Erin & Dan Thiem

Erin & Dan Thiem

Editor’s Note: Erin and Dan Thiem are the owners of the Inn Town Campground in Nevada City, Calif. InnTown Campground was named the nation’s “Best RV Campground” by USAToday 10 Best in 2023. 

Every March, Dan takes a “mancation” to Utah and Colorado. The tradition includes family, skiing and good old-fashioned road-tripping. It’s a chance to get outside, take the trailer on a longer trip, and sometimes for Erin and the kids, to meet up with him in Utah for some skiing. It is also traditionally the end of winter and the start of camping season — which means it’s time to get back to work.   

Last season, there was a major snowstorm just before the annual trip, closing camp and causing a lot of damage. We had to close for three weeks, and a mountain of work awaited Dan upon his return; not exactly a kick-off to camping, but certainly a return to work. This season, the weather has just turned nice and spring is in the air. When we return, campers will be itching to get outside and see the daffodils. Like spring, the campground owner cycle begins again! 

It has now been over a year since we began writing articles for Woodall’s Campground Magazine, covering several topics and interests as we see them. The cycle of our campground’s operation has come full circle, and we find ourselves looking at another season.

So, what’s different this year?  

Certainly, operating a seasonal campground can feel like running a farm — plow, sow, grow, reap, repeat. In previous articles, we’ve talked about how we keep things fresh and new by camping ourselves, attending trade shows and networking with other campground owners and local businesses. Even with all of that, we sometimes feel like the great circle of campground life is more like a hamster wheel. 

Nevertheless, onward we march to a new dawn of campers and a new season of interesting stories and friendly faces. One of the ways we keep marching on is by holding ourselves accountable to our goals. Over the last six months, we’ve done some networking — Campground Owners Expo (COE), research and traveling. We talked about a lot of interesting things to improve and great ideas we want to implement. We thought about how we could improve our business and look at it in a new way. 

Well, guess how many of those great ideas we’ve implemented since November? Zilch. Nada. It’s not pretty, we’re not proud of it, but it’s true. It turns out, we needed a few months to not think about our business full time (that might be a small exaggeration, but you get the idea). We just needed to be away for a while, mentally and physically. We needed to not think about how other businesses operate or where we can go next, or what lesson we can glean from a quick stopover on a road trip with our RV.

We’ve talked about both the need to recharge and the need to go further afield to see our business from a new perspective. So, as we get into the camping season again, hopefully refreshed, it’s time for us to take that fresh mindset and apply it to our lessons from COE and other networking functions.  

This year, we have an added motivation for diving in; there is a new RV resort opening in the neighboring town. It’s time for us to look again, perhaps more urgently, at our core value propositions and how we can distinguish ourselves in an ever-growing market. 

In December 2022, we wrote an article on building our campground, which was a good summary of our foundational values. We’ve thought about that process a lot as we come out of our winter slump, both because we can’t believe we survived the process, but also because we’re seeing the process unfold for another park in our area. In short, we need to get back to basics to ensure our campground is positioned as well as possible when the new park opens.  

Here are three key takeaways from that article: 

  • Know your audience. 
  • Find your voice, your vision, your niche and be consistent.  
  • Take pride in what you offer. Your staff, customers and community will feel it. 

These three resonate most with us right now because they are reflective of what we need to remember as we face stiffer competition in our local market.   

Know your audience: We’ve had eight seasons to define and understand the kinds of campers that our campground resonates with. We attract young families who want an easy, convenient way to go camping. We also attract groups and families that like our forested campground feel but need a range of accommodations to suit the needs of their group. 

Finally, we attract campers who want a state park feel with more amenities and personalized service. We know that we are not an RV resort. As we try to distinguish ourselves from the growing market, we must ensure our campers know how different we are from other campgrounds and RV parks. 

Find your voice: We have always embraced authenticity in our marketing and operations. What you see is what you get. Sometimes people don’t like that, but we try and be honest about what we can offer, the experience campers will have and our small family business roots. As we’ve grown and matured, our brand is tied up with us personally. Campers comment often about appreciating how the owners are involved in the business (some even have fan moments when they see us in person…which still weirds us out). Our voice is the one we know; it’s our personalities and the values we hold dear.   

Take pride in what we offer: We imagine that everyone reading this article takes pride in their work. For us, that means picking up the micro trash and leading by example. Fortunately, we have a great team that reminds us of when we’re not meeting our own expectations. That’s driven by a history of staff seeing us act and perform in ways that are indicative of our values so that now they understand and embrace those values themselves. Dan loves it when the facilities team says, “You don’t want to leave it looking like that, it has to look nicer.”   

The campground cycle has come around (again). That’s a good thing. Our winter slowdown is temporary and new competition keeps us on our toes. If this seems like we’re repeating some of the things we’ve said in past articles, it’s because they continue to be important to us, even now. It’s tempting to get distracted by new amenities or expansions, but for us, the best business advice we can give ourselves is to make sure we’re fulfilling our current value proposition as much as possible.  

So, if you’re feeling the post-vacation, winter season blues, just think back on what you’re good at and do more of that.