June 14

Winning Awards with Chris Jump of Anvil Campground on the Park Pod

It is great to have you on this episode of the Park Pod. It is June 2023. You may have noticed I have a spiffy new hat courtesy of anvil campground. It was great to have Chris jump on with us for this episode. They are a two time winner of best Small RV Park. That might not be the exact name, but it's pretty dang close. So they're doing great things over there. And they're actually pretty close to where I'm headquartered here in Hampton Roads up in Williamsburg. So see what they have to say.

Listen via Spotify

 In addition, we always have some news to bring to your attention, so pay attention to that. You want to be informed, right? And last but definitely not least is our marketing tip for this month, which was based on our recent webinar, where we talked about partnerships and collaborations, how you can leverage that to increase revenue, get your bookings up. It's all about looking for people that have adjacent businesses and how you can team up and do even more good things together. So thanks again for being with us. Let's keep going. 

June 2023 News 

All right, we have the news, and it is June edition of Woodall's Campground magazine. You can see a pupper here on the front talking about all the different things that are available to the campground world for pets. And that's a great article and see a lot of good information, but I want to look at a popular attraction, which is a 2024 eclipse, and they're predicting a large amount of folks coming out to see that.

The last time was in 2017, and it took people by surprise. And so now people are getting ready to see the increase of visitors, guests, RVs all coming out. And you can see some quotes by some of the folks that are expecting. So over here we see Aaron Stender talking about increasing another 33% in the last two weeks alone as well. I saw over here talking about where was that thousand additional people with the eclipse, says Michael Clark. So it's a big thing. If you haven't planned for it, start now. If you're in the path. If you're not in the path, no one's going to come to you. Just kidding. They'll still come. Another news item that I thought was kind of interesting was the Rolex and USAA joining forces. This is [email protected]. And so they're partnering up to bring some unique RV savings. Now, I know USAA is a great provider, we use them for many years myself. But yeah, check that out as well for those that are also using the RVs and not just hosting them. So that is the news for this time.

Hats off to  Anvil Campground

Mark Rowan: Hey everybody, thanks for joining in today. And we are excited, honored, and privileged to have Mr. Chris Jump from Anvil campground joining us today. How are you doing, Chris?

Chris Jump: I'm doing great. I appreciate you having me. Looking forward to our discussion and it's exciting.

Mark: We've been trying to make this happen for a little while. You've been busy out there winning awards and we'll hear more about that, I'm sure, as we talk. But yeah, just tell us a little bit about yourself and anvil campground. Yeah, give us a little bit of history.

Chris: So Anvil was started in 1954 by my grandpa. It goes way, way back kind of with the evolution of camping. It started as just a plain soybean field. And as the story goes, I wasn't around for it, but as I've been told, some guy in a pickup truck wanted to stay in park and they found a way to make a little extra money. They ran an extension for it out of our house here, which started as a dirt floor block house. I don't know, they probably made a few cents or something because we go back to when we were charging fifty cents a night.

And stuff like that. We found some brochures about it, but then I think it clicked like, hey, we might be able to make a little money on letting people park here. Maybe more than soybean field that we're not even doing much with. So they built it out from there. My grandfather and father were mega entrepreneurs, hands and all kinds of stuff. But the campground is probably the only one. Well, the other businesses are still around, but this is the only business still in the family. So long time, 69 years, three generations. I even have some nephews and stuff that have worked here. So we got four generations that have worked here. So yeah, we have a lot of history and recently, a lot of recent success statewide, locally and nationally, we're starting to get some recognition so that's pretty cool.

Mark: That is awesome. Since you just mentioned it, go a little bit more into detail about those things you've been recognized for.

