Pelland Blog

Yes, It’s Still Made in the USA

July 3rd, 2024

A few years ago, I wrote about companies with lifetime product warranties. As more and more “American” businesses have moved their production overseas in search of lower labor costs, many of those warranties have either been eliminated or seriously watered down. Soon after I wrote that article, two companies on my list – L.L. Bean and Lands’ End – abandoned their long-standing unconditional warranty policies. Many companies blame consumer abuse of their warranties, but the fact is that it is difficult to stand behind a product that is outsourced to factories in China where corners are cut in order to reduce costs and remain price-competitive. On the other hand, there are companies that have steadfastly maintained their domestic manufacturing, like Buck Knives in Idaho and Darn Tough Socks in Vermont, and who still stand behind rock-solid warranties.

In addition to the quality of the products, there are reasons for seeking out products that are Made in the USA. Despite artificial intelligence and automation breathing down the necks of so many workers today, if people do not have dependable jobs and reliable sources of income, guess what? … they cannot afford camping vacations!

The Biden Administration recently announced that 100% tariffs would be imposed upon Chinese electric vehicles (EVs), a critical industry that needs to be protected from foreign government-subsidized competition that is intended to monopolize global markets. Before you think that Chinese EVs are not being sold in the United States, think twice. If you are a Costco member, the Costco Auto Program is selling the 2024 Polestar 2 EV. A Swedish company with offices around the world, Polestar’s EVs are manufactured by Geely in China. Though not electric vehicles, Ford is also manufacturing its Lincoln Nautilus SUV in China, and General Motors is doing the same with its Buick Envision SUV.

I recently went into The Home Depot to buy a simple brass garden hose nozzle. I didn’t want one of those nozzles with all of the dials and doodads that break after a few uses, but the only brass nozzle was made in China. Some people might jump at the low price, but I decided to do my research, and I found that a company called Orr Screw Machines, Inc., located just outside of Pittsburgh, is manufacturing ORRCO hose nozzles that are 100% sourced, manufactured and assembled in the USA. Not surprisingly, they have the highest consumer rating of any similar products on Amazon. I now own two of them!

With all this in mind, I have attempted to compile a list of products that are made in the USA or Canada that you probably use in your business and may want to consider when making your next purchase. Many might even be items that can be sold in your campground store. Yes, quality may cost more, but reliable domestic manufacturing is always your best bet in the long run. Fortunately, many of the items that are routinely purchased by campgrounds are large and bulky and have always been manufactured here at home.          

The List

STIHL: Stihl was founded in Germany, which is also noted for its manufacturing quality. When I bought my Stihl chainsaw, it was still made in Germany, with only the bar made in the USA. Serious loggers and tree maintenance crews will only be seen carrying the distinctive orange saws. Today, nearly the entire line of Stihl gasoline-powered outdoor tools are made in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

TEKNOR APEX: Neverkink RV / Marine water hoses carry lifetime guarantees and are manufactured in plants in 8 American cities. Sold in Ace Hardware, Camping World, Lowes, The Home Depot, True Value and many other retail locations.

UNITED CHARGERS: If you own an EV or want to provide charging options to guests, their Grizzl-E no-nonsense chargers are built to last and made in Canada. (I know, I own a Grizzl-E Avalanche!)

LEATHERMAN TOOLS: From Tim Leatherman’s original multi-tool in 1983, the company has expanded into an extensive line of knives and multi-tools that put the Swiss army knives to shame. Essentially a toolbox that fits in your pocket, glove compartment or accessory sheath, Leatherman Tools have been built in Portland, Oregon since day one. Not surprisingly, the products carry a 25-year warranty.

MAGLITE: The full line of Maglite flashlights is reliably made in Ontario, California.

GENERAC: The leading name in standby power supplies, portable generators, and solar battery storage manufactures 100% of its products from its factories in Wisconsin.

KITCHENAID: Since 1915, it has been no secret that KitchenAid mixers have been the best you can buy. They are manufactured at the company’s main plant in Greenville, Ohio. If you are in the area, take a factory tour!

TIBOR REELS: If you are a fly-fishing enthusiast, you are familiar with Tibor Reels. Each reel is still hand made in the company’s Delray Beach, Florida plant and carries a lifetime warranty.

BATTERY MART: This online retailer sells over 300 different types of batteries, as well as accessories such as jumper cables, that are all American made. Brands include Energizer, Big Crank, Deka and Odyssey.

DURA-BILT: RV awnings, screen rooms, and related products all manufactured in Pennsylvania.

ROGUE: Founded in a garage in 2006, Rogue has grown into one of the most respected international names in the manufacturing of a wide range of fitness equipment and barbells. Based in Columbus, Ohio, the company sets the standard for what Made in the USA means.

SUN DOLPHIN: Paddleboats, paddleboards, kayaks, and other small watercraft made in Michigan.

ALUMIDOCK: Long-lasting, maintenance-free aluminum docks and related products, all made in New York.

RESQME: This is the original emergency car escape tool that mounts on a keychain. The 2-in-1 tool is a seatbelt cutter and window breaker. Made in California, their products can be found at Walmart, Costco, and other retailers.

DULUTH TRADING COMPANY: The company’s Best Made collection of work boots and clothing are all made in Minnesota.

DULUTH PACK: Speaking of Minnesota, Duluth Pack sells an extensive line of American bison leather, American cowhide leather, wool and canvas products made in Minnesota.

RED WING SHOE COMPANY: Red Wing boots have been made in Minnesota since 1905. The company even has a repair department that will restore a trusty pair of boots to like-new condition.

LODGE: The highest quality cast iron skillets and cookware are all made in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

ORIGINAL SHERMAN COOKERS: The Original Sherman Cookers and fire pits are built in Massachusetts, from primarily domestic components. Built to last, they carry a lifetime warranty.

PHELPS HONEY WAGON: Portable sewage disposal units built in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania.

GERBER TABLES: Picnic tables, park benches, bicycle racks and more, made from wood, metal, and recycled plastic, manufactured in Wisconsin.

My apologies to the many companies that have not been included in this list, due to space limitations, particularly companies that specialize in serving the outdoor hospitality industry. Of course, just about every RV, cabin, glamping tent, camping pod, Conestoga wagon and yurt is built in either the United States or Canada. The trick is to go online, search for a product that you would like to purchase, then add the words “made in USA”. Just think. The people who are making the products that you purchase just may be your next camping guests. And wouldn’t it be nice to have one less container ship carrying goods from China hit a bridge in a major American port city?

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Spring Cleaning Is Always in Season

June 27th, 2024

I recall years ago when the first days of spring meant that it was time for spring cleaning. Winter storm windows were removed, windows were opened, bedding was hung outside to air out, rugs were beaten, winter clothing was stored with mothballs, and it was a semi-official sign that winter was over. These household routines are a thing of the past, but every business that caters to an in-person clientele needs to go through a self-assessment and airing-out process at least annually, if not on an ongoing basis.

A spring opening procedure is more obvious for northern campgrounds that closed in the winter and go through a reverse winterizing routine prior to welcoming their first guests of the season. Wherever your park is located, there is more involved than simply turning on water lines and checking for leaks, and removing the mouse traps and sweeping out cabins that were closed up for the winter. The most important tasks involve the visual elements that can make or break an arriving guest’s first impressions. The last thing you want is to put that person on edge, wondering what he or she will find next that will fall short of reasonable expectations.

