Building an RV Park: We’re learning how to be GREAT campground hosts!

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By Machelle James
The past two weeks have been quite an eye opener for me. After I came back from Campground Management School, I had so much information that my head was about to explode! We’ve made connections and relationships that we all need in order to succeed. Due to the seminars I attended, we have added a few amenities that we hadn’t planned to add.

We are going to add a soda machine, coffee machine and slushy machine to our camp store. After speaking with other CG owners, this is a super-profitable area that we shouldn’t pass up. AJ and I have never paid for coffee in a campground. We learned that many people are not like us and they do not want the hassle of making their own coffee, so they pay for it in the store. We would have missed out on a whole side income if I hadn’t met these people. Same thing for a slushy and soda machine. The kids GO NUTS over slushies, and the parents want soda and they will pay for it. Win-win for all of us!

I wanted to share a little about what seminar resonated and stuck with me the most. One speaker was Joe Moore with Moore’s Campground Consulting. He has been in the Campground Industry for years and has pretty much seen and heard it all. I would definitely recommend him if you are thinking about getting into this industry. He knows how to develop campgrounds and the ins and outs of engineering this massive undertaking. It’s also impressive how he storytells his experiences, his concerns, his answers for situations we haven’t even experienced yet. He is a great teacher and communicator. My takeaway from his seminar is the message below.

What do we want our guests’ experiences to look like? Meaning, we are selling an experience to you – what experience are we selling you? Answer: Being outdoor in nature, in a safe, friendly space for people of all abilities. We want to see you smile.

What sets our campground apart from everyone else? We need to know what our campground can and cannot offer. Example: We offer huge RV spaces that are off-road friendly as well as ADA-compliant cabins. We cannot offer a swimming pool or long-term residence as those are not part of our plan.

Who is our Target Market? Families, off-roaders, special needs children. People who like the outdoors, people who like to look at the night sky and see the stars and solar system.

Is our staff here to simply make a paycheck, or are they here to make our campground look good and make you feel special? We need our staff to carry the same business belief system that we as owners have. Our campers are on vacation and are choosing to spend their hard-earned money here at our park. They are going to be treated like family when they are here.

We also need to try and understand situations from our guests’ point of view. We need to be observant, empathetic and in-the-moment. When an RV pulls up to check in and little Joey is tired and cranky, and Mom is about to lose her mind because he is whining and overwhelmed – how can we help relieve this tension? Maybe something as simple as offering an ice cream or a bag of chips to the child? That doesn’t cost much and it sets the stage for a calm, understanding moment between the family and us.

Our guests will make judgments about us based on first impressions. I always have a smile on my face when I meet you or talk to you on the phone. It’s really hard to sound mad, angry or frustrated when a smile is on your face! It’s so important to WOW your guests with kindness, even with simple things: Lead them to their campsite, show them where the water is, show them how the pedestal works, pick up their curbside trash daily at a preset time, and thank them for choosing your campground. I know how I would like to be treated and I cannot wait to share these same experiences with you.

In my last article, I wrote how our soil was perc tested and that we have great drainage here. However, we were informed by Planning and Zoning and ADEQ (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality) that we have to have a nitrogen loading analysis done for our septic tank. We had our Engineer submit this information and it turns out, we need something called an Orenco system or something similar for a nitrogen-reducing septic system. Nitrogen comes from urine (greatest source), feces, garbage disposals and cleaning products.

In a process worthy of a chemistry lesson, nitrogen-reducing septic systems convert the ammonia from urine into nitrate. Bacteria then strip oxygen away from the nitrate, leaving nitrogen gas, which rises into the air, keeping it out of the water table. It’s important to note that we are NOT a professionals in this area. If any of you have experience in this area and can offer alternatives, please advise us! This is a much more expensive septic option and we are open to hearing other options.