Chris J: We've won some pretty big awards 2019. We won the Small Business of the Year. Williamsburg small Business of the Year by the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce. That was really cool. Just the fact that a campground was able to win that in an area like where we are, that was an honor. That was a really cool one to be recognized locally on the national level. We won Arvic Park of the Year. National park of the year. Our category is Small, which I still talked to them. I don't like that name, but it's for our categories campsites 100 and less, classified as a quote unquote small park, even though we feel we're big and the other ones are big. But we won in 2018, which was amazing because it was just after working for all my family, working for so long, and get recognized for such a big award, which we thought we never had a chance because we were small. But one day, years ago, we realized that they actually are categories for that award. Small, medium, large, mega. We can beat all their small parks. We thought, we're not going to beat these ginormous parks, but we can do it.

And we tried, and we won, and then we were honored again in 2000. Well, last year, we're the reigning park of the Year reigning champs, which is cool.

Mark: Very good. So congrats to you guys. Alot of hard work was put into being able to pull that off both times, and even when you're not winning, I'm sure you're doing a lot of good work.

Chris: Yeah. It doesn't stop.

Mark: Now, you mentioned Williamsburg, and so I know about what that is because we're neighbors, but some people might hear that and think, oh, you're in New York City, so that's not the case. Tell us about Williamsburg, the area, and where you guys are.

Chris: Williamsburg is unbelievable. We have so much to do. So this wouldn't be it's traditional camping, in a sense, you can do that. But most of the time, people are heading over to Bush Gardens, Williamsburg, WaterCountry, USA. Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown settlement over at Yorktown and America's Revolutionary Museum at Yorktown. All the food, all the dining and shopping and the outdoor parks. Our area is loaded, so you can come and stay a full week and you wouldn't get everything done. So there's just a ton of things to do. We even have a new Magic Theater, Waxter's Magic Theater, which is awesome. That's brand new. Came in last year. We got all kinds of stuff. So we are going to come visit.

Mark: Just down the road from you guys is outlet mall, right?

Chris: Yeah, premium Outlet. And it's probably 2 miles away. We've had guests walk there or ride their bike, but two mile easy ride, loaded up and very fun too.

Mark: Then you want to walk a lot farther, but actually drive. You can come down here where I am at Virginia Beach and check that out too.

Chris: There's a lot we have people that day trip to you for sure. It's not that bad of a ride to actually get to the ocean. It's an hour, give or take, traffic, and they'll go down there for the day, do the boardwalk and all that stuff and then come back. So, yeah, the location not only Weenesburg's got a ton, but then we're right. Just a little ride from Virginia Beach and still only about a couple of hours from the mountains. So it's a good location for sure.

Mark: If someone's coming in from not the East Coast, and they want to make it a long trip and see lots of different things out here, even DC. If you wanted to.

Chris: We have people that the local train station can take you right up to DC. And we have guests, they'll day trip, hop on the train, go to DC, and then come back. Yeah. That's awesome. It's not too far, so yeah, absolutely. It's a nice hub to reach a lot of things in Virginia, for sure. Williamsburg is awesome.

Mark: We already heard that you grew up in this. Was there ever a time you're like, I'm going to do something else, or did you just always do the family biz?

Chris: No, I grew up in it. Grew up cutting the grasses, doing all the maintenance type stuff and stuff around the office. But then I went to school. Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond was kind of doing some real estate stuff. And I had this other job I was working. I thought I might franchise into it. It was a bar auditing business, but then my father suddenly passed in five. I was 23, so at that point I didn't have any relations there. So I came back to take over the park, stabilize it, and we came a long way since then, but stabilized it. And then after a while, a couple of years, I was like, maybe this might be something I could see a future in. It like to actually make this my own. And we went that route. It took a while, so I grew up in it, but then I kind of fell back into it. After my dad passed. He was looking to retire and sell. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to do that, but I guess I wish he was still here, but it's still in the family, and I'm working with my brother, and we have a beautiful life. So it all worked out.

Mark: It's good to hear that. Something nice came out of a difficult situation, for sure. So we heard a little bit about kind of what separates you from other parks, but let me just dive a little bit farther into that as far as the differentiator of anvil campground, not only maybe of something they could see in your area, but other like you're making a name for yourself nationally amongst other small parks. So what's that been like to be able to be that type of different park that gets recognized?