Those “first impressions” obviously include your entrance and registration desk, but they also include your restrooms, roadways, site amenities, recreational equipment, and much more. When you check into a hotel room, what is the first thing you do? You inspect the bathroom. I remember checking into a motel in upstate New York years ago, where the bathroom was pretty dismal, but rolling down the bedding uncovered a two-inch diameter spider nested on the center of the sheet. There was no way on earth we would be spending the night, and there was no possibility of that establishment ever recovering from that negative first impression.

Far from complete, here is a checklist of some of the factors that create first impressions and that deserve a periodic evaluation at your park.

  • Your Entrance: Is the landscaping maintained, healthy, and weed-free? Is the entrance roadway properly paved and free of bumps and potholes? Is your sign free of chips and peeling paint, is it properly lighted, or is it ready for repainting or replacement? Even if your municipality does not have a sign ordinance, or if your sign is grandfathered in, it might be time to take matters into your own hands with tasteful and appealing signage.
  • Your Front Desk: The people at your front desk and registration area are perhaps your most important employees, definitely not people who get replaced from season to season, earn the lowest wages, and are expected to excel in personal communications skills with little or no training. Keep in mind that, if you have a gate guard, he may have the opportunity to create an even earlier first impression – either positive or negative – prior to a guest even reaching your office. Prior to arrival, your front desk staff also has an opportunity to either excel or fail based upon their telephone etiquette as they field inquiries. If a guest is lost trying to find your entrance after a 7-hour drive, the last thing he wants is to be immediately put on hold! If you can’t handle the volume of incoming calls, it is time to add another phone or another person to answer the calls. Of course, callers will expect to reach voicemail during the off-season and off-hours; however, if you are available to take a call during those times, do so. The caller will be highly impressed. What callers do not want to sense is a lack of response, whether that is an unanswered phone, a non-reassuring outgoing message, or a phone that is answered in an unprofessional manner. It is essential for the business phone number to forward directly to either the owner or manager of the business and that the call be either immediately answered or returned within minutes.
  • Rental Accommodations: You want first-time campers in particular to have the kind of outstanding experience that will turn them into lifetime campers. Be careful about overselling your amenities, particularly at a time when “glamping” and some really exceptional rental accommodations are becoming far more commonplace. If a furnished rental unit is designed to sleep 6 people, the kitchen utensils should not be limited to 3 forks, 2 glasses and 4 chipped plates (as mentioned in an actual campground review). There should be a printed inventory of furnishings (that are checked and replenished by housekeeping between rentals) that will allow guests to know exactly what is included – and what is not included. Do they need to bring their own towels and bed linens, or do you offer a linen service, and if so, is there an additional fee?
  • Restrooms: At the risk of addressing the obvious, your restrooms should be modern, clean, well-ventilated (or heated or air conditioned, depending upon the climate and time of year), well lighted, and impeccable maintained. Nothing will create a worse impression than an out-of-order sign, broken tiles and empty soap dispensers. Hygienic standards that may have been commonplace two generations ago or in pre-pandemic times are clearly no longer acceptable.
  • Campsites: Would you dine in a restaurant where you were brought to a table that had not been cleaned after the previous diners? Would you stay in a hotel room where housekeeping had not cleaned the room after the previous guests? There is a reason that your check-out and check-in times are not one and the same. Without exception, every campsite needs to be thoroughly inspected, not only at the start of the season, but after the departure of every guest. The site should be clean of any trash and debris, with particular attention paid to fire rings, picnic tables, and any rocks that might need to be moved or tree branches that, if left untrimmed, might put a scratch on an expensive new RV.

Always be sure that both you and all of your employees understand that guests are both your lifeblood and your livelihood. Meet or exceed every expectation and do everything possible to make every guest feel both welcome and appreciated.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

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

Selling Tickets to Your Event

January 19th, 2024

For many outdoor resorts, special events are a key to customer satisfaction and an uptick in reservations. In many instances, events are low key and may not even involve fees for participation. In other instances, fees may need to be established in order to cover costs. The latter might include food events such as a pig roast or chicken barbecue, or a concert featuring a local performer. Ticket sales for events such as these may not even involve actual “tickets”, but might simply require a sign-up sheet in your office with a cut-off date in instances where a head count is important.

At other times, park owners might be thinking bigger, particularly if a park offers the available open space and local zoning regulations allow. Rather than simply appealing to your existing clientele, events might present an opportunity to bring in participants from the broader public, quite possibly from beyond the local area. These events might also introduce a new round of people to your business, folks who might like what they experience and subsequently become recurring guests. In those instances, it is obvious that selling tickets in your office would be an inadequate means of getting things done.

Regular readers of my column will know that I advocate against handling and processing fees being passed along to customers. That said, whether absorbing those fees or passing them along, when you need an online ticketing solution for a specific upcoming event, you will want to find an effective option that will minimize the fees involved. On the topic of fees, keep in mind that there are always two sets of fees involved with online ticket sales: the ticket processing fee itself and the online credit card processing fees. In general, if you are selling two $50.00 tickets to a customer, expect your total fees to range from $4.50 to $6.00 for that $100.00 transaction (or over $10.00 in the last example shown below).

One of the big advantages of online ticketing is what is referred to as “attendance management”, where advance payment prevents you from losing money with “no-shows”. In addition, most of the online platforms include a significant volume of features and functionality such as a simple CMS (content management system) interface, free accounts, useful mobile apps, and the ability to start selling tickets almost immediately. Some will integrate with an existing online payment gateway that you might already be using, and others will funnel payments through platforms such as Stripe.

Here are a few options to consider:

Ticketleap: Ticketleap makes things simple. Accounts are free, and the platform provides you with integrated marketing tools that will help you to promote your event and monitor and analyze sales. A mobile app, available for both Android and iOS, streamlines the process of check-in on the day of the event and will even allow you to sell tickets at the gate. Other functions include the ability to use promo codes (such as discounts for your campers or for early ticket sales), the incorporation of event waivers, the ability for customers to purchase tickets for multiple events in one shopping cart transaction (if you offer multiple events during the course of the season), and a post-purchase message that confirms the transaction and can be customized to include a suggestion to share on social media. The fees are 2% + $1.00, plus a 3% credit card processing fee (unless you use your own processor); a flat fee of only 25¢ for any event priced at $5.00 or less; and no fees (other than credit card processing) for onsite sales. One drawback is that ticket revenue is only disbursed to you 4-7 days after the event, which may be a deal-breaker in many instances.

TicketSource: TicketSource is a UK-based company that offers many of the same services and functionality. Its fee is 3.5% + 99¢ per ticket, including all payment card processing costs. If you would like to use your own Stripe account for payment processing, TicketSource’s fee is simply the 99¢ per ticket. There are no charges for in-house booking or for free events. In addition, there are no fees for events that might be cancelled or postponed, with customers fully refunded the purchase price of their tickets. This would be useful in instances where a performer cancels, there ends up being severe weather the day of the event, or you simply cancel the event due to inadequate ticket sales. TicketSource releases funds to your bank account on the Monday after the day of the event (usually showing in your account by Wednesday), or you can collect revenues as your tickets are sold if integrating with your Stripe account.

