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Two years ago, Heath came to me with his latest dream: owning a campground.
It took me a while to get on board, but we’ve spent much of the past year preparing, planning, and researching. Our goal is to actually buy an RV park before the end of 2020.
NOT INTIMIDATING AT ALL.
We’ve looked at five parks in the past week and our heads are EXPLODING with ideas. And excitement. And nervousness.
I’ll share more here on our blog, but here’s one campsite we’ve loved so far:
I’m half obsessed with riverfront campsites, half having nightmares of my fearless daughter being swept away by the swift current.
We want to share our journey as future campground owners with you all as we go, so this morning I wanted to share a little about what’s going on in our heads as we tour properties.
6 Things We’re Looking for in a Campground
1. Quality of Existing Infrastructure
No matter which RV park we buy (and yes we’ve decided to buy our first campground, learn the ropes, and then build out on raw land in the future) there is going to be a significant amount of work upfront.
Some work we’re excited about—like planting trees, creating intentional spaces for community, upping the wifi, and developing a streamlined check-in process so you don’t have to awkwardly park your RV partially obstructing traffic for twenty minutes while you check in and are handed a stack of unnecessary papers.
But there is some work that we definitely don’t want—like upgrading a sewer system, redigging water lines, or anything involving a leach field.
One interesting thing about the area in Colorado where we are looking is that most parks we’ve seen so far have a motel or multiple cabins onsite (or both). I selfishly love this because it means my family who has yet to be corrupted into the RV life can come and visit us. However, more buildings mean more possible problems we could be inheriting. So having every single building (the campground where I’m writing to you has nearly 40!) inspected and approved is a big hurdle.
2. Landscape that Attracts and Inspires
Last year, Heath went to Canada to visit some Campground Booking clients. (Unrelated: He does this a few times a year and always learns a dozen ways to improve the business.) As he talked to the business owner, she said something that stuck with us.
“I wish I would’ve just paid more and purchased a waterfront campground. Everyone always wants to be right on the water.”
Her park is just a couple minutes away from the Bay of Fundy, but those couple minutes can dramatically change demand.
Owning an oceanfront campground is getting higher on my bucket list (not in Colorado, obvs) and the idea of only choosing parks with a unique attraction has stuck in our heads. So many of us choose to travel by RV because of the beautiful places it can take us. So why not choose our land based on beauty?
Fortunately, there’s a river or a mountain view every 10 feet here in Colorado so we are finding more and more stunning campgrounds. (Of the five we’ve seen: two right on the river, three with panoramic river and mountain views.)
3. Room to Play and Grow
I want a park that is 20-40% developed with open (fairly level) acreage ready for development.
Most existing RV parks—and you’ve probably already noticed this as an RVer—aren’t optimized with experience in mind. It’s more about cramming in as many RVs as possible. If we have land to play with, we can have the instant income of the existing park to finance an expansion of RV sites.
We want RV sites to highlight the surrounding nature so you feel like you’re camping in nature, not parked two feet from your neighbors dump hose. While we cannot easily change that aspect of existing sites, we can build out new sites to fit our vision if we have the space to expand.
Related: Here’s a great session from last year’s RV Entrepreneur Summit on the benefits of buying an existing business versus starting your own.
4. Is it unique?
Our friends Kara and Nate always find the coolest places to stay. They’ve camped in treehouses in Norway, floating houses in the Philippines, and pods on the side of a cliff. They are amazing videos to watch…as proven by the millions of views they get.
They learned—and taught us—that people crave unique lodging experiences. With the rise of Airbnb comes a new type of lodging. Just today as I did market research, I found glamping tents, yurts, hammocks (like literally, you can book a hammock on someone’s land with mountain views) and riverfront cabins. That’s our competition.
How can we bring that level of a unique experience to a campground? Or, as Heath says, how can we get people who would never stay at an RV park come to our park?
He likes to aim high.
Related: How Kara & Nate Started the #1 Travel Vlog on Youtube
Should I have listed this first? Probably. It isn’t much of a business if it isn’t profitable.
If we run the numbers and find that our margins can’t give returns to investors, then it’s a no go.
Along with this, we’re evaluating the potential revenue streams at each campground. What additional services could we offer? What products would campers find helpful? Can we have a food truck?
(Seriously, Heath asks me three times a day if we can have a food truck at our park. I’m still unsure who he forsees doing all that cooking.)
6. Will this park give people an incredible experience?
If customers don’t have a good experience you get:
- bad reviews
- bad word of mouth
- fewer future customers
And forgive me, because now I’m about to say something VERY millennial.
Last year, we watched a show called Stay Here on Netflix. I highly recommend it if you run or want to run an Airbnb.
They frequently would say things like “This is your Instagrammable moment.”
The idea behind the ridiculous phrase was that each property should have one thing that set it apart. A wow factor. Something that when you saw it or experienced it, you HAD to share photos online and brag to all your friends.
- good reviews
- good word of mouth
- more future customers
If a property can’t offer that, we can’t buy it.
Related: How Chris makes $5K/month from Airbnb while he travels
Over the next two months, we’ll be visiting a few more parks on the market, talking to campground owners, and (fingers crossed!) working with investors to put in an offer on a park.
Exciting life-changing things happening over here.
What are the things you look for in a campground? Let me know!
Have you considered any campgrounds on the East side of the wonderful USA? Would love to see you guys buy a property in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 😁
We’ve looked in Michigan actually! But we haven’t found any we love yet. We like the mountain views of the west!
Mmm. In my area we have chefs right out of school who buy a bus/chuck wagon and move the bus every day to a new location and sell there 10 best foods. They have a face book page to let everyone know where they are and the menu. This is how they make there down payment for the first restaurant they buy. Can you interview chefs each year for a one year contract to run a bus in your camp ground. If you buy the bus and set it up. They can pay a rent fee for the bus and save money at the same time. This will give you and your husband what you want and cook w the rv gang in mind that comes to stay. The dinners. Lunches…..can be a formal meal to give the cook a night off. Or a special India dish. Or Japanese dish. The sky is the limit based on the cook off from the chefs.
Recently stayed at the Grants, NM KOA, where they have a commercial kitchen on-site, and offer dinner service to anyone who calls in before 6:45pm. What’s crazy is that even though the food isn’t anything fancy (or chef-y), it’s pretty delicious after a long day of travel.
Just guessing here, since Grants is a bit of a ‘journey’ stop, rather than a full-on destination (not that there isn’t some cool stuff to see there, just sayin’), but I’d wager close to 50% of people order dinner each night, if only just to get away from having to cook it themselves or go get it from somewhere off site. And if you’ve spent time in New Mexico during 2020, you’ll notice that restaurants (fast food in particular) are PACKED no matter when you pass them — like, lines-of-cars-out-into-the-street PACKED.
Personally, I think I’d be likely to take advantage of a food truck for at least one meal a day if the food were good and we didn’t have sth else planned.
I love this idea and sending 🙏 in hope that you get it. Have you guys ever considered looking in the Washington DC area. I know a ton of people who are looking to downsize and live the RV life but also be able to commute for work. The downside is there are very few places and the ones nearby charge crazy prices. Just a thought. Love all you post. Best of luck!!!!
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