In 2021 I wrote a book, titled Renting Dirt, that I thought was a darn catchy description of the business I was in for eight years, that of running a mid-sized RV park in the Shenandoah Valley. It got good reader reviews and had decent sales, especially given my unfunded and bumbling efforts at marketing the thing. And it prompted me to start this blog about RVs and the campground industry that very slowly but steadily has gained some traction.
Nonetheless, some readers made it clear that they expected something different—that what they really wanted was a “how-to” guide, a “Campgrounds for Dummies” explanation for how they, too, could get into this business of “renting dirt.” And as I took a closer look at what’s actually available for that kind of self-education, I realized just how slim the pickings have been. There’s not much out there, and what little is out there is either outdated or superficial. To the extent that people picked up Renting Dirt because they were looking for tips and pointers they weren’t getting elsewhere, they may have been disappointed.
That’s why in 2022 I wrote Turning Dirt, as in “tilling the soil”—a prelude, one hopes, to hitting pay-dirt. Laid out in three successive sections, this detailed guide will walk you through the search for, the acquisition of, and the early stages of operating your own campground and RV park:
· Section 1, “Establishing the Basics,” describes the many changes the campground industry has undergone in recent years and how they affect your prospects, then details several major decisions you should make before you even begin your search.
· Section 2, “Finding and Buying What You Want,” provides a step-by-step description of how to structure your search, how to assess your various prospects and how to take the plunge of making an offer.
· Section 3, “Getting Down to Business,” explores the initial operational decisions you’ll face regarding employees, guests, rates and fees, and campground policies. Also explores problems specific to campgrounds, like bed bugs and fire pits.
· Wrapping up the book are three appendices that provide a sample offer letter, a due diligence checklist and an overview of the main elements of a purchase agreement.
Unlike Renting Dirt, which presented an unvarnished account of our family’s experience as campground owners, Turning Dirt is agnostic on just about everything. My purpose is not to have you view something from a certain perspective, or to convince you of one thing or another, but simply to lay out the steps I think you should take to arrive at a thoughtful decision about the big step you’re contemplating.
On average, a commercial RV park or campground goes up for sale after only seven years. Why is that? What is it that drives the owners of these bucolic properties to throw in the towel after such a short time?
Renting Dirt offers one set of answers to those questions, presenting a frank look at my family’s experience in owning and operating a mid-size campground in the Shenandoah Valley and the reasons why a supposedly idyllic lifestyle isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.
First, there’s the workload. That’s always been enormous, of course, but exponentially more so over the past couple of years because of the explosion in pandemic-driven interest in camping. At the same time, the labor shortage that has overwhelmed virtually every service-sector industry has afflicted RV parks as well, leaving their operators in an exhausting bind.
There’s also the huge increase in first-time campers, many of whom have never previously driven or hauled anything approaching the size of the RVs they’re now piloting. Much property destruction can and does ensue. Moreover, all those new RVers are strangers to campground etiquette and standards of behavior, and in their ignorance, aggravate campground operators and seasoned RVers alike.
And all that, on top of the usual stresses and strains of running a hospitality business, comes just as growing numbers of big money investors have concluded that RV parks are the next hot thing in real estate investment. As a result, campgrounds that once took upwards of two years to find a buyer are now selling like hotcakes, creating a huge amount of industry churn and consolidation.
A cautionary tale for those who have dreamed of operating their own business in a natural setting, Renting Dirt is quite unlike any of the other books out there—and they’re few in number—about campground ownership. It’s also a behind-the-scenes eye-opener for anyone who camps in an RV, as well as an unsettling foretaste of what camping’s future looks like.
Paperback version, 156 pages. Sorry, this link is available to U.S. customers only—mailing costs to Canada or overseas are too high for me to absorb.
Paperback version, 128 pages. As above, this link available to U.S. customers only. Sorry!