TicketTailor: Another company based in the UK, TicketTailor has perhaps the easiest integration for ticket sales directly from your website. What makes TicketTailor different is that you buy advance credits to cover the transaction fees, resulting in a fee that could be anywhere from 30¢ to 52¢ per ticket. It accepts payments in a wide range of forms, including Apple Pay and Google Pay, and you receive your payments instantly via either Stripe or PayPal. For credit card processing, the company is specifically partnered with Stripe, where the U.S. fees are 2.9% + 30¢ per ticket, with a total price that is probably one of the best options available, particularly useful if you plan to absorb the fees into your ticket prices.

Yapsody: Based in California, this is yet another option that is noted for its low pricing. Their fees are 1.75% + 59¢ per ticket, with payouts directly to your bank account through your existing online merchant services provider (and whatever fees will be incurred there.) The company also offers ticketing tiers for volume users, with discounts from 20 to 60% on ticketing fees, making this platform particularly profitable for venues that plan on selling 5,000 or 10,000 tickets over the course of a season.

Eventbrite: The gorilla of the online ticketing industry, Eventbrite could be right even for small venues and events. Unlike the other platforms, Eventbrite has either an event fee or a monthly fee. Their Flex plan is primarily for businesses with one-time events, where the U.S. fee is $9.99 per event with up to 100 tickets, $24.99 per event with up to 250 tickets, and $49.99 per event with unlimited tickets. With their Pro plan, a monthly subscription fee is charged for unlimited events, based upon seating capacity. The U.S. fees are $29.00 per month for up to 100 tickets per event, $79.00 per month for up to 250 tickets per event, or $159.00 per month for unlimited tickets per event. In addition to these per event or monthly fees, the U.S. ticketing fees are 3.7% + $1.79 per ticket sold, plus a payment processing fee of 2.9% of the total order. Clearly, this is the most expensive option of the five platforms that I have outlined; however, it is difficult to compare apples with apples from one platform to another. Providing similar features and functionality as the others, the big difference with Eventbrite is its online marketing clout. It had a network of 90 million active ticket buyers in 2022, and they will actively market your event to people seeking an outing in your area, essentially generating ticket sales that you would not otherwise reach on your own.

Just as we all have choices when it comes to finding local events, there are many choices in online ticketing services. Do your homework carefully, contact the companies and ask for demos, then choose the one that will help to make your upcoming event an unqualified success.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Capitalize Upon Historic Highways

October 11th, 2023

The goal of nearly every campground is to increase occupancy rates, either through increased reservation numbers or extended stays, particularly in the off-seasons. There are many ways to accomplish this. One is to invest in new park features and amenities that will appeal to a broader range of guests, but this can be a costly proposition with a lengthy period for investment recovery. Another way is to get lucky due to your proximity to somebody else’s investment, such as a new attraction that opens nearby (and hoping that it does not decide to open its own campground.) Yet another way is to benefit from a nearby campground that either ceases operation or has an unpopular change in ownership or management. All of those options involve changes of some sort, either on your part or on the part of other entities. One other means of building your business is to capitalize upon something that is already there, perhaps right before your eyes yet unnoticed for decades.

Americans (and perhaps most of humanity) have had a love affair with highways and the freedom of the open road for well over a century. When the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act was signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1956, it authorized the construction of 41,000 miles (today, more than 48,750 miles) of modern highways that would make both local and cross-country travel easier than ever. Inspired by the Autobahn in Germany, when you want to get somewhere fast, the Eisenhower Interstate Highway network is the way to go; however, not everybody is in a hurry all of the time, and the Interstates were not the first long-distance highways in America.

My intrigue with historic highways was kick-started with my reading about a year ago of “The Lincoln Highway: A Novel”, the New York Times bestseller written by author Amor Towles. More recently, I watched the pilot episode of the Route 66 TV series that premiered on October 7, 1960 and ran for four seasons on CBS. Two drifters traveling in a Corvette (that is said to have been replaced by sponsor Chevrolet every 3,000 miles) brought tremendous attention to what was sometimes called “America’s Main Street”, while doubling sales of Corvettes in the first season. I thought it odd that Tod and Buz found themselves in Mississippi in that first episode, nowhere near the actual highway, but it turns out that the series was actually shot on location in 40 states and rarely along the actual highway route.

Prior to the Interstate highways, there was a network of U.S. highways that travelled long distances, in some instances from coast to coast. Everybody is familiar with the appeal – enhanced through song, books and that popular TV series – of U.S. Route 66, which runs from downtown Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in California. Even before the numbering system was introduced, there were a number of established highways crisscrossing the country. Many of those highways, since bypassed by the new Interstates, still at least partially exist and appeal to a new generation of travelers who are seeking out historical landmarks and vestiges of a disappearing culture. Many of these highways are actively promoted by regional tourism associations, such as the PA Route 6 Alliance and Pennsylvania Wilds, both of which promote “400-plus miles of history and heritage, small-town culture, friendly people, and wondrous sights too-often forgotten” in the state of Pennsylvania.

In the early days of auto touring, travelers frequently had tents that attached to their Model T’s and stayed at “tourist camps”, the precursor of today’s modern campgrounds. It only makes sense to capitalize upon your proximity to nearby historic highways, reaching out to campers who are seeking to slow down, stay a while, and explore the history in your back yard. Most of these highways have had their identities usurped by numbered highways that either follow or parallel their routes, but there is adventure in following even vestiges of these original historic highways. Find one near your park, then promote your proximity. Partner with local historical societies, auto clubs, and tin can tourists, perhaps offering your guests “treasure maps” to special places of inspiration, fading away and forgotten without your help. The first on my list are two of the most popular historic highways in America.

The National Road

The National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road, was a 620-mile improved highway, the first to be constructed entirely with funds from the federal government. It was built over the course of more than 25 years in the early 1800s, preceding the advent of the automobile. It connected Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois, where construction ceased due to a lack of funds. Built to accommodate stagecoaches and Conestoga wagons, its use declined with the arrival of railroads but was revived by the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which introduced the grid system of numbered highways. The National Road evolved into both the Victory Highway (honoring American forces who died in World War I) and U.S. Route 40, with a resurgence of roadside businesses that catered to travelers. Later, as had been the case with the railroads, U.S. Route 40 was bypassed by Interstate 70. Today, The National Road Heritage Corridor is a government-business partnership designed to enhance tourism, where The National Road is now considered a tourist destination in itself. If your park is located anywhere along this route, you should be involved! There are historical bridges, monuments, tollhouses, milestones, and much more to be rediscovered along the route within in the following states: MD, PA, WV, OH, IN, and IL.

The Lincoln Highway

Spearheaded by Henry Joy (President of the Packard Motor Car Company), Carl Fisher (head of the Prest-O-Lite Company, which made the first automobile headlights, also developer of the city of Miami Beach, and developer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), and Frank Seiberling (co-founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company), The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental road specifically designed for automobiles in the United States. Funds were generated through donations both large and small, including Thomas Edison, former President Theodore Roosevelt, and current President Woodrow Wilson. One notable business leader who profited the most but refused to participate was tightwad Henry Ford, with the excuse that building highways was the government’s business. Dedicated in 1913, The Lincoln Highway passes through 14 states and over 700 towns and cities as it connects New York City with San Francisco over the course of some 3,000 miles. Evolving into U.S. Route 30 along two-thirds of its way, The Lincoln Highway today is somewhat of an historic patchwork quilt that attracts motorists who seek out its original remnants, ghosts of roadside attractions, and some of the 2,400 concrete markers that were installed along the route by the Boy Scouts of America on September 1, 1928. Although there is really nothing of note in the short section in the state of New York, there are historical bridges, original Boy Scout markers, sections of original brick pavement, monuments to Abraham Lincoln, so-called “roadside giants” that were designed to capture the attention of tourists, and landmarks that have been recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. States along the route: NY, NJ, PA, WV, OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, CO, WY, UT, NV, and CA.

