Pelland Blog

Analyzing Analytics

September 12th, 2019

I recently wrote how one of the biggest mistakes was to have a website without the advantage of running Google Analytics. It is a free tool, it is easy to install, and it provides a wealth of extremely valuable information regarding a website, its traffic sources, and much more. I have also learned over the years that most people never take the time to actually review the data now at their fingertips, or they get lost in the sheer volume of all that is available. I have often spent 20 minutes on the phone with a client when both of us are logged into their Google Analytics account, walking them through the process of what to look for and where to find it. Let me attempt to take a similar approach to guide readers through the process.

Is it Installed?

Prior to proceeding any further, you need to confirm that Google Analytics is actually installed and running on your website and that you have been set up with user access. Ask your webmaster. If either you or your webmaster are uncertain (and it is not a good sign if your webmaster is uncertain!), view the source code on the Home page of your site by right-clicking on the page and choosing “View page source”. Then search the page’s source code for a string of text that begins with “UA-”. This will show you the Google Analytics tracking code and script if it is installed, usually near the top or the bottom of the page.

Presuming that Google Analytics is installed and running on your site, you also need to be set up as a user with access to the account. By only being accessible to authorized users, you are prevented from allowing just anybody to access this data, particularly your competitors. Once you have confirmed that Google Analytics is installed and that you have been set up with user access, it is now time to log into your account to sort through the mountains of data.

Changing the Default View

When you reach your Google Analytics Home page, you will be shown a snapshot that includes active users (the number of people who are on your site right now) and a summary of some of the basic data compiled over the past 30 days. Although it is fun to see the number of active users on your site, along with which pages they are visiting, this information is generally not as useful as cumulative data. To get into the detailed data, click on the “audience overview” link. By default, this is going to show you a graph with daily traffic counts over the last 30 days; however, I think that it is generally more useful to chart the previous year’s traffic. In the upper right of the page, click on the down arrow to the right of the date range, then choose “custom”. There will be two date boxes, with the one on the right showing yesterday’s date. Change the date in the box on the left to show today’s date last year. While you are there, check the box that says “Compare to previous period”, then click “Apply”. I suggest that you continue to graph your data on a daily rather than weekly or monthly basis.

Sort the Wheat from the Chaff

Because most campgrounds are seasonal businesses, the annual graph is likely to look like a rocky roller coaster ride. For parks in northern states, the lowest traffic volumes will probably occur in December, after your park has closed for the season, people are more concerned with holiday shopping than where to camp next August, and the winter camping shows have not started to spur new interest in camping for the following year. You are also likely to see occasional spikes in traffic that may coincide with marketing efforts such as camping shows, investments in advertising campaigns, or links that appear in social media or review sites. The overview data will display the number of users, new users (people who had not previously visited your site during this time frame), sessions (which accounts for users who visit your site more than once and which is directly related to the number of sessions per user), pageviews (a cumulative number), pages per session (where you want people to visit enough of your site’s content to progress to your reservations page), the average session duration (where more time is more likely to persuade), and bounce rate (worthless traffic, generally bots that visit a single page on your site for a total of 0 seconds.) Because you have elected to compare data to the previous period, every set of number will be accompanied by a percentage showing an increase or decrease from the previous year, a useful demonstration of overall trends.

Refer to the “Reports” in the left-hand column, then scroll down to Audience > Geo > Location, and you will reach a world map and summary of demographic information. Your primary source country for traffic will undoubtedly be the United States, but it is also useful to know if you have significant amounts of traffic from beyond our shores. Click on “United States” (or the U.S. on the map) to open or zoom into a sequential list of the states that are sending you traffic. You can also click on any state to see the clusters of cities and towns within the state that are sending you traffic. With Google Analytics, you can click on almost anything to open a more detailed breakdown. Do you want to know if your participation in a camping show or advertising in a local newspaper provided you with a return on investment? This is one place to look.

Scroll down again to Audience > Mobile > Overview, and you might be surprised by the increase in traffic from users of mobile devices, generally coming at the expense of users of desktop (including laptop) computers, with tablets generally never gaining a significant amount of traction. If your site is not mobile-friendly, here is proof that it is losing you income.

Traffic Sources

When you are driving down the highway, the last thing you want is to encounter traffic; however, when you have a website, traffic is mission critical. Scroll down to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, and it will not be surprising if your primary source of traffic is organic search on Google. Although the results will show a list of the most important search phrases that have been used to actually reach your site (and which should influence the keywords in use on your site or chosen for any paid advertising campaign), the highest number will probably be “(not provided)”, which represents tracking data that Google was unable to gather, generally because the user was logged into Gmail or another Google Account while performing their Google search. When this occurs, the search is conducted over SSL and the search query data is hidden. Hopefully enough actual keyword numbers are shown to still provide you with the useful information you need.

Pennies from Heaven

Scroll down again to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals to see the other sources of traffic to your site. The top of the list will probably include your state association website, various campground review sites, Good Sam, state and local tourism websites, Facebook, Yelp, and local businesses with reciprocal links to your site. Once again, these numbers will help to justify your involvement with any paid advertising programs on referring sites. Although there may be costs involved in Good Sam advertising, your state association membership, and your membership in your local chamber of commerce or tourism association, their websites are targeting your market demographics and are likely to send you significant amounts of traffic that far outweigh your out-of-pocket costs.

