Membership Resorts Expose! Part Three!

Running a RV resort… for real!

I could tell by some of the remarks I saw on other blogs that some of you don’t have a clue as to what it takes to run a resort, campground, RV park or whatever you want to call it. Some think that being a campground manager is a such a simple job that they are going to run right out and sign up to be a work camper and go sit in an air conditioned office every day, while others do all the work. And some can’t even manage to smile while doing that!

Here’s the first fiasco that can happen… you are hired to take over the resort, and no one bothers to let anyone else know! Don’t laugh! That happened to me! The person that hired me didn’t let anyone else in their corporate office know, not even their spouse, and then they left the country for a week! I showed up at the park as instructed, and announced that I was the new manager… but the old manager didn’t have a clue he was being replaced!

Oops!

That was the beginning of the problems, and it seems they never got any better!

The resort had been developed by a guy who would fly in and walk around with a beer bottle in his hand all day, so even as the membership grew, the new members joined in with that tradition! In fact, the “inherited” activities director was driving up to the state line (as we were in a dry county) and filling her trunk with booze to serve to the recreation center participants every Friday night!

Trying to get this park to go along with the normally standard rules of every other park in the country caused resentment, and even retaliation, in the form of destructive damage, not the least of which was toothpicks being broken off in the lock cylinders, windows broken out, and even doors kicked in!

On top of that, this was the only park in the whole system that allowed hunting! So as managers, who had to watch over the safety of the park, we also had to go through the state mandated firearms and hunter’s safety course and be certified!

A couple of months after we took over, the owners discovered that the water system had been confiscated (by the IRS) from the previous owner (of the water system) because of tax problems, and was up for auction. They wanted me to buy it (for them) at the local auction with their check. But that also resulted in having to start it up from scratch because the IRS didn’t confiscate the paperwork along with the physical property, and the person in possession of it was angry over the whole thing and wouldn’t release it! So on top of locating who and where the other twelve customers were on the system, and creating all new paperwork and a billing system, I also had to attend water treatment classes in the county in order to become the licensed operator of the system!

Much of the equipment was broken down when I arrived at the resort. For having 866 acres, 22 of which were mowable, they had no riding mowers that worked, and one full size Allis Chalmers tractor (that we discovered had no brakes) (remember, this is hill country!)and a brush hog on the back of it with no safety-clutch on it (it had been “bypassed”). It was direct drive straight off the power take off shaft! It was an accident waiting to happen!

The park had a beautiful log cabin main clubhouse, the basement of which held our offices overlooking the 50-acre lake adjacent to the park, but the restaurant in the upper part had been abandoned (apparently from the previous summer), and trash bags were piled waist high on the rear deck, and full of maggots! Now you know at least one example of why the previous manager had been fired!

We took over on May 1st, and we were determined to have everything cleaned up and operational, including the restaurant, by Memorial weekend! With the help of a member volunteer, who brought his own Kubota tractor and brush hog from nearly a hundred miles away we got the grass cut. Later, we sold an old Case backhoe, whose hydraulics leaked like a sieve, and used the funds to purchase a brand new Ford 3-cylinder diesel riding tractor with a 48-inch fully hydraulic mower deck, plus we were able to repair a couple of the old Dynamark riding mowers in the maintenance shop, along with a couple push mowers for trimming.

We found someone willing to get the restaurant up and running on short notice, and for the summer at least, had a thriving business going, complete with entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights.

The resort had a nice 10,000 square foot “pole barn” type recreation building, complete with restrooms, kitchen and several individual rooms for other things, including a plastic “ball house”, and the members were used to having a big dance at least once a month, so we had to acquire bands to play for those. But along with that came problems. To compromise with tradition and keep some peace, we did allow them to bring their own drinks as long as it wasn’t open containers. They had to use glasses. But one weekend, we let a member and their local car club sponsor a dance on a day when we had to be away from the park. We got called back to the park about 9 PM, to find underage kids with drinks all over the place, including climbing out of the now screenless windows of the building. If any of them had gotten into an accident out on the road, the park could have lost everything in a law suit! But these irresponsible people didn’t think about that! Our volunteer security guard at the gate was letting anyone in who said they were with the car club!

I pulled up out front and immediately informed the kids in the middle of the street that the sheriff was on his way, and they scattered as fast as they could. The rec center still contained about 300 people, and the band was playing loud as it could (or so it seemed). To get their attention, I went to the electric panel and killed the power to the stage, right in the middle of the music! Then I informed everyone that the dance was over because of illegal underage drinking that the park would NOT allow, that the sheriff was on his way, and I told them to go home! The place thinned out fast, mostly the kids who didn’t belong there. After regaining control, and upon much “begging” by the “real” car club members, I did turn the power back on and let them continue.

