Pelland Blog

Give Your Guests More of What They Want

February 24th, 2018

I opened a box of breakfast cereal recently, and the inner bag of contents reached about half the height of the packaging. It was a classic example of the disclaimer that warns us that “contents are sold by weight, not volume”. If the packaging properly matched the size of its contents, it would have been half the size, have far less visibility on the supermarket shelf, and I probably would have passed on a purchase that did not appear to represent a very good value. You might say that I was deceived into making the purchase. Even though I liked the cereal, I am unlikely to purchase it again.

There are so many instances where corporate marketing decision-makers seem to underestimate the ability of their customers to make informed buying decisions and to alternately choose substitute products. Then there are instances that border on collusion, where companies follow the lead of a competitor who trail-blazes a reduction in product size without a corresponding reduction in price. For example, it only took one orange juice company to shrink its half-gallon container down to 59 ounces before every other company quickly followed suit. The same thing happened with ice cream, where the half-gallon container somehow evolved into a quart and a half. Perhaps the greatest offenses to consumer intelligence are meaningless comparison claims. I recently purchased a 50 ounce container of liquid laundry detergent where the label prominently stated “25% more ounces” (in a 36 pt. bold font) “vs. 40 fluid ounces” (in a 6 pt. light font). Needless to say, that claim did not influence my purchase.

Respect Your Guests’ Intelligence

People who feel that they have been somehow deceived into making a buying decision are almost never going to be return customers. When it comes to the outdoor hospitality industry, one of the biggest complaints is when guests feel like they are being “nickeled and dimed” during their stay. Although it is far preferable to avoid the imposition of add-on fees for incidentals like showers, Wi-Fi, or your planned activities, it is very important that any such fees be fully disclosed at the time of reservation. (One of my pet peeves is the imposition of so-called “convenience fees” for the making of reservations themselves!)

My best advice is to bundle as much as possible into your basic fees, promote the value within your rate structure, and stop presuming that people are comparison shopping for price without reading the fine print. One trend that I hope does not make inroads with the outdoor hospitality industry is the growing practice of hotels to impose so-called “resort fees”. This practice is so deceptive that it has generated lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers by 47 state attorneys general, who had recently negotiated an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, until the Trump administration ordered the FTC to back off, siding with the hotel industry rather than the interests of consumers. Nonetheless, guests have little or no tolerance for deceptive rate embellishments.

Consider the All-Inclusive Approach

A far better – and opposite – approach is the all-inclusive concept, where guests are willing to pay a premium for the privilege of avoiding add-on fees. The all-inclusive concept originated with Club Med way back in 1950. It is the rule rather than the exception in some vacation destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean. The concept has since been embraced by resort operators, cruise lines, travel agencies and online booking companies, several major airlines (including United, JetBlue, and Southwest), hotel chains (including Marriott and Hilton), and even wholesale buying clubs like Costco.

With all-inclusive pricing, as the name implies, guests willingly pay a premium fee for the privilege of vacationing without having to pull out their wallets throughout the course of their stay. All-inclusive pricing is most popular with destination resorts and highly competitive, saturated tourism markets. Probably the best known and most broadly marketed of these practitioners is Sandals Resorts International, which now promotes the tagline of “more quality inclusions than any other resorts on the planet”. Their all-inclusive stays include accommodations, dining, wine and spirits, golf, water sports, scuba diving, land sports, and entertainment. Even here, there are fee-based options such as spa treatments, premium wines, and scuba certification, as well as some restrictions on golf that vary from one resort or level of accommodations to another. The bottom line is that guests feel that they are being offered far more than they would otherwise expect.

Unfortunately, when I perform a Google search for the terms “all-inclusive campgrounds” or “all-inclusive camping resorts”, the results are pretty limited. I am more likely to find dude ranches, cabin resorts, and family resorts that do not fit the definition of a campground. Nonetheless, it seems that there is a small but growing list of campgrounds, ownership groups, and franchises that are discovering and beginning to capitalize upon the “all-inclusive” buzz words.

When I clicked through to the website of a campground in Michigan that calls itself “all-inclusive”, I found that it did not charge extra fees for most of its planned activities (something that is not all that uncommon); however, it charges extra fees for bike rentals, boat rentals, boat launching, and a few other “add-ons”. Another park in Wisconsin is promoting its all-inclusive pricing but is also charging for a short list of optional services that include boat and golf cart rentals, its laundry, and honey wagon service. Finally, a Jellystone Park in Texas is really promoting an all-inclusive pricing concept that includes full use of a wide range of recreational amenities – from miniature golf to a jumping pillow to a splash park. In each instance, the point of emphasis is not the list of fee-based options but the list of what is included at no additional charge.

The key to growth in the family camping industry has always been to draw in a new wave of guests who do not currently consider themselves campers. To reach them, offer them the unexpected and create the perception of overwhelming value that they have come to appreciate elsewhere. An all-inclusive approach to pricing may prove to be an idea whose time has come.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Browser Wars: Why You Should Care

May 29th, 2017

Browser-Logos

It is human nature that we all tend to resist change. From brand loyalty to daily routines, we tend to be pretty predictable as individuals. When it comes to the browsers that we use to surf the Internet, we tend to be quite settled in our ways, with very few of us whimsically switching from Safari to Edge to Opera. Part of the reason has to do with the way we each like to stay within our own comfort zone, and another part of the reason involves convenience. Switching to a new browser can be a somewhat daunting task, with bookmarks, history, remembered passwords and other settings to be either imported or rebuilt.