These are only a few tips in the process of discovering what Google Analytics can do for you. There are hidden treasures to be found with many other clicks, but you will never discover them if you do not log into your account and put it to work.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Ten Common Website Mistakes to Avoid

July 29th, 2019

The biggest mistake that many small business owners might make would be to build and maintain their own website. Sure, companies like GoDaddy, Wix, Weebly, and Vistaprint make it look like an easy task that anybody can handle, but do you simply want a website or do you want a website that can effectively compete online? Playing part-time webmaster when your business is at stake is clearly an example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

The next temptation is to hire one of the thousands of amateurs who hang out a “webmaster” shingle simply because they can navigate their way around the basic use of a CMS website building platform. That might be the computer repair shop in town that is trying to keep itself busy or even a family member or that “nice kid who knows a lot about computers” down the road. Inevitably, these people know very little about how to generate effective online buying decisions, and they absolutely understand zero about your particular business and its competitive environment.

Whether you insist on building your own site, or whether you simply want to keep an eye on your webmaster, there are a few common mistakes that you will want to avoid. Usually these mistakes are errors of omission, but they can also be reflections of careless work habits.

  1. Ignoring Mobile Devices: Checking the Google Analytics of two client websites in recent days, I was astounded to see that over two-thirds of traffic was now coming from users of smartphones, with conventional desktop and laptop computers coming in third to tablets. If your site is not mobile-friendly, you are turning away a tremendous portion of your market. Do not be deceived by the fact that almost any website may be viewed on a smartphone. There is a big difference between being able to view a site and actually engaging in a non-frustrating experience. Has your site abandoned the use of Flash (a popular way to present dynamic website content until support was dropped by iOS and Android devices), is content scaling down to the size of the display, does the navigation work with pudgy fingers, and can users tap a phone number displayed on your site to initiate a phone call?
  2. Google Analytics: Yes, that comes next on the list. One of the biggest mistakes that can be made is to have a website without the advantage of running Google Analytics. It is a free tool, it is easy to install, and it provides a wealth of extremely valuable information regarding the visitors to your site, traffic sources, and much more.
  3. Using Templates and Ignoring META Content: I am amazed at how many website titles display as “Just another WordPress site” because the webmaster did not take the minimal time and effort (or perhaps did not have the knowledge) to substitute an appropriate keyword-based title for the default template setting. A site’s title tag is critically important in organic search, and nobody is ever going to search for the term “just another WordPress site campground”, so it should be clear that having that as your site’s title will put your park at a severe disadvantage. Without naming names, I just found campgrounds suffering from exactly this failure located in Wisconsin Dells, WI; Marcellus, MI; Crossville, TN; Antonito, CO; Fletcher, NC; and Calvert City, KY.
  4. ADA Compliance: Many of the factors that determine whether or not a website is ADA compliant involve the same META content that search engine robots love. These include image ‘alt’ tags and a site’s language tag. Other factors are part of a site’s mobile-friendliness, including scalable text. Your site should also maintain a proper contrast ratio between text and background colors, the site should be navigable by keyboard, and videos should be captioned. Very importantly, let people know about any accessible accommodations and facilities at your park.
  5. Orphans: I am not talking about Mickey Rooney and Boys Town. I am talking about pages on a website that fail to link back to the other pages of the site. Sort of like a dead end in a corn maze or a hall of mirrors, orphan pages are very frustrating to site visitors.
  6. Broken Links: Formula 409 is a well-known cleaning and degreasing product that has been around since the 1950’s, but 404 error messages on a website are about as popular as a “door-buster” item at Walmart that is out of stock the moment the store opens and the sale begins. People see these frustrating messages when they click on a broken link, typically because a page has been deleted without updating its incoming links.
  7. Unencrypted E-Mail Links: You would not display your credit card number on a poster in Times Square, and you would certainly not hand out keys to your home or automobile to total strangers, so why would you display an unencrypted e-mail address on your website? Without encryption, the message to e-mail address harvesting spam robots is “Here I am. Come get me!”
  8. Broken Graphics: One of the telltale signs of a beginning webmaster is broken graphics. If graphics are linked to files on a local computer, they will appear normally, but only on that computer. Anybody accessing the page from any other device anywhere in the world will see a broken graphic link.
  9. Slow Loading Images: Have you ever visited a website, only to watch images slowly loading, as if they were being slowly painted onto your screen? Almost inevitably, it is because the person maintaining the site has used enormous photos on the pages then has those images being scaled down to size by the browsers of end users. The enormous files are being needlessly downloaded, then resized, when properly sized and optimized images would have loaded immediately.
  10. Out of Date Content: You would not buy a gallon of milk that was past its expiration date, would you? Well, why would you expect people to “buy” what you are selling on your website if its content looks like it is way past its “best used by” date? Specifically, rates and schedules should show the current year. Particularly when it involves pricing, nobody wants to make a buying decision when there is pricing uncertainty.

These are only 10 common mistakes that webmasters frequently make. The overall best advice is to avoid working with that webmaster in your mirror (or that clever kid down the road) and to choose one of several professional companies that understand the campground industry and with reputations you can trust. You have better things to do than look for mistakes on your website … or to deal with the consequences of those mistakes.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Small Businesses Are Special

June 12th, 2019

I have always had an affinity for small family-owned businesses. I was raised in a small business environment, I own and operate a small business, and most campgrounds are small businesses. My favorite clients are probably otherwise known as Mom and Pop. What we have in common is a willingness to work endless hours and the ability to wear a variety of hats during the course of the day.

