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How to Succeed in the RV Park Business

Written by:

Esther is a business strategist with over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive, educator, and management advisor.

How to Succeed in the RV Park Business

Meet Jason Kaplan, the mastermind behind Sunshine Mile RV Park, a thrilling addition to Tucson’s landscape for RV enthusiasts. With two decades of experience in the mobile home park business, Jason unveils the secrets behind his latest venture, sharing insights into its inception, unique offerings, and the essential lessons he’s learned along the way. Dive into our conversation to discover what sets Sunshine Mile RV Park apart and glean valuable advice for entrepreneurs eyeing the hospitality industry.

Jason Kaplan

Inspiration and Differentiation

SBS – What inspired you to start Sunshine Mile RV Park, and what sets it apart from other RV parks in the area?

Jason – I’ve owned and operated long-term mobile home parks for 20 years now, but I’ve never owned an RV park. With the redevelopment of the Sunshine Mile District of Tucson, this particular location seemed perfect for transitioning this property into a short-term RV park. The central location of the property is what really sets the Sunshine Mile RV Park apart from other Tucson RV parks.

We don’t have the amenities that many RV parks have, but we are less than one mile from the University of Arizona and mere minutes from downtown Tucson and all the restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and museums it has to offer.

Location Selection

SBS – Could you share some insights into the process of selecting the location for your RV park and how important location is in the success of such a business?

Jason – As I mentioned, the redevelopment of the Sunshine Mile District was the primary motivation to start this RV park. The City of Tucson recently completed the massive Broadway Improvement Project along with the Sunshine Mile Redistricting Project in an effort to radically change the area to become an urban live-and-work neighborhood. Many companies have already announced new restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops along Broadway. It will be exciting to see how the area changes over the next few years.

Amenities and Facilities

SBS – Given your experience in the industry, what are some key factors to consider when choosing amenities and facilities to offer at an RV park?

Jason – Although I don’t know the complete history of the park, it does seem like it was an RV park sometime in the distant past. Therefore, we were lucky to have a pre-existing laundry room and bathroom next to our office, which we improved. We were also able to take another small area to turn into a pet area.

Unfortunately, the nature and size of the property do not allow us to provide any other amenities. This is why we pride ourselves as a jumping-off point for our guests to explore Tucson and try to promote as many local businesses and attractions as possible.

Marketing Strategies

SBS – How do you approach marketing and attracting guests to your RV park, especially considering the competitive nature of the hospitality industry?

Jason – Our social media director, Natalie Contati, has done an amazing job creating an online presence for the Sunshine Mile RV Park, especially given the fact that we were starting from scratch less than a year ago. We hope that our posts and videos give people a good expectation of what our park offers and we’ve set a very competitive price point versus other parks in Tucson. Natalie has also established co-branding relationships with a lot of local Tucson businesses. We have also joined the Visit Tucson Partnership, which helps promote the local tourism and hospitality industry.

Operational Challenges

SBS – In terms of operations, what are some challenges unique to running an RV park, and how do you overcome them?

Jason – The hardest thing has been starting a property from scratch and trying to learn from trial and error all while being subject to online reviews. I’m the type of person who never writes or reads a review of a restaurant during its first few months of operations because I know they need to work out the kinks. Although you might think you’ve anticipated every possibility and tested out the infrastructure, we inevitably experienced unexpected issues that have disappointed guests. It’s also become very clear that people who are angry with you are more likely to leave reviews than people who enjoyed their stay.

So, although we’ve done a lot to improve the things within our control that reviewers have complained about, the older reviews are still there, reflecting poorly on us. But all we can do is try to find ways to improve and give our guests the best experience possible.

Technology Integration

SBS – With the rise of digital platforms and online booking systems, how has technology influenced the management and operations of Sunshine Mile RV Park?

Jason – I can say that without the technological advances provided by Campspot, I would not have considered opening the RV Park. Having dealt with monthly or yearly rentals for 20 years now, I never was interested in dealing with daily or weekly rentals. I considered them to be way too management-intensive compared to family parks. I was blown away by what Campspot had to offer for booking, advertising, analytics, and customer service. I can’t speak highly enough of the service they’ve provided to me as an amateur RV park owner.

