Written by: Timothy Fitzgerald
03/11/2012 9:45 AM
Ever wonder what it's like to own a campground? We were curious to find out. So we interviewed the owner of a small campground in South Carolina and a mid sized campground in Florida to find out what life as a campground owner is like. To put a fun twist on the interview, the owners we selected originally hailed from the UK.
Bass Lake Campground, Dillon, South Carolina owned by the Millward Family
CRT: How did you first get involved in owning a campground?
Guy Millward: It was something that we stumbled upon. In 2006 we decided we'd like to come live in the States. We heard that the Bass Lake Campground was on the market. We thought owning a campground was easy. It was run down. But we had no knowledge of the RV industry. I was aware that the RV industry was big in the states and it was something that we weren't used to in the UK, but there was obviously a market for it in the states.
Is it something you thought you'd always wanted to do?
No, not at all. We had no knowledge of the RV Industry. I was always fascinated by the size of the RV's and the luxuries that went along with them. In Birmingham (UK) you only get caravans, which are much smaller in comparison to RVs in the States.
What's it like to have moved from the UK to South Carolina and setup a business?
Well we had to get used to the taxes. How everything's taxed. We get one rate of tax in the UK. We had to get used to taxes for accommodation, taxes for the things we sell in the store, taxes for the propane. It's more of an outdoor lifestyle and getting used to the system and how things work. And the pace of life is so much slower here. Especially in this state, people seem so much more relaxed. But when you're trying to arrange an appointment with a tradesman it is always two or three days after the date they give you.
How long have you owned your campground for?
We bought the campground in April 2008 and we renovated for 4 months, and then opened at the end of August 2008. A lot of the work I did with my business partner. But we never took into account that although we could have done a lot of the work ourselves we had to have registered tradesman with permits to do the work. It has to be signed off by the local coding office for all electrical work, which becomes expensive.
What's it like to own a campground? What are your day to day activities?
For me it's maintenance more than anything. Everyday there's always something to do. The primary thing is keeping the bathrooms and office clean. There's always grounds work here. Keeping on top of the grounds is the main thing. We have just under 30 acres so I can sit on the mower and spend 7 or 8 hours just cutting grass and that's twice a week. When you walk outside there's always something. It's like owning a home on a larger scale.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of owning a campground?
My view is the appearance of a campground is essential. It needs to look manicured. That's the first challenging aspect for me is keeping it looking good with 30 acres, it's a lot to keep on top of. I'm the only who does the maintenance.
What's the best part of owning a campground?
I think the people that you meet. Everyday we have different people. That's what I enjoy. It's funny as the seasons change. Right now in the fall we're getting a lot of French Canadians. Spring we get a lot of people from Florida heading north. We'll have people stop in for one or two nights. We're geographically located well for snowbirds coming and going. So the trash can's always full and the bathrooms get a lot more traffic.
Have you noticed any new trends among RVers or campers over the past few years?
The biggest thing that sticks out is the internet. Even in the 2 years we've owned our place more and more people want the internet. We've had internet installed as a result. We get asked for cable TV a lot.
95% of our customers are retirement age and the RV is their home. 9 times out of 10 we get the full time RVers.
What type of a person do you think is best suited to own a campground?
Someone needs to be mild mannered and laid back. You need to have a mild sort of disposition.
What recommendations do you have for someone who is considering purchasing a campground?
Someone who is new to the industry, thinking back, do your homework. There are lots of things I wish I had done, like the electric pedestals. Our biggest expense is the electric. Make sure the electric pedestals are in good working condition. Have a good check of the septic tanks and be familiar with the local building codes. If you do any work and it's not passed it will cause you problems. Good check on the general infrastructure.
Any advice for campers or RVers who stay at campgrounds?
Know your RV. Some people don't know how to operate them. Plan ahead, make reservations ahead of time, and use CampingRoadTrip.com
Lake Wales RV & Campsite, Lake Wales, Florida owned by the Stone Family
Nick Stone: Through a friend. A friend recommended the lifestyle. He bought a campground 6 years ago.
Is it something you thought you'd always do?
Yes we wanted to do it in the UK but due to weather it wasn't feasible at the time but it was in Florida.
What's it like to have moved from the UK to Florida and setup a business?
It wasn't easy. The visa process was a nightmare, but we sorted it out. Fortunately buying the campground was a straightforward and easy process. When we bought it there were lots of surprises - especially adjusting to different work ethics. But everyone made us feel so welcome. That was the biggest surprise - the people. We were surprised at how open and welcoming people are here.
We purchased it in February 2009.
Day to day my activities are ensuring that everything's run as we want it. We have grounds people so I make sure they're getting everything done as it needs to be. Mostly I look after the grounds staff, office staff, and the electricians. I go in 3 or four days a week and we work together to make sure everything's working very well. I'll get my hands dirty once in a while.
Do you live on site?
We don't live on site. We have an office manager and grounds manager who live on site, keep a check on things, and make sure everyone's following rules.
Trying to keep everyone happy, which is an impossible aspect, but we do what we can. Most stuff you can keep on top of.
The people. Without any shred of a doubt. We have permanent residents who live here all year round. 50% of our business is transient and I'd say 50-60% have come back because of us. When we first opened we told our guests that we're going to enforce a 55 and over policy, and we've held to that. That has made a lot of our guests happy.
Not really. It'd be hard for us to say because we've only owned the campground for 8 months.
Someone who is willing to give and take. A person who is firm, but willing to give and take. If you're not firm they will walk all over you. My wife and I play good and bad cop. I usually play bad cop. I discuss all decisions with my wife before they are made.
Think about it hard. You have to be open minded for change, because things change. Be friendly, open and honest with the people. Don't say you're going to put in a new swimming pool and not do it. You've got to be honest with the campers immediately.
Also, you need to be around the campground to make sure that it is run as you want it. I've found that owner operated parks run much more efficiently than manager run parks.
Check out the campsite, do your homework, and check out the surrounding area, especially if you're going to be staying at a campground for a long period of time. You want to be sure you like the area in which you're going to live.
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