My small business experience began during my early childhood. My father’s business was located on the same parcel of property as our home, and I was fortunate enough to be able to appreciate the continuous overlap between our family life and business. Sometimes it’s just in your blood to control your own destiny and be your own boss, although you quickly understand that you are actually working for your customers. My father was one of 10 children of French-Canadian immigrants who built their lives out of virtually nothing, and most of his siblings were also small business owners.

In my father’s instance, his destiny was in the wholesale produce business, leaving high school in his junior year when he was offered a partnership in an existing business that he grew into that home-based business and a warehouse that was built the year I was born. When I was in grade school, I could not wait to return home in the afternoon to see what chores I could be assigned in the warehouse, even though most of the activity took place much earlier in the day. When I was a 16-year-old high school student, I remember getting my driver’s license one morning and being sent off by myself in a truck to pick up a load of butternut squash that afternoon at a farm in the next county.

What I learned from my father I also see when observing my clients at work and fellow vendors at trade shows. In addition to the aforementioned commitment to long hours, I find that the key ingredients to success are a commitment to quality, a willingness to take risks, and the ability to innovate. Above all else, it involves a total dedication to the needs of your clientele.

My father’s customer base consisted of a combination of small businesses and larger commercial enterprises. Those customers included corner grocery stores (and later convenience stores), supermarkets, restaurants, caterers, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and the commissary at the nearby air force base. At an earlier time, before I was born, truckloads of produce would be driven non-stop to be unloaded into the backs of transport planes that were part of the Berlin Airlift.

As times changed, my father’s customer base changed. In 1958, the “Chef” potatoes that were peeled and prepared by hand in virtually every food service operation in the country were suddenly replaced by the frozen French fry. Three railroad carloads of Maine potatoes sat and rotted in a new warehouse expansion that had been built specifically for their short-term storage. The crystal ball was not always crystal-clear, and the risks involved in the perishable food industry have always been enormous. It was important to explore new product offerings and to respond to new customer demands. Exotic fruits were introduced, and ethnic Asian and Hispanic businesses had demands for produce that had been previously somewhat “foreign”. Soon thereafter, organic produce became a major product line rather than merely a niche.

In every instance, it was important to not only respond to customer demands but to attempt to forecast that demand, influencing it through marketing that was based upon inventory of a highly perishable product line. It was also important to source produce as locally as possible, at least on a seasonal basis. Although primary sources of supply were large regional distribution centers (in our instance, Boston) with railroad sidings and easy highway access, every effort was made to buy directly from local farms during their harvest seasons. Freshness was mission-critical, along with same-day delivery – usually within two to three hours.

In the years since my family business experience, the produce industry – like the campground industry – has changed dramatically. Large buying groups were designed to eliminate the middleman, with large supermarket chains and food distribution networks like Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Costco having the power to buy direct, providing their own transportation, warehousing, and distribution network. For the smaller buying organizations, the integral role that was played by wholesalers such as my father’s business was replaced by much larger food distribution companies such as Sysco, U.S. Foodservice, Performance Food Group, and Gordon Food Service – each of which maintains dozens of distribution centers throughout the United States.

With all of this background in my blood, it is easy to understand how I have an appreciation for smaller small businesses, and campgrounds provide a very natural fit. Fortunately for campgrounds, the vendors within the industry provide a myriad of opportunities to work with businesses that are similarly sized – or even smaller than most campgrounds themselves. I would encourage you to maintain loyalties with vendors that have proven their reliability and commitment, thinking “small” or more “local” whenever it makes practical sense. As I walked the halls of industry trade shows in recent months, it was easy to spot not only new vendors within established product and service categories, but also several startup companies with new approaches to old ideas, as well as some with entirely new ideas that might benefit your business. Be open to considering what they have to offer, understanding that they may or may not offer any advantages whatsoever over working with proven performers. Ask them to share their visions, explaining the problems their businesses are designed to solve, and giving them an opportunity to listen to you. Generally speaking, vendors who take more time listening and getting to learn about your business, rather than telling you about their products, are the ones whose trust you want to establish and maintain for years to come.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Liability Releases: Better Safe than Sorry

January 25th, 2019

Liability can take many forms, and it is important for every business to take reasonable precautions to protect its interests in the event of either physical or emotional injury claims on the part of guests. Injuries of either type may often lead to claims for compensation and damages, even when the injuries are the result of reckless behavior on the part of a guest or the failure to follow posted rules and regulations. Businesses with greater inherent risks of injury must take greater precautions to protect themselves from the threat of lawsuits.

Campgrounds with greater inherent risks might include parks with ziplines, shooting ranges, river rafting, paintball fields, mountain biking, mechanical bulls, and climbing walls; however, every park has liabilities, and there are probably more personal injury attorneys within a 50-mile radius of your park than there are churches, schools, and hospitals combined.

Many campgrounds utilize blanket release forms known as crowd releases. Crowd release forms are generalized notifications that your guests are surrendering their reasonable rights to sue pursuant to their use and enjoyment of your park and its facilities, and they typically apply to the taking of photographs or videos. A crowd release will warn people that photography and filming may be ongoing at any time, that the images may be used in any and all media, in perpetuity, and that the guest consents to the use of his or her image without compensation by nature of entry; however, crowd releases rarely cross the line and attempt to cover the issues of physical liability. Crowd release forms also constitute rather weak defenses in a court of law.

