Last night we had old friends over for shish kebab and Armenian lamb pizza called Lahmajoon. The conversation was lively and after we caught up on general goings-on and ever-developing hobbies, business and marketing dominated the rest of the evening. Sam and Bea’s son owns a car rental business here in Sarasota, Florida (http://www.bnm.com/practical.htm). Practical Car Rental faces the same issues we do in the marketing arena…how does a small business get a place in the spotlight when the advertising world is controlled by the “Big Boys”? For us that’s KOA and CampAmerica, for them it’s Hertz and Avis.
We spend hours every week trying to put ourselves in your shoes. How do you identify your vacation destination? How do you choose a campground? If you’re going to rent a car once you get there, how do you choose the company? What makes your experience so good that you keep the brochure and share it with friends and family? What are the one or two features that make all of the difference in the world? To paraphrase the comments we often receive, the difference between an OK vacation and a fabulous one is well-deserved trust. Both you and I need a clear understanding of what is expected and there must be considerate of each others efforts and obligations.
Like every small business, our marketing dollars are limited and the advertising opportunities are limitless. Every winter we decide where to invest our energy and money. A few years back, we made a decision to buck the trends of marketing by investing in the guest experience rather than in advertising. Actually, my mother started it after an argument that ensued over popsicles. On hot days, she’d greet guests as they drove in with a cold treat…I protested because she was giving away “my” store profit. She was right and I was wrong. A decade later, guests still remember my mother’s gesture, long after they’ve forgotten my advertising efforts.
By not advertising in the big camping books and restaurant placemats, we lose a percentage of summer business that would make us very profitable in the short term. Deciding not to put all of our national ratings on our billboard causes many people drive right past our driveway on their way to Bar Harbor. As a family, we made a decision. We can best weather the typical tourist season ups and downs by choosing our guests carefully, treating them as we would like to be treated and understanding that we cannot be an ideal park for everyone.
Does it strike you as funny when I say that we “choose our guests?” At first glance this is an odd position to take because when you drive into our park, only 2/3’s of the sites might be full. I know that some campers think this is a sign that we’re not doing as well as other places they’ve stayed. A long time ago, we realized that blanket marketing may work for campgrounds looking for the one-time visitors but we want to attract guests who will return anytime they find themselves on the Maine coast.
For Searsport Shores, the almighty marketing question s “where did you hear about us?” Usually we hear, word of mouth or internet posted guest reviews. After tracking the response for 14 years, more than 70% of our guests are returning for another visit or have been sent by friends and family. Does this typify your experience? When you recommend a destination to family and friends, what made it memorable?