Well, welcome to the February 2023 episode. So glad that you were able to join us. If you paid attention in the past, you may have noticed that we flipped the script on the hat wearing part of the show. Typically, I wear our Rest & Relax hat during this portion and then our guest in the Hats Off. But Sean from Four Points RV Resorts is our guest for this episode, and I didn't have the hat at the time. So check it out. I got it now. Looking good, I have to say. But definitely stay tuned to hear about Sean and what they're doing over there. It was great to have him as a part.
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As always, we want to have a little bit of industry news that we will share with you. In addition, you can't miss our marketing tip for this month, where we go over some design tips on Facebook and Instagram ads. So, we are trying to bring some value that you guys can take into the real world and upgrade your advertising, your marketing. All right, so here we go.
February 2023 News
As you can see, we've already pulled up the article, and this is Woodall's Campground Magazine. This is a subject that is near and dear to our heart, dealing with reputation management. As you can see the title here: "So We Built a Campground. How to Deal With Bad Reviews." No matter what kind of business you're running, reality is it's something that we all need to be able to react to in an appropriate manner. And Erin and Dan talk about their personal experience of dealing with this. I highly recommend you check this article out from an ownership standpoint and how they've been able to handle some of the negative reviews. I'll go right down here to the bottom just to highlight this particular part here.
It says, "Online reviews are often a quagmire of negativity." True that. "Sometimes they're just grumpy and dark. Nothing we say will change the negativity those guests see in the world. Sometimes they're a reflection of misaligned expectations that we can highlight for future campers. If we're lucky, they're little gold mines of important feedback where we can own up to our shortcomings and communicate how we're going to fix the problem."
Whatever the reason behind the review, tackle it head on, making sure to focus on the facts, the policies, and the reasoning behind why you run the business your way. So I just wanted to point that out. That's great knowledge, great wisdom.
Read the whole article to get some perspective on that. And as we always recommend, please respond to reviews and keep the dialogue open so you can do just as Erin and Dan have suggested. Make sure the facts are known.
Modern Campground is now coming up. We're talking about "KOA Offering Funding for Unique Outdoor Adventures with the Get Out There Grant." This is just fun and thought we should take a look at this. Obviously, you can go to moderncampground.com to see more about the whole article. They've got up to $5,000 worth of grant money to US and Canadian residents. Applicants can fill out a form to share their outdoor dream with KOA, and the application will be open to submissions until March 31. And you can see that link there.
"The goal to find compelling once in a lifetime stories that we can help make possible." So that's pretty cool. Check that out on Modern Campground. We really like the idea that people could win a fun camping trip just by telling a great story. That's the news for this month.
Hats Off to Four Points RV Resorts
Mark Rowan: Hey, everybody thanks for tuning in. It is a pleasure to have the CEO of Four Points RV Resorts, Sean, with us today. How are you doing? And introduce yourself to us.
Sean Vidrine: Yeah. Thanks, Mark. Doing great, man. It's been a very good season this year. My name is Sean Vidrine. I'm the CEO of Four Points RV Resorts. We operate a portfolio of destination campgrounds across the Midwest, Northeast, and in the south. We're pretty spread out.
Mark Rowan: Where's your main location, or do you have, like, a headquarters?
Sean Vidrine: Yeah, so our corporate office is located in Lake Charles, Louisiana, our flagship park. What I would say is the first one that we acquired back in 2019 is called Paradise Ranch. It's located in Tylertown, Mississippi, which is about an hour and a half north of New Orleans.
Mark Rowan: You have Mississippi. And what other locations do you guys have?
Sean Vidrine: Mississippi, Illinois, the state of Iowa, and Pennsylvania.
Mark Rowan: Like you said, it's pretty spread out, which is interesting and just kind of land on that for a second. Are they all the same basic type of parks then, or are they vary at all, or are they pretty similar?
Sean Vidrine: Sure. Yes. We are very focused in the family destination RV resorts. Three of the parks that we currently operate are Yogi Bear Jelly Stone parks. So even though our non Jelly Stone parks that are privately branded are still in that same mode of we are the destination, high activity, high amenity offering, and basically we are the destination. Most of the areas that we operate in are, what I would say, pretty rural. So none of our resorts as of right now are located in what I would call resort towns, like a Gatlinburg, Tennessee or something. So we really strive to position ourselves in an area that's densely populated enough to where we can draw from a two to two and a half hour radius. But we are the destination. When you come, we want you to stay.
