It is no secret that, in general, campgrounds weathered the recent COVID-19 pandemic quite nicely. In fact, many park owners were able to raise prices in response to the combination of the low supply and higher than ever demand for campsites. While most of those customers, including many first-time campers, would like to continue their pursuit of the camping experience, another potential roadblock is now in play.
With the global economy teetering on recession, the biggest consumer headaches are skyrocketing mortgage rates, food costs and fuel costs, with fuel costs most directly impacting the desire to camp. According to a late June 2022 CBS News report, the people who purchased new RVs during the pandemic are not yet being dissuaded from engaging in their camping pursuits, though they are likely to seek refuges that are closer to home in order to trim their travel expenses. Another recent Associated Press report indicates that consumers are now facing what is referred to as “demand destruction” when it comes to filling their vehicles with gasoline or diesel at what are now all-time record high prices per gallon.
Particularly for campground owners with parks that have historically offered overnight stops for cross-country travelers, or parks that are adjacent to off-the-beaten-path tourist destinations, now might be a good time to consider taking preemptive actions to ensure a steady flow of business. According to Forbes Magazine, many companies are offering fuel incentives to their employees as they return to their office commutes after months of working from home. Why not rethink that strategy and offer minor subsidies to your customers who cannot reach you without filling their tanks? One of my suggestions is to look into the use of prepaid fuel cards as a customer incentive that will help campers to justify traveling that extra mile.
Gift Card Rewards
We are all familiar with gift cards, probably purchasing them as last-minute gifts for friends and relatives. Most are purchased for retail merchants at gift card kiosks in supermarkets, convenience stores, and shopping malls. What I am suggesting is the use of cards that are purchased in bulk, perhaps even customized with your business name or logo, that are specifically for use at the fuel pumps of a major oil company that has a station near your place of business.
Everybody responds to incentives, and there is no incentive as effective as a perceived rebate. Let’s say you have a Shell Oil station down the road. Depending upon your available inventory — and this ties in directly to dynamic pricing — you could offer a $20.00 Shell gift card to people who camp mid-week, camp on a historically slow weekend, or arrive on a Thursday night for an extended weekend. To be effective, the card must have a significant perceived value (I suggest $20.00), but that incentive can be much more effective than a corresponding drop in dynamic pricing. We all know that it costs much more than $20.00 to fill a vehicle with gasoline or diesel these days, but that incentive can go a long way toward having a camper choose your park over another, even if it means traveling that extra mile.
There are two types of bulk gift cards that may be purchased. So-called “open loop” gift cards are prepaid Visa or MasterCard cards that may be used anywhere. These, for a significant one-time fee, are the cards that can be customized with your business name or logo. What I am suggesting are “closed loop” gift cards that are specifically used at one business. There are also both digital and plastic gift cards, and my recommendation is the use of the plastic cards. Their tangibility gives them greater perceived value. Of course, you need to keep these stored in a secure location within your office, treating a stack of $20.00 gift cards the same way you would treat a stack of $20.00 bills.
How to Purchase Bulk Gift Cards
The companies that specialize in selling bulk gift cards earn their income from fees that are paid by the merchants. Merchants can afford to absorb their fees because cards that are either unused or only partially redeemed can represent a major source of income. They also realize that somebody redeeming a $20.00 gift card is likely to make an additional purchase, another source of income. Most cards will also have an expiration date, so be sure to be aware of that timeframe both when purchasing bulk cards and when distributing them to your customers. The advantage to buying these cards in bulk is to circumvent the usual 20 card limit when purchasing gift cards at the retail level. In addition, though most cards are purchased at face value, some merchants may even provide small discount incentives, although others may charge a premium (best to be avoided) and some cards may be on back order due to high demand.
Two online merchants that sell bulk gift cards are PerfectGift.com and BlackhawkNetwork.com. When it comes to oil company gift cards, both of these merchants represent the following companies: 76, ARCO, BP/Amoco, Chevron, Circle K, Conoco, ExxonMobil, Gulf, Sheetz, Shell, Sinclair, Speedway, Sunoco, Texaco, and Wawa. In addition, Blackhawk represents Marathon and Phillips 66. There are other smaller bulk card merchants, such as GiftCardPartners.com which only represents Sheetz, Shell, Speedway, and Wawa.
Take This to the Next Level
If you decide to pursue this type of incentive program, try to arrange an expanded arrangement with your local merchant. A smart gas station operator will realize that it takes more than $20.00 to fill a tank on a motorhome or a big pickup truck, and that you are essentially sending them business. Your mutual customer is likely to purchase not only more fuel but items from a full range of convenience and food items that might be offered. This local merchant whose business you are promoting should be willing to display your brochures or rack cards on his counter, and he should be a prime prospect to advertise in your guest guides. In fact, if there is more than one brand of fuel available within easy reach of your business, the willingness to participate might dictate which brand you choose to associate with your business.
This post was written by Peter Pelland