Route 66

Established in 1926, U.S. Route 66 was one of the country’s first numbered highways, the first to be completely paved (in 1938), and quickly became one of the most famous roads in the United States, almost synonymous with what Americans envisioned as the open road. It extended 2,448 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, passing through 8 states in the process, and it has played prominent roles in popular literature, songs, television and movies right up through the 2006 animated film Cars. Although formally replaced by segments of the Interstate Highway System in 1985, portions of the original road in at least 5 states have been designated a National Scenic Byway now known as Historic Route 66.

Famous for its art deco diners and service stations, motels with oversized neon signs, and curious roadside attractions, the highway also passes nearby natural wonders such as Meteor Crater, the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon, not to mention the site of the first McDonald’s restaurant. Although the original route can no longer be driven in its entirety without a few detours, many of the roadside attractions have recently been restored to somewhat of their original luster and appeal, particularly after the National Route 66 Preservation Bill was signed back in 1999. States along the route: IL, MO, KS, OK, TX, NM, AZ, and CA.

The Dixie Highway

Inspired by the earlier Lincoln Highway and covering nearly 1,500 miles, the Dixie Highway connected Chicago to Miami on a Western route, and Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan to Miami on an Eastern route, along with cutoffs in both Georgia and North Carolina. Like its predecessor, this highway route was also spearheaded by Carl Fisher, who you may recall was the developer of the city of Miami Beach. The highway also passes by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that Fisher also developed. Once again, civic responsibility was balanced with a good measure of private interest, in his desire to get travelers from the Northern states and Canada to travel to Miami Beach and perhaps stop to visit his speedway along the way. Not actually a single highway, this route was actually a network of consecutive paved roadways, with a distinctive “DH” logo painted on utility poles along the way. It still follows a network of now numbered routes, including stretches of U.S. highways, state routes, and Interstate highways. It passes through Louisville, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando, and the Everglades on its way to Miami. There are still monuments along the way and even sections of original or restored brick pavement. States along the route: MI, IL, IN, OH, KY, TN, NC, SC, GA, and FL.

The Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway

Completed in 1924, this route was designed to compete with the National Road and the Lincoln Highway but started disappearing as soon as 1926. As its name implies, it extended from New York City to Los Angeles and was designed to promote the city of Colorado Springs and its Pikes Peak toll road. Often unpaved, with rivers sometimes unbridged, most of this highway would evolve into what would become U.S. Route 36. Keep in mind that most towns desperately wanted to be included along these major highways, due to the commerce and tourism that easy automobile transportation could generate. In this case, Colorado and northern sections of Kansas and Missouri felt that they had been bypassed and slighted by the Lincoln Highway. Needless to say, the promoters of this alternative route mostly came from those three states. The same group also promoted a similar North-South route, the Jefferson Highway, that extended from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada.

Like the Dixie Highway, the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Parkway was more of a patchwork of existing roads than a totally new highway. It included parts of the Lincoln Highway in the East, the National Road from Maryland to Indiana, and then pieces of other existing highways and traversing the scenic Rocky Mountains before linking up, once again, with the Lincoln Highway and the Overland Trail. Today, pieces of old cars and hubcaps can be seen by sharp eyes along the route. States along the route, though marginally including the Lincoln Highway sections of NY, NJ, and PA: OH, IN, IL, MO, KS, CO, UT, NV, and CA.

Historic Trails

There are other instances of historic trails that were made for explorations and migrations either on foot or by wagon, and that never evolved into long-distance highways. Two of those are included in this final installment in this series, the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail, nonetheless presenting opportunities to get off the beaten path to discover historic sites and markers that commemorate important routes, generally in our country’s westward settlement.

The Oregon Trail

First used by wagons in 1836, the trail was established 25 years earlier, when it could only be accessed by foot or horseback. Once the wagons started rumbling, over 400,000 brave souls drove from “back east” in Kansas City, Missouri to the Pacific coast or various stops along the way, usually traveling in wagon trains for added safety in numbers. As was often the case with early highways, use of the Oregon Trail essentially ended once the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Travel by train was faster, safer, and far less expensive.

Parts of the Oregon Trail have now evolved into the routes of Interstate highways 80 and 84, passing through many of the towns that came into being in order to serve the needs of emigrants on the original trail. Highlights that may be visited include the Hollenberg Pony Express Station, in Kansas, on the Nebraska line. It is an extraordinarily rare example of an original building, in its original location, that served as a source for supplies, drinks, and mail services for travelers on the Oregon Trail. Over the state line into Nebraska, Fort Kearney also offers a historic glimpse into the migrations on the trail. Although it was discontinued as a military post in 1871, when the buildings were demolished and the land opened to homesteaders, Fort Kearney has since been rebuilt as Fort Kearney State Historical Park. Further along the trail, Fort Laramie National Historic Site, in Wyoming, presents another collection of exquisitely restored historic buildings. Scenic highlights along the former Oregon Trail include Scotts Bluff National Monument and nearby Chimney Rock National Historic Site, in Nebraska. Chimney Rock was a renowned landmark that offered assurance to migrants that they were on the right path and making progress westward. Still a remarkable landmark, it has lost some of its height over the decades due to natural erosion, weathering, and lightning strikes. States with historic sites, original wagon ruts, registers where emigrants carved their names, and landmarks to explore along the route: MO, KS, NE, WY, ID, WA, and OR.

The Mormon Trail

The Oregon Trail was actually a network of trails that followed the paths of earlier routes established by fur traders and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On the same token, the Oregon Trail later served as part of the routes of the subsequent California Trail, Mormon Trail and Bozeman Trail, all now collectively known as the Emigrant Trail. Now preserved as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, the treacherous 1,300-mile trek of the Mormon Trail took members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, generally on foot or pushing wooden handcarts, from their original settlements in Ohio, Missouri and Nauvoo, Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley in what was not even yet the state of Utah. This migration took place from the mid-1840s to the late 1860s, once again until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The trek began after the assassination of the church’s prophet, Joseph Smith, and frequent persecution of its members, primarily due to the polygamy that was commonly practiced at that time. There were settlements along the way, including Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah, in Iowa, and those that evolved into the cities of Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. Crops were planted at many of these settlements, to replenish the food supplies of subsequent emigrants. Because this trail followed much of the same route as the earlier Oregon Trail, many of the same landmarks served as noted points of reference.

Noteworthy attractions along the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail include Fort Caspar (in Caspar, Wyoming), featuring reconstructions of the fort buildings, a Mormon ferry, and a section of the Guinard Bridge that crossed the North Platte River; the North Platte River Crossing (west of Fort Laramie, Wyoming), where the iron girder bridge built in 1876 still stands; the Mormon Handcart Historic Site (in Alcova, Wyoming), where visitors can experience handcart travel using handcarts (available for use at no charge) along the site’s trails or take a hike to Martin’s Cove, where 500 Mormons took shelter during a blizzard in 1856. States along the route: IA, NE, WY, and UT.

