Hi everyone. It was a perfect weather day in Florida but I wanted you to know that I still thought about Searsport Shores and our guests…it was just easier to do it on a beach under the palm trees instead of on skis along the Maine shore…a change of pace is always good but I admit that I’m sorry to miss our first real snowstorm of the season…I’ll just have to hope for another when I get home next week.
One of the ways I justify leaving the campground in the winter is that consumer trends travel from West to East. In order to fill our gift area of the campground store, I spend a lot of time looking in gift shops and scoping out boutique windows to see what people are buying while I’m in Florida. I’m happy to report that retail is strong in St. Armand’s Circle, Sarasota. Clearly the most popular gift items are about “feel good, be happy” merchandise with a heavy emphasis on retro with a sarcastic twist. Colors are similar to those of seaglass and everything appeals to multiple senses.
You may not realize it but a top-notch campground cannot survive on site revenues alone. In our world, when we discuss the viability of a campground, we talk about the profit centers: store sales, laundry, activities, video arcade, etc. Each source of revenue is essential to our goal of providing the best possible vacation experience for your family. The gift shop is one of the necessary profit centers and I think it’s one of the most difficult tasks to manage properly.
At Searsport Shores, our reception room is divided into three essential areas: the check-in/accommodation desk, RV and camping supplies and gift items. RV supplies are easy because Dad owned a successful RV dealership for 35 years before he bought the campground. Steven tent camped since he was a toddler so the tenting supplies are no problem either. But the gift store is different. Gifts should delight and inspire. Shopping should be fun and affordable. Just like your campsite, you want to feel that you’re receiving good value for your purchase. The gifts you choose should reflect your vacation and it’s important to know that if you’ve bought something for a friend, she won’t find the same item in her local store. If the item is unique to Maine, fun or practical, and affordable I’ve hit a homerun. Finally, since the great majority of our guests are returning from a previous visit, it’s important that I always having something new to offer.
Every year we stock our campground store with things I believe our guests will want to take home. But imagine buying thousands of dollars of gifts for people you only know see on special occasions. It’s scary. Here’s what I know about my typical guest: she has disposable income, prefers to shop in places that are very different from those she finds at home and she is generally practical…she wants to offer gifts that make her friends, family and colleagues happy or improve their lives in some way.
Today I found a press pot masquerading as an insulated travel mug. It’s well made, functional and is perfect for life on the road (for a night, the week or a season). For those who don’t know me well, at 8 AM and 3 PM, good coffee and high-quality sugar treats are very important to me. I’ve personally blended the coffee we serve at the Shores and it’s locally roasted every week from shade grown, fair traded beans. We serve the Searsport Shores Blend created by Rock City coffee…you can check them out at http://www.rockcitycoffee.com. Anyway, this new travel mug allows you to put two tablespoons of freshly ground coffee into the mug, cover it with boiling water and after 5 minutes, press the grounds down and enjoy your coffee…the results are wonderful and as an added bonus, there’s a hidden storage pod in the bottom of the mug that allows for another cup of coffee later in the day. I saw it in a gourmet shop in St. Armand’s Circle so tomorrow’s job is to track down the wholesale distributor and see what we need to have them on the shelves in May.
Saturday I flew down to Sarasota to spend a few days with Dad. I’ve been here so many times that it feels like home but I always suffer a bit of culture shock for the first few days. In Maine, in February, we drive dirty cars and trucks and because of the ice, usually they’re 4 wheel drive. This morning I slipped out for a bit of Starbuck’s (something else we don’t do in Searsport) and was amazed when I backed into my parking space. I was sandwiched between a Lexus, two Jags, too many Mercedes to count and a red Beamer…and all of them were shiny. In my real world, the only thing people check out in the parking lot is your tires~ do they have good treads?
This is high season on Florida’s Gulf coast. It’s disconcerting to see that there are vacancy signs on every property. Are people traveling less? Do they have less vacation time? Is Florida just boring compared to more exotic destinations? Or more simply, are they all snowed in up in Northern New York? With no desire to hurt Southern states’ tourism, my personal hope is that travellers are saving alot of money this winter by staying home and then they’ll head up the North bound highway to our rocky paradise.
If I could offer you one travel tip based on my 15 years of managing the campground and greeting thousands of guests, it would be to choose a destination that allows you to feel settled for at least a week. Spend part of your time exploring the back streets and the tiny restaurants that don’t get promoted in the glossy fliers. Choose a place to camp where you don’t have to be on the go all of the time…it should be beautiful enough that some days you’ll just want to stay put…read a book and daydream. The saddest vacationners of summer are those frantic city people who are trying to pack a maximum number of sights into each day…they miss the really good parts of being in Maine where life truly is slower and tends to follow the rhythm of the tides.
