Pelland Blog: Are You An Innovator?

11 May 2016 2:27 PM | KOA Owners Association (Administrator)
Are You An Innovator?
By Peter Pelland

We are in an election cycle here in the United States, and the parade of candidates is a reminder that both the political and the business worlds consist of innovators and those who try to “play it safe” by simply meeting expectations. In both worlds, there is an eventual process of “weeding out” those who fail to impress their respective consumers. Some succeed by telling people what they want to hear or building products that are in constant demand, but others succeed by capitalizing upon an untapped demand for new ways of thinking and new products.

We are all familiar with the most highly innovative companies in the business world. They stand out from the crowd and dominate their market shares, not because they mimic competitors and existing products or services, but because they have a sense for the next best thing that consumers will eagerly embrace. These innovators have always been in our midst. A century ago, they were typically individuals like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, whereas today they are more likely companies like Apple, Google, Toyota, and Procter & Gamble – with extensive research and development departments and a determination to introduce new products that extend an already iconic branding and offer the promise of a uniquely superior consumer experience.

The ability to think outside the box is not limited to multinational corporations with billion dollar research and development budgets. Innovation can still originate from modern-day equivalents of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford (or Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt), even though the challenges to the individual innovator are today probably greater than ever. Some of the most highly successful innovators of the last generation were not born with silver spoons in their mouths but with an ability to see things outside of the conventional norms. These include the “rags to riches” stories of billionaires such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Larry Ellison.

Campground owners can meet innovative challenges just like any other business entrepreneur. Often overshadowed by innovations in camping equipment – most notably modern recreational vehicle and tent designs – campgrounds have opportunities to distinguish themselves in their sites, rentals, amenities, recreational programs, customer service, and in technological areas ranging from online reservations to wi-fi. Right now, one innovative rage seems to be glamping, with rentals of extremely well-appointed cottages, yurts or even treehouses.

There are parks that are known for searching out that next innovation that will give them a competitive edge. These are the types of parks that attend trade events like the IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions) Expo, in Orlando each year. Their campers return year after year, knowing that they can look forward to something new and exciting. On the other hand, there are park owners who think they should be successful simply because they have an employee who dresses up in an ill-fitting Santa costume for a weekend event every July.

Clearly, there is a market for conventional campgrounds that fail to innovate. Some people are not looking for shiny objects, but just want to get away for a quiet weekend of relaxation in a natural environment. The only problem is that this market represents an ever-shrinking sliver of an age-old pie.

As a campground owner, you need to decide whether you want to be satisfied with the income you will earn by providing your guests with a somewhat stagnant but predictable experience, or whether you are ready to embrace the potential risks of innovation. Not every innovation is successful, and repeated failure is often