Chris: Yes. So it's been pretty cool and we have a lot more opportunities to kind of like network with people and help parks. It's very cool to be because when I started I was 23, so I was the little guy and young guy. That's when I first grew up, my beard to try to look a little older because I can't count how many times like, well, I want to talk to the owner or the manager. I'm like, well, that's me. And then I was just like, that kind of started in my beard, but then my wife likes my beard, so now I keep a little beard for her. But yeah, we do a lot of give back. I'm the current president of the Virginia Campground Association and I've been on the board since 2018. That's a lot of fun. It's a lot of fun to try to help the industry in our area and help the other parks and learn from the other parks. That's a big deal. So now in this situation, we get people asking us questions and that's really fun to try to help people because we've been through a lot and we didn't always have per se, mentors.

So it's really nice to kind of expediate other people's evolution and help them in certain situations that we've already experienced and tell them what worked for us and maybe it works for them. So that's very fun to kind of be at that point, I guess in your career we can definitely give back and try to help people and just try to make it easier for them.

Mark: That's awesome. It's good that you're in a leadership position and they're helping others take those steps. So yeah. What is it that you really enjoy the most about the RV park and campground biz?

Chris: One good thing about networking with other parks, and we try to tell people, get involved with your association, get involved with your state and national. There's not many industries like it and you can't just talk to somebody on the street and they can fully relate. Like anybody in hospitality or customer service or guest services can relate. But it's just the culturally it's completely different. The vibe you get from the guests and the community feel from everybody. I always am slow to mention hotels, but hotels are great and that's a great way to travel. But the whole culture of a hotel guest interacting compared to how camping guests are going to interact is just completely different. So it's just like a family feel. And as a manager or leader of a campground, our sole purpose is to give people awesome vacations. That's a pretty good situation. It's not always easy, but more often than not, people are having a blast, and we get to kind of live through their vacations and their experiences and see their kids grow up. And it's great. It's really fulfilling. Like, there could be way worse things as far as trying to make a living than trying to provide people amazing vacations. So, I mean, it's fun. 

Mark: Well, that's the fun part. What about the challenging part? We heard a little bit how got into it. It was definitely a challenge, but as far as an ongoing thing that you're facing, what's that look like?

Chris: Yes, it may appear easy for guests, but it's just a lot of work and it's consistent work, but if you stay organized and the work that you do has the proper purpose to alleviate future problems, you can make it easier for yourselves. So when I started in five, man, wasn't hard, but everything I made a purpose, I made a point for everything we're doing was going to make it easier down the road. So when we renovated, we renovated it the best way. When we created policies, they were guest friendly and also good for us. We learned to communicate really well with guests, and it alleviates problems, but it is constant work, constant evolution. But you really have to think ahead, and you always want to be ahead of. I have a goal that every day I want to make sure that I'm so good and we're so good that our staff won't have any issues and our guests can't have any issues. That's the goal. It's impossible, but that's what we're trying to achieve every day, to try to have some normalcy and make it a little easier for everybody. A lot of industries out there.

It's a lot of work. We're a small family business, so we don't have a million employees, so we wear a lot of hats. And if somebody isn't happy, it's right on our shoulders. And I think it means more when it's your family business when somebody's not happy than, say, if you're just working at a job. Because when it's a small family business, it's not a job, it's everything. Especially when there's so much history, especially if we go back 69 years. And when I was so young, I felt that pressure of my dad and my grandpa and make them proud. And even though my siblings and mom aren't in it right now, I always felt like, man, I got to do this and we got to figure this out. Everything has their things, but we're just trying to do our best and do our best in all situations. So we respect anvil and our family and our guests.

Mark: We already talked a little bit too about lots of attractions near your guys park, so there's lots to choose from, but I'm going to throw it to you. If you had to choose like one or two places that you would definitely want to check out, if you were a guest staying at anvil campground, what would that be?

Chris: Are we talking families, retirees? We're talking young people? Because we got it all.