Many Mormon landmarks may be explored outside of the trail corridor, including the Smith Family Farm, Sacred Grove, and Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center (in Palmyra and Manchester, New York); the Priesthood Restoration Site (in Oakland Township, Pennsylvania); the Joseph Smith Birthplace (in Sharon, Vermont); Historic Kirtland (in Kirtland, Ohio); Historic Nauvoo (in Nauvoo, Illinois); and Cove Fort (in Beaver, Utah). Most of these sites offer free guided tours.

Conclusion

There are many other historic highways that can still be navigated today to one extent or another, offering fascinating glimpses into American history, particularly the first half of the twentieth century. Some of these include the Yellowstone Trail (connecting Plymouth, Massachusetts with Seattle, via Yellowstone National Park, with drivable sections still existing in Wisconsin, Montana, Idaho, and Washington), the Bankhead Highway (from Washington, DC to San Diego, with many remnants existing in northern Georgia along “Old U.S. Route 29”), the Susquehanna Trail (DC, MD, PA & NY), the Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway (VA and NC), Black & Yellow Trail (Illinois to Wyoming), Pan-American Highway (Texas to Minnesota), and the Jefferson Highway, that extended from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada. Once again, if your park is in close proximity to any of these historic highways, trails and landmarks, it would make sense for you to promote these nearby attractions, reaching out to the many potential guests who have an interest in exploring these important parts of our country’s history.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Ten Ways to Cut Expenses

October 7th, 2022

We are all feeling a financial pinch during these days of rampant global inflation. We feel it at the fuel pumps, the supermarkets, and just about everywhere. The price of a dozen ears of sweet corn at my local farm stands that cost $6.00 in recent years has jumped to $9.00 this year. In all probability, you have raised the prices of your campsites. As prices increase, incomes just cannot seem to keep up. While you are waiting for corporate buyers to come knocking at your door with the right offer, here are ten concrete tips for cutting your expenses and making inflation more bearable, in some instances for your household and in some instances for your business. Several of these involve rethinking old habits and finding new ways of doing things.

1) Cut the land lines. Are you still paying your local phone company for landline telephone service? If so, you are likely paying a substantial fee each month, when half of your incoming calls are probably from telemarketers and robocallers. If you have high-speed Internet service, there are several companies that sell telephone equipment that runs Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), with monthly fees for premium services that might be as little as $20.00 per month, including unlimited calling throughout North America. The service is reliable, your existing phone number(s) will port over to the new service, the sound is crystal clear, and it generally includes some highly effective call blocking features. Service providers include Ooma, RingCentral, Nextiva and Vonage, among others.

2) You have a fax machine? The technology behind the fax machine is as old as the hills, introduced by Western Union in the late 1940s, then adapted to use telephone lines by Xerox in 1964. During the 1980s, a fax machine was considered essential office equipment. Since then, it has become little more than an annoyance that presents unsolicited (and illegal) advertising from disreputable timeshare companies, cruise agents, and roofing contractors. If you still have one of these machines cluttering up a desk in your office, it is way past time to kiss it goodbye, saving the expense of paper, ink or toner, and perhaps a dedicated phone line. The same companies that provide VoIP telephone service include easy-to-use virtual fax features. If you receive a fax, it comes in as a PDF file that you can preview, then decide whether to print or delete.

3) Are you overpaying for mobile service? Like everybody these days, you probably have mobile phone service from one of the major carriers such as AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile. Check your next billing statement to see if you are paying for services that are either unused or that exceed your needs. For example, you might be paying for a plan that includes 20GB of monthly data transfer when you never use more than 2GB. Call your carrier and speak with a sales associate, explaining that you need to reduce your monthly billing, perhaps citing prices from a competitive company. They will reduce your monthly billing, but not without you taking the initiative to ask. For example, AT&T offers a 10% monthly discount if you are a military veteran.

4) Are you paying for satellite radio? When you buy a new vehicle, it generally comes with at least a month of trial service with Sirius XM. The company hopes that you will grow accustomed to its service and continue as a paid subscriber. I personally have thumb drives in my vehicles that I have pre-loaded with about 12,000 songs that play randomly and only include music and artists that I want to hear. If you are really hooked on satellite radio, let your service expire for two or three days without renewing. Then contact the service provider for a renewal discount. You will pay half price, but may have to repeat this routine every six months.

5) Do you ask for discounts? If you are over 50, you are no doubt an AARP member. When you make a purchase, ask if there is a discount associated with your membership. Five years ago, when buying a new vehicle (and already negotiating a serious discount), I asked the sales associate if there was an AARP discount. Much to my surprise (and his surprise!), there was an additional $3,000.00 taken off the price of that vehicle. There are also discounts associated with memberships in auto clubs, fraternal organizations, and your national and state campground associations such as ARVC.

6) Go solar! Although the incentives will vary from state to state, and the savings and cost-effectiveness will vary with your local utility rates, installing rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels is a no-brainer, even in northern latitudes. Lacking a really good southern exposure, surrounded by tall trees and in a region where the panels get covered with snow during the winter months, the 47 panels on the roofs of my own home save us approximately $1,200.00 per year by feeding power back into the grid through net metering. You can purchase your system outright, or there are companies that will install a system at no charge to you. In the latter instance, you are essentially leasing your roof space, with an agreement to purchase the power that is generated at a fraction of the fees that would be charged by your local utility, over the course of the 20-25 year lifespan of the system. The installer reaps the tax incentives and is also responsible for service and maintenance. In some instances, your system can tie into battery storage with a Tesla Powerwall® or similar system that will also serve as a short-term substitute for an expensive backup power generator.

7) Cut the cable. If you are paying your local cable services provider for TV, phone and high-speed Internet, even a bundled service might be highly overpriced. In most areas, cable service providers have a localized monopoly, with no incentive to be competitively priced. There are options. For example, T-Mobile has recently introduced 5G broadband Internet service for only $50.00 per month, which could represent quite a savings.

8) Go paperless. If you have monthly recurring payments, almost all companies will offer you a discount if you agree to paperless billing, saving them the expense of mailing paper statements. There will usually be an additional discount if you set up automatic payments.

9) Lower your interest rates. If you use a credit card, and particularly if you carry a balance from month to month, call the company and ask them to reduce the interest rate, lower any annual fee, or convert you to a more affordable card. Once again, they are not going to reduce their profit margins on your account unless you ask.

10) Lower your credit card processing fees. Your small business is probably running an ever-increasing volume of transactions through a credit card merchant services provider. Be sure that the fees are competitive or be willing to switch to another provider. There are companies such as Pennsylvania-based MCPS for Campgrounds that specialize in working with the campground industry and offer highly competitive rates.

Yes, times are a bit tough, but that is when it is time to think smart, break a few old habits, and consider new ways of doing things.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Starlink … Is it Right for You?

June 8th, 2022
Starlink Logo

You have no doubt heard about Starlink, the satellite-based high-speed Internet service from SpaceX. To say that Starlink is innovative and groundbreaking in every way imaginable would be quite an understatement. Primarily intended to provide broadband Internet to people in remote locations, Starlink differs from other satellite-based Internet service providers such as HughesNet. Unlike conventional satellite networks that use small numbers of enormous satellites in geosynchronous orbits over 22,000 miles into space, Starlink employs a “constellation” of 573 pound refrigerator-sized satellites in low Earth orbit at an operational altitude of only 340 miles. Based upon those orbital heights alone, the improvements in signal latency are tremendous.

