So You Want to Own a Campground / RV Park / Glamping Facility?
Purchasing a camping business can be a rewarding endeavor, both financially and emotionally.
If you have ever dreamed of owning a campground, I would like to provide some feedback that you might want to consider to make your informed decision even more informed.
First and foremost, think about the type of campers you’ll attract and amenities that your campground will offer. Is the campground going to handle RV’s only? Is it only going to be a tent facility? How many campsites will it contain? Will it be part of a franchise system? The list goes on and on for the questions that you will need to answer, and maybe you already have your ideal campground in mind.
The next most important factor is always going to be location. This is where you will need to decide if you will be building your dream facility from the ground up, or if you will buy an existing facility that is already operating and significantly “built-up.”
If you go the route of starting from the ground up, you will need to identify your property location. Whether buying undeveloped property or converting property already in your possession, make sure that the local laws and zoning allows for the development of a campground. Next step would be to check with the local health department. This is also a pre- property purchase exercise to ensure that what your ideal campground will be approved. In New York State, local governments issue necessities like building permits and erosion control permits. The county health department is the key oversight agency issuing the operating permit to operate a campground, swimming facility (whether it be a swimming pool or bathing beach), food service, and small grocery store operations as well.
Once you’ve done your research on the local laws related to developing campground on the property, the next step is to put together a business plan. The business plan is vital. This will be one of the main documents that you will need when seeking financing. Remember, this camping facility will be a real estate investment. You will need to engage a good engineer to design the facility, taking into account many infrastructure factors, but none more important than utilities. Not just electricity but a potable water source, septic or sewer, internet service, cable tv service - these all need to be considered.
If you go the route of purchasing a campground already in existence, it still makes sense in your due diligence to check with the local authorities (municipality and local health department) to determine if the business is in good standing and allowed to operate as it is without any grandfather issues that might be altered if a new owner were to acquire the business. In the end, it will be much easier to convince a lender to finance your purchase of an existing camping facility you’ve thoroughly researched to show it has a proven track record and no hidden hiccups.
So you’ve written out your lists of questions, done all your due diligence, and built or purchased the camping facility of your dreams. Now the guest relations begin. There is nothing more rewarding then having guests enjoy your facility. The nice part is that every guest, whether it be for only one night as a stop over while traveling to another destination or a family that rents a campsite for the entire season, is generally there to enjoy themselves and have a great time. A camping facility is very capital intensive, but if operated efficiently can be a financially and emotionally rewarding experience for you.
I would also advocate joining your state campground association, even if you’re still only in development stages. The association can provide resources that will make your development as an owner grow immensely, more so than going it on your own. The association can provide opportunities to meet fellow business owners who are eager to share their success stories and best practices while also discussing what didn’t work for them also. Educational opportunities, legislative/lobbying efforts, and marketing are all areas of expertise for the state association such as Campground Owners of New York (CONY). One example of membership benefits is being listed in this camping magazine, and other opportunities are the display ads seen in here that campgrounds utilize to highlight themselves in the publication. Collectively, through the state campground association many issues are worked on to benefit the campground owner and make it more rewarding to own and operate a camping facility.
In conclusion, I believe that with thoughtful planning, due diligence, reaching out to your local government, and allying with your state campground association, that campground ownership can be very rewarding on both a personal and financial level. Just make sure that you are prepared for it and success will surely follow. I like to say if you are prepared for anything it probably will happen at a campground.
Good luck and hopefully you can follow your dreams.
Donald G. Bennett, Jr. is the President & CEO of Campground Owners of New York (CONY) a trade association of independently owned campgrounds in New York State. He and his wife Lisa also operate Conesus Lake Campground and Conesus Lake RV Park in the Finger Lakes vacation region.