In my own instance, I had been loyal to the Firefox browser for several years now, ever since Internet Explorer’s difficulties pushed me over the edge. More recently, I had been reluctantly tolerating the fact that Firefox was either locking up or crashing on my relatively new Windows 10 computer for several weeks. It got to the point where its misbehavior became predictable, with a day when Firefox did not crash being about as rare as a three dollar bill. I continued to wait for the next Firefox update to resolve my problem – after all, I had auto-submitted probably 100 error reports to Mozilla over this time – but to no avail. When it locked up, I would often check Windows 10 Task Manager, and I would find that Firefox was using 15% of my CPU capacity and taking up way too much memory.

Enough was enough. I decided that I had run out of patience, and it was time to leave Firefox behind as my default browser. Although most of us are familiar with only a handful of options, there is actually quite a collection of available options. I was gravitating toward Vivaldi, but neither the LastPass password manager nor the Disconnect ad blocker that I rely upon support the Vivaldi browser. Based upon plug-in support, I decided to move to Chrome, and I am seeing a remarkable improvement in the speed of my browsing experience, with Chrome using about 0.1% of CPU capacity and barely more than 0.001% of my system’s RAM.

For a variety of reasons, it is difficult to compile really accurate statistics regarding browser usage, even in only the United States, let alone globally. If you check your own website’s statistics in Google Analytics, you will notice that a very high percentage will be identified as “unknown”. Probably the most reliable data is presented by Net Market Share, where it is clear that on desktop computers and tablets, Chrome is the leader of the pack and gaining ground, Internet Explorer is rapidly losing market share (with few users embracing Microsoft Edge as its replacement), and Firefox, Safari, and everything else is pretty much just holding its own with far lower percentages of users. These trends are also tracked in the ongoing browser statistics compiled by W3Schools.com.

Of course, smartphones are accounting for an ever-greater share of Web browsing, and they present an entirely different set of statistics, where most users tend not to switch away from the default Android or iOS browser that comes installed on their devices.

You may be wondering why this might be important to you. First of all, go ahead and embrace change in your own browsing habits. Almost incomprehensibly, the (fortunately dwindling) numbers of Internet Explorer users include people who are still using IE10, IE9, IE8, and even older versions, seemingly oblivious to the fact that IE 11 was replaced by Microsoft Edge, where the current version at the time of this writing is Edge15. Running older versions of browser software represents a severe security risk, particularly when that browser is no longer supported by its developer (Microsoft, in the instance of Internet Explorer.) There is a big difference between being loyally running the latest version of Safari on your Mac and blindly running Internet Explorer 8 because it came installed on your old Windows 7 computer.

From a business perspective, it is important that you (or your webmaster) check how your website renders and performs on all browsers, operating systems, and devices that are commonly in use today. Some sites look fine on some browsers but less than perfect on others, whereas many older sites are essentially useless on mobile devices.

Not that long ago, I checked the new website of a campground using the Firefox browser that was still my default at the time. The site, which looked very nice with its embedded YouTube video, embedded widgets and more WordPress plug-ins than you could shake a stick at, would barely load in Firefox and who knows how it works in all those versions of Internet Explorer that people are still using. (Yes, it works much better in Chrome!) Well, according to Net Market Share, Firefox holds 11.79% of the current market share, Internet Explorer’s various versions still occupy 18.95% of market share, and I do not know of a single campground that can afford to risk driving away over 30% of its potential customers.

Going back to that content-heavy website, another very interesting and eye-opening test measures the actual cost of viewing a site on a mobile device using the most popular mobile service providers in various countries (those providers being Verizon and AT&T in the United States.) Calculating the best case scenario using the least expensive data plans, the actual cost of visiting that website is $0.86 in the United States and a whopping $1.65 in Canada (based upon U.S. dollars.) If your potential guest is on a limited data usage plan, a site like this with 9MB of total loaded content is not making a favorable first impression. Chances are those people are not going to wait for the site to load and run up their bills. To run a test of your site, visit What Does My Site Cost?

Are you in the mood for another test? Although any website (unless it uses Flash) will render on a mobile device, it may or may not present optimized content on either Android devices or iPhones. To test your site’s appearance on mobile devices, use the Google Mobile-Friendly Test, where the results might present a rude awakening of how your site appears to perhaps 50% or more of its visitors (many of whom will then abandon your site even faster than they found it!)

As you can see, choices in Web browsers can have far greater implications than first meet the eye. Although Firefox is no longer my default browser, it is still running on my computer for testing purposes, along with Safari, Edge, Opera and, of course, Chrome. If your site’s testing is not up to par, particularly in terms of its overall mobile-friendliness, it may be time to consider its overall cost to your park in potentially lost business.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

It’s Never Too Late to Start Guarding Your Privacy

May 10th, 2017

I logged onto Facebook this morning, and I was immediately presented with a sponsored display ad hawking a t-shirt design that read, “Never underestimate an Old Man who listens to Neil Young and was born in September.” If I was naïve, I would see that ad and think, “Wow! This is my perfect t-shirt”, then order one. In the short time in which this ad has been displayed, it has been “liked” by 480 people, shared by 182 people (multiplying its reach at no charge to the advertiser), and has received 61 comments. Every one of those comments is from a man who confirms that he was born in September (usually adding a year from the 1950’s or 1960’s) and wants one of the shirts.