If you are looking for a good campground guide, the best on the shelves is the Unofficial Guide to Campgrounds by Frommers. In another posting, I’ll tell you more about how these guides usually work but for now, suffice it to say that these guys have been the best. If you’re looking for the best advice for local attactions, talk to the people in the sites beside you and to the shop owner down the street…in our part of the world, the advice they give you will be the best because frequently the owners of the smaller destinations don’t have the money or the time to spend on advertising or don’t get the support of the State’s marketing mechanism. Tell me, where do you get your best touring advice?
The rain has stopped for a bit so I think I’ll I’m head to the local greenhouse to buy Dad some annuals to brighten his patio. Bye for now, Astrig
By 6:45 this morning, the Bay was pink, purple and ice cold blue. Before I was dressed, the color and light show gave way to the bands of silvery ice floating on the water and the only colors left in the world are blues and pine-tree greens. By the time the dog and I got to the beach, the tide was receding and the most amazing thing happens…the sea foam freezes and clings to the rockweed. Picture a science fiction movie where life is frozen in an instant…the bubbles look absolutely perfect…but wouldn’t be popping until the sun melts them later in the day. When you walk on the frozen seaweed it cracks and squeaks under your feet and where the stream runs into the bay, the difference in salinity makes the water look thick like a gel. As soon as I buy a new digital camera, I’ll try and capture it so that you know what I’m talking about.
After a strong cup of coffee it was time to sit down and work. This week’s project has been designing a new logo…and I think that I have a good first draft. Our first and only logo was designed on a bar napkin, over a beer on the drive between Arizona and Maine. It worked but it’s time for something new. In a graphic design that fits on a business card I want to convey the ocean, a casual and fun atmosphere, an up-to-date attitude (but not too trendy), all the relevant contact information and I want it to attract the traveller looking to spend time exploring our corner of paradise…oh and the logo must appeal equally to folks camping in a tiny tent or a 40′ motor home complete with washer and dryer. Is this too much to ask? Look at my current draft and tell me what you think…it’s nice to have input.
Once Dad and Steven have had their say, I’ll start working on the second draft. We need to re-design the brochures too and have them ready for the tourist information centers before Memorial Day.
Each time we do a printing we order 20000 copies but this year I’m wondering, should we print rack cards or brochures? They both cost the same but rack cards seem more modern. Do you agree? By next week I’ll need answers to these questions so that there’s time to decide what the finished product should look like.
But now I need to go across the street to Abbracci’s, the Italian cappuccino bar and meet Steven and chat with proprietors Assunta and Chris. They make the most amazing cannolis and last week they baked 50 burnt sugar cupcakes for Steven’s surprise birthday party. Assunta is an aspiring writer and accomplished photographer. A native of New Jersey, her insight is always a surprise take on the world…and her heart reminds us all to cherish the life we’re leading.
My life oscillates between simple and frazzled but never seems to hover in the middle. If you’ve ever thought you might like to own a campground or work closely with your family…here’s a chance to peek through the windows and see what it’s like. I pledge to post to this blog at least 3 days each week and if I keep to my resolution you’ll ride through the jitters of Springtime reservations, see the gardens as they sprout and mature, live through Fiber College in September and close down the park with us in October. Along the way I’ll introduce you to the interesting characters who stay with us for a day, a week or the entire summer. Life is never boring at Searsport Shores Ocean Camping and I hope that you enjoy the ride. I’ll try to include photos to fill in the blanks and of course the best thing in the world would be if you stopped by and said hello if you happened to be in Searsport.
This is our 15th summer on these 40 acres and we’ve finally reached the point that when something goes wrong, we know the world won’t come crashing down. Our home is set in the middle of a 125 site campground complete with beach, boardwalk, a playground to make any child bubble, recreation hall for potluck suppers, a supply store and lots of flowers. My husband does the hardscaping and I choose the plants. Dad takes care of the financials and the books and I run the front office. We all tend to the needs of our guests and our roles become very blurry during the summer. We all love to cook and eat so every Saturday night there’s a big lobsterbake on the beach…I’ll tell you more about that when July rolls around.
This time of year we work on marketing, planning, resting and now blogging…so welcome to my world!