Read more from the interview in the November issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.
The way Rob Schutter Jr. sees it, the transition period for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) from the prior administration of Linda Profaizer to CEO Paul Bambei’s tenure two years ago is officially over, and it’s now full speed ahead on a number of initiatives that are already building value for the Centennial, Colo.-based national trade association’s 3,000 members.
Schutter, president and COO of Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), the Cincinnati, Ohio-based franchisor of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, made this and other points during a recent in- terview with Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM) as he wrapped up his first year as ARVC chairman on the eve of the association’s annual Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo, Nov. 26-30 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
Schutter will address members as part of the chairman’s annual address at a Nov. 29 breakfast meeting and during the “Awards of Excellence Gala” on Nov. 30. And, based on his recent WCM interview, Schutter’s upbeat message will likely focus on the association’s efforts to concentrate on its core mission and solidify its member base to bridge the gap with non-members and unaffiliated states after experiencing some “growing pains and a learning process” over the past couple years.
“After a period of upheaval, I’m sure some members were curious if bringing in a person from outside (the industry) to run ARVC was right,” he said. “There was the transition from the Washington, D.C., area to two different locales in the Denver area. A lot of things were unsettled. You are now seeing some permanency in place. Members are very pleased things have settled down and the focus is once again on offering value to members.
“In my mind and in the minds of a lot of the members of the Ex Com (ARVC executive committee), for a long time we felt ARVC was in transition,” he added. “With a new executive coming on board, Paul (Bambei) began assembling a staff that he would be comfortable with, a staff that would be re- sponsive to members as well as looking after their interests and putting together programs that will serve the membership.
“Seeing ARVC transition into a solid organization with a solid staff assembled to meet the needs of today’s market and today’s members, Paul has made governing the association a lot easier,” Schutter continued. “We’re not sitting back watching things happen, but instead of the board taking an active role in how ARVC functions on a day-to-day basis, we can now sit back and brainstorm on what Paul brings us and give him our advice.”
That said, Schutter claims that ARVC, which is in viable economic health at the moment, has become more focused on what it needs to do for its members in its four mandated areas — advocacy, member benefits, marketing/PR and education — and has recorded progress in each area over the past year.
And in the process, Schutter feels the association has made some serious strides in putting behind it some political headwinds, including a controversial effort to recruit public parks into the ARVC fold that surfaced last year. “We will leave that with the states and whoever wants to bring in public parks,” he said. “You won’t see ARVC make it a priority in the near future. It’s a state issue. That’s one issue on which the board and Ex Com have said, ‘Let’s leave that alone.’”
ADA Pool/Spa Lift Lobby Effort an ARVC Milestone
Never before in his tenure with ARVC has Schutter seen a more unified advocacy effort on behalf of its members than when the association stepped up this year to lobby against the imminent enforcement of the stringent handicap accessibility rules regarding lifts for swimming pools and spas.
This benchmark resulted from the Department of Justice (DOJ) announcing in January that stiff new rules to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act would take effect within a few weeks.
“We are not against the ADA law,” Schutter stressed, “but we believe there is need for certain notifications before the law is carried out. The timing we felt was unfair. And there were questions how the law would be administered, the answers to which were still being formulated.”
ARVC joined a coalition that included the hotel and motel industry and began to lobby, through its Washington, D.C., law firm of McDermott Will & Emery, against immediate implementation of the law.
ARVC had more than 80 visits with members of Congress in May and a meeting with the White House staff to discuss the ADA regulations.
“When we went out and talked with members of Congress, we asked, ‘Let’s have some calmer heads prevail and take a longer look at this.’ We asked for modification, not a repeal. We won’t see a final interpretation until the election is over, but we accomplished what we wanted to do — postpone implementation of the law and cause a little pause in Washington to take a closer look at modification of the ADA statute to foster more businesses to be in compliance with the intent of the law.”
Acknowledging private-sector concerns and confusion about the ADA stipulations, the DOJ ultimately postponed the compliance deadline until next Jan. 31. “I applaud Paul and our lobbying group in working with other organizations,” said Schutter. “Their assistance was larger than anything I’ve seen in my 23 years in this industry.”
BMI and ASCAP Top Member Benefit Gains
ARVC announced new member benefits throughout the past year, notably new licensing agreements with BMI and ASCAP, the two largest music-licensing companies in the country. “Paul saw the cost involved (for ARVC’s membership) and set out on a personal mission to rectify that,” Schutter said.
As announced in late summer, the agreements were packaged into one, single-priced, affordable plan for ARVC members. The agreements provide ARVC member parks with substantial discounts for ASCAP and BMI licensing fees, amounting to potentially huge annual savings for parks large and small.
Parks will have until Nov. 30 to sign up for the program that will cover the 2013 calendar. Additionally, because BMI has already accepted fees (in some cases) in 2012 on their own that covered a portion of 2013, contractual arrangements have been made to refund any park owner for these applicable 2013 BMI license fees.
Parks simply need to call the ARVC office to enroll, while those that are not currently members of ARVC will be obliged to join the association in order to participate in the program.
Also with regard to member benefits, ARVC announced discounts on product purchases from companies such as Ford Motor Co. and Moen Commercial Faucets. “Paul worked diligently to put together an array of actual benefits that will impact the members,” said Schutter, adding that other programs will be forthcoming.
Strategic Planning Committees Help ARVC Refocus Last Year
Schutter found most rewarding in 2012 the fruits of several task forces that were set into motion in the past by former ARVC CEO Profaizer and Schutter’s predecessor as chairman, David L. Berg. “Everybody was questioning what ARVC was,” said Schutter. “We had lost our way, to a certain degree, and it caused us to refocus on the main elements of what the association should be.
“ARVC undertook the process to understand what is the makeup of the association. We had the beginnings of the strategic planning committees. These committees came up with points that needed to be discussed and acted upon. We had four other committees to research and dwell into these points brought up by the focus groups. They brought findings back to the ARVC board and the board went further to distill them.”
Ultimately, the entire 20-member board voted unanimously to maintain ARVC’s existing structure, which includes cooperative and affiliated tiers of partnership with state campground associations. “The board sent a clear message that our current structure enables us to best serve campground and RV park owners, whom they view as our ultimate customers,” Bambei said in announcing the board’s decision.
The unanimous vote took place March 20 in Memphis, Tenn., after a strategic task force comprised of diverse campground industry representatives had spent more than a year studying the various relationships ARVC could have with state associations and with park owners.
As directed by the board, task force recommendations were publicly posted on the ARVC website. Subsequently, seven state associations and several ARVC members voiced their comments, which were all documented and shared at the Memphis board meeting in March.
Options under consideration included creating a direct membership structure in which parks could join ARVC directly without having to pay dues to their state associations — something currently only available to parks in unaffiliated states — or creating a federation of state associations in which ARVC and its staff would focus their attention exclusively on the needs of state campground association executives.
After nearly six hours of discussion, however, all 20 board members agreed that maintaining ARVC’s existing structure is the best option because it serves the needs of park operators as well as state campground associations. “Paul is making sure we don’t deviate from that,” Schutter said.