Man-NeilYoung-September-FacebookAd

Is the fact that I was shown this advertising a coincidence? No way! It is custom-tailored to my identity. If I went to the order page and modified the URL, I could display any of a number of t-shirt designs based upon:

  • The name of the performer.
  • The birth month.
  • Whether I was a man or a woman.

Here is an example:

Woman-Bob-Dylan-August-FacebookAd

To make the ad even more effective, the ordering page includes a countdown clock to create a false sense of urgency:

Ordering-Urgency-FacebookAd

Depending upon how you view it, being presented these ads is either a brilliant use of Facebook’s marketing potential or an egregious violation of the personal privacy of Facebook users. In this case, I was being shown advertising that was based upon the disclosure of my gender, age, month of birth, and taste in music … all information that I had either voluntarily or unwittingly published on Facebook for either my friends or the world to see.

Yesterday, I was presented with another variation of the ad, based upon the fact that I drive a Jaguar … another fact that I had disclosed on Facebook. Now, I can also order a coffee mug! I am sure that I could modify the URL on the ordering page to change the design to show the name and logo of just about any car company. (On a side note, I have to wonder if these performers and companies are being paid royalties by the t-shirt company for use of their trademarks.)

Man-Jaguar-September-FacebookAd

You may think that this is all innocent, fun, and the price we pay for the otherwise free use of social media apps like Facebook, but there is more involved. I don’t know how many times I have seen friends on Facebook post a complete set of answers to 50 personal questions such as the name of their elementary school, their first phone number, name of their eldest sibling, and so forth. Whenever I see this being treated as a harmless and fun exercise, I cannot help but ask myself, “Are you insane?” If any of these questions and answers seems familiar, it is because they are among the same ones that are used as security tests on your online banking or an e-commerce site when you reset a password. Yes, the name of your first pet can lead to the theft of your identity!

You may have seen the recent news about the “Google Docs” phishing scam that proliferated in e-mails on May 4, 2017, said to be the most effective e-mail worm since the “I Love You” virus that caused havoc back in 2000. The scam was effective because it looked legitimate (it is so easy to copy the appearance of a legitimate website!), came from somebody you knew (rather than some random name chosen by a hacker in Belarus), and was spread through the type of shared online document that we have come to accept as routine. Even cautious recipients who would never open an e-mail attachment from a stranger thought that it was safe to download the same sort of document that appeared to have been shared via a cloud service by a known sender. All of these scams, whether relatively harmless or downright nefarious, play upon the human willingness to trust those with access to our personal information.

At the moment, leading into Mother’s Day 2017, there are several gift card scams that are proliferating on Facebook almost faster than they can be identified and taken down. One purports to offer a $50.00 coupon for use at Lowe’s home improvement stores in exchange for taking a short survey, in which you will be disclosing a wealth of personal information. Another purports to offer a $75.00 coupon to Bed Bath & Beyond, the same sort of scam that attempts to gather your personal information for exploitation later.

As I have said in the title of this article, it is never too late to start guarding your privacy. In fact, today is the best day to begin!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Start a Disruption

January 18th, 2017

Successful business concepts today generally involve entirely new ways of thinking. In the world of computer software and mobile apps, the terminology is known as disruptive technology, and it refers to the fact that nothing really new or transformative comes from simply applying a new coat of paint or polish to something old and familiar. In a broad sense, the personal computer and the cell phone were among the greatest disruptors of recent time.

If you go back in time, other ground-breakers included the friction match, the printing press, the incandescent light bulb, the internal combustion engine, film, radio, television, and so on. Certainly, some of these inventions evolved over time rather than instantly bursting onto the scene. Television, for example, gradually evolved from radio to the flat-screen displays of today.

Zenith_FlashMatic
From the dozen local VHF channels of the early years, came UHF adapters, cable, and satellite systems that now bring hundreds of programming options into the home of any subscriber. Even the remote control has evolved by leaps and bounds from the original Zenith Flash-Matic, introduced in 1955, to the programmable, multi-function devices of today. I remember a very primitive one-button remote control on my family’s Sylvania console TV back in the 1960s. We could not watch TV during a thunderstorm because lightning made the remote control go crazy, endlessly changing the channels on the motorized tuner!

Disruptive ideas are far from limited to the technology industries. In the customer service industries, we need to think less like our grandparents and more like our next generation of customers. For campground owners, this means thinking outside the box, seeking out the next new idea that will appeal to your guests. When was the last time you invested in a major piece of new recreational equipment? Not simply a new playground, but things like a fitness course, canine agility park, jumping pillow, gem mining station, laser tag, or spray park. And when is the last time that you really shook up your activities schedule, adding an event or two that will run the risk of being ahead of its time but that could also prove to be overwhelmingly popular?

I recently heard about a business in New Jersey that was founded in 2015, has apparently been successful, and is one of those “who wudda thunk it?” head-scratcher concepts. Stumpy’s Hatchet House is difficult to explain, but if falls under the umbrella category of the adult fun industry. It is the first indoor hatchet-throwing facility in the United States, probably a lot more fun than either bowling or darts. Customers pay $40.00 per person for a two-hour session that includes safety training, a lesson, hatchet rental, and use of a hatchet pit. A separate party room can be rented by groups for $100.00 for a two-hour session, or the entire venue can be rented for $1,000.00 per hour. Spectators (referred to as “non-throwers”) pay a cover charge of $15.00 each. When I visited their website in December, Stumpy’s was taking reservations for a New Year’s Eve hatchet-throwing buffet and seeking out inquiries from prospective franchisees.