We had one somewhat undesirable family, and one day in the midst of sorting out some usage problems (which they were one of the greatest offenders), we had to “discuss” it. The park allowed a certain number of days of “continual use” without changing sites, and he had been accused of staying in one place longer than he was allowed. The old man of the family had me sit down at a table with him and wanted to know where I lived, insinuating that they would burn me out if they didn’t get their way. This is “red neck” country, where things are still settled “off the books”, the way that they grew up with. (One of our friends, who had moved here and tried to build a new house where they weren’t welcome, were burned out before the house was completed. The law was no help.) But I looked this old man eye to eye and told him that I don’t back down to threats, and that if he wanted to play those games, it wasn’t just he who could play them! I told him that to be fair, I would re-examine the situation right in front of him, and we actually discovered that he was one day under his “continual use” limit. He used his extra day and then left the park until he could “legally” return.

EVERYONE has responsibilities!

All of the responsibility isn’t just on the staff. You as members and users of any of the campgrounds have responsibilities, too!

When we first got to that park, there were WAY too many chairs in that office, a sure indication that it wasn’t running efficiently. Sure enough, as members came in to introduce themselves or conduct business, it was hard to get them to leave… even when someone else came after them to conduct business! Some of the regulars seemed to think that the office was their own private social club!

We like to visit as much as the next guy, but a business office is not the place to do it! My wife finally took all the chairs out except the ones behind the desks and put them upstairs in the restaurant! You should have seen some of the people complain! An office isn’t a social club, People! A resort has a business to run just like any other! Take care of your business and then be on your way to having fun somewhere else! It’s not that we don’t like you, or don’t enjoy a good visit to get to know you, but the office has work to do!

And in being a good camper or user of the facilities, be responsible for yourself and those within your group. Keep the noise down after 10 PM, or even earlier if it looks like others around you are turning in early. Many campers go to bed after the sun goes down. That’s their God given right! It’s not YOUR right to make all kinds of noise until bed time and disturb the peace!  Respect others and they will respect you!  If you can hear your music more than ten feet away, then put headphones on if you want to destroy your hearing!

If you own pets, the responsibility you face is the same as the parent of a handicapped child. You can’t just let them do whatever they want to do! They need to be trained in proper social behavior, and that means if they “yap” at everything in site for hours on end, then you need to CORRECT  them, instead of ignoring them! Maybe the noise doesn’t bother you, but it most assuredly bothers those around you! ANY public place other than a designated and fenced dog run area is a good place to keep your pet on a leash, whether it’s posted or not! And for health and safety reasons clean up after your pet does “his duty”! No one else wants to do it for you… or to step in it!

Put your fire out before you go to bed, or at least stop stoking it until the last minute. Let it burn down to coals and then put it out when you know it’s getting late!

If you check in late and can’t find anyone from the office, then remember that they have hours, too, and respect that… unless they have a sign saying it’s OK to go find their site. If they left instructions for you for a site, then make sure you stop at the office in the morning to settle up. Don’t make them come to you!

And above all, leave things in as good or better shape than you found them! If some part of the park seems run down, then try to volunteer some time, even a few minutes or seconds, to help make it better! Remember, if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem! Throwing trash on the ground (or banana peels, like one “adult” person did that I caught in the act) is not only unclean, but a filthy habit. Use the trash containers! Most parks aren’t going to make a big deal if you have a couple of beers or a glass of wine with dinner, but please… respect the policy of “no open containers” no matter what kind of park you are in. Remember there are children around, so watch your language, and your drinking practices! What’s normal in your household may not be normal for other people! A campground is a public place and we all have to share it!

If you see something broken, it doesn’t hurt to report it to the office. And if you know how to fix something, we always appreciate the help, but please let someone in management know first, just in case they have other plans for it! Don’t mess with things that don’t concern you, and don’t break things that are there for your use… in a trusted relationship. If you do accidentally break something, then at least be honorable enough to let someone know, so they can fix it. Accidents happen! If you break it on purpose, and evidence points to you doing it on purpose, ANY manager has the right to refuse service to ANYONE… even a paid member of an organization, if the member’s actions are a detriment to the public safety or well being of the park! Remember, it isn’t just staff that can drive customers away! Other members and users don’t want to be around other people that continually create a problem, whether it be a noise problem, a safety problem or a cleanliness problem!

And above all, remember… “Your mother doesn’t work here!” so clean up after yourself!

These are just some of the things you have to be prepared to face as a manager, AND as a member or user of these kinds of places! It’s not all fun and games with sitting behind the counter collecting rental fees, or being out on the grounds putting up with unruly guests! And it’s not all fun and games to come in and get drunk, play loud music, speed with any kind of vehicle in the park, or cause any kind of problem! We’re all here to enjoy what we do, and we all have to do our part for our own responsibilities!