If your park offers recreational amenities or activities with greater inherent risk, you will want to incorporate some very specifically detailed liability releases. There is no question that risky activities offer a great deal of appeal, particularly among younger guests, and can go a long way toward expanding a park’s customer base; however, it is necessary for your business to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of its guests and to take measures to protect itself against lawsuits that may result if injuries are inflicted during the pursuit of those activities. Needless to say, the incorporation of these precautions should go hand-in-hand with the purchase of suitable liability insurance.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are activities where participants assume a degree of risk. For years, the National Ski Areas Association has promoted a Responsibility Code that has attempted to shift responsibility for injuries upon skiers and snowboarders, not the ski area operators. The code advised users to ski in control, be able to stop at all times, avoid those downhill, yield to those uphill, not stop where they would obstruct a trail, utilize retention devices, observe signage, keep off closed terrain, and know in advance how to use lifts.

The Responsibility Code was a start, but the extensive text printed on the backs of most lift tickets these days is now designated as a “Ski Ticket Contract and Express Assumption of Risk”. The following text is typical and taken from the back of a recently issued lift ticket: “I accept and understand that skiing, snowboarding, and other forms of winter mountain sports are hazardous, with many inherent risks and resulting injuries or death. By my purchase and use of this ticket, I freely and willingly accept and voluntarily assume all risk of property damage, personal injury or death which results from my participation in winter sports activities and the inherent risks of such activities as they are defined herein.” This statement is followed by an extensive paragraph that itemizes those inherent risks, both natural and man-made.

One might think that this broad wording would release the business operator from almost all liability; however, the ski industry takes added measures to reduce the risks of injury, including the use of ski patrollers to open and close trails during the course of the day, sweep trails at the end of the day, and evacuate injured skiers from the slopes. Grooming, signage, the increased use of helmets, and improvements in the safety of equipment also help to reduce the likelihood of injuries. Despite all of these efforts to reduce liability, enforceability is never ironclad. In December 2014, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a season pass waiver was unenforceable, opening the way to a $21.5 million personal injury lawsuit, and this ruling has since been used to chip away at the overall validity of waivers and releases.

Bearing in mind the potential legal issues of enforceability, parks that provide higher risk amenities should follow the lead of not only the ski industry but also the amusement park industry, which routinely enforces height, weight and age restrictions, along with providing a long list of health conditions that should preclude participation. Those conditions typically include, but are not limited to, pulmonary problems, high blood pressure, cardiac disease, pregnancy, obesity, seizures, prior injuries, fear of heights, and psychological or psychiatric problems. Yes, that list covers just about everything. Health issues require a separate signed waiver.

When I enjoyed the use of a high ropes and zipline course recently, I signed both a written liability release and a health waiver. I was provided with copies of each, I was provided assistance in properly suiting up for the activity, and I was provided with basic instruction in the use of the equipment. In another recent outing, I visited a resort that operates mountain biking trails and a mountain coaster. At this facility, guests are directed to a row of computer kiosks where liability releases and health waivers are digitally signed before tickets may be purchased.

There are a number of companies that provide reasonably priced digital release services that work with either computer kiosks or mobile apps. These services save time, avoid the generation of a mountain of paperwork, are secure, offer cloud storage, provide analytical information, and can even integrate with email marketing programs as a means of generating return visits. Some services even allow seasonal businesses to adjust their subscription services between their peak season and off season. A few of the companies that you may want to look into include:

Whether your park uses crowd releases, liability releases, health waivers, or a combination of all three, it is important to make every effort to protect its interests and to avoid the many catastrophic impacts of personal injury lawsuits.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Help Wanted, Apply Today!

March 21st, 2018

One of the perennial challenges facing campground owners is the struggle to find high caliber seasonal employees. Particularly when unemployment is as low as it is these days, it is not easy to find people who are anxious to clean toilets, mow lawns under the mid-August sun, or rake pieces of broken glass out of campfire rings. You understand because these are the types of jobs that you do yourself whenever necessary.

There is no question that those of us who run our own businesses think it is entirely normal to work 60+ hour weeks, to be on call when we are not working, and to grow accustomed to income uncertainty. I doubt that there has ever been a campground owner who has not at least occasionally been able to divide income earned by hours worked to find that his compensation calculated out to a fraction of minimum wage.

With that perspective as a backdrop, campground owners must nonetheless face the challenges of recruiting a qualified workforce. Larger parks that need to hire a hundred employees clearly face a more formidable task than smaller parks that get by with a half dozen multi-tasking workers. Complicating recruitment is the fact that most campground jobs are temporary and seasonal, forcing parks to compete against theme parks, golf courses, landscaping firms, farms, and any other businesses that are concentrated within the same limited tourist season.

Students on summer vacation and recent college graduates quite naturally come first to mind; however, many of them are still fantasizing that they should be earning six-figure incomes while doing nothing but sitting behind a desk. Then, there is the problem of schools resuming their fall sessions, often even before Labor Day, while your business is still at its peak. It is no wonder that I noticed the local Six Flags theme park holding recruitment days as early as January, hoping to fill up to 1,000 jobs prior to the park’s soft opening in April. I have also noticed over the last several years that the majority of lift attendants at U.S. ski resorts are South American college students who were recruited from the southern hemisphere to work in the cold during their summer vacations.

There are plenty of other businesses that face seasonal workforce challenges. Perhaps the most well-known is Amazon, a company that must recruit armies of warehouse workers to meet the demands of the spike in business that occurs during the holidays each year. In fact, Amazon has set up its own recruitment organization, called Amazon CamperForce, a name that has its origin in the fact that most of those workers are full-time RV’ers who have traded in their home mortgage payments for the freedom of the open road. Some the victims of corporate downsizing or plant closures, some former professionals who have grown restless with retirement, and others simply natural-born nomads, these mostly older folks tend to supplement their retirement incomes with seasonal employment.