Time will tell whether this venture will take off and succeed in the long run, but most service business today are not planning where they will be 50 years from now. Serial entrepreneurs work within a far shorter time-frame (typically 10 years) within which to take risks, hopefully profit, move on to the next venture, and sell to a new investor. When you come right down to it, how many campgrounds are not currently for sale, given the right price and circumstances, along with a ready and willing buyer?

A park that embraces concepts on the cutting edge (no hatchet-throwing pun intended) will profit in the short run and tremendously increase its value in the long run. Give this thinking a new level of commitment as we head into a new year.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

It’s All About Customer Service

December 11th, 2016

Returning from a recent vacation in Ecuador, I had time to pause and reflect upon the extraordinary customer service that my wife and I consistently experienced in our travels in a country that is doing everything imaginable to brand itself as the next major tourism destination. Far from being random instances where we were lucky enough to encounter that rare employee who cared, we found that customer service that extended far beyond all reasonable expectations was the rule rather than the exception. Let me outline a few specific examples. Then ask yourself if you and your staff are doing everything possible to make your guests feel special. It is my belief that the businesses that we encountered in Ecuador represent the new standard that will separate the winners from the losers in the hospitality industry. It is no longer about price. I believe that your next wave of guests will make their decisions based upon the customer service extended.

Casa Divina Lodge

During one leg of our trip, we rented an SUV and drove from the coastal city of Guayaquil through the Andes Mountains to the capital city of Quito. Along the way, one of our stays was at Casa Divina Lodge, high in the cloud forest of Mindo. On our way, we had the misfortune to find ourselves in a very awkward situation with the Transito police near Santa Domingo, thanks to an expired registration certificate on the vehicle that we rented from Thrifty Car Rental. The police did not speak English, we did not speak Spanish, and they were demanding a bribe. We called Casa Divina Lodge, and the manager intervened on our behalf, reducing the bribe that we were forced to pay and allowing us to continue our journey.

Upon our arrival in Mindo, Efrain Toapanta, the owner of Casa Divina met us in the center of town and escorted us to the eco-resort that he had built himself. Otherwise impossible to find, the resort is hidden in the forest some 5 kilometers from the center, and its owner trucked our suitcases in a wheelbarrow from the parking area to our second-level lodging. Meals were catered to our special dietary needs, and Efrain arranged for a local ornithologist to take us out for a lengthy session of birding where, with his assistance, we identified 74 species of birds in one day.

Molino San Juan

Our next stay was at Molino San Juan, in the shadow of Cayambe Volcano and on the outskirts of the city of Cayambe. The hospitality that was extended to us here, part of the family owned and operated Hacienda La Copañia, was truly remarkable. During our off-season stay, we were the only guests at what is considered the “hotel” of the hacienda, but Jaime Pallares, its owner/manager (who had previously worked with Hilton Hotels) gave us more undivided attention that one might expect to be afforded to a full house. For example, during the first night of our stay, just in case we needed anything, he slept in an upstairs guestroom rather than going home for the night!

Heated living spaces are not the norm in Ecuador, and our desire for greater warmth in our room was met with additional blankets, a space heater in our room, and hot water bottles in our bed. As part of our visit, we were given a personal tour of the Hacienda’s rose showroom. (The region is the world’s third largest producers of roses.) Displaying dozens of artistic arrangements, the roses are replaced every three days, ensuring that the blossoms are always nothing less than perfect – even if they are only to be seen by two guests. In addition to our personal tour of the hacienda grounds, museum, historic Jesuit chapel, and rose showroom, Jaime researched and arranged the finest possible guide service for our visit to Cayambe Volcano.

Carlota

The Carlota is a new boutique hotel in the historic district of Quito. From the moment that we arrived, we were greeted by name and made to feel right at home. Operations Manager Nydia Vargas did everything possible to ensure that we enjoyed our stay, even modifying her work schedule so she could be on desk when we might require her assistance. When we were unfamiliar with the area and needed to visit a nearby ATM, she had an employee escort us. When the weather was rainy, she reserved two umbrellas for our use. When we had two large bags of clothing to be laundered, she negotiated a significant discount with the hotel’s laundry service provider.

When we were checking out, we asked if the hotel could provide us with water in plastic bottles that we could take to the airport. (Their usual water is served in glass bottles.) Without hesitation, Nydia asked the waiter to get us two bottles of water (after first asking us if we needed more than two.) It was not until he reappeared a minute or two later that we realized that he had been sent to a nearby store to purchase the water bottles on our behalf. Are you beginning to get a feeling for the exceptional level of service at this hotel? The Carlota was once the home of a former President of Ecuador, and we were made to feel presidential!

What Is Your Park Doing that Makes It Special?

