Buyer/Seller Beware

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Let the Buyer (and Seller)...BEWARE!

by Bob (Ram) Muessig

     Membership campground systems abound throughout the nation and they are going to become more popular as time goes on. "Why do you say that?", you ask. Well, the facts are simple. According to RVIA statistics in 1994, there were over 8 million RVs on the road. Approximately 1 out of every 10 families owned one. Today? Who knows how many there are, but it was projected that, by the year 2000, there would be more than 20 million of them rumbling across this great nation. Now, I ask you, where are they going to park? In state and federally owned campgrounds? I don’t think so. Many of these RVs are large with 2 or 3 slide-out rooms. The older government campgrounds were built years ago, and there simply isn’t room in the spaces for rigs of this size. Last year, according to one report, there were over 17,000 rigs trying to get into 4,000 spaces in Florida, so you can see that more campgrounds are needed...desperately!

     The problems arise when campground systems "oversell" their memberships. Folks buy into the systems, then stay for lengths of time which make it difficult for anyone else to use their spaces, which really ticks off some people. They want to be able to get in, too, but can’t, for all the sites are full all the time. How in the world can we make these sites available to everyone? I believe that the "two weeks in, one week out" rule is one of the best ways. At least, that will give more people the opportunity to visit their favorite parks. Some systems even suggest that a person cannot stay in the same park more than twice during the past 12 calendar months. That, too, is not a bad idea, for it encourages folks to travel on. Besides, why did we buy our RVs anyway? To travel, right?

     Now, we have some things to consider when looking for a "Membership Campground" system. First of all, look for a "re-sale" membership. These memberships generally sell for less than a "new" one, and the values are, for the most part, much better. But be careful when selecting one. There are things which may get a system into financial trouble and, if that happens, you may find that your membership isn’t worth anything. If the membership is offered free with frozen dues, that may sound real good, maybe too good. Ask yourself this. "If the system has a free membership, and the dues are frozen, how does this system expect to continue operating when the costs are undoubtedly going to rise?" This very thing has caused several systems to go out of business, leaving their members holding the bag. Also, if the dues are very low ($99 per year, for example), the same thing applies. A system can’t operate on virtually NO money.

     "How many parks are in the system?" is another question you might ask. Also, does the system own and operate all of its own parks? Does it have a specific "term"? By that, I mean, do you have to pay dues (operating costs) for 1, 5, or 10 years, even until death? Personally, I would not buy into a system that says that I must pay dues for more than 1 year. Some families have complained that they are required to pay dues even beyond their demise, which means that their kids are now responsible for the fees. Ridiculous! As a rule of thumb, I believe that a system which offers a membership for approximately $2000 and dues of, say $800 +/- for unlimited use, is not bad.

     Now, sellers, your turn. Keep your prices within reason. Don’t oversell and don’t underprice yourselves. You’ll find yourselves out of business real soon if you do. We’re after growth here, not atrophication. Maintain your parks. Make those necessary repairs and updates in a timely manner. Keep your members satisfied. And, for gosh sakes, don’t allow "high-pressure" sales personnel to destroy what you have built. Find out why so many "membership systems" have gotten into trouble, then avoid operating in the same way. Avoid the "give-aways" that will cost you more money than you take in, for people will take advantage of that, going for the free sleeping bag, or the TV, having no intention of buying a camping membership in the first place.

With that in mind, everyone, have a great vacation at your favorite campground.

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