When the holiday season is over at Amazon, that at-will workforce hits the road and heads in the direction of its next seasonal jobs, often found through advertisements in publications like Workamper News and Workers on Wheels or booths at camper rallies and outdoor festivals. Amazon CamperForce itself has partnered with campgrounds in 27 states – from Alaska to Florida – that help to provide a degree of employment continuity for those warehouse workers who are no longer needed after December 23rd.

When it comes to temporary seasonal employment, most businesses have a strong preference for the work ethics of older employees, and the job at your campground is much more appealing than running the concrete floors of a regional Amazon warehouse or harvesting crops under the sweltering sun, according to “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century”, a 2017 book by author Jessica Bruder that paints a somewhat biased and less than flattering picture of the “work-camper” movement.

Seeking practical advice from campground owners with long histories of hiring experience, I asked several to share a few of their recruitment secrets. Those owners were Jack Robinson, the second generation owner of Four Seasons Family Campground, a New Jersey campground that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017; Leslie Baum, a second generation owner of Otter Lake Camp Resort, a larger park in the Poconos of Pennsylvania; Beth Ryan, the owner of both Lake Huron Campground in Michigan and the Keystone Lake Jellystone Park in Oklahoma; and Cathy Reinard, who has owned several parks, most recently New York’s Copake KOA.

The common thread among most of these park owners is probably Workamper News, a service that has been providing frameworks for connecting RVers with employers throughout North America since 1987. Workamper News is a bi-monthly printed publication, and Workamper.com is its online companion, each offering a wide range of free listing services and paid advertising options. Reinard says that Workamper News works best when her park is looking for employees at least six months in advance. The primary market here consists of older folks, often retired professionals who could be real assets to their employers, but the employee who you want to start working in April could be committed to another position thousands of miles away until then. Both Reinard and Ryan mention how providing a free full hookup site and free electric are real incentives for employees who are living out of their RVs and would otherwise have to pay to stay elsewhere. Ryan also offers an end-of-season bonus as incentive for workers who stay for the intended full term of their employment. On the other hand, Reinard points out that she still prefers local hires, where she does not have to lose the income that a seasonal site would otherwise generate, while gaining a greater likelihood of continuity of employment from year to year.

To find these local hires, three out of these four park owners turn to the guidance departments of local high schools and community colleges, even posting flyers on campus bulletin boards when permitted. Bulletin boards in general can be highly effective. There is a bulletin board outside of the pharmacy in my small town that is widely read. Reinard relates how she posted a job opening on the bulletin board in a local laundromat, leading to the hire of a new member of her housekeeping staff. The park owners say that they have also posted classified ads in local shopping guides (controlled circulation newspapers that are found in many local markets), Craigslist (where employment adds incur a $15.00 fee but typically generate many qualified responses), and Indeed (where employers can post jobs for free or pay per click for premium listings.)

Although many parks have a habit of posting job openings on their Facebook pages, Reinard cautions against this practice. She very succinctly states, “You do not want to appear to be one of those parks that are always looking for help (sending a wrong message to your guests who follow you on Facebook). If you are one of those parks, you need to take a hard look at your business and figure out why you have a problem.”

Some park owners also implement their own personal recruitment efforts that are loosely based upon the CamperForce model, except without the wheels. For example, Baum’s son is working a winter job at a nearby ski area, where the park is hoping he will be able to recruit a seasonal employee for the upcoming summer. She also mentions that her park pays higher wages than most other seasonal employers in the area, which also helps to encourage employees to return from year to year. Although the park owners also mentioned that they sometimes hire seasonal campers as employees, Reinard makes the point that she would rather avoid “mixing customers with employees”, preferring that they be one or the other but not both.

In addition to recruiting prior season employees for return engagements, Robinson summarizes employee recruitment at Four Seasons as “being visible in and interacting with the community” as the secret to his park’s success. The Robinson family has a strong presence in the Grange, the local fire company, the church, and the community in general. Their interactions with the families in these organizations spreads the word that they are in the market to hire young adults (primarily high school and college students.) According to Robinson, “There are families having three or four children, where all the children end up working for us – for many years.” This is a classic example where word of mouth has proven to be the most effective form of advertising.

With these peer insights as guidance; let’s hope that your park’s next recruitment effort will be its most effective ever!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Keep Your Passwords Secure

November 26th, 2017

If you attended my “10 Steps for Securing Your Digital Identity” seminar at the 2017 Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo, you learned that my lead segment involved the importance of keeping your passwords secure. Passwords have been around since ancient times, when the first sentry asked “Who goes there?”, becoming essential for admission to a speakeasy during Prohibition, and playing a vital role in military security during World War II.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, the doors to our house had old mortise locks and keys that gave our family a sense of security. I recall that the logic when the doors were locked at night was to keep the key turned 90 degrees in the keyhole on the inside of the lock, under the presumption that this would prevent a thief from inserting a key into the outside of the lock and gaining entry. Of course, if somebody got locked inside, we knew that it would only take a couple of minutes to jimmy the key out of the lock. When we were away from home, the key came with us, leaving the lock even more vulnerable.

If a key got lost or broken, we simply walked to the neighborhood hardware store (yes, they existed back then!) and bought a skeleton key for 50¢ that would probably open every lock in our house, including the outside entry doors, as well as the locks on most every other house in the neighborhood. It is no wonder that we relied on neighbors to keep an eye on our houses back then. Sadly, many people today do not even know the names of their neighbors.