I have far more stories that I could relate, if space allowed, not the least of which would be our experience spending a week on a the M/Y Grace, a small yacht in the Galapagos Islands, where a dozen passengers were outnumbered by thirteen crew members. I think I have made my point, and I have already related my experiences in TripAdvisor reviews, where I now have 110,000 readers. Ask yourself what you can do that goes the extra mile for your guests, offering a service that would never be made available by your contemporaries. Standards and expectations in the world have changed, as baby boomers and subsequent generations finds themselves with disposable incomes but limited amounts of leisure time. Travel yourself, if necessary, and I think you will soon recognize that customer service has become mission-critical to your park’s success.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Engage Local Businesses to Build a Competitive Edge

July 19th, 2016

The key to small business success is not a matter of cutting costs or raising prices. First and foremost, it is a matter of satisfying your customers in a manner that leaves your competitors behind. One of several highly effective ways of doing this is to engage local businesses that offer products or services that appeal to your customers.

If you run a campground, it is your responsibility to know your guests. When they leave your park for a day or an evening, where to they go? What are the types of businesses that appeal to their needs and interests? If a guest asks you for directions to the nearest supermarket or asks for a referral to a local Mexican restaurant, you are probably prepared with a recommendation and a set of directions. The important question is whether you “wing” your response each time or have a formally established referral system in place.

What Is Good for Your Customers Is Best for You

You may already be providing a rudimentary referral service of sorts if you have a bulletin board in your office area that includes local business cards, if you have a display rack of local business brochures, or if you have a site map that is supported by local advertising. Those all make sense, and they are helpful ways of generating awareness for those businesses, but it takes far more than awareness to really build a synergy between your park and nearby businesses. After all, if name awareness was all that it took, all that any business would need would be a sign at the road and a parking lot large enough to handle the endless influx of traffic. We all know that it does not work quite that simply.

Over the years, a number of companies have successfully run localized or regionalized direct mail advertising campaigns that provide offers from area businesses that are willing to offer incentives in order to reach new customers. Particularly when your business is attracting a pool of new potential customers from outside of the area, local businesses need your help to direct those people to their doors.

Offer Incentives

Although the direct mail campaigns have been successful over the years, rising postage costs and the relatively low response rates for offers that are not targeted to specific groups of likely consumers have taken their toll in favor of more cost-effective approaches. The same thing applies to local newspaper coupons, victims of declining circulation and the fact that so few people actually read newspapers today. The company that markets regional Entertainment coupon books in 41 states plus the District of Columbia and Canada gets people to pay $12.00 per annual coupon book or $19.99 per year for their mobile app. In addition, many supermarket chains now offer loyalty and rewards programs that include discounts on local businesses and services, and many local radio and television stations offer discounted gift certificates for a full range of local businesses. (In my market, the usual discount is 30% off face value.) One thing that all of these programs have in common is that they are offering some sort of discount in order to incentivize new and return customers to favor participating local businesses.

Make This Work to Your Advantage

Rather than asking local businesses to pay for the privilege of reaching your clientele, offer them a free opportunity to reach your campers in exchange for offering them some sort of monetary discount or incentive. Each offer must have real value, but may very well be the same sort of deal that they might already offer under other circumstances. In other words, it is a price that they are willing to pay in exchange for bringing in a new customer (or an entirely family of customers). Each offer should be in the form of a coupon (which visually creates the impression of real value) that is then bound together with the other offers into a booklet that you provide to each arriving guest at the time of registration. (You might also provide one booklet per month to your seasonal guests.)

The important thing to remember is not to pass these out prior to arrival (at a winter camping show, for example) because you want to be certain that they are used by your actual guests, not somebody who ultimately decides to stay at another resort on down the road. The cover of the booklet should show the total cash value of the combined offers, and you should include this discount booklet in the list of amenities that your park offers its guests. The result is not only an incentive for your campers to patronize participating businesses (in a way that those businesses can actually measure), but also an incentive for those same campers to actually stay at your park.

Identifying Your Prospects

As I mentioned earlier, it is your responsibility to know your guests. Basically, any local business offering a product or service that is of interest to your guests should be invited to participate, and any business that is already participating in another incentive program has demonstrated its interest in generating new customers. Refer to the incentive programs in your local market to find your “A List” of business to contact. That list will include – but be far from limited to – the following types of businesses:

• Restaurants • Ice Cream Stands • Supermarkets • Farm Stands • Retail Stores •
• Golf Courses • Driving Ranges • Mini Golf Courses • Indoor and Outdoor Paintball •
• Bowling Centers • Go-Kart Tracks • Skating Rinks • Batting Cages • Fishing Charters •
• Amusement & Theme Parks • Water Parks • Speedways • Tourist Attractions •
• Craft Breweries • Wineries • Factory Tours • Music Festivals •
• RV Dealerships • RV Repair Centers • Auto Repair Centers •
• Boarding Kennels • Pet Grooming • Veterinary Services •
• Movie Theaters • Museums • Historic Sites •

Why it All Works So Perfectly

Guess what? If you persuade your guests to patronize even a fraction of the local businesses who participate in your incentive program, you may have also given them a list of good reasons to extend their stay or to return for another stay at your park. Coupon redemptions will also have given you an opportunity to prove your park’s merit to your business partners in this endeavor, leading to the potential for further cooperative ventures. Wouldn’t it be nice for your park to be the “official campground” of the big nearby theme park or motor speedway? Or for your local supermarket chain to include your park in its loyalty and rewards program? Or for the local brewery and winery to run a tasting event at your park? Or for the local pet grooming facility to come to your park for on-site grooming days? The potential is only limited by your imagination, your belief in your business, and your ability to persuade fellow businesses to get on board.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

A Buyer’s Guide to the Ultimate in Customer Satisfaction

June 22nd, 2016

I have often written how customer satisfaction is the key to the long-term success of any business. This applies to the full gamut of service industries, but it also applies in a much more tangible manner to the manufacturers of everyday products. As the owner of a small business, you need to spend your dollars wisely, and there is no greater assurance of satisfaction than an unconditional lifetime warranty.