Mark Rowan: So you're not competing with Mickey or anything like that.
Sean Vidrine: Right.
Mark Rowan: Give us a story of how you got involved in the industry. What's that look like?
Sean Vidrine: Sure. So, prior to my involvement in the RV industry, I was a real estate investor investing into multifamily and single family dwellings, mobile home parks, apartment complexes, and then, like I said, some single family residents. And I want to go ahead and market one of my mobile home parks to look at selling that. And the broker that was working on that deal for me at the time, he had run across the Paradise Ranch property in Mississippi and asked me if I was interested in getting into that space. I didn't know anything about it. It was a little intriguing and went and took a look at the property, and it was very nice, but with no experience, I was a little afraid to get into that on my own. But he did introduce me to a couple of gentlemen that had been in the industry for combined well over 30 years. They knew the industry inside and out and were very analytical and had been very successful operating their own parks as well as doing consulting work for other people in the industry. So after meeting with those guys, we decided to go ahead and purchase this property together.
And we've continued to do that with our group now for the last four years, and we're still acquisitive. The market has changed somewhat with interest rates and whatnot, but we're still looking for acquisition opportunities.
Mark Rowan: You already explained a little bit about this being a family destination type of park. What else would be something that differentiates what you guys are doing at your parks, maybe from some of the other ones out there?
Sean Vidrine: Yeah. So as you're aware, there are multiple different kinds of RV parks out there. Long term stays. Then you get into the southern part, really catering to snowbird customers, some 55 and older parks. But we are really focused on the family experience. So what that involves is a variety of things is specifically the amenities package we really go in and basically what we do is extreme value add projects where we'll take a park that is not heavily amenitized and then we'll go in and we'll make a major capital investment into it, which would include water features, whether it's whipped water parks or water slides, play structures, swimming pools, new general stores, other offerings such as mini golf and things like that. So really what we're trying to do is drive an experience to where whenever families show up, that their children are never bored. In addition to the amenities, we're very heavily involved in the activities program. Jellystone Park has been very successful in their program with regard to activities and making sure that we can deliver an experience to the guest. And really what our goal is, is that we just want to create an environment where families can make memories that will last them a lifetime.
Mark Rowan: 100%. That's a good thing right there. Those are the kind of things that, like I said, when you go on family trips, that people will treasure for a long time. For sure. Yeah. So what do you enjoy most about being in the biz from the RV parks?
Sean Vidrine: There's two sides of that. One part is that from what I would call customer service, the satisfaction of being able to show up to a property and witnessing our guests really enjoy themselves. We live in an age full of technology and whenever you get out to these parks and you see these kids that are out playing on water toys or involved in activities, whether it's scavenger hunts or candy bar bingo or whatever, it's really cool to see that they don't have necessarily their iPhone in their hand. They're actually enjoying the outdoors. So it's very gratifying to see that we are providing an opportunity for families to actually spend more time together and reconnect. From the business operating standpoint, it's a very challenging business at times. It's not passive, it's very hands on. But what I like about it is there's so much opportunity to grow. Whenever you have a family style destination park, you have businesses within a business, you might be selling ice cream, you have a general store. There's revenues that can come in ancillary revenues from rentals like golf cart rentals and different things, wristband programs. So you can get as creative as you want to drive revenue.
And that's been a lot of fun too. Just doing different things out there, saying, man, I wonder if people would like this. And you just try it and it's like, man, it really catches on. That's been a lot of fun as well.
Mark Rowan: Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah. With the whole idea of keeping the kids off the phone, that's the holy grail for the parents, right?
Sean Vidrine: Absolutely.
Mark Rowan: Having to yell at them to get off their phone or whatever. It's awesome. You referred to it for a second there. About the challenge. What is one of the bigger challenges that you face and have to overcome?