On another important note, we have our first public Planning and Zoning meeting next week. The notifications were set up around the property and the postcards were mailed out to the neighbors. I will definitely let you all know how that meeting goes!

We have also joined our local Chamber of Commerce and had our first meeting this week. It was so enlightening to see all the businesses and clubs in our small town that we had no idea about! We were greeted warmly and made great connections throughout the night. I look forward to working with and learning from our town leaders.

Thank you for following our journey and as always, see you in the trees. And please leave a comment!

Read previous articles here.

Machelle James and her husband, AJ, are building, from the ground up, a 15-acre RV park in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona, in the beautiful White Mountains 140 miles from Phoenix. Follow them on Facebook @ AJ’s Getaway RV Park or on Instagram at ajsgetawayrvpark.

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Pam Eskridge
2 months ago

I’m glad your still plugging along with your dream!

I would like to suggest in lieu of soda machines and ice cream treats add huge water jugs with sliced cucumbers, lemons, or strawberries. And just offer it for free. We did this at our vet clinic and it was a huge hit. The kids and adults all get enough sugar (they say it’s more addictive then cocaine 🤪. The time it takes to cut up the fruits is the time you or staff will spend picking up the soda cans.
Maybe you can partner with an organic farmer for healthier snacks on site?
Btw I’m not innocent for sure! before I studied nutrition we took the 5 kids camping, My cooler was stocked with juice bags, marshmallows, chocolate bars etc. Camping for some reason was an excuse to buy tons of crap “cause they’ll burn it off right ? That’s not how it works really.
I know you have so much on your agenda and nutrition shouldn’t be your concern. But the government makes bank on our chronic diseases and developmental issues based on our food choices (soapbox ramble).
I hope you’ll consider offering healthier options. If your going to have refrigeration stock berries etc. whatever is dropped nature will take care of (we all know bees and ants like pop cans too).
Sorry for the rant.

Machelle James
2 months ago
Reply to  Pam Eskridge

Hi Pam! Thank you for your healthier recommendations. I’d like to add the fruit water for our campers! What a great idea!!

Thank you for your feedback!

robert
3 months ago

We have stayed at many a campground that offers free coffee but then you end up buying donuts and cookies to go with it.

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  robert

That’s a great idea as well! Thank you for the suggestion Robert!!

JR Thornton
3 months ago

Some great ideas from RVers that i havn’t experienced but would like to (telescopes in the dark desert). One idea that i have experienced are dog wash stations. Cant imagine they would cost much to build except for plumbing. So hard to wash the dog in our smaller RV (we’re full timers not weekenders).

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  JR Thornton

Hi JR! We are looking into a single wash station that can be to either hose down your OHV, yourself or your dogs. It would be a multi use area to save on plumbing costs. As we open, we can adjust to our customers needs as well. The key thing is we are flexible with what we need and what we want in our CG. Some things may have to come in phases. It is a great idea!!

Bill
3 months ago

Orenco is a manufacturer of a variety of systems and components. You should talk to your engineer and the regulatory people about which systems are appropriate for your application, what the maintenance, monitoring, and energy requirements are, and since you have a good deal of land available whether there is a more natural, low maintenance, low energy system that would make more sense for you. One aspect of that is that the permitting and design may be more expensive for an alternative system, but in the long run the right system may save you money and headaches.

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Thank you Bill. We are definitely letting the experts decide what our best options are. I also called our ADEQ contact to confer with what she says and to get everyone on the same page. She knows the laws and what not so we do need to listen to her as well.. New CG Builds have new guidelines… I’ll keep you posted as we decide which way we had to go.

ToolMan
3 months ago

What you are doing sounds awesome. You have a great customer service type attitude that is so important. If I may make a suggestion. When you set up your dump station, make it on level ground and angle the road slightly so the curb side is lower. This will help your guests get a good thorough dump. I’ve been to many tilted the wrong way or on a hill so the waste will not flow well.

