Make no mistake, like many other industries, the campground business can be a jungle. The beasts that endure are the ones that can quickly adapt to successfully navigate through all the old industry pitfalls and new market challenges. Natural selection prefers businesses that can face opposition with new adaptations that can block all the advantages that are currently held by the formidable industry incumbents.
Let’s take the undisputed heavy weights of outdoor hospitality, for example. You know, the publicly traded REITs or the large franchise conglomerations. We’ll call them the “elephants” of outdoor recreation. These behemoths consume market share like an elephant grazing on bails of fresh grass. Their sheer size, when you compare them to others in the campground ecosystem, give them power in brand ubiquity and strength in consumer numbers.
Like an actual African elephant that can weigh up to 15,500 pounds and eat up to 300 pounds of vegetation a day, these entities lumber through the markets gobbling up opportunities. These acquisitions seemingly pad their size, further providing them insulation from would be market adversaries.
Elephants are only one player here and like any other jungle, the campground industry has diversity. Rhinos like Carefree Communities, for example, have made fantastic acquisitions rapidly. This “Rhino” of the camping industry had marvelous gains from adding Sun-N-Fun to their portfolio, later gaining a northern position with Castle Vacation Parks in Canada. The company was charging heartily towards elephant status until those powerful moves caught the attention of the borderline industrial mastodon, Sun Communities. At the end of the day, size won.
The animal kingdom can be harsh in real life, as seen above. Obviously, the acquisition didn’t include goring-filled rampages by Sun Communities but it was a sign that the jungle of the campground industry was becoming more competitive. Other signs included the expansion of the KOA corporate property portfolio and the huge investments made by the National Park Service by launching the Find Your Park Campaign, to name only a few.
It can get ugly when business-hungry beasts meet, but don’t fret! This is a message of hope to you smaller organizations standing wearily in the shadows of these intimidating elephants. Think about it this way, if size guaranteed existence, we would be in caves fighting velociraptors or T-Rex right now, and instead of running campgrounds, we’d be running for our lives.
A new age has dawned and we have left the Jurassic Period in business where there were few equalizers to sheer mass. With new technology and new ways to reach large audiences, small business has sort of developed an opposable thumb, if you will. These social and technological advancements accelerate the speed at which opportunities are recognized and competition manifests itself in jungles across a variety of sectors. Look at Amazon (established 1994), taking out large elephants like Macy’s (established 1858). It took Amazon only 22 years of metamorphosis to supplant Macy’s in the list of top performing retailers in the world. Macy’s, 8 times the size and a more established retailer, made a series of choices that removed its ability to quickly adapt to face this new market challenge. Perhaps it felt it was too large to fail?
Market predators have learned to scavenge on these slow-moving giants by carrying away pieces of their revenue by segmenting certain aspects of the larger organization’s business. These entrepreneurial hyenas continue improving upon elements of the elephant’s business with razor-like focus, trying to solve the question, “How can we more accurately address the very specific need of this customer in a more appealing way?”
Let’s take the elephant herd of newspapers, for example. Their classified ad revenue has left them because Craigslist took a small bite of their already-massive business by making it easier and more affordable for people to list their goods on the Craigslist platform and publish their own classified advertisements. Craigslist’s ability to focus on this one aspect of the giant’s business effectively ended a profitable revenue stream for these newspapers and this too happened relatively quickly. Remember, Craigslist was established in 1990, newspapers have been around since 1666!
In the wild, lions look for the lame animal in the herd. While the lame duck may very well may be easier to take down than an animal operating at 100%, I believe the chase will still require maximum effort on the part of the lion. Consider this, however, the chase will not do any good if your strategy doesn’t have claws or teeth. You can’t gum down a water buffalo… you need claws, fangs or to evolve a potent venom. A venom that addresses the opportunity in such a manner whereby it more effectively solves the need of the customer.
Enter the black mamba. It weighs 2-3 pounds, probably about 1% of the elephant’s daily diet. It’s lean and its movements have been likened to lighting. It is regarded as the fastest indigenous snake in Africa. It is known to be extremely aggressive and its venom is arguably one of the most toxic on earth.
Lean and equipped with lightning speed, the mamba has been reported taking down the slow-moving elephant with their highly pernicious venom. black mambas in business typically will use an efficacious mix of innovation that solves a more complex problem easily, logically and with a high degree of care placed on the consumer experience. The elephant, often encumbered by numerous stake holders and inflated processes often find it hard to maneuver around Mamba’s without getting bit.
Mamba’s are very much part of the Campground Industry ecosystem. Even recently, an article from Woodall’s Campground Management about Northgate Holdings reminded me of the mamba. Here you have a relatively new market entrant that is using a potent recipe of technology and analytics to help manage their growth and enhance their consumer experience. The article indicted that the focus on customer service is tuned exponentially through their robust analyzation of their properties staffing needs, which also helps them to properly care for their visitors while managing cost. That sounds lean and mean to me.
The jungle is a battle for market share. Luckily right now we are in the, “monsoon months” the campground industry is prospering, consumers are bountiful, the dollar is up and gas is low. Use this time to evolve, try new things, discover your unique value proposition and market it because inevitably, the dry season will come. When it does, you want to feel capable of sharing the watering hole with the other beasts.