Mark: So we didn't talk about you guys are serving all kind of different people. Yeah, just pick one or two different ones, I guess. If you're a family or versus a retirement, maybe.

Chris: Let's just say you're a younger couple and you're looking to have some fun. There's a lot of exciting things to do. Of course, we're loaded with microbreweries all over Distilleries, very fun. But we have all these outdoor parks as well where you can go canoeing and kayaking. We have a local ziplining. Go ape. You can go ziplining there. As I mentioned, we got the new Magic Theater, which is awesome. And it's so intimate, it's so good. So you have that going for you. You can have an absolute blast if you're a younger couple looking to. On that note, we have great WiFi for anyone that's coming, and that's important for the younger generation. But retirees, some of them are going to love Bush Gardens, but a lot of them are going to love the historical type stuff. So Cloning, Williamsburg, they're going to absolutely love that. Spend a couple of days there and then going over the Jamestown and Yorktown areas and going around there. They're going to love that. They're also going to love all the dining and all the shopping. I mean, they're going to have a really good time. And as far as families, they're going to obviously love Bush Gardens and how kid friendly it is.

They're going to really have a blast over there. And then they're also going to get into the Water Country USA. And families will still enjoy the historical type stuff, but they're going to enjoy the amusement parks, I guess the most. And we also have a local park, Waller Mill Park, which is accessible. You can walk there or bike there. It's only about a couple of miles away, but we have a beautiful pay path that lead there, and that's definitely fun for all ages.

Mark: I can vouch for all these things, being a Hampton Roads native, so to speak. Been to most of those. So it's definitely a good time. We were just there last summer and did the Bush Gardens and the Water Country and did some Williamsburg, did all those fun things as a little bit of a staycation for us.

Highly recommended, for sure. So there's a lot of people that have gotten into the industry. It's a great investment compared to some of the other options that are out there when you're talking about real estate. And so there's newbies out there and what's a piece of expert advice that you would give them when they're getting started.

Chris: I'll go into a few points I did in 2021. I was a speaker at OHCE from ARVC and I did a talk on how to run a successful family campground, secret swim park of the year. And we went through all this. It was really good. But the main three points that I talked about was making sure you have happy staff, happy guests, and you're running efficient business like those three principles. So as far as like the happy staff, you've got to value them over everything and you got to understand respect is earned. Compensate them well and just take care of them and talk to them daily. You got to make your staff or you, they represent you. They might not physically look like you, but they are absolutely you. When they're talking to the guests, they got to know how they should be talking and what they should be talking about so they can give you the constant message that you need to have projected to your guest. As far as your guests, the biggest thing I could tell you is to be a master of communication. If you absolutely communicate everything they need to know and your rules and regulations and let them know about the attractions, we find the biggest frustration from any guests would be misinformation for whatever points or them not understanding stuff.

If everything's laid out for them and they know, more often than not you're going to have next to zero problems because you already told them or they know. Frustration happens in humans in general when we just don't know something and we don't understand something and then you get kind of agitated. So just be a master of communications, everything you're doing. And as far as running an efficient business, I had a couple quotes that I like and I was going to say, but as the operator, you always want to be open to adapting. A lot of times we get into this a long time and we just think we know everything and nobody could tell me anything. But a quote that I like is just because you've always done it a certain way doesn't make it right. So I try to never forget that because obviously it's in all of us to know we already know what we know. But you have to be open to adapt and continuing your education through your state association or national association and also network with the other campgrounds so you can learn. Because the industry is always evolving. Like when you go to a trade show, I mean, there's new stuff all the time and it's very rapidly evolving lately, especially from since 2020, the whole industry just completely flipped.

So you got to be willing to change and stay on the cutting edge of all the WiFi your amenities and all that stuff. Another quote that I like and it goes to complacency is success is not owned, it's leased. And that goes to just not sitting back we had a great year last year, so we're going to coast this year. You can never do that because the campground down the street is not doing that, and they're going to pass you. Or the industry is rapidly improving and changing, and you just have to be ready to roll and go every year, and you just can't be complacent with your part. Another one I like is leadership is the capacity to translate a vision into reality. So in my life, just saying something isn't good enough. I have to actually do it. And there's not much value in just words. I know a lot of people that like to just say things and then feel good because they say what they're going to do. In my world, nothing matters until I actually achieve it and do it, and then I can feel good about what I actually achieved.