At the time of this writing (late May of 2022), there are currently about 2,400 Starlink satellites in orbit, mostly operational and some on standby. SpaceX is launching another 50 or so into orbit about once a week, essentially as fast as they can be built. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has licensed SpaceX for 12,000 Starlink satellites, and international regulators are expected to license another 30,000, totaling the 42,000 satellites that SpaceX hopes to eventually deploy in its “megaconstellation”. Each of the satellites presents the connecting point between end users and fiber optic gateway ground stations that provide the Internet data that is being requested. The distance between an end user and the associated ground station also influences the overall connection speed and latency, and SpaceX is continually adding new ground stations while also introducing a new generation of Starlink satellites that will communicate directly with one another at the speed of light via laser, minimizing the number of ground stations needed.

In case you haven’t already guessed, I am a Starlink subscriber who is quite enthused with the service. Until recently, people waited up to a year for their Starlink equipment, but the service is readily available now. I am based in a heavily wooded, rural location in Western Massachusetts, and at any given time, I am connecting to one of anywhere from 6 to 12 satellites that are within view of my very carefully mounted antenna. Depending upon which satellite is connecting with my equipment (a fluid process that is constantly changing), my data might be coming from a ground station in Litchfield, CT; Lunenburg, VT; Beekmantown, NY; Lockport, NY; or even Sullivan, ME. It you really want to geek out and monitor your connections in real time, I highly recommend the third-party Starlink Coverage Tracker at starlink.sx.

Back to My Original Question

Is Starlink right for you? Maybe. Starlink is primarily designed to provide high-speed Internet service for people in rural and underserved areas. Until now, my only option was DSL (which I think is an acronym for “Darned SLow”) or paying Comcast $20,000.00 to extend the cable to my residence so I would then have the privilege of subscribing to their service. With Starlink, you are seamlessly connecting to a satellite within the constellation that is within reach of your antenna, so latency, download speeds and upload speeds will continually fluctuate but are roughly 20 times the speed of DSL. With our DSL phone lines now ported to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) through Ooma (for both my business and residential services), I was able to cancel our services with Verizon, effectively offsetting the Starlink subscription fee. Every service and device in our household that requires an Internet connection is running through Starlink, with bandwidth to spare.

The rule of thumb is that, if you have fiber optic or cable available, one of those would be your first choice. If not, Starlink will be your first choice. There are three options currently available.

Residential

I am subscribing to the residential service. The equipment consists of a rectangular antenna, a WiFi router and power supply, a 75 foot cable, and what I would consider a temporary mount. This equipment will currently cost you $599.00, plus $50.00 shipping. It is said that this is about a third of what the equipment costs to manufacture, and one of the things that I really like is that everything is marked “Made in the USA”. The antenna is really remarkable. It sets itself up, motorized to track satellites in real time, and it is heated and programmed to automatically melt snow and ice in the winter. Choosing the antenna location is accomplished through the Starlink phone app, which will also show you obstructions in real time, including any resulting loss of signal. I mentioned that the mount was temporary. There are a variety of heavy-duty permanent mounts available as accessories that can only be ordered after you already have your equipment. In my case, a roof pivot mount and flashing mount were another $101.00. You will probably also want the optional Ethernet adapter, which is another $25.00. I found that my desktop computer does not have a very good WiFi adapter, and using the Ethernet adapter (that I have attached to a gigabyte switch) made a BIG difference in connection speed. The recurring fee for residential service is $110.00 per month, with no data limits.

Business

There is a Starlink option for businesses, with faster Internet speeds and greater throughput that partially result from an antenna that is twice the size of the residential unit. It is intended for businesses and storefronts with up to 20 users at any given time, and multiple kits can be run through a single centralized account to increase that bandwidth. This option comes at a price. The equipment currently costs $2,500.00, and the monthly subscription fee is $500.00. Talk to your WiFi network provider to see if this is a viable option for your campground. As with all Starlink services, a clear view of the sky is essential.

Starlink for RVs

Starlink for RVs became available on May 23, 2022. Up until now, subscriptions were for only one fixed location. This option allows use anywhere you travel where there is active coverage and an unobstructed view of the sky. Currently, that coverage is spotty in the Eastern United States, except for Northern New England and upstate New York. Active coverage is generally available in the Plains States and most of the interior West, with spotty coverage in parts of Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington. Keep in mind that Starlink is being rolled out to first serve remote areas where Internet access options are otherwise limited. Active coverage is generally available throughout Southern Canada and all of Mexico. Active coverage is expected throughout the rest of the United States, including Alaska, by some point in 2023. Starlink for RVs has the same equipment and cost as Starlink Residential, and the monthly subscription fee is currently $135.00 per month. The service can be paused and un-paused on a monthly basis to coincide with individual travel plans. For this to work effectively, you will want to choose to stay at open grassy campsites whenever possible rather than heavily wooded sites, since tree coverage will definitely degrade service. This plan also makes sense for people with a summer home in a remote location, but without excessive tree coverage. Bear in mind that this service cannot be used while you are driving down the road in your RV, although that type of mobile service is in the planning and regulatory approval stages.

In Summary

There are factors other than price and tree coverage to take into account when considering Starlink. Do you want to help make the world’s richest person (Elon Musk) even richer, or reward him for his genius? Other concerns include potentially negative impacts upon astronomy and concerns about orbital collisions and eventual re-entry into the atmosphere, but SpaceX is addressing those concerns. For example, these satellites have an onboard autonomous collision avoidance system and an onboard propulsion system that is designed to safely de-orbit each unit at end of life. Taking all of these factors into consideration, I am pleased with my experience so far.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

It’s Okay to Be Antisocial

March 11th, 2021

Let me be the first to admit that I am guilty. It was not that long ago that I was presenting seminars and writing how social media advertising – Facebook, in particular – was the greatest new development since the Internet itself. As recently as four years ago, I was offering suggestions on how to beat Facebook at its own game, using guerilla marketing techniques on the platform. Sure, we all recognized that the intrusions into our personal privacy were a bit creepy, but the ability to reach targeted marketing prospects seemed to be worth the compromise. After all, when I was a child watching television in the 1950’s, Captain Kangaroo would seamlessly segue from visiting with Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose to selling Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Schwinn Bicycles, and what was wrong with that? Actually, there was plenty wrong with it, prior to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruling in 1969 that prohibited children’s show hosts from directly promoting commercial products.

In the beginning, Facebook (originally called Facemash) seemed to represent little more than an awkward attempt by nerdy Harvard undergrads with a lack of actual social skills to meet young women at neighboring colleges. When you think about it, even that original concept (an extension of the sexist freshman photo books that had been sold on college campuses for decades) violated the personal privacy of the young women whose photos were being used. From that start, it did not take long for Facebook to reinvent itself into a money making machine that would be built upon ever-increasing exploitations of personal privacy.

On a personal level, I stopped using Facebook in its entirety in early September of 2020. I actually experienced what I would describe as a 7 to 10 day period of withdrawal, missing the ability to stay in daily touch with countless friends both old and new, but my sense of newly discovered freedom afterward was absolutely refreshing. Over the course of the 10 years or so when I remained active on the platform, I would often joke about how Facebook would “coincidentally” show me advertising that was related to one of my recent posts or comments. When I, along with millions of other people, started using ad blockers, Facebook started showing paid posts in lieu of paid advertising. These paid posts represent advertising content that is being disguised as editorial comment, even when that advertising is originating with foreign governments or other unscrupulous characters. The only way this can happen is by Facebook’s algorithms monitoring every word that you type, just as craftily as the National Security Agency (NSA) monitors the telephone conversations of known terrorists.

