Pelland Blog

Thinking Small Is More Important Than Ever

April 24th, 2024

The idea to “think small” worked remarkably well for Volkswagen, in its famous advertising campaign from the Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising agency that started in 1959, cited by Advertising Age magazine as the best ad campaign of the twentieth century. Today, Volkswagen of America is commemorating its 75th anniversary of selling cars in the United States, where it all started with an enterprising businessman who imported two Volkswagen Type 1 vehicles that proved quite difficult to sell in the city of New York.

The Type 1, due to its shape, became informally known as the Beetle, and it was followed by the even more quirky Type 2, which had a variety of informal names that included the Transporter, Camper, Station Wagon, Bus, Microbus, and (in Germany) the Bulli. Eventually, these quirky vehicles caught on with a segment of the public that was attracted to the unconventional appearances, air-cooled engines, and counterculture appeal. The VW Microbus became the semi-official vehicle of Woodstock, Haight-Ashbury, and Arlo Guthrie and the Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.

Americans have always had an inherent desire to support the little guy or the underdog. We see it in sports, and we see it with increasing frequency in our day-to-day buying decisions. Even online, I prefer to buy from small merchants on Etsy or eBay, rather than putting more money into the billionaire pockets of Jeff Bezos. With so-called dollar stores notoriously hammering the nails into the coffins of local merchants in small towns across America in recent years, I was highly encouraged to read the news this week (in March 2024) that the Dollar Tree chain would be closing nearly 1,000 of its stores, mostly those operating under the Family Dollar name, in 2024. This may not bring back the merchants who were forced to close due competitive Goliaths moving into their neighborhoods, but it may be a sign of a turnaround in consumer behavior.

Many people today make a concerted effort to buy local and support small businesses. This new consciousness is behind the resurgence in family farming, farmers markets, and the purchase of farm shares throughout much of the country. I am a craft beer afficionado, and I have not purchased or consumed a brew from any of the international beer conglomerates in decades, but I regularly support at least a couple dozen local microbreweries. Even when purchasing general merchandise, unless I have no choice, I will only purchase goods made in the United States or Canada. If I need lumber, rather than going to a big box lumber yard, I go to the sawmill operation down at the corner of my road.

It’s Story Time

If you are following my train of thought, and if you have your eyes wide open regarding the rapidly conglomerating ownership in the campground industry today, you may realize that there are opportunities for small, individually owned parks to prosper. Sort of like “show and tell” back in kindergarten, telling your story is the best way to introduce yourself to people. Guess what? If they like what they hear or read, you may have set the foundation for a multi-generational relationship. To get started, it would probably be a productive exercise to take the time to put your story down on paper. What is the history of your campground, and what is your story as its owner? Tell people why you bought your park, and what you are seeking to accomplish. Are you a new owner, or are you the fifth generation of Smiths to run Peaceful Acres? We are not talking about a business plan or formal mission statement. We are talking about personalizing the differences between your business and your bigger, less personal competitors.

Here are a few tips for what might be included in your story, but above all else, make it personal and from the heart:

  • Why did you decide to buy (or build) your park? What is it that you are seeking to offer your guests or that differentiates your park?
  • What did you do in life that took you to this point in time? Did you work in customer service, the public sector, or did you perhaps work in a big company that downsized or moved its production offshore? What lessons did you learn that you will bring to your business, and how do you plan on doing things differently? Many people will directly identify with your prior experience.
  • Talk about your family and what it means to you. Are there family values that are now part of your business ethics? Is your park the kind of place where you want your own children to grow? In fact, are your children working with you as the next generation?
  • What are your long-term goals for your park? It is amazing how people will be willing to help you to attain your dreams and will want to be a part of seeing them materialize, but they need to know what those goals might be. Share your dreams, and get your customers emotionally involved.
  • What are you doing – personally – that makes your park different from many others? If your life includes some sort of Eureka moment or epiphany, tell the story.

Word Association

Ask a few of your campers for the first word that comes to their minds when they hear the name of your campground. Ask first-time arrivals why they chose your park. If the answers are price, a color or a mascot, you may need to be putting greater effort into telling your story. If the answer is a word that conveys an emotion or a concept – anything from enjoyment to security to a friendly environment – you are probably on the right track. Use those same words in your marketing, recognizing that the qualities that are drawing guests to your park today are the same qualities that will allow you to widen your markets.

Tell your story, and try to personalize every aspect in a coordinated marketing campaign. Add either a personalized “About Us” page to your website or place that content front and center on your site’s Home page, put your photo (or a family photo) in your advertising, and tell the story in the first person. Speak directly to your customers, in a friendly manner, telling them what “we” can do for “you”. Your message will strike a resounding chord, and receptive consumers will respond.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

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