Companies that offer no-questions-asked warranties generally do so because they know that they can stand behind the quality of their products, in a day and age where so many people have grown to accept the concept of planned obsolescence. Sure, you might pay a slight premium for the better quality product, but wouldn’t you rather support businesses that, like your own, are committed to customer satisfaction? As a bonus, many of these products are made in the USA, helping to employ people who might be the same people who will in turn patronize your business.

In years past, before the days of mass production, and certainly before the days when manufacturing began to be outsourced to foreign factories employing a low-wage workforce, manufacturers were more typically craftsmen who took great personal pride in what they had made. Products were designed and intended to last for years. When they eventually reached the end of their useful lives, they were often imaginatively repurposed, rather than being hauled off to a landfill for the rest of eternity.

Quality and Marketing Intersect in Freeport, Maine

Many companies today differentiate themselves from their competition by standing behind their products and using that customer assurance as a highly effective marketing tool. If any individual could be singled out as the originator of the concept, it would be Leon Leonwood Bean, who founded the company that bears his name in a one-room operation in Freeport, Maine back in 1912. His first and only product at the time was the Maine Hunting Shoe – affectionately known for many years as the “Bean Boot”. According to the company, 90% of the original production run back in 1912 was returned under the terms of L.L. Bean’s money-back guarantee, due to design defects. Those defects were corrected, and the company’s flagship store now occupies 220,000 square feet and is one of the leading tourist attractions in the state of Maine. Along with its 41 satellite stores, the privately-held company employed a workforce of 5,000 with sales exceeding $1.61 billion in 2014. The iconic Maine Hunting Shoe is still made in the USA, at a plant in Brunswick, Maine that employs 450 people.

Lifetime Warranty

The List

L.L. Bean: A full line of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing; footwear; outdoor gear; hunting and fishing gear and apparel; luggage; and products for the home.
www.llbean.com
100% satisfaction guaranteed, free shipping to the U.S. and Canada with no minimum order.

Eddie Bauer: A full line of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing; outdoor gear; footwear; outerwear; and home accessories.
www.eddiebauer.com
Unconditional lifetime guarantee

The North Face: Men’s, women’s and children’s clothing; outdoor gear (including tents and sleeping bags); footwear; and backpacks.
www.thenorthface.com
Lifetime limited warranty

Lands’ End: Men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and shoes; swimwear; and home accessories.
www.landsend.com
Lands’ End has actually trademarked its warranty: “Guaranteed. Period.”

Patagonia: Men’s, women’s and children’s clothing; outdoor gear.
www.patagonia.com
“Ironclad Guarantee”

Duluth Trading Company: Men’s and women’s outdoor clothing, footwear, and accessories. Over 150 products made in the USA.
www.duluthtrading.com
“No Bull Guarantee”           

Bogs: Boots for men, women and children.
www.bogsfootwear.com
100% satisfaction guarantee, free shipping and returns on all non-sale items.

Darn Tough Vermont Socks: Comfortable, durable socks, made in the USA.
www.darntough.com
Unconditional lifetime guarantee

Dr. Martens For Life: Men’s and women’s boots, shoes, and industrial footwear.
www.drmartens.com
Only “For Life” products are covered under the company’s lifetime warranty.

JanSport: Backpacks, bags and accessories.
www.jansport.com
Guaranteed for life, with free shipping and free returns.

Briggs & Riley: Luggage.
www.briggs-riley.com
Lifetime repair guarantee, even if damaged by an airline.

Buck Knives: A complete line of knives, made in the USA.
www.buckknives.com
Forever warranty

W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery: Pocket knives and sporting knives, made in the USA.
www.wrcase.com
Limited lifetime warranty

Craftsman: Hand tools, sold by Sears, Kmart and Ace Hardware stores.
www.craftsman.com
Limited lifetime or full warranty, varies by product.

Kobalt Tools: Hand tools and lawn and garden tools, sold exclusively at Lowe’s.
www.kobalttools.com
Lifetime hassle-free guarantee

Ridgid: Power tools.
www.ridgid.com
Full lifetime warranty on most power tool products

Vortex: Riflescopes, spotting scopes, binoculars and other optics.
www.vortexoptics.com
Unlimited lifetime warranty. Out of 297 customer reviews, 284 rate this company as “excellent”.

CamelBak: Hydration systems.
www.camelbak.com
Lifetime guarantee

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shoppers

March 30th, 2016

Over the years, I have heard campground owners consistently complain about ratings that are generated by independent, third-party inspectors from organizations ranging from AAA and Trailer Life to Wheelers and Woodall’s. With the demise of the “big books,” the consolidation of Trailer Life and Woodall’s into Good Sam ratings, and the explosive growth and credibility of online consumer review sites such as RV Park Reviews and TripAdvisor, ratings are as important – if not more important – than ever. What remains consistent is the question as to why a campground owner would be surprised by ratings or consumer reviews, as if he was unfamiliar with the shortcomings of his own park.

