Kicking off your summer reading

How better to kick off the summer than with a new book about RVing and camping?

Yup–this is a commercial, so if you’re tired of being assailed by sales pitches (I know I am!) keep scrolling down to the next post. On the other hand, if you’ve ever thought you might want to own and operate your own RV park and campground . . . well! (drumroll, please): Turning Dirt: A step-by-step guide for turning dreams of campground ownership into reality, is being released Tuesday, the first day of summer.

That follows the publication last October of Renting Dirt, a rear view-mirror look at our family’s eight years of trials and tribulations in running a medium-sized campground in the Shenandoah Valley. Turning Dirt, on the other hand, is very much a forward-looking, step-by-step guide for anyone undeterred by my earlier warnings and determined to find, buy and operate a campground anyway. It’s straightforward, objective and non-judgmental, but also uncompromising in raising issues and asking questions that anyone about to sink their life savings into a such a venture should address.

Laid out in three distinct sections, Turning Dirt leads off with a consideration of current market conditions, which are unlike any seen prior to 2020. Much of that is a direct result of the pandemic, which generated a tsunami of new RVers, a mixed blessing at best: lots of money rolling in, but also lots of customers who don’t know what they’re doing–which means lots more work for campground owners. Yet that’s accompanied by another pandemic-related development, an enormous labor shortfall, which has meant even more work for those still plugging away.

And there’s more. All the additional business has caught the attention of investors who had long ignored this niche investment category, and who don’t give a blip about “the great outdoors” or feel-good sentiments about Mother Nature, but who readily recognize when there’s a buck to be made. That fresh investment focus has profoundly disrupted the market, driving up campground prices to unsustainable levels–even as rising interest rates and higher gas prices foreshadow the possibility of the bubble bursting.

For those unfazed by such developments, however, this first section explores several fundamental choices that should precede any search: what kind of campground, where in the country, franchise or independent? Turning Dirt then moves on to a pivotal second section, which describes how best to structure a search for the “right” property, how to evaluate prospects and, ultimately, how to proceed with an offer. A substantial portion of this section discusses various aspects of a proper due diligence, supplemented by appendices that include an inspection checklist and a description of a purchase agreement.

Most books on this subject–and there aren’t many–pretty much wrap it up at this point. Turning Dirt’s third and final section, on the other hand, pushes past the closing to explore various aspects of campground operation that are unique to the industry. Occupancy rates, fee structures, seasonal employees, the different kinds of campers–all are discussed in depth, followed by a checklist of issues most other businesses never have to consider, including fire pits, bed bugs and golf cars.

As just mentioned, there aren’t many books on this subject–it has, after all, a rather limited audience–but I can honestly say I’ve read most of them. And I can honestly say that Turning Dirt is better than any of them. Don’t believe me? Order a copy on this website, or online from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or wherever you buy your books, and after reading it let me know what else you’ve read on the subject that rates more highly–if you honestly can.

Hey! Like I said at the outset–it’s a commercial. My next post will resume my usual curmudgeonly take on things. Meanwhile, have a great summer.

The American dream, part 2

If you can’t educate ’em, join ’em.

In my last post I reported on an RVtravel poll of its readers, published May 22, that asked whether they would like to own and operate an RV park if given the opportunity. Judging by the first returns, RVtravel’s early readers are a dyspeptic bunch, as the initial response was overwhelmingly negative. But then the cheery brunch crowd woke up and took note, and ten days later the results are still rolling in on a tsunami of positivity, now approaching 6,000 replies and more than two-to-one in favor of owning and operating a piece of paradise–proof, yet again, that the American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

Or maybe just a sign of how desperately people want to work for themselves. Or to have a place to call home. Or both.

For a writer–for this writer–that could be dismaying. Last fall, after all, I published a slim paperback, Renting Dirt, that for 128 pages described the crushing forces that after eight years convinced our family to sell our Shenandoah Valley campground and RV park. I detailed the never-ending workload, the onslaught of first-timing RVers and the toll they took on our property, the crippling lack of reliable employees and the public’s ever increasing expectations of us and our facilities. No wonder, I wrote, that mom-and-pop campgrounds get sold, on average, after just seven years.

Yet judging by the RVtravel poll results, either there’s a whole lot of RVers who never read my book (likely), or RVers have read it but remain unconvinced by my jeremiad. Maybe the latter believe I was ill-equipped for the job, or that I ran into unusually adverse conditions. Or maybe they believe they’re made of sterner stuff, and can succeed where I eventually bailed. Whatever the case, it’s clear that there’s a substantial number of people out there who really, really want to have their own RV parks.

That’s why I’ve now written: Turning Dirt: A step-by-step guide for turning dreams of campground ownership into reality. A 156-page paperback scheduled for release the first day of summer, Turning Dirt is exactly what its subtitle promises: a methodical introduction to the process of searching for, negotiating the purchase of, and taking over the operation of an existing campground that meets the buyer’s needs. Divided into three successive sections, Turning Dirt begins with a discussion of current market conditions and environmental concerns, then walks the reader through several key decisions that should be made before he or she even begins to look for the “right” property.

Section two then describes various ways to identify potential acquisitions, what kind of information should be obtained at this stage of the process, how to analyze financial statements and the red flags to look for in an initial walk-through. This section also explores the ins-and-outs of a purchase agreement, walks the the reader through the various elements of a comprehensive due diligence inspection period, and describes some of the factors that may prompt a decision to pull out of the deal. Three appendices provide a sample offer letter, a due-diligence checklist and an outline of the elements of a comprehensive sale and purchase agreement.

Section three moves on to discuss the particular aspects of campground management that don’t get covered by general “how-to” business books. Included are discussions about employees, the various kinds of campers (and which kinds you may not want), the many ways to structure rates, and the importance of having clearly defined policies–and what those policies should include. Additional covered subjects of interest specifically to campground owners include bed bugs, golf cars, pets and electric vehicles.

Unlike Renting Dirt, which was a candid description of our family’s experiences, Turning Dirt is agnostic about its subject matter: it’s not my intention to convince the reader to make one set of choices or another, or to adopt any particular approach, philosophy or set of expectations. But based on our family’s experiences, as well as my interactions with other RV park owners, my education in the business and my following the industry as a journalist, I believe there are certain things that anyone contemplating the purchase of a campground needs to think about. Turning Dirt presents those issues and concerns as objectively as possible, as well as providing additional resources to address them further.

So yeah, this is a sales pitch. But it’s pretty straightforward, and if you want to know more–including the discounts I’m offering for orders placed by June 20–click on this link or on the “About my books” button at the top of this page. Thanks.

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