Nowadays, passwords are almost exclusively associated with computers and Internet security, and a lame password is essentially the equivalent of a skeleton key. Like those families sleeping soundly behind the security of a mortise lock, a majority of computer users think that their passwords are securely protecting their accounts from getting hacked.

Before I go any further, I would like you to test one of your passwords. Go to this URL and enter your password: https://howsecureismypassword.net/. As an example, I just tested “JBDayton62”, which is exactly the type of password that many people use, so falsely confident in its security that they use it on every account that requires a password. According to the test, a computer could crack this 10-digit password in only 8 months; however, anybody who researched the Internet and social media and already knew that John Brown was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1962 could crack this password in no time flat. If a password is convenient to remember, it is easy to crack!

What Constitutes a Secure Password?

Quite simply, for a password to be secure it should consist of a minimum of 16 characters; never contain a word or a combination of words found in the dictionary; never contain the names of family members, friends, pets, sports teams, and the like; and be made up of a random combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. You can also often use spaces in passwords, although it is unfortunate that many websites still prevent users from choosing truly secure passwords, by precluding the use of special characters, for example.

The next rule is to always use a unique password for each and every site, and then to change each password on a routine and frequent basis. Apply even stricter standards for sites that provide access to highly secure information, such as your online banking or the IRS’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) website. The time to change your old, reused, vulnerable, weak, or compromised passwords is now, not next week or “when you get around to it.”

Before you naively presume that nobody is out there trying to crack your password, consider the fact that password cracking software is readily available online for use by hackers (and occasionally by companies that are on the lookout for weak passwords being used by employees.) Those programs include L0phtCrack, Cain, and John the Ripper … all designed to crack passwords (and sometimes credit card numbers) using brute force, dictionary attacks, rainbow tables, and other means.

How to Create a Secure Password

Never trust yourself to generate your own secure password. Our brains are simply not programmed to think randomly, and any password that makes sense to you is easy to crack. Some people even think that including a foreign-language word in their password will make it secure, perhaps presuming that hackers only reference English language dictionaries (even though English may be far from their native languages.) My recommendation is to use a secure online password generator such as the Secure Password Generator: https://passwordsgenerator.net/

The Secure Password Generator will allow you to choose any length of characters (from 6 to 2,048) and choose the types of characters that will be allowed (or excluded, if a site does not permit certain characters), then generate it on your own computer.

How to Store Your Passwords

Once you generate a highly secure password, keeping it written down on a sheet of paper or in a Word document on your computer is like leaving the keys for Fort Knox at a lost and found counter. You need a way to store and access your passwords safely, relatively easily, and securely. I recommend the use of a password safe. Three of the best are LastPass, Dashlane, and Keeper.

LastPass – https://www.lastpass.com/
Dashlane – https://www.dashlane.com/
Keeper – https://keepersecurity.com/

All three work with Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android operating systems; have plugins for popular browsers; include two-factor authentication; include form-filling; offer fingerprint login on mobile devices; and have free versions.

The idea with a password safe is that you have only one highly secure master password to remember. Thanks to geolocation, if you login to your account from an unfamiliar IP address, the two-factor authentication will kick in, requiring you to confirm your identity before being allowed access. In my own instance, 12 attempts to login to my account over the last 6 months have been thwarted – 3 from Vietnam, 2 from China, 2 from Brazil, and one each from Argentina, Georgia, Ukraine, The Philippines, and the United States (North Carolina). Do not think for a moment that there are not people out there actively trying to hack into your accounts. They are out there and they are everywhere.

Access to our personal data is far too important to be left to chance, and I am hoping that this article might help to open the eyes of a few disbelievers. People who are ahead of the curve when it comes to planning are already taking measures to ensure the longevity of access to their data, even as new biometric methods such as fingerprint and iris recognition are coming into play. According to a survey taken by the University of London and cited in Wikipedia, one in ten people are now including password access or recovery information in their wills. My best advice is to think toward the future, but to start changing your way of thinking today.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Family Farm, Reinvented

August 3rd, 2017

Years ago, farming was a much less complicated way to earn a living. Concepts like agribusiness, patented GMO seeds with resistance to herbicides, and acres planted in soybeans and inedible corn were futuristic nightmare scenarios. With the exception of tropical fruits such as bananas and pineapples, most of our food was locally grown, field ripened, and harvested in season. As economies of scale, shifting consumer preferences, and the influences of the chemical, pharmaceutical, and transportation industries came into play, more and more small farms turned fallow or were parceled off to real estate developers. It had become a pretty depressing time for family farming.

More recently, times have changed, thanks to a further evolution in consumer preferences and some innovative thinking on the part of a new generation of farmers. Gone are the days when farmers could literally put all of their eggs in one basket. When those eggs would otherwise cost more to produce than the price that they command in the marketplace, there is a significant market for people who are willing to pay a premium for colorful eggs that come from free-range hens that are raised without cages, antibiotics, or GMO-based feeds. If they are purchased in a farm share, farmers’ market, or at a farm stand, consumers are often willing to pay even more because they feel good about the farm-to-plate concept. Most importantly, if that farmer has more than eggs to offer, sales and profits will multiply. The secret ingredient has become creative diversification.

