In many ways, Randy Packard has an enviable life. He lives in a place other people spend money to just visit for a few days. Tall pines line a peaceful lake in central Massachusetts and nearby sits an inviting heated pool, the Boston Herald reported.
It could hardly get better, that is until the ice cream delivery man calls to say he’s going on vacation for two weeks during the hottest month of the year, a 10th of the staff calls in sick and the paperwork stacks up.
It’s one thing to visit paradise. It’s another to own it.
Packard’s family has been running Pine Acres Resort in Oakham, Mass., for half a century. While the product is pure fun, it is still a business. There are payrolls to meet, taxes to be paid and a long list of regulations to follow.
Those regulations are the hardest part, Packard said. The campground, which includes a small store, is regulated by several state agencies and local boards. In addition, there are the national groups that Packard has joined to get the campground on lists distributed around the country. All of this means numerous separate inspections throughout the year along with reams of paperwork.
“We’re used to smiling at people and saying, ‘Welcome,’ ” Packard said good-naturedly.
This work is on top of helping hundreds of campers move into their tents, RVs and cabins, while hundreds move out every week. Also to be managed is a staff of about 40 in the summer, 10 of whom stay year-round.
This is a job that Packard didn’t want initially. He grew up in the campground watching his parents build it up from a handful of sites to dozens. Packard left for the real estate business.
He reconsidered his decision when then the recession of the 1980s hit.
“That’s when I realized that there’s another way of making a living that might be more enjoyable,” Packard said.
He took over the park and almost immediately made improvements. He added more sites, paved the roads and put the utilities underground. Eventually, he built the swimming pool and then later added a splash pad for the children and installed Wi-Fi.
All of this was done slowly despite the temptation to get it all done at once. Packard said he wanted to maintain his cash flow without having a big commitment to a bank.
“I’ve seen other parks that got themselves into trouble,” he said. “They tried to grow too quickly.”
While other families have left the business, the Packards are planning to be here for a while. There are more improvements coming and Packard’s daughter, Tessa Wisnewski, recently left the corporate world to join the family business. She had always wanted to, but felt it was important to get outside experience first.
“It’s nice to have a different perspective,” Wisnewski said.
Still, she’s happy to be back at camp, even though she spends much of her time working on the books.
Marking its 45th year of operation, the Northeast Campground Association (NCA) drew a strong member contingent as it hosted the annual Northeast Conference on Camping and Trade Show March 19-21 in Springfield, Mass.
Executives for the Stafford, Conn.-based organization reported that attendance at the event, held for the first time at the Springfield Monarch Place Hotel, showed a slight increase over last year. NCA is comprised of associations representing 11 states throughout the Northeast region.
“Our numbers were solid,” said Cyndy Zbierski, NCA conference coordinator. “We were up from last year, which was our goal, especially after hearing that some of the other shows were down around 40%.”
According to Zbierski, attendees expressed a “cautious optimism” for prospects in 2009 as the industry faces the ongoing challenges of a contracted economy. “The overall mood seemed to be that this season would be as good or better than last year,” she said.
Other comments included:
- “We are optimistic it’s going to be a good year,” Randy Packard, owner of Pine Acres Family Resort in Oakham, Mass., told RVBusiness. “It may not be a banner year, but the year-to-date reservations are exceeding 2008 at this point. “The other side is that our ancillary sales could be flat, or maybe even down a little, because people are cutting back on spending.”
- Donald G. Bennett Jr., executive administrator for the Campground Owners of New York (CONY), noted, “I think the reason for optimism is that camping offers two things – it’s a family activity and it’s affordable. Camping is the perfect way to get the family together again and, for a weekend, it’s not that much more expensive than staying at home. I think the theme for our industry is family.”
- “I believe we’ll probably be at last year’s levels – maybe down 5% in terms of occupancy,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), who led one of most highly attended seminar sessions. “But in the scheme of things, that’s not bad compared to hotels and motels. Our sector of the travel and tourism industry is going to hold up OK. People are still going to want to travel.”
An overriding theme during the board meeting, and throughout the conference, was the emergence of rental units as an option for people that didn’t own RVs or were not interested in tent camping. It targets the growing trend among consumers to economize by traveling closer to home and for shorter periods of time.
“My premium cabins are my biggest seller right now,” said Packard. “That’s a 40-foot unit, air-conditioned, with a full-house kitchen and screened porch located on beautiful sites. They rent for $1,500 a week, which is cheap compared to other vacations, and people can come and have a great vacation.”
“Destination parks are doing fine,” noted Profaizer. “We are seeing people camping now Thursday through Monday – maybe a little longer weekend than in the past. They may not be camping as many weekends, but they are spending longer weekends in one spot. One factor may be that some people are without jobs.”
“Rentals are going extremely quickly this year,” said Marcia Galvin, human resources director for the 450-site Normandy Farms Campground, Foxboro, Mass., who also conducted a seminar on motivating employees and being a good leader. “You are seeing a lot more families who aren’t accustomed to RVing, but they are looking to find an affordable vacation with their families. We have cabins and yurts, and those are very popular.”
Zbierski noted that the trend was particularly beneficial to NCA member groups due to the close proximity of the northeastern states. “If people travel in a 200-mile radius, it’s possible they could be in several different states,” she said.