Staff Matters: Building a Dream Team for Your Campground

June 27, 2024

Imagine running a bustling campground, filled with happy campers enjoying the great outdoors, all while a dedicated, enthusiastic staff keeps everything running smoothly. This ideal scenario is achievable, but as many campground owners know, it doesn’t come without challenges—particularly when it comes to staffing.

With 53% of campground owners grappling with staffing issues, finding and maintaining the right team is crucial. So the CampLife team reached out to several owners and operators who use our reservation software to gather insights about building effective teams. Here’s what they had to share.

Embrace Youthful Energy

For Susan James at Mountain Lake Campground and Cabins, the secret lies in harnessing the energy and potential of young workers. She’s developed a system for recruiting and training high school students, which has proven successful.

“When you are a seasonal business, staffing is a big obstacle,” Susan admitted. “I have a passion for working with kids, so we go into the high schools and the vocational schools. We set up there and do interviews with students that might be interested in working with us.”

Susan’s approach involves training high school students, many of whom are new to the workforce. This investment in her community’s youth pays off in a steady retention rate.

“We have success with the student workers because we get them when they’re 15 and we keep them through high school,” Susan explained. “When they go to college, they come back and work in the summer.”

Creating a fun and supportive work environment is key to retaining these young employees. By giving them a voice in daily operations, Susan keeps them motivated and engaged.

“In the ice cream shop, we let them be creative and come up with special desserts for our themed weekends. They like the flexibility and being able to contribute to the business in new and fun ways.”

“Youth sometimes get a bad rap,” Susan added, “but we train them that as long as they take care of our customers and get their to-do list done, we’ll have time for fun.”

Abigail, Susan’s daughter, is learning the ropes of recruiting and managing summer staff alongside her mother, blending family values with business acumen.

“Mom is training me in the ins and outs of the place,” Abigail stated. “As a former teacher, I love that I still get that interaction with the kids here, and I get to help manage my family’s business.”

Family Matters: Generational Wisdom

Running a family-owned campground brings its own set of challenges and rewards, as Marcia Galvin from Normandy Farms Campground knows well. The land has been in her family since 1759, with over 10 generations using it to make a living.

“My family has been operating Normandy Farms Campground in Foxboro, Massachusetts, since 1971,” Marcia shared. “We had a farm before that, but my father decided farming was going by the wayside. So he wrote a business plan for 25 campsites. It started small, but we now have a few of us family members here working, 400 campsites, and about 120 staff members when we’re fully open during the season.”

Transitioning a business from one generation to the next requires clear communication and strong relationships. That’s why Marcia and her family took the time to actively define what succession planning looks like for them.

“We have a code of conduct for the family,” Marcia disclosed. “We require anybody in the family that wants to come work at the campground to go out and work for two years before they come back. And then they can’t come back unless there’s an opening with the skill set they bring.”

This structured approach ensures that each family member gains external experience before joining the family business, adding value to the operation.

“It’s not easy to go from one generation to the other,” Marcia confessed. “There has to be clear communication and transparency and trust. If you start off with those things, the next generation isn’t going to be so scared of what they’re getting themselves into.”

“You don’t want to be the one to let the family business go, so I’m working as hard as I can, along with my sister, to continue so it can be passed down to the next generation.”

Hospitality at Its Heart

Stew Ferber from Zion Canyon Campground highlights the essence of hospitality in staffing.

“It’s not about giving people a place to park,” Stew said. “It’s staffing the office with people that are friendly and willing to keep long hours at times. I saw a campground open up not too far from me. It’s open from 9am to 5pm. What’s that? That’s not hospitality. There’s a place for those types of parks, but we’re not following any trends that are trying to minimize help, minimize services, and maximize profits. Profit comes when you enjoy what you do, and the customer enjoys where they’re at.”

And customers enjoy places like Zion Canyon Campground when they know that the staff want to be there. That’s why Stew and the park’s General Manager, Dave Greer, implement a personalized hiring process to get the right people in the right positions.

“More important to me about selection and hiring are the personal conversations with the individuals—perhaps more important than just looking at a resume or application for their work experience,” Dave pointed out. “I need to be comfortable conversing with them to know that they would be a good representative on our team.”

Sometimes those good representatives are workampers—and Dave uses the same personalized process for bringing them in as well.

When Dave begins his search for workampers, he has already defined the park’s staffing needs and knows exactly what skills are required to fill those roles. That makes it easier for him to target the right candidates and do the right things to keep them.

“The workampers that have returned to us year after year comment that they appreciate being considered a valuable part of our day-to-day business,” Dave shared. “Meeting and greeting hundreds of travelers each day can be arduous work, especially when many of our guests are from other countries, presenting language barrier frustrations. So it’s important to our workampers to have consecutive days off, consistent schedules, and meal and rest breaks that allow them to keep smiling and return to the battlefront.”

Creating a Magnetic Work Environment

Ben VanderWerf of Big Ben’s RV Park and Tracy Elbert from Wallicut River RV Resort share their philosophy on building a strong team—and it begins with them.

“Create a work environment that magnetically attracts the staff you would like, retains the ones you want, and raises the ones you want to grow,” Ben advised. “You can find a great staff member and make a great staff member. One costs money, the other costs time and effort.”

Tracy believes that the quality of the staff is a direct reflection of her involvement in their preparation.

“Your staff is only as good as your example and training,” Tracy said. “When I have issues with performance, I go back to make sure they have been provided training and resources they need to perform to expectations. Am I being the example I expect staff to emulate?”

By fostering the right environment and providing the right training, both Ben and Tracy equip staff with the tools and guidance they need to succeed, creating a culture of excellence at their parks.

Technology for Smooth Operations

Valued CampLife customers Bill and Marsha Cable of Austin Lake RV Park and Cabins have found that having the right reservation software can help keep staff happy and returning year after year.

“We have a lot of high school students that can run this program,” Marsha said. “The software is so easy to use our helpers come back year after year. They feel confident. They pick it right back up with no training.”

And when training is needed, CampLife’s Customer Success team is ready to lend a hand.

“Customer Success almost always answers when I call,” Marsha shared. “If not, they always call me back. They don’t make you feel like you shouldn’t have called. They make you feel welcome.”

Bill and Marsha’s experience shows how user-friendly technology and strong support systems can streamline operations and empower staff, contributing to a more efficient and satisfied team.

Putting the Pieces Together

Staffing your campground is like piecing together a puzzle. Each piece, each person, brings something unique to the table. By fostering a positive work environment, clear communication, and leading by example, you can build a team that not only keeps your campground running smoothly but also enhances the overall experience. A happy team makes for happy campers.

And CampLife is here to give your team the tools they need to simplify their day-to-day so they can focus on providing excellent customer service. Contact us today to learn more about how our reservation software can help streamline your campground operations and support your team’s success.

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