should not be treated as if it is a surprise to your registration staff. Instead of making people anonymously wait in line, this process is speedy and personalized … and would be so easy to adapt to the campground registration process.
  2. Bathroom Cleaning – This is a classic double-edged sword. Your guests expect clean bathroom buildings, but they do not want the entrance blocked by a yellow folding sign upon their arrival. Of course, this task should be scheduled for the lowest demand times possible, but it should also be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is not time for a member of your janitorial staff to be repeatedly running back to your maintenance building to retrieve a forgotten brush or cleaning compound.
  3. Boat Rentals – When a camper wants to rent a boat, what are your typical wait times? If a family wants to get out on your lake, they want to do it right then and there, not an hour from now, while the kids are restlessly waiting. With the exception of popular attractions at major theme parks, people are generally unwilling to wait in line. Even Disney is working to resolve this problem, with a new FastPass+ program that allows guests to reserve their park experiences up to 30 days in advance from home, a mobile app, or park kiosks. Do whatever you can to streamline the process of keeping your guests active and – consequently – happy!
  4. Propane Refills – How long does a camper have to wait to get a propane tank refill at your park? In some instances, campers have no problem leaving behind a propane tank to be refilled and picked up later. On the other hand, the fact that there are over 800 Blue Rhino retail locations throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, where empty tanks are quickly swapped for full tanks, suggests that there are quite a few people who would prefer not to wait.
  5. Snack Bar Orders – If your campground has a snack bar, it is probably serving what by definition is known as “fast food”. How long does it take for the average order to be filled? According to a 2013 fast food performance study conducted by Quick Service Restaurant News, the average drive-thru order takes 3 minutes to fill, with an overall correlation between speed and accuracy – both important factors. Is your snack bar being staffed by one or more employees who are working double-duty with other job responsibilities? If necessary from a financial standpoint, limit the hours of your snack bar operation to high demand hours, when it can be adequately and dedicatedly staffed by employees who have been trained to prepare the food properly and efficiently. How many guests are going to return to your snack bar after a disappointing initial experience?
  6. Check-Out – The check-out procedure at your park should be even faster and more efficient than the check-in process, but speediness should not be at the expense of covering the essentials. Ask your guests if they enjoyed their stay, if there was anything that could have been done to make their stay more enjoyable (and take notes, rather than committing this valuable feedback to memory!), and if they would like to book a subsequent stay (even if they were disappointed, because you would like an opportunity to make things right!). If they tell you that they absolutely loved their stay, ask them if they would do you a favor and put their thoughts into words in a review on TripAdvisor or another important travel review site, handing them instructions that they can later reference.

From check-in through check-out – and every moment in between – do you best to ensure that your guests are enjoying every minute of their stay that is within your control. Guests who are enjoying their time at your park will spend more money during their stay, and guests who enjoy their overall stay are guests who will return again and again for years to come.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Do Not Fall Victim to the Tech Support Phone Scam

March 2nd, 2015

One recent instance after another has compelled me to attempt to warn people about some of the scams that are proliferating and making the rounds these days. Although most scams use e-mail to seek new victims, due to the almost nonexistent cost of e-mail compared to the snail mail that was the vehicle of choice in earlier days, telemarketing is still one of the most common points of entry for scammers and cyber-thieves. In this installment I would like to warn readers about the very active Tech Support Phone Scam, offering suggestions on how to avoid becoming the next victim.

Everybody has problems with their computers from time to time. Files may get corrupted, programs crash, and sometimes a software update contains unanticipated bugs. Worse yet, you could inadvertently install malware on your computer, typically when opening an e-mail or an e-mail attachment. One of my clients recently called me, telling me that he was suddenly experiencing a problem synchronizing Microsoft Outlook with his reservation software. Later that day, he called me again with the “good news” that Microsoft was helping him to resolve the problem. Out of total coincidence, he had been the recipient of a telemarketing call from a dubious outfit that calls itself “Tech Zone Windows”. The caller led my client to believe that he was a Microsoft representative, charged his credit card $199.00 (which was a less expensive alternative to his original $599.00 offer), and was using remote access to do who knows what with my client’s computer! Perhaps the company was actually scanning my client’s computer and removing malware, something that anybody could do themselves for free. Far more likely, it was installing spyware and accessing sensitive information.