So you want to get excited about results, and you want to create results and not just talk about it. And one other thing. I said this quote in 2020, but I knew in 2020, all the parks were having an amazing comeback year, and everyone was feeling great. All the parks, even the parks that weren't used to being full were full. But still I still said the quote, but it's tough times don't last. Tough people do. And I knew when I said a name, I said, I know everybody was doing great. So I don't know how quite it was taken, but obviously that was good times. But now for some parks, it's getting a little tougher because it's stabilizing and you got to kind of work a little harder. But in those tough times, you got to understand you just got to work through it, and it will get better for sure. So those are some pieces of advice that we try to live by and work through.

Mark: Yeah, that's top notch. So thanks for sharing that. If somebody wanted to see that extended presentation, is it somewhere online that they could see or do you know?

Chris: I believe it's still up if they're members of ARVC. Okay. I haven't looked lately, but it's all archived in there. Okay. And my particular presentation was called how to Run a Successful Campground secrets from park of the Year. And this would have been from 2021. OHC, and it should be up there when they log into their portal through Arvic, what would be just a PDF PowerPoint presentation. So it doesn't have all the information, but it'll have the points that we were hitting on and talking about. 

Mark: If you're an ARVC member, take advantage of that. That'd be awesome. All right, so you guys well established. You've been around for generations, which is great to be able to say. So there's, I'm sure, a lot of return people that come over the years. But beyond people just hearing about you normally, what kind of marketing activity have you guys been able to do that's been very successful.

Chris: Now it's clearly different. Years ago, it might have just been buying ad on for Good Sam and a paper ad and just sit back, but you're marketing every day. Social media, we use TikTok, we use Instagram, Twitter a little bit and then Facebook. So you have to stay relevant. And one piece of advice I would give on the market and social media aspect is to reply to every comment. Anyone that comments on your thing, reply to it, like it, thank them. Be very responsive to your guests. I mean, that's gold for you and only helps your traffic. So we're big into the social media stuff. You got to make sure all your online listings are current as you can be. There's so many and they're popping up all the time. But try to make sure they're all current with current pictures, current descriptions, make sure everything is correct. As far as marketing, this might not sound like traditional marketing, but you have to stay current with all your online reviews. Each one of those, they're either marketing for you or marketing against you. But you're going to get a bad review. And it's frustrating always.

But I've always told my staff, like even Disney World gets bad reviews. Even relevant Bush Gardens or the best businesses in the world are going to get bad reviews. You can't please them all, but what you can do is take that negative review and turn it into a positive review by replying to it. That's your chance to advertise back. Be as respectful as you can, but people are going to read those. So that's part of your marketing too, because it feels like it's almost all Google search, check reviews, check some other stuff. And that's really what the game is now. So you got to just stay on top of all that. And if you're replying to all the reviews, they know you're responsive management or ownership. And that goes a long ways with them. So you just got to stay active with everything that's going on online. That's what we do.

Mark: Excellent. You are echoing the very things that we've been telling people for years now with the reviews and those other things as well. So glad to hear you guys are really taking advantage of that and doing what best practice, which is be active on those things and make sure you are responding.

Chris: It's very time consuming, but you have to do it.

Mark: This our world, right? Online marketing. So that's primarily how a lot of people first kind of figure out what they're going to do. They're going to start the research on their phone and if you're set up to handle that and then you're in a lot better position than someone that's not. That's for sure.

Good stuff. Well, we're wrapping up our time, but we do want to get a great camping story maybe from maybe your. Youth or whatever. Or it could be something that you've done recently. My only request is that even though you grew up there, you got to come up with a story that's maybe from a different place.