Perhaps it would make sense for the industry to be a bit more proactive with regard to the types of third-party assessments that would identify problems and nip them in the bud. Other industries – most notably the hotel, restaurant, cruise line, retailing, banking, and automotive industries – have routinely employed what are referred to as “mystery shoppers”. It is important to know that both your business and your employees are up to par and providing exceptional customer service. At my local bank, I noticed last week how one of the tellers had been awarded for having successfully passed 5 out of 5 such test situations during the previous year.

To make these inspections work, they must be carried out in an anonymous and seemingly random fashion. Think of the popular CBS reality TV series, Undercover Boss, where even Jim Rogers, the former CEO of KOA, went undercover to gain an inside perspective on various employee issues at three parks within the KOA franchise system. Another popular reality TV show is Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible, where host Robert Irvine helps to turn restaurants around by identifying problems with everything from their menus and décor to their staffs and the attitude of their owners. We all need to see our businesses sometimes with the objectivity of another set of eyes.

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In the hotel industry, which is so closely related to the campground industry, there is a wide range of companies that provide independent inspection services. The companies include Secret Hotel Inspector, Coyle Hospitality Group, and Guest Check. There is also a network of independent contractors that provide similar services, in some instances on a smaller scale and meeting the needs of businesses with more limited budgets. These services are so important that there is actually an association of service providers, the Mystery Shopping Provider Association of North America. According to MSPA-NA statistics, 70% of shoppers (yes, that includes campers!) state that they are willing to spend up to 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service. Perhaps more importantly, 78% of customers have opted to cancel a transaction or did not complete an intended purchase because of a poor customer experience. Think of how that latter statistic relates to the usability of your website or the user experience during your online reservation process.

Some companies even recruit and hire their own secret inspectors, one example being Small Luxury Hotels of the World, an affiliation of 520 luxury hotels located worldwide.

What these companies share in common is the proven statistic that the fees for their services are more than offset by the increased profitability that results from the improvements in customer loyalty, customer satisfaction, staff training, and morale that are realized after implementing their study recommendations. More than simply running a white glove along a windowsill, these companies identify weaknesses and waste, and then recommend solutions and remedial actions.

It is important to have access to this type of information prior to the time of interaction with your paying guests. Why not make now the time for a new beginning? My suggestion is for some of the larger, more progressive state associations to explore an affiliation with a mystery shopping organization, and then offer this as a paid add-on service for members who are striving for excellence. Not only would the member campgrounds benefit greatly from their participation, this would also be a service that would add significant value to the member benefits package of any such state associations themselves.

As always, it is always wise to think outside the box, learn from other industries, and emulate the various formulae that have contributed to their success.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Listen to Your Customers

February 28th, 2016

I thought it would be useful to read through random reviews of campgrounds on the TripAdvisor website in order to determine whether there were some common complaints that savvy park operators might need to address. On TripAdvisor, we are generally dealing with that all-important market of first-time campers – precisely the people who are needed to grow the industry’s markets. We all know the old adage about first impressions being lasting impressions, and an experience that fails to live up to expectations could not only ensure that a first-time guest will not return to your park; you could very well sour that first-time camper on the entire camping experience, rather than turning him into the next lifetime camper.

I randomly chose campgrounds in four regions of the country and read through reviews. In the instance of one park, I found that every recent 5-star review was followed up with a management response, thanking the reviewer for taking the time to write the review; however, there was not a management response for even a single recent review that rated the campground as anything less than outstanding. The management of this campground is totally missing the point in its failure to address legitimate concerns or even to acknowledge those somewhat less-than-happy campers. Ironically, those unaddressed reviews are consistently flagged as “helpful” by fellow TripAdvisor users. In other words, these unaddressed complaints are being read by other potential guests who are thanking the reviewers for saving them from making the mistake of vacationing at the same park.

The most common complaints fell into 6 categories:

  1. Extra fees. People who have customarily stayed in hotels or conventional resorts are not accustomed to paying excessive add-on fees or for paying to take a shower. I frequently encountered the term “nickeled and dimed”, and that is not good. Reviewers complained about excessive fees for everything from arts and crafts sessions to the rental of recreational equipment, but the single biggest complaint was with any park that used metered showers. One reviewer wrote, “You have to pay for your shower, and the first three minutes are cold.”
  2. Indifference on the part of staff or management. Some of the specific complaints a bad attitude when staff members visited campsites, or security staff members who turned a blind eye away from issues that needed to be addressed. There were many complaints about rude employees (bad enough), but the people who referenced rude owners are really raising red flags. One reviewer documented about requesting a credit (not a refund) due to a medical emergency, and how the park owner insultingly demanded a note from her doctor! Another wrote, “The gate guards are not that friendly – actually they are aggressive and rude – and are easily annoyed.” That surly gate guard is the first person encountered upon arrival and can set the tone for the entire camping experience.
  3. Small sites that are not big rig friendly. Unless camping in a group, campers generally do not want to feel like they are on top of the adjoining sites. If they are camping in a big rig, they want to be able to get into and out of their site easily and without risk of damage to their investment. In the short term, this may mean carefully assigning sites to the camping equipment; in the long term, this may mean re-engineering smaller adjoining sites into larger single sites.
  4. Dirty, inadequately or infrequently cleaned restrooms. There are simply no excuses here. If it is a busy weekend, your cleaning staff may need to be cleaning your restrooms on a continuous rotation throughout the day. If you are short-staffed, hire people. The photo that I am showing below is one of eight that was included in an actual review, documenting a lack of bathroom cleaning – both short-term and long-term – at one particular park. Additional photos attached to the review show fecal matter in front of toilets, dirty floors, empty paper towel dispensers, and stained shower stalls.
  5. Lack of maintenance in rentals. Be careful about overselling you’re amenities. It is probably a mistake to market aging park models as “luxury cottages”, particularly if their amenities are inconsistent with what you advertise. If a furnished park model 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 one actual 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 they should expect to find in the unit.
  6. Lax enforcement of rules. Yes, we all know that rules are a double-edged sword where some people are always going to be unhappy; however, the guests who really count are the ones who expect quiet, not those who are creating a nuisance. Within this category of complaints, the biggest issues involved unattended dogs being allowed to bark, and quiet hours that were not consistently and politely enforced.