Customer Experience

SBS – Customer experience is crucial in hospitality. How do you ensure a positive experience for guests at Sunshine Mile RV Park, and how do you handle customer feedback and complaints?

Jason – It was initially a tough transition from providing space rentals to people who are looking to live at the property quietly and privately into providing an experience for guests who are essentially passing through on vacation.

This past January through March was our first “busy season” and we received a lot of feedback on what we could improve upon. There was clearly a need for a public bathroom and shower, so we expedited the renovation of the old RV bathroom facility and gave our laundry facility a facelift. We’ve also increased our trash service and improved our lighting.

Most importantly, through our social media presence, we’ve really tried to give people an accurate expectation of what our property has to offer. We don’t have a pool or a golf course, but we have tons of great local businesses only minutes away in every direction.

Team Building

SBS – Building a strong team is essential for any business. What strategies do you employ to recruit and retain staff members who are passionate about providing excellent service to your guests?

Jason – In my time owning and operating properties, it has been extremely difficult to find people to trust and rely upon in any long-term sense. I am very fortunate to still have a number of wonderful long-term employees. My asset manager, Rob Robinson, who helps me run all eleven of my Tucson mobile home parks has been with me for over 10 years now, and his daughter Rose is the onsite manager of the Sunshine Mile RV Park. We are always brainstorming ways to make the property more attractive and how to run the business more efficiently. I truly believe the owner of any rental property needs to balance the overarching business and income goals with a hands-on ground-level presence at the property.

Lessons Learned

SBS – As a relatively new business, what lessons have you learned since opening Sunshine Mile RV Park, and what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to enter the RV park industry?

Jason – I was very fortunate to have an existing mobile home park to transition into the RV park industry. Breaking into either market these days is extremely difficult due to the recent increased competition for properties, the higher interest rates, and the relative reluctance of lenders to lend against these types of properties, especially to people lacking experience.

Although there are online courses that certainly offer some decent insights into the mobile home and RV park industry, I personally believe hands-on ground-level experience is the best way to learn this business. I’ve been in it for 20 years, and just when I think I’ve seen it all, I’m quickly reminded that new and different issues pop up all the time.

If I were starting in the business today, I would try to find respected operators and attempt to intern or start at an entry-level asset management position to get a true sense of what running a long-term or short-term residential income property entails. I would then use that learning experience to foster confidence in the investors I would eventually need when I was ready to take on a property on my own. I would start with a smaller-sized property and continually try to grow the portfolio. The more successful properties you can show to investors, the more properties you can begin to accumulate.

Expansion Plans

SBS – Expansion and growth are often goals for businesses. Do you have plans to expand Sunshine Mile RV Park, and if so, what factors are you considering in your expansion strategy?

Jason – I think I will need at least a full year of data to determine what the future plans for the park will be. A lot will also depend on the development of the surrounding Sunshine Mile District and what businesses will become our neighbors in the next year or two.

I still personally believe Tucson, AZ, is an extremely underrated city for gastronomy, breweries, bar and coffee scenes, as well as general affordability and lifestyle. Tucson residents generally support local businesses and there is an uncommon entrepreneurial spirit in town where local businesses work together. Tourists looking to enjoy the best of what the Southwest has to offer will hopefully appreciate the Sunshine Mile RV Park as a jumping-off point to explore it.

Future Trends

SBS – Finally, considering the evolving preferences of travelers and the impact of external factors like pandemics, how do you see the future of the RV park industry, and what trends do you anticipate shaping it?

Jason – Having researched the industry before opening the Sunshine Mile RV Park, there was obviously a peak during the pandemic when seemingly everyone you knew was buying or renting an RV. Since then, a lot of industry insiders have been panicking because there has been such a steep percentage decline in RV purchases since 2020. But it is silly to me to think that sales would continue to trend upwards after such an unnatural peak.

I still believe that the pandemic-era zeitgeist of getting out and exploring, along with the still-present trend of working remotely will lead to growth, albeit gradual, in the RV market going forward. This is also supported by the parallel trend in the hotel and short-term home rental market that appears to be catering to a more luxury-focused crowd, neglecting their lower-end brands, yet raising their prices and fees across the board.


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How to Succeed in the RV Park Business