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  ToolMan

Hi Toolman! Thank you for the advice! Our GC is a septic expert and he assures us our hookup spots will be leveled for good drainage of the black tanks!! We aren’t having a dump station as we thought we might at the beginning, but not anymore. We decided on full hookups from the get go!

Ray Zimmermann
3 months ago

You have probably already thought of this, but along with the soda, coffee and slushy machines, have a freezer stocked with a variety of ice cream bars. Most all RV parks have one, so I’m guessing they are profitable. On arrival day at a new destination, after I get all checked in, set up, etc., I always treat myself to an ice cream bar!

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  Ray Zimmermann

Oh yes!! I knew we would have ice cream as EVERYONE loves ice cream!!! Glad you kept that fun spirit to keep enjoying ice cream!! Thank you for your support and suggestions!!

Steve
3 months ago

If you really want RVers, especially children, to have a unique night sky experience, consider a home-built observatory. Even with a rotating dome, an
observatory with a 12-14″ reflecting telescope and permanent mount is still much less expensive to build and maintain than a pool. There are plenty of online plans and videos to get you started and lots of expertise right there in Arizona at the major universities, the many government observatories, and, especially at the Mirror Lab in Tucson.

To get a great introduction to how popular an attraction it might be for an RV park, visit the folks at Butterfield RV Resort in Benson. We have stayed there multiple times and attended their night sky show each time.

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Wowza Steve! Thank you !! I have definitely looked into the telescope part, but not the rotating dome . That sounds fascinating and super educational. I will look into that and even see if I can get a grant to help with the funding!!

Tammy C King
3 months ago

You need a “photo op” area so that your patrons can “make a memory”. Something that says AJ’s GetAway on it that they can sit on or in and get a picture! Great advertising!

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  Tammy C King

Oh I agree Tammy! I took a pic of one I’d like to have made that I saw in S. Carolina!! It’s a surprise!!!

Thomas
3 months ago

Think about how you will park your rv. Will it be at an angle or will you have to jacknife it in at 90°. I’m in a new park in Casa Grade and all spots are back in at 90°. Not really fun when they could have been at day 45° or so. Especially if the roads are narrow.

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  Thomas

Thanks for your input Thomas! Our spots will be all pull-throughs at a 45* angle. We know how challenging it can be to back in and purposefully designed our RV park to accommodate bigger rigs. Hence, hopefully less accidents and damage, and less fighting with the spouses!! 😉😆😅

Linda
3 months ago

BEFORE the zoning meeting, knock on your adjacent neighbors’ doors and introduce yourselves. This will go a long way to dampen any objections and assuage any fears. You would be surprised at the assumptions and fears people will have. Years ago I was given this advice by a councilman when notices were sent out about my business. I will be forever grateful to this person. I would have been blindsided by crazy ridiculous ideas some neighbors had, which I was able to discuss and debunk face to face in a friendly manner!

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  Linda

Hi Linda! Yes I 100% agree! We already had our immediate neighbor meeting last month. It went so well that we have a neighbor who wants to partner with us! Once their fears were addressed, boy did the dark clouds dissipate. We ended the night with hugs and well wishes from our neighbors!! Thank you for your feedback!!!

Ortep
3 months ago

Sounds like you’re going thru the same “hoops” we are while building a new home on our 5 acres. You just bare thru it and get it done. Then when it is all finished enjoy what you have accomplished and your guests will be able to also. Good luck with your public Planning & Zoning meeting.

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  Ortep

Thanks Ortep! The new Rules and Regulations are time consuming and expensive! I can understand how some people lose their drive to own a business over technicalities and financial concerns. It is truly hard to estimate how much it is really going to cost. We asked for way more $$ than we think we need, just in case of situations we don’t know about yet. Thank you for commenting Ortep!

tom
3 months ago

You go! Girl

Machelle James
3 months ago
Reply to  tom

Thank you Tom!! I’m going for it!!! 😁😁😁