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Fortunately, the client called me while this was happening, and I instructed him to immediately turn off his computer and found him a legitimate computer technician in his local area. Within seconds, the company’s representative called him, concerned that he had not yet finished the task at hand. My client demanded a refund, but as a result of this experience, has had to take the precaution of replacing his credit card. Hopefully, this represents the end, rather than the beginning, of his problems. Time will tell.

Microsoft has actually warned consumers about this and similar scams, where the callers impersonate help desk engineers from legitimate software companies. According to a Microsoft survey of 1,000 English language computer users back in 2011, 15% said that they had received one or more of these calls, and 22% of those who had gotten a call were tricked by the scam and paid an average of $875.00. If you do the math, you will see how somebody sitting at a desk in some remote part of the globe can rake in well over $2,500.00 simply by making 1,000 random phone calls. That dollar amount is only the haul from the bogus fees that they charge, earnings which could pale in comparison to what they can earn from the malicious software that they will install on your computer or the subsequent sale of your credit card number! The malware that they install is designed to harvest anything of value on your computer – including passwords, sensitive information and access credentials to things like your online banking and tax returns.

Continuing with the Microsoft report, 79% of those who were victimized by one of these scams reported some sort of financial loss, with 17% discovering money withdrawn from their bank accounts, 19% reporting passwords stolen, and 17% becoming victims of identity theft. A majority of victims also incurred significant costs in subsequently having their computers repaired or replaced after the experience.

To prevent this from happening to you, keep the following in mind:

  • Microsoft (or Apple or any other tech company) will NEVER call you to offer assistance. If you need assistance from one of these companies, you probably know how impossible it is to obtain. Rest assured that they will NOT be the ones trying to call you!
  • Never allow anybody to run remote access to your computer, unless you totally trust that individual. Remote access allows a total stranger total access to your computer. There is far too much at risk.
  • Never purchase any type of software service from somebody who approaches you on the phone.
  • Do not trust Caller ID. It is very easy to spoof the phone number that appears on Caller ID, and thieves use this trick to make themselves appear to be legitimate. Although Caller ID spoofing is a violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act and subject to a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation, thieves laugh in the face of the law. (Feel free to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, the regulatory agency that is responsible for enforcement, either online or by calling 1 888 CALL-FCC.)

If you are uncertain about a company, I always suggest performing a quick Google search from the company’s name followed by the word “scam” or “complaints”. In the case of Tech Zone Windows, a Google search for “Tech Zone Windows Scam” currently produced 2,970,000 search results.

To learn more, read the following Microsoft security bulletin:
http://www.microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/avoid-phone-scams.aspx

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Learn a Few Lessons from SkyMall

February 18th, 2015

By now you have heard about the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing for SkyMall, the iconic airline shopping catalog. For a quarter century, SkyMall marketed its products to up to 650 million airline passengers each year, according to the company’s own survey statistics, which also claimed that 70% of passengers read through the catalog on every flight. Having negotiated contracts with most of the major air carriers in the United States, 90% of passengers found themselves within inches of the latest SkyMall catalog. The company claimed in 2009 that 60% of its sales came through its website and accounted for $80,500,000 in revenue. From this number, it is easy to deduce that the remaining catalog orders yielded total sales revenues of over $134,000,000.

After the typical passenger had read through the airline magazine, even before memorizing the locations of the nearest emergency exits, the next item of interest in the seat back pocket was usually the latest SkyMall catalog. In it, you could find everything from a robot to clean your roof gutters to a laser helmet that would regrow hair on a bald head to a pepper grinder that looks like a full-sized baseball bat. Ahem, let’s just say that they sold the same kind of non-essential merchandise that is hawked on late-night cable TV.