Expand the Experience

Farming today is about much more than crops, livestock and harvests. Particularly for a business that is subject to the vagaries of the weather, it is mission-critical to have more than a single product. Just think of the long list of words that can make a farmer shudder in fear: drought, flooding, hail, frost, disease, insect pests … the list goes on. Other types of businesses long ago caught on to the concept of diversifying the experience that they offer. In the beginning, cruise ships simply provided a means of trans-oceanic transportation, ski resorts had a brief winter season, and concerts and festivals were nothing more than music venues. Even movie theaters, which were once decimated by the advent of television (which has since been devastated by the Internet and live content streaming), are reinventing themselves with luxury seating and food and drink selections that are served by an on-demand wait staff.

Reinvented business concepts share one thing in common: They increase income and profits by getting consumers to stay longer, return more frequently, and buy more. There are few things that consumers today value more highly than their leisure time. We have even invented new terms like “quality time.” According to the Collins Dictionary, this term did not exist prior to 1985 but is now one of the 30,000 most commonly used phrases in the English language, with equivalents in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The importance and value of quality time should not be underestimated.

Back on the Farm

That expanded, quality time experience can take many forms on a small farm operation. Anything that can turn a farm visit into an “event” will work, while a multitude of events can turn a farm into a destination. The possibilities are nearly endless and include:

  • Pick-your-own – from berries to tree fruits, your customers will pay you to bring in part of your harvest.
  • Petting zoos – ever-popular with toddlers (and their grandparents), you can even sell small bags of feed.
  • Prepared food concessions – from bakeries to restaurants to ice cream stands, people will pay a premium for freshly-prepared foods with natural ingredients.
  • Hayrides and walking trails – give visitors a chance to get to know your property better, perhaps learning of crops that they did not know you produced.
  • Music events – a singer-songwriter or acoustic duo will extend the stay of your guests throughout their sets of music, especially if you have outdoor seating with a view or an indoor seating (and dining) space.
  • Off-season offerings – from Christmas trees and accessories (where tag-your-own or cut-your-own become variations of the pick-your-own concept) to maple sugaring to scarecrow making, corn mazes and pumpkin decorating, there are a variety of ways to extend your season.
  • Breweries and wineries – expanding like wildfire, craft breweries and small wineries have the potential to draw tremendous crowds, especially when combined with other on-location activities.
  • Wedding receptions – sometimes a unique location with a terrific view can be in high demand.
  • Farm stays – if you have guest rooms available, this is another way to expand your income, whether simply a bed & breakfast (with fresh-from-the-farm products for breakfast, of course) or a work and stay opportunity. Over the years, my wife and I have enjoyed stays everywhere from an orange grove in California to a winery and vineyard in Tuscany.

Regardless of which of these options – or others – that your farm chooses to pursue, there are a few basics that will make your endeavor more consumer-friendly and successful.

Successful Marketing Basics

First of all, stop thinking that you are competing against other nearby farm operations. Your competition for consumers’ attention will now be major events and attractions, and your reach will extend far beyond the home base of your farm stand customers, most of whom are drivers who stop on impulse. If you are planning one or more events, choose your dates far in advance, allowing time for promotion and avoiding conflicts with other, more established events. Then promote your events as extensively as possible, most heavily in the 7 to 10 days beforehand.

Here are a few additional tips:

  1. Negotiate trades with local media, particularly newspapers with weekly event schedules and local TV and radio stations. Ask a local TV station to cover your event. They are often eager to cover a local human interest story, particularly on a weekend, which is an otherwise slow news period.
  2. Avoid the temptation to save money by doing it yourself. It seems that every farm family has a relative who attended art school, but leave your website and print advertising to professionals who can provide a cohesive branding.
  3. Maximize your use of social media. Promote your event on a Facebook page that is dedicated to your business. Respond to questions and reviews, and don’t neglect other social media apps.
  4. Always give something away for free. Whether a free petting zoo (again, you can sell the feed!), free parking (of course!), free hayrides, or free samples, “free” is an incentive to attend and an incentive to stay longer and spend more.
  5. Accept credit cards. There is never a rational excuse for limiting the amount of money that visitors can spend to whatever cash may be on hand in their wallets.
  6. Use every event as an opportunity to promote subsequent events. Have a calendar or other handout so that people can “save the date” and return to the venue that they are enjoying today.
  7. Partner with other businesses in the area that are marketing to the same clientele. A “tour” of businesses along a 20 or 25 mile stretch of highway helps to extend your efforts into an all-day destination event. Develop incentives for visitors to one participant to stop at the other businesses as well.
  8. Capitalize upon signage. It worked for Burma Shave and it works for Wall Drug. For a one-day event, post signs along the route to encourage travelers (who may have been otherwise unaware of your event) to stop by. Be sure to incorporate the word “free”.
  9. Have plenty of parking, along with ushers to flag drivers into available spaces.
  10. Make your event photo-friendly, encouraging guests to share photos on the social media, and be sure to take plenty of your own photos to promote the “second annual” event next year.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Never Burn Bridges

August 20th, 2016

There were two e-mails over the last week that got me shaking my head in wonderment. The first was forwarded to me by one of my clients. She had recently left a well-known website hosting services provider in favor of an extensive list of more personalized hosting services that my company provides. After the other company threw down as many roadblocks as possible, as well as making several attempts at trying to scare the client into cancelling her plans to move, the migration was finalized. When my client formally cancelled her services with the other company, they could not accept the loss of the account without one last word.