Restroom Trash Bin

All in all, the people who are addressing these concerns are far from being unreasonable. If you were on a vacation – perhaps a cruise or a trip to a vacation resort – would you find these shortcomings acceptable? Of course not! Treat your guests with respect, meet their expectations, and your business will grow and prosper.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Free Yourself from Technology

January 20th, 2016

Yes, you read it right. Am I speaking blasphemy? Maybe not. I am currently reading an excellent book titled “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle, and it is about how smartphones, texting, and social media like Twitter and Facebook have destroyed our ability to carry on emotional and intellectual conversations. In the words of the author, “Technology gives us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” An entire generation of us, dominated by those under the age of 30, is uncomfortable with the unfamiliar concept of carrying on a direct conversation that involves eye contact, inflection, body language, and emotion.

We have grown accustomed to substituting ALL CAPS for subtle inflections, acronyms like LOL for a smile or a laugh, avatars for our faces, and emoticons for our emotions. Facebook encourages us to only post comments that will be broadly “liked”, discouraging any sort of intelligent discourse or exchange of opinions with anyone who is not like-minded. The fact is that we all have much to learn, in a respectful way, from people with beliefs and opinions that differ from our own.

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In the camping experience – built upon the concept of providing people with an opportunity to get away from their routines and to commune with a more natural environment – one of the single most highly demanded amenities is high-speed Internet access. The lion’s share of my own business is the development of mobile-friendly campground websites, ensuring that campers can learn everything possible about a park using nothing but their smartphones or tablets. Camping tends to mirror society itself, and somewhere along the line society has gone astray.

As school systems nationwide have been in a mad rush to see which of whom can install more computer classrooms faster than their peers, it may surprise some readers to learn about the growth of technology-free schools in America’s computer capital, Silicon Valley. That’s right. Back in 2011, the New York Times reported how educational alternatives like the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, in Silicon Valley, had a student body that consisted of the children of executives from eBay, Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Hewlett-Packard. It has also been widely reported how Steve Jobs limited his children’s access to technology at home, and how many of the other icons of technology follow the same course.

In fact, one of the latest trends in summer camps (those second cousins of family campgrounds) is the development of technology-free camping, sometimes referred to as “tech detox” camps. Mind you, these summer camps are available not only for kids but for adults, hundreds of whom are willing to pay dearly for the opportunity to put aside their cell phones for a week. There is clearly a demand for device-free vacations. In fact, one of my childhood friends (with whom I am connected on Facebook, of course) just posted last week, “I wonder if there is a place on earth where there is no cell phone service, no Facebook, no TV, no computers … I would go to that place for one week and do nothing but read, write, rest, and get away (just for a while) from this maddening crowd we live within.” Is there a campground ready to step up to the plate?

There was a recent discussion on the Campground Success LinkedIn Group that I moderate, initiated by a campground owner who wondered whether or not there might be a viable market for a pet-free campground. The general consensus was that there might be risks in suddenly implementing a pet-free policy, particularly when so many of us treat our pets like our own children; however, there is likely a demand for such an alternative. (I would consider it a far lesser risk if I was running a campground that was surrounded by 20 other parks in the immediate area, rather than a park where my nearest competitor was 50 miles away.) I believe that the time has also come for a few brave souls to experiment with running a technology-free campground, maybe testing the waters with a technology-free weekend. (Imagine the free publicity that you could garner in the press!)

This would have to be planned well in advance, before accepting reservations from any campers with conventional expectations. Campers would agree to leave their cell phones at home or locked away and to put away their satellite dishes. The park would shut down its wi-fi routers, pull the cable on TV service, and plan an entire weekend of activities and events that will allow campers to get to know one another – and to get to know themselves – like they used to do in the “good old days”. Let’s face it: Camping is the perfect setting and environment for tech-free activities and non-activities alike! You could offer things like a book exchange, an acoustic music jam session, nightly group campfires, nature walks, parent and child activities, and a Sunday morning service with a tech-free homily.

Sure, there are issues that would need to be addressed. What do you do about seasonal campers who do not want to participate? What do you do about people who do not easily withdraw from their technology addiction? Those are minor challenges that can be easily overcome. Think of the first restaurants years ago that toyed with the idea of going smoke-free. Today it is almost unheard of to find a restaurant in the United States that allows smoking, and we are all better off for the change.

Who will be the first to step up to the challenge? Without explorers who risked sailing into uncharted waters, we might still believe that the world was flat. Just think of what you might accomplish. If the lessons learned at your tech-free weekend lead to just one family that returns to having dinner together each evening without the distractions of cell phones and TV, you will have just accomplished far more than you had ever intended.

This post was written by Peter Pelland