What made me see the light was when I realized that Facebook’s business model was designed to amass huge profits by intentionally sowing discord among its subscribers. Regardless of where a person falls within an increasingly polarized political spectrum, Facebook will show that person paid content that pours fuel on the fire while demonizing those with opposing viewpoints. By being fed a one-sided diet that is often based upon disinformation, subscribers’ opinions and beliefs are reinforced in a manner that continually enhances the polarization. It should not require an insurrectionist attack upon the U.S. Capitol for reasonable people to understand that this represents a rapidly accelerating downward spiral.

Let us be clear that Facebook advertising is not a bargain. In the early days, businesses would pay to advertise on the platform in order to get users to “like” their page and then see their posts. Soon afterward, advertisers needed to pay Facebook so that even people who had already “liked” their page could actually see their posts. Think about it. This means that you are paying Facebook so you can reach your existing customers. Why would anybody pay to do that when there are countless alternate means of reaching your existing customer base at a far lesser cost? In the campground industry, some of the same people who willingly pour money into Facebook advertising question the rationale for offering Good Sam and similar discounts that they feel cut into thin profit margins. I would rather offer a customer incentive than to take that same money and pour it into Facebook’s coffers.

Yes, Facebook and the other social media may be capable of sending you customers, but at what price and in what environment? If a drug dealer approached you and said, “Yes, my main business is selling heroin, but I can also send you customers”, would you do business with that person? I doubt that many of us would enter into that sort of deal with the devil.

The Federal Trade Commission (yes, the same people who ruled that Captain Kangaroo should not be hawking breakfast cereal) is currently proposing the breakup of Facebook, a process that is long overdue. Facebook has steadily grown – with the acquisition of Instagram, WhatsApp and related platforms – and a breakup of its monopoly would be the first such action since the breakup of AT&T four decades ago. Many of my peers in the advertising industry will disagree with me, and I welcome that debate. I remember the days when tobacco products were extensively advertised on television, a practice that contributed to countless deaths. Today, I believe that many other types of advertising should be banned because they either mislead consumers or actually prey upon vulnerable segments of our population, typically the elderly. These include the advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals, advertising by class-action attorneys (think “mesothelioma”), advertising directed at children (think about Saturday mornings), and advertising directed at senior citizens (think about Medicare supplements and the aforementioned pharmaceuticals). In the meantime, it is your decision as a small business owner to decide whether or not to continue financing a business model that you may agree is inherently wrong.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Revisiting Lessons from the Wine Trail

January 20th, 2020

Five years ago I encouraged campground owners to take a close look at the tasting events at wineries. I wrote how wineries – and small wine producers in particular – rely upon tastings as they seek new and expanded markets, and how many campgrounds share the same marketing objectives.

I wrote how tastings meet one of several objectives:

  • To introduce wine enthusiasts who are familiar with a brand, have previously purchased its wines, or who are likely to purchase (often in case quantities) new vintages that they might enjoy.
  • To introduce a winery to connoisseurs who might be unfamiliar with its offerings.
  • To welcome casual wine consumers who are still refining their tastes and who will appreciate the time that is spent to help them to broaden their palates.

As opposed to the free tastings that were commonplace a generation ago, most tastings today are fee-based. Nonetheless, wineries know that their costs of running tastings are roughly twice the actual cost of the wines that they pour. As is usually the case, smaller wine producers have far greater costs and competitive challenges; however, what they also understand is the old adage about having to spend money to make money.

My wife and I recently spent a week touring wineries and attending a variety of mostly private reserved tasting experiences in the Sonoma Valley of California. Fortunately, we were there about two weeks prior to the Kincaid Fire that essentially shut down the county for several harrowing days, when the fires and destruction from the 2017 Tubbs Fire were still in the forefront of most people’s memories and far too evident in Santa Rosa and other parts of the county.

The key to wine events these days – whether in Northern California or at small local wineries that might be closer to your place of business – is to provide visitors with a variety of options. Yes, you can still belly up to the bar with ten or twenty other people for a $20.00 flight of tastings consisting of two ounce pours, usually on a walk-in basis. There are also wineries that schedule weekend entertainers, with outdoor seating to accommodate several hundred people who will buy their wines by the glass or the bottle. Many wineries will also offer pairing options with charcuterie, cheese, or fruit plates, an ancillary source of income.

Regardless of the level of tasting, an important component is the conversation between a knowledgeable person pouring the wine and his guests. People are asked for their thoughts and opinions regarding the taste, flavors that come to mind, and initial impressions. The discussions are always friendly, never condescending, and encourage a sense of discovery.

Our favorite events from our recent vacation week were private 2-3 hour tours and tastings that were reserved weeks in advance. These included a black glass tasting at Matanzas Creek Winery; a Meritage Blending Experience at Dry Creek Vineyard, where we carefully tasted, blended, and bottled our own bottles to take home; a truly behind the scenes tour at Francis Ford Coppola Winery; a private tour and lunch at Benziger Family Winery, led by Jill Benziger; a private tasting of reserve wines at Ledson Winery & Vineyards; and a Pinzgauer Excursion (on a six-wheel European military vehicle) at Gundlach Bundschu Winery and Vineyards, guided by Rob Bundschu. Some of these remind me of my visit to Robert Mondavi Winery back in the mid-1970’s, when Michael Mondavi was pouring the wines at the tasting.

Not everyone who attends a wine tasting makes a purchase of even a bottle of wine, let alone a case or more. That said, most of these pricey private events are tailored toward selling either wine club memberships or cases of reserve wines that are only available at the winery itself but that can currently be shipped directly to consumers in 43 states. Although there is no pressure to purchase (because your tasting fee will already cover all costs), the hosts are earning commissions on sales.

A Campground’s Perspective

Campgrounds can also explore new ways of reaching out to their customers, generally translating into three groups of people who are very similar to the people who attend wine tastings:

  • Your existing campers, who have stayed with you through the years (and sometimes generations!) but who still need to be reminded that you care, that you continue to offer new activities or amenities, and that there is no reason for them to consider camping elsewhere.
  • Campers who have never stayed at your park and who need to meet you and learn about what you have to offer.
  • Non-campers who are just exploring and getting introduced to the concept and need some assurance that they will enjoy the experience.

Either in your early or late shoulder seasons, how about holding a Camper Appreciation weekend, open house, or another special event? How about a private event for your seasonal campers, possibly even being held off-site, where they will be given the opportunity to renew their seasonal contracts for the following year? Make any such events significant and special, with genuine costs incurred on your part. If possible, make it a free event; otherwise, keep the cost to a bare minimum. I am not talking about a potluck dinner, where the people attending are asked to provide the food and you simply provide soft drinks and snacks! This should be a truly memorable marketing opportunity for your park. You may want to consider requiring reservations or capping the total number of people who attend at the number that you can comfortably accommodate.

Keep in mind that not everybody staying at your park is looking for the lowest cost experience. Many are willing to pay for a special and somewhat exclusive experience that has value added. What can you offer that is equivalent to the access to reserve wines that are exclusively available at a winery?