Anyway, parent company Xhibit Corp complained that the reason for the demise of the SkyMall catalog had less to do with a stagnant concept and a goofy product line than the onslaught of digital devices that are now permitted for use in-flight. Now that weary travelers could access Google, eBay and Amazon, where they could also compare prices and read reviews, why would they want to thumb through a catalog? In fact, Xhibit Corp’s acting CEO, Scott Wiley, actually insinuated that SkyMall was a victim in the process that led to its downfall.

The fact is that SkyMall evolved from its initial concept back in 1989, when it actually relied upon the technology of the time, and was hemorrhaging massive amounts of cash. At that time, it was supposed to stock all of the catalog’s merchandise in a network of warehouses located near airport terminals. Customers were supposed to place orders using the “air phones” that used to be built into the backs of airline seats, after which the items were supposed to be rushed to the airport’s baggage claim for pick-up by the customer. Take note of my emphasis on the word “supposed”. The concept didn’t work, but the company did not throw in the towel.

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The rebranded concept would now feature goofy products that the company did not own or warehouse, with the individual manufacturers of those products paying for the privilege of display advertising space in the SkyMall catalog. The company now made its money from the sale of that advertising space, either through (higher) flat rates (what they called their “Advertising Program”) or lower rates that would be supplemented by a percentage of sales (what they called their “Merchandising Program). In each instance, SkyMall also charged its advertisers a 5-6% “operational fee”. The advertisers would then be responsible for drop-shipping the merchandise to customers. The least expensive advertising space in the quarterly catalog was a quarter-page, where the most recent flat fee amounted to $41,100.00. Clearly, advertisers needed to sell a lot of baseball bat pepper grinders just to recover that advertising cost, let alone turn a profit!

If SkyMall reinvented its business model once, it could have done so again, rather than simply claiming that it was a victim of advances in technology. If airline passengers are picking up their smartphones and tablets instead of a catalog that is admittedly expensive to print, find a way to get your product onto those mobile devices. If you look at the company’s most recent business model (the one that led to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing), you will see that it is based upon advertising sales rather than a regard for the customer, and that concept is a formula for disaster. To succeed today, particularly in what is essentially an e-commerce model, a company must engage its customers and play the game on the customers’ terms, with an emphasis on service rather than sales. A company needs to build long-term customer relationships, not simply generate one-time sales; however, when the business model is primarily based upon advertising sales, there is little incentive to build loyalty with the end consumer. There is actually a disconnection in this regard.

What does this all mean for your campground or other small business? The first question to ask yourself is whether you are operating under a 25 year old business plan. Believe it or not, there are still campgrounds that do not accept credit cards, despite the fact that customers overwhelmingly want to use credit cards. There are also campgrounds that do not process reservations online, requiring customers to call them and inevitably enter into a game of telephone tag. In those instances, the customer is almost always going to be the one to call it quits, finding another campground that will process the reservation online and accept a deposit using the credit card of the customer’s choice.

How about your website? A majority of your customers are surfing the Web using mobile devices. Is your website mobile-friendly, or is it driving those customers away? How about your activity schedule? Are you still doing the same old, same old Christmas in July that you were doing back in 1979? How about your office practices at the time of arrival and registration? When guests are exhausted after a four-hour drive in Friday afternoon traffic, are you making them wait even longer at an inadequately staffed registration desk?

Using the SkyMall experience as a guide, take a close and honest look at your own business, putting aside practices that may have worked 25 years ago but are a bit out of touch with today’s rapidly changing world and customer expectations. Embrace not only the latest technology, but embrace the customers that are your key to continued success!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Mobile Is Not Just a City in Alabama

February 4th, 2015

Nobody needs to be convinced these days that their business needs to have a website. What surprises me is how many people think that the website that was built 4 or 5 years ago, before the commanding surge in the use of mobile devices, could be adequately serving their needs today. Let me simply say that times have changed.