Many people don’t have the guts to do what it takes to keep resorts in control and operating the way they should! Some campgrounds are in rural areas and are smaller and quieter than others that may be in cities, and have more amenities. But if you can’t deal with rowdy people, as well as be polite to those whom you have to deal with, then being a manager should not be in your future!

When I was an apartment manager we had a “250-pound” Notre Dame linebacker playing his “300-watt” stereo so loud I could hear it two buildings away… with all of his doors and windows shut! I tried knocking on the door with my tape measure, and he ignored it. But when I went around back and pulled his electric meter, it got quiet real quick! When I knocked on the door again, he immediately confronted me with “Hey! Somebody turned my electric off!”  I had to grit my teeth to keep from saying “Well, DUH!”, but I didn’t. I politely informed him that I could hear his stereo from two buildings away, and that he wasn’t the only one living in this county, and playing music that could be heard outside his apartment was not permissible, and if I heard it again, I would have him evicted! I never had a problem with him after that!

On the other side of the coin, one of my yard employees at the apartment complex was an old Sea Bees retiree, and always polite and a gentleman, especially to the ladies. If he saw someone carrying grocery bags, he would stop to help them. Was it in his job description? Of course not! He wasn’t getting paid to do that! But did I stop him? Of course not! I DID tell him to keep it to a minimum, which of course went right over his head. But on several occasions I heard of tenants telling their friends to move over here where they lived because the staff and everyone was so nice, and the place was kept in immaculate condition. You can’t buy that kind of publicity or promotion!

The apartments were as close to being in brand new condition as we could make them, with any repairs being done before we would even show an apartment! Every week, I would get out and walk the grounds with a stack of blank work orders and a clip board in hand. If I noticed something out of place or needing repair, a work order was issued for it. Those went into a wall hung pocket assigned to each person on staff (a total of seven). New work orders went to the back and they pulled from the front, unless it was an emergency or critical. The pockets were always full, and the staff was always busy. They knew what they had to do and I didn’t have to micro-manage them. I never had to “watch” to see if anyone was goofing off. They didn’t! We averaged less than a dozen “turn-overs” a month, and vacant apartments were completely refurbished from a three-page checklist within three days.

That’s how we took a complex that had been open for three years, was partially unfinished, and only 53% full, with only 13 of 47 condos sold, to having all condos sold within a year and a half, and taking the place to 100% occupancy with a waiting list seven months long! That’s also how we took a run-down and poorly managed resort and made it successful again within a month! It takes continual work and staying on top of things, keeping everything in working order, and having a staff that can smile at people and make them happy! I was there to turn the place around, and I did, but I smiled the whole time! (Well, OK… to tenants and potential tenants, anyway!)

I could write a book on my seven years of apartment management, and another on my experiences as a RV resort manager. (Maybe I will someday). But suffice it to say that if you don’t have the guts for it, then take a secondary position in services or maintenance, and leave the heavy responsibility to someone else. Just because you are a great book keeper doesn’t make you a good manager! And above all, keep a smile on your face the entire time, and be polite and helpful to people. If you can’t smile, then don’t get into ANYTHING relating to customer service! A bad attitide will cost the company more money than you could ever imagine, even if you’re just a volunteer! Your actions will reflect on everyone, from your coworkers, to management to corporate, to the entire community! In fact, I won’t even hire someone that won’t smile or that I can’t have fun with, and still get the job done!

I hope this entire three part series didn’t come across as “gruff”, or as boastful. I’m just telling it like it is, so that any of you who “thought” you knew park systems may learn that it’s not all fun and games, and it takes a certain personality to be able to handle all the things you will run into! I am also a Workamper subscriber (as well as several other job magazines), and I see what’s available out there every day. I know the bad situations from the good, but then, I’m retired and not looking for work. Do you know the bad from the good?

In a later article I’ll do a report on how to use the internet to check out potential places to camp before you ever get there, that will apply to anyone, regardless of what kind of camping vehicle they have.

And I apologize for the lack of pictures. I had to make a modification to raise the recliner couch/bed frame for the minivan project, and now it requires a special hinge mechanism to raise the seat as the back of the seat goes down. Pivot positions are critical. On the brighter side, I have also redesigned the cabinet behind the driver’s seat, so that gives some new variations on how you can adapt it to your use.

Hang in there. More’s a comin’!

Update: 3/31/12 (but I just updated this on 4/20/12): I received an email from B.H. who says: (edited for brevity)

“Excellent series, John!  I read all three parts from start to finish… I
really enjoyed the many stories. You are so right about the attitude of people…  If you are a jerk, customers won’t come back.  If you treat them right – even if they don’t
get everything the want – they will often respect the respect. Great posts!  Thank you for sharing…”

These are the kinds of comments we need more of, although I would like them to be on the blog so “everyone” can see them. Don’t be bashful! Thank you.