Sean Vidrine: Sure. Over the past couple of years, one of the biggest challenges that we've seen, especially being heavily in development mode with value add projects, is one with supply chain whenever COVID was going on, and then also major cost increases on materials that you just didn't budget for. So trying to complete projects in a timely manner, as well as while staying on budget, has been very challenging from an operating standpoint. I don't think that we're the only ones experiencing this, but we definitely had labor shortages as well. So we want to be able to deliver a very high quality guest experience. And to be able to do that, we have to have enough employees on staff, especially during the peak season, to where we can deliver that high end experience when we're short staffed. That does become a challenge. So there's multiple challenges from operations as well as capital projects and trying to stay on budget and on time.
Mark Rowan: As we've had conversations with folks, especially in the development space, that's the reoccurring theme of being able to get things done in a timely manner. And it's just difficult with, like you said, supply chain and lack of maybe people available to work.
Sean Vidrine: We have had some issues with getting across some regulatory hurdles, getting permits in place, and it's different in every state that we operate in. Some are a lot easier than others, some are a little bit more challenging. But especially in the northern parks, we have a very short window of opportunity for development, and typically we look at after Labor Day weekend and before Memorial Day weekend. The last thing that we want to do is have a major construction project going on whenever our campers are there trying to enjoy themselves. Sometimes it's unavoidable, but we do everything that we can to make that happen. But the last couple of years, like I said, with permitting issues as well as supply chain and labor shortages, we've definitely had our challenges there, but we're overcoming that now.
Mark Rowan: Yes, sir. Familiar tune from other folks in your position. Now, you already mentioned that you guys are kind of the destination for most of the places they are at, but if there was something else that somebody could do in those locations, is there other places that people could potentially go and see while they're at one of your parks?
Sean Vidrine: It depends on which location. Some of them we are the destination, and we operate in very rural areas, while as others that we operate in or outside of major metro areas. So, for example, one of the parks that we're acquiring and closing on in January is located just an hour outside of Pittsburgh. So if somebody wanted to drive into Pittsburgh, it's an hour up the road. There's definitely plenty of stuff to do there. It's also located about ten minutes from a major ski resort, so there's definitely golf courses and stuff like that. One of our locations in Iowa is located about 30 minutes from the Field of Dreams, where Kevin Costner and the baseball teams come out there once a year and do their stuff. And that's a really cool experience to be able to go out there, take a tour of the property. They have tour guides that tell the story, how it came about. So that's pretty cool. And then at our park in Mississippi, if you wanted to drive an hour and a half, you could be in New Orleans and spend the day there. But for the most part, like I said, our goal is once people get to the campground, is that we want to give them every reason to stay and not to have to go outside for anything.
Mark Rowan: I'm sure for some people that are real baseball fans, that might be a destination thing anyway, that you guys people will come there because they want to see that.
Sean Vidrine: Yeah, it's a very cool experience. I've done it twice myself.
Mark Rowan: For somebody like you said, you're in there developing parks not on a regular basis, but fairly regularly, and a lot of people got into that over the last few years because it was seen as a great opportunity. So for someone that's just starting out, what's some advice you would give to them?
Sean Vidrine: I would say the one thing for sure that I would recommend is that they just need to make sure that they understand exactly what type of RV park they want to get into. And a lot of people that I've heard that have not been into the industry yet, really they see it as a passive investment. While that can be the case, depending on the type of park you invest in, it is definitely much more active than what I would call an apartment complex or a mobile home park, especially the destination RV resort. So first thing I would make sure is identify what particular type of property you want to operate. And then once you do that and you've decided that do as much due diligence as you can on the market and what you can actually do as far as performance, we do a lot of analysis on how is the park performing in its current situation. And is there any room for organic growth? And if there is, and that's even better. Or does it require capital investment for you to grow? So I would say just know exactly what type of park you want to operate, and whenever you make that decision, make sure that you do plenty of due diligence.
Mark Rowan: Great advice. All right, so Rest & Relax ROI we're all about the marketing, so we like to get other people's insight on what's been good for them. So what's marketing activity that you guys do pretty regularly that's been effective?