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Statistics compiled by Google, based upon the Google Analytics software that is running on websites around the world (and probably including your own) demonstrate that 50% of all website traffic is now mobile. In fact, this past holiday season, 22.5% of all online sales came through mobile devices (which are defined as either phones or tablets). Those numbers are impressive.

Google is now warning website owners if their sites fall short of being mobile-friendly … what they refer to as “critical mobile usability errors”, with the presumption being that these sites will soon be penalized in search results. Google is reportedly ready to begin downgrading those sites that are not configured for proper display on smartphones. The impact of that upon an older website could be tremendous, since the #1 source of new traffic to most websites is generated through organic searches on Google.

Taking steps in that direction, if you currently perform a Google search from your phone, the search engine results page will now label sites that are deemed to be mobile-friendly. Sites that fail that test typically display text that is too small to read on a phone, links that are too close together for fingers to navigate, or the lack of a mobile viewport (requiring users to pinch and zoom in order to view content). A site that is not mobile-friendly is not only at risk of losing out in its search ranking, it is losing its owner business today.

Let me demonstrate. I just performed a quick check of the Google Analytics on the conventional website of one of our clients, confirming that within the past 30 days, the lion’s share of the site’s traffic came from the users of mobile devices. The breakdown was 47.56% of visitors using smartphones, 14.98% using tablets, and only 37.45% using either a desktop or laptop computer. Keeping in mind that this is not a mobile-optimized site, the smartphone users visiting this site were spending only 60% of the amount of time on the site as the dwindling numbers of users of conventional computers. The bounce rate (the number of visitors who arrive at a site, then leave very quickly) was about 64% higher for smartphone users. Users of tablets, with larger displays, were somewhat more tolerant.

Nobody would have imagined this scenario a few years ago. Considering the fact that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on a website and the likelihood of the user taking the intended course of action (in the instance of a campground, typically this means making a reservation request), these numbers are foreboding.

Before You Panic, Check Your Site

Fortunately, Google has provided a quick online test that will let you know whether or not your site is mobile-friendly. Go to the following link, where you may enter your URL:

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

If your site passes the test, congratulations are in order. If it fails the test, it is time to at least think about budgeting for a replacement. The next question involves what type of mobile solution will best suit your needs. For all practical purposes, there are three choices.

  • Responsive Web Design: This is the option that is recommended by Google. A responsive website serves the same site content to all devices, with a fluid page layout that adapts to each device. These sites are easy to maintain, but they may be expensive.
  • Separate Mobile Site: This was the preferred option prior to the onset of responsive design. It involves the construction of separate mobile content. User’s devices are detected and shown content that is specifically built for that device, or they are redirected to a mobile-specific URL. These sites are more difficult to maintain (because content is duplicated among pages) and they do not present consistent content across all devices. For these reasons, this option is falling out of favor.
  • A Mobile App: This is a separate application that is built for mobile users. It must be downloaded and installed by the user, and it is often used in conjunction with a website. An app has a usability advantage for smartphone users, but the costs are both prohibitive and unnecessary for most small businesses, both upfront and when it is time to maintain and update content.

The bottom line is that, if you are concerned about mobile traffic to your site (and you should be concerned!), there are decisions to be made, and you probably do not want to indefinitely delay making those decisions. Your new site should adhere to a specific set of best practices. These include the avoidance of software that it not supported on most mobile devices, particularly Flash. (There are alternate ways of presenting animation, using CSS or JavaScript, that are mobile-friendly.) Your site should also not include text that is unreadable without zooming, content with a screen width that requires horizontal scrolling on small devices, or links that are not far enough apart for fat fingers to navigate.

There are new websites being launched every day that are based upon old methods. Investing in one of those today is roughly equivalent to going out to buy a new car but coming home with a horse and buggy instead.

This post was written by Peter Pelland