Chris: Of course. So one of my favorite camping store, my dad would take us camping all the time. He was going everywhere in his little conversion bus all over before us and with us and take us to Florida, down to Key West and definitely like going to the mountains. We did a lot of camping in the Virginia mountains. Can't think of the name. It's up in the Blue Ridge. Big meadow. So one time we were at Big Meadow and we were probably we couldn't even ten yet. Having a blast playing Red Rover with the kids and running around and going through fields. A couple of parts. Well one this wasn't a good memory part, I'll tell you. So I was like really a baby. But we were going I don't remember this at all, but this is probably my first bee sting. But we were walking through the we were doing a field. I don't know, we were exploring a field with one of the rangers and ground bees got me and my private twin sister. They got us bad. And that was always a funny story but I don't remember it because my mom completely freaked out.

We were fine. But anyway, side story. So another funny story is we're camping in the mountains and I don't remember this either because I was sleeping but I was sleeping in a chair, like a lawn chair out and apparently some skunk came under my chair and just kind of was hanging out for a while. I don't think it ever made the smell, but it's one of those that always made my family laugh. But same thing. Also we cook an open fire with my dad cooking chili and all that outdoor stuff. Camping, I mean you really can't beat it. It's just fun playing with the bugs and you just learn a lot. It's very fun. The freedom and the relaxation. It's very exciting.

Mark: 100%. It was probably great that you were actually asleep when the skunk showed up. Woke up. It probably would have sprayed you because then it would have freaked out.

Chris: Yeah, but times were different back then. We don't have pictures, we only have stories. Yeah, it could have been some funny stories and I wouldn't needed to see the beastings but it would been have funny to see the skunk situation.

Mark: That would have been Instagram worthy content for sure. Very good. Well Chris, it's been great to have you as part of the park pod. We want people to check you out. So what's the website? People should be visiting to find more.

Chris: It's just our business name anvilcampground.com and you can search us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok. We're all over the place. You could sign up for our email marketing. We do those, we try to do them every couple of weeks, but at least once a month. And you can sign up right on our website. And they have all the stuff that's happening in Williamsburg, stuff that's coming up. Sometimes we run deals or stories. It's pretty good stuff. So you could check that out too and sign up for our email marketings as well.

Mark: Awesome. Well, Chris, he's getting it done with everybody over there at anvil campground. And if you're coming out to the East Coast for vacation, you got to check these guys out and everything that's happening. And for everybody else, we'll see you next time. Until then, happy trails.

R&R Marketing Tip

All right, today we're talking about a collaboration and partnership marketing tip. So let's look at a few of the benefits and then we're going to also look at an example here in a moment. So you can see here that having a good partner or a collaboration can really expand your customer reach. It can increase your revenue opportunities. You can have those shared marketing efforts so that you're not carrying all that weight yourself. Of course, the end result is really to try to enhance your guest experience above and beyond what they've had before, and it also provides some real cost efficiency. And then you have other levels of access to expertise that you don't have that your partner collaborator may. And of course, that will give you a competitive advantage. So let's look at an example what that might look like. Let's go over here to slide 19, which you can find all this complete presentation on collaborations of partnership on our YouTube or website from our last webinar. So local food vendor partners, think of this as a great way that you can leverage a collaboration so you can provide convenient and diverse food choices to guests right there on site and eliminate that need for them to even cook or go elsewhere.

And then you can have something like any designated dining area within your park for a special event where these vendors or these food trucks come in for a temporary time. And that could provide a lot of value and earning potential for you both. Of course, like I said, it adds value and creates that USP, which is a unique selling point that could attract foodies and some others that may just be looking for more hassle free RV park experience. So think about that as another way to market your RV park and resort by collaborating with not only something like a food vendor, but some other types of partnerships. So once again, check out the webinar on our website and the replay there and you can get a lot more great information on how to do 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!

About the author 

Mark Rowan

Mark grew up on a campground in West Virginia. Since that time he's been guiding companies across the United States to a better online experience.

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