The Kappas family purchased the Caladesi RV Park in Palm Harbor, Fla., 11 years ago and faced some challenging times as they brought the campground back from the “mobile home park” model of its founding in 1969 to the modern RV park it is today.
The family’s slog to succeed was tough and involved trial and error.
Christos Kappas who was given the reins from his father now runs the site as the self-proclaimed, “owner, head honcho, operator and master delegator” he told WOODALLSCM.com light-heartedly. The Palm Harbor, Fla., location has 93 camping sites that have evolved into what is now a very profitable campground.
“It’s an older-style campground,” he said. “So, the sites are smaller in general but we do our best to fit things in. We took over a junky trailer park and at first, we didn’t know what we were doing. The owner said there were 25 yearly tenants and there were only about 13. So, that’s a big difference in monthly income we thought we were going to be making from the start.
“After seeing how the snowbirds behaved and how they didn’t bring in much money and really controlled the park, my father went and bought trailers off Craigslist,” Kappas added. “We brought them all in and rented them out to people. But who’s looking to rent an RV in an RV park? Somebody that could get a house or somebody that rents an apartment. We filled the park with the wrong people.”
Kappas said that everybody fell behind in rent except a few good people and he had to do a lot of evictions.
“My dad thought it was always going to be like that,” he said. “I hated the place at first. It was a big struggle over the years and then we had this one computer guy come through and he changed everything. He opened our eyes to Google and Google Reviews. He opened our eyes to hotel-style pricing, where if you come for three weeks and three days, you get charged the right price at the correct rate. We realized we were just giving money away.”
The park’s rate sheet once stated a week was $300, with three weeks going for a monthly rate of just $700. Kappas switched to Campspot reservation software and it changed everything.
“Today, we don’t even answer the phone,” he said. “Our phone number is not even displayed anymore on the answering machine because so many people message now. Then we eliminated a lot of the six-month people. The turning point came after we went to a National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds event and I learned all this stuff. We totally changed the park around in the summer of 2018.”
Kappas said he felt that the seasonal campers got too familiar and relaxed, brought more stuff with them each year, and drove the appearance and the availability of campsites down.
‘They get more comfortable and it’s harder to raise prices,” said Kappas. “You really don’t want that. You want new, fresh people. A lot of the time, I think campgrounds should have a have five-or 10-year rule. We had a guy last year pay $2,700 for the month of March because we just enabled daily rates. We couldn’t believe it.”
Kappas said he still has people wanting to stay in permanent campers but at the bottom of his website it states “The Caladesi RV Park does not have any annual spaces available and will not any time soon.” It’s never too late to keep getting better, he noted.
“I’m still learning,” Kappas explained. “I am trying to find out what the best situation is. How many of this, how many of that? This was our first season where we had Campspot and we were able to see how much a particular campsite made compared to an annual site.”
Profits have soared since the first season 11 years ago.
“Since 2018, we have at least doubled our profits,” said Kappas. “Maybe tripled. We really don’t know because it was on a cash basis for the first six or seven years. There were so many problems and we weren’t paying attention.”
Now better capitalized, he is making more improvements to the campground to increase his return on investment.
“With campsites, we were able to differentiate them because people will pay more for amenities,” Kappas added. “I even have a jacuzzi that I’m going to put on one of the deluxe sites and charge $30 more a night in the winter.”
He has also added fire pits, swings, playgrounds, umbrella shade structures, bright white limestone paving throughout the camp and a workout facility. All to improve his search terms on Google and to increase his rates.
The park’s location is also key.
“None of the campgrounds here are right on the beach, but we’re right on the Pinellas Trail, which is a bicycling trail that goes through Pinellas County and Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg,” Kappas explained. “And some people come to the RV park just to ride the Pinellas Trail.”
With all of these improvements in place and his focus on the future, Kappas is excited about his park’s potential.
“This is going to be our best year yet,” he said.