The following GuestView column appears in the August print edition of Woodall’s Campground Management.

Mary Arlington

Mary Arlington

To run your business every day at peak performance, to score a perfect 10 every day in all areas of operations and customer service, ahh, that would be perfection!

Then again, perfection is virtually impossible. Rather than perfection, when I had my RV park I strove to exceed expectations. Most park operators I know feel that way; they want to provide great guest experiences.

I achieved it not only through TLC and the addition of blood, sweat and tears, but also through growing myself and through teamwork. Growth and teamwork included professional organizations and the expansive opportunities and networks they provided.

But the value of membership comes from more than just paying your dues — you have to participate. Attend meetings and events. Be an active listener. Share. Discuss. Absorb. Adapt. Apply new ideas to your business.

Look at it this way: Education doesn’t end when you earn a degree. It certainly doesn’t end when you become a park owner. Actually, that’s probably just the beginning.

You have to stay current to stay viable and competitive. Actually, it’s better to strive to stay ahead of “current.”

Know the trends and advancements in RVing, technology, tourism, tax laws, local codes, and every facet of business. Take refresher courses in customer service. Apply new ideas. What was once a grand new idea quickly becomes the norm as your guests and competitors advance with current trends.

For instance, if you were the first to offer Wi-Fi or a giant inflated jumping pad, that’s great — or at least it was at the time. Sadly, even exceptional products quickly become the new average. Average isn’t bad. It’s just average. Average doesn’t impress and it certainly doesn’t exceed expectations.

Technology, alone, is ever-evolving at warp speed, and the developments impact our lives in countless ways. Don’t let obsolescence happen to you. Don’t let your competition gain the upper hand. And certainly don’t disappoint your customers by being just status quo — or less.

Look around your world. Wi-Fi didn’t exist when I was in college. Website? PDF? Not even! Online reservations? Nope. Nearly every tool I use today didn’t exist when I graduated, or even when I began my own business, long after college. How did I learn to use these newer tools so effectively? Through my active involvement in professional associations.

Some of the more affordable and effective ways one can achieve continuing education, or self-growth, is through:

  • Participating in conferences, expos, and seminars provided by professional associations.
  • Reading business publications (now mostly online, which also provides the ability to instantly post questions or add to the dialog).
  • Networking; knowing others who are far more proficient in their areas of expertise.

I realized early on that my part — paying my dues, attending, listening and applying — was worthwhile. Hindsight proved it. Associations helped me:

  • Increase occupancy.
  • Develop new amenities.
  • Reduce expenses.
  • Receive grant funding.
  • Broaden my resources.
  • Strengthen employee benefit programs.
  • Streamline operations, and much more.

Associations provided me with a team I couldn’t otherwise afford. I couldn’t have professionals on staff highly skilled in human resources, accounting practices, corporate law, risk management, media relations, grant opportunities, marketing, tourism, legislative lobbying, and so forth, but my associations taught me and opened doors for networking with such professionals.

Another perk: In my family and in my own community, where my park owner’s life was alien, associations introduced me to people who walked my walk, who could laugh with me and even lift me when I was troubled. This was an unexpected perk that I cherish to this day.

I realize that schedules and budgets limit your ability to actively join all of the associations that are available to you. Become familiar with your options, study their goals and their programs, and go from there.

At the very least, I recommend you become involved with your local community chamber of commerce where you can meet your fellow business owners, and with your industry at the regional, state and national levels of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds and the U.S. Travel Association.

Also, consider other outdoor, recreational, RVing, camping, and small-business organizations. Yes, I’m a state association executive director, but even when I wasn’t, I encouraged everyone to join for the benefits they would gain.

Today, viable associations realize members need not physically “come together” to network. Electronic tools provide the means to achieve this now, without taking us away from our office. Although I still strongly encourage in-person networking, some of my chosen associations have partnered me with people in all American time zones (and beyond); networking beyond the ability to frequently meet in-person.

I appreciate associations that have adapted programs to include online networking. Travel expenses have decreased, and I can even participate in many places in one day.

Be the best professional you can be by networking to create a team that complements and completes your needs, as your needs change and as technology evolves. Let associations be resources for helping you grow yourself and your business.

My belief is this: Joining a professional association should be about making you a better professional rather than about the association’s ability to directly drive traffic up your driveway.

Mary Arlington is a consultant, speaker, and executive director of the Kansas Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. Having sold her RV park, Mary Arlington now works to help other small businesses. Find her online at www.MaryArlington.com.