Sean Vidrine: Sure. I would say that for us, two things. Obviously, social media is a very cost effective way to reach a lot of people. And we also do Constant Contact with email. So we do a combination of both. We spend quite a bit of money on marketing every year. And one thing that we do that's been very effective for us is that especially through our email program, is that we're notifying guests when we have availability. So rather than them just saying, okay, well, I don't know, we're sending updates weekly to our existing customer base. And then we're also promoting on social media platforms other things about the park and trying to draw in new customers. We're experiencing about 40% new customers each year, so that's a good thing. And we're continually adding to our email our email list, which allows us to have that constant contact with the customer.
Mark Rowan: Exactly. And you stuck that brand name in there. Again, good job. Constant Contact. We use that in the past as well. And as you said, the email list, as a marketing guy, you may have heard this, those that are listening, but that is probably one of the most valuable things that a business can have as that list. People that have opt in, they want to hear more from you. So definitely be building that list any way you can, just like Sean.
Sean Vidrine: Yes, it's been very effective.
Mark Rowan: We're about to wrap up our time together, but we want to finish out on a fun note here of your favorite RV or camping experience. Could have been when you were a kid, could be last week.
Sean Vidrine: I would have to say, going back to my childhood, my grandparents had an RV, and every summer, whenever we would get out of school, their thing was we're going to take a trip, whether it's a two week trip or a one week trip. And I can just remember as a kid them dragging that RV from Lake Charles, Louisiana all the way to Yellowstone National Park. And at the time, it may not have been so fun with all the escapades that come along with it, but looking back on it now, my brother and I especially, we laugh about all the incidents that have occurred, whether it is being stuck in the middle of a major metro. Back then, we had to stop and ask directions, use a map and things like that. So it was like the Griswold camping vacation. But those are fond memories of mine, and I do appreciate the fact that I was able to experience that.
Mark Rowan: Yeah, those are huge. Same thing. Just thinking about the different trips and times together with family is always great. Well, Sean, it's been wonderful to have you. Talk about Four Points RV Resorts. Tell us where that we can find more information on that. Obviously we'll link that as well.
Sean Vidrine: Sure. So our website is www.fourpointsrvresorts.com. It has the information on our team and how we operate, as well as the individual properties that we've recently acquired. So, yeah, you can reach us through there and hopefully you and your guests will have an opportunity to come out to one of our destinations 100%.
Mark Rowan: Go check out those family fun destinations that he's been talking about, and you'll obviously have a great time. All right, everybody, we really appreciate you being with us today. And until next time, happy trails.
Sean Vidrine: Thank you, Mark.
R & R ROI Marketing Tips
All right, here we are with design tips for Facebook and Instagram ads. This content was in our latest webinar, which was the end of January 2023. Where we went over three main areas of getting ads up and running on these platforms, how to set up the right kind of ad, types you need to know about, and of course, this design. As you can see right here, use simple design to stand out. So don't overdo it. You don't want to have too much stuff going on with your ads. They need a pop, though, and get attention, but it can't be too much.
The other thing, keep the main thing front and center, no rabbit trails. When we talk about picking out objectives in another part of this webinar, this will determine what you're going to do within the creative part of your ad. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to get people to book online? Don't go too crazy with the messaging and colors. Make sure you're matching your branding. That's always a good idea. Don't go over the top with text, especially when it comes to your actual image and creative and then high resolution images. We have some stats on here that talk about how much more effective, clear, nice images as opposed to one that's not so great.
And then refine your designs with A/B testing. Don't just put one and stick with it. You want to continue to watch the ad performance and see if you can tweak whether it's a headline or an image and see if you can get better results.
We don't typically don't do another slide, but there are some great information on here about common mistakes to avoid when it comes to design. No clear headline, so make sure that headline gets to the point of what you're trying to accomplish. That low resolution image, that's bad news. We talked about high resolution is good. And having generic visuals and copy too much text, not optimizing for mobile. Make sure people are going to be on their phone. Make sure that you got that part covered, not having a good call to action. And then once again, that testing and optimizing, not doing that. So those are some tips for designing for Facebook and Instagram ads. Like I said, check out the full webinar on our YouTube and hopefully you'll get a lot of great info out of that.
Thanks for tuning into the Park Pod. Don't forget, subscribe to us on your favorite podcast platform. We really need your attention and validation. Seriously, we can't go on without it. For additional episodes and more, visit restrelaxroi.com. Join us next time. Until then, happy trails.