The e-mail that she forwarded to me included a sentence that started with the words, “When you are ready to come back to us ….” Apparently the sender either thought that she had nothing to lose or preferred not to use the phrases “When you come to your senses”, “When you realize you made a mistake”, or “When you realize that you made a stupid decision”, but her words had the same effect in insulting my client and ensuring that she would never reverse her decision.

The second e-mail arrived this afternoon. It was sent to me by a highly presumptive young salesperson for a startup Internet company that is trying to capitalize upon the consolidation of online campground reservations. I had previously written about this and similar companies after another of my clients had related his nightmare stories about trying to get his campground de-listed from one of these sites. As I wrote at the time, Campground reservations are accurately perceived as a multi-billion dollar business, and companies that would like a piece of the action are suddenly coming out of the woodwork. Funded with infusions of venture capital, the focus is on generating income from the collection of processing fees on those reservations, either in real-time (with campgrounds that get on board) or with the type of delayed booking that initially caught my client’s attention.”

These online reservation consolidators tend to compete with your own official website and your own chosen online reservation engine, a situation that can only serve to confuse consumers and dilute the effectiveness of how you run your business. In the instance this afternoon, one of our clients (with a new website that was less than a week old) was being asked to funnel traffic from his website to the startup company’s booking engine. The salesperson could not understand why I explained that it was not in my client’s interest to accept her offer and why we would not be installing her company’s “Book Now” button on the new website. Not only could she not understand why I would not matter-of-factly follow her instructions, she actually sent me two additional e-mails where she attempted to educate me in marketing basics.

What do these two e-mail stories have in common? They demonstrate the importance of never burning your bridges. As a campground owner, if a guest has a less than perfect experience and expresses his or her dissatisfaction on a review or social media website, take a deep breath before posting a thoughtful and empathetic response. There is no logical reason for the last word from you to be along the lines of “I hope that the door didn’t hit you on the way out!” or “Don’t even think of ever trying to come back here again!”

If you want your business to grow and prosper, every camper who enters your gate is your most important customer ever. To alienate only one represents not just the loss of any potential future business from that person and his family, it also likely means the exponential loss of business from every friend of that individual, as well as the friends of those friends. I am a frequent contributor to the TripAdvisor website, where statistics tell me that my reviews have influenced over 90,000 readers, many with recommendations of businesses but others with warnings to stay away. Since I have written 136 reviews, this means that my average review has been read by over 660 fellow travelers.

That is a demonstration of the power of exponential influence. Think about it the next time you might be too tired to thank a guest one more time for choosing to stay at your park … or the next time that a guest gets under your skin and you really want to serve him a piece of your mind. Always remember that bridges are for connecting, not for burning.

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

Give New Thinking Another Thought

February 17th, 2016

We generally tend to believe that new ways of doing things improve our efficiency, while we turn a blind eye toward any associated shortcomings. Nobody will argue that an e-mail is more efficient than a handwritten letter, a fax, or an expensive overnight document. In some instances, new technologies and new ways of thinking have brought about the total obsolescence of old ways of doing things. How many readers are old enough to remember the delivery of a telegram by a Western Union courier?

Sometimes, upon closer inspection, some of the new ways of doing things are not necessarily better than their predecessors, particularly when an opportunity for face-to-face conversation and dialogue is lost in the process. Let us look at the commonly-used conference call as an example. When it is necessary to schedule a meeting of the minds, the logistics of assembling a diverse group of people into a single room at a single time can be both overwhelming and contrary to a need for urgency. As convenient as the logistics may be, there is reason to call the overall effectiveness of a concept as simple as a conference call into question.

A study that was conducted by InterCall, the world’s largest provider of conference and collaborations services (according to Wikipedia) was broadly reported in publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Forbes Magazine to the Harvard Business Review. The study was based upon a survey of 500 corporate users of the company’s services, and the findings were eye-opening to say the least. They bear repeating here.

SleepingWorker_148344734_600400_90

  1. 65% of participants in conference calls admitted that they did other work during the course of the call.
  2. 63% of participants admitted to sending e-mails during the course of the call. Of course, this may have included instances when the e-mails being sent had something to do with the subject being discussed.
  3. 55% admitted to eating or preparing food during the call.
  4. 47% admitted to leaving the call, unannounced, to go to the bathroom.
  5. 44% admitted to sending text messages during the call, a percentage that has probably only increased since the time of the survey.
  6. 43% spent time on Facebook or other social media while they were supposed to be participating in the conference call.
  7. 25% admitted to playing video games during the call. If the person organizing the call had the authority to terminate the employment of participants, this would certainly constitute justifiable cause.
  8. 21% admitted to doing online shopping during the call.

Keep in mind that, in each instance, we are looking at statistics that are based upon personal behavior that participants in the survey were willing to admit. The actual percentages may be higher. In addition, there were smaller numbers of people who admitted to either exercising or taking another call during the course of a conference call.

It may be apparent that it is imperative for a conference call to be kept on-topic and as brief as possible, if we are to avoid the risk of losing the attention of participants. On the other hand, the percentages cited would be closer to zero in a physical, face-to-face conference. Even when video comes into play, via Skype, it is amazing how some people think that the same rules do not apply to virtual meetings as apply to physical meetings. I recall making a Skype presentation before a local tourism association in another region of the country a few years ago. As I started my presentation, the camera showed one of the committee members to whom I was speaking with her eyes closed, proceeding to take a nap. I was understandably offended.

The important point from all of this is that we always need to be aware of the trade-offs when we embrace a “new and improved” technology to substitute for direct human interaction.

This post was written by Peter Pelland