Whether or not you offer a loyalty card, you know the people who are your frequent and most profitable guests. Try to reward them and take them to the next level! Can they be encouraged to become seasonal campers or to stay even more frequently with a simple incentive or two?There are many ways to expand your reach as you seek to introduce new people to your park and to encourage existing campers to become even more profitable. Take some examples from the wine industry and use them to your advantage!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Is Your Customer Service Succeeding or Failing?

May 2nd, 2019

I attended a trade show in Florida late last year, flying into and out of Daytona Beach International Airport, a smaller airport that is serviced by only three airlines (Delta, American, and JetBlue) with a limited number of arrivals and departures. During the event, we stayed at the Hilton Hotel that was the designated host hotel for the conference. At the close of the conference, we were anxious to return home to Bradley International Airport. We had a connecting flight in Charlotte, where the airlines were already cancelling flights in advance of a large storm that had a bullseye on the Carolinas. Timing was critical.

Our flight out of Daytona Beach was on a plane that arrived with a mechanical issue that needed to be addressed, delaying departure on this, the last flight out of the airport for the evening. The delays were extended, due to the fact that there are no technicians available in Daytona Beach to sign off on a safety report. The plane was not moving until after a technician could drive in from Orlando. The gate counter had a line of people who were trying to explore their alternatives, essentially the choice between spending another night in Daytona Beach or waiting for the plane to be approved for its late departure. Unless your final destination was Charlotte, you were going to be stranded there for at least another day.

Some of the passengers were more irate than others, taking out their frustrations on the gate agents, seemingly without understanding that the situation was beyond the control of those airline employees.  In our instance, treating them with due respect, one of the gate agents and her supervisor went well out of their way to find alternate arrangements to get us home with the least delay possible. Flying to another airport, such as Boston or Providence, was not an option because our car was parked at our home airport outside of Hartford. American Airlines departures from Daytona Beach only fly to Charlotte, so our workaround involved getting us to another airport with alternate destinations.

The airline pulled our checked bags (refunding our baggage fees), paid for a taxi to take us to the airport in Jacksonville, arranged for a ticket agent to work overtime to meet us at the ticket counter in Jacksonville (that was otherwise closed by the time of our arrival), and paid for us to spend the night at a Hilton Hotel near the airport so we could catch an early morning flight that would connect in Philadelphia rather than Charlotte – ahead of the coming storm. This was customer service above and beyond anything that could be reasonably expected. Let me add that we were not flying first class but in economy seats.

If you have been following the news recently, you probably recall that several airlines have suffered some widely reported public relations disasters. There was the United Airlines incident where a passenger’s puppy died after they were forced to stow it in the overhead bin and another incident where a passenger was dragged from an overbooked United Airlines flight when he refused to voluntarily surrender his seat to another passenger. Recovering from bad press can be a slow and difficult process. Fortunately for most small businesses, customer relations incidents generally occur on a one-on-one basis. As long as you do the right thing, reasonable people will appreciate your efforts. These are example of successful customer service. The customer service failures in this story begin with Hilton Hotels.

The ticket agent working overtime at the American Airlines counter in Jacksonville was tasked with making our hotel arrangements at the nearby DoubleTree by Hilton airport hotel. When he called both Hilton reservations and the local hotel’s front desk, he was told that no rooms were available. I fired up my laptop, went to my Hilton Honors account, and saw that there were plenty or rooms available at the hotel. What Hilton would not do – after 10:00 PM on a night where they had dozens of vacant rooms that would otherwise generate zero income – was honor the so called “distressed passenger” discounted rate that is the usual arrangement between hotels and the airlines. We had to pay for the room ourselves, and then provide a receipt to the airline for reimbursement (which was processed and paid quite promptly.) Think of this from a campground’s perspective. If you have unsold inventory at the last minute on the day before the start of a summer weekend, you are likely to offer space at a discount rather than leave a site vacant. For a hotel, 10:00 PM on the night of arrival is definitely the last minute to sell an otherwise vacant room.

Also if you have been following the news, you know that both Hilton Hotels and its DoubleTree brand have suffered some public relations disasters over the past year, not the least of which was the incident in December of 2018 where a registered guest (who happened to be African American) was evicted from the DoubleTree Hotel in Portland, Oregon for using his cell phone in the lobby. With bad press like that, you would think that DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels would be going out of its way to try to cater to its customers. Public relations disasters are almost always preventable, and public relations success stories almost always result from employees who have been empowered to do the right thing, every time and under all circumstances. Of course, this does not mean that every Hilton or DoubleTree Hotel is problematic, but bad press for any member of a franchise casts a shadow of doubt over the entire chain.

Some might argue that providing exceptional customer service is too costly and time-consuming or that the good deeds are rarely recognized beyond the direct recipient. I would argue that consistently positive customer relations can serve as the foundation of a company’s success. In the long run, it is a winning strategy.

Wait, There’s More …

Did I mention how pleased I was with American Airlines? Well, it did not take long for this enthusiasm that American Airlines had generated to get flushed totally down the drain. Allow me to explain …

Three months later, I happily returned to American Airlines to book a flight from Hartford to Colorado Springs, paying $463.00 for my round-trip fare. My return flight was one of 40 flights that were cancelled on March 7, 2019 when 14 of American Airlines’ Boeing 737-800s were taken out of service due to mechanical issues with overhead bins.

Upon notification of the flight cancellation, I called and spoke with an American Airlines ticketing agent who, over the course of a lengthy telephone conversation, assured me that my ticket had been transferred to United Airlines for a return to Hartford via United. On the basis of this assurance, I checked out of my hotel, returned my rental car, and proceeded to the United Airlines ticket counter in Colorado Springs, where I was told that I did not have a ticket.

Going back and forth between the United and American ticket agents in Colorado Springs, I was told that American Airlines would not transfer my ticket because I had purchased a basic economy fare. I understood that this fare meant that I would board in the last group, not have pre-assigned seating, would not be eligible for upgrades, and that I would not qualify for flight changes or refunds due to changes in my plans. I was there to fulfill my end of the agreement and was not of the understanding that this fare would disqualify me for the transfer of my ticket to another airline in an instance of a mechanical failure on the part of American Airlines.

Without any viable options, I paid United Airlines $1,312.00 (plus a $30.00 baggage fee) for economy seating on my return flight. The American Airlines ticketing agent in Colorado Springs told me that I could contact American Airlines for reimbursement for the unused portion of my fare. I requested not only that reimbursement but reimbursement for the full amount that I paid to United Airlines after I had been told that American had transferred my ticket.

While I understood that American Airlines was under no obligation to offer me this compensation, I would hope that under consideration of my past loyalty and future travels, it would choose to do the right thing. It did not. It has been over 6 weeks since I wrote to American Airlines, and they have not even responded to my letter, let alone issue a refund. I know that, like several other airlines, American has been taking a hit with the grounding of its Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet. On the other hand, they have not been too preoccupied to prevent them from spamming me on a daily basis, promoting dubious travel deals and a variety of ways to earn AAdvantage miles. I will pass.

The lesson I have learned, in addition to NEVER again buying a basic economy airfare ticket, is that big companies like American Airlines can never be trusted to do the right thing in the long run. My enthusiasm has been crushed, and my loyalty has been obliterated. Thanks for nothing, American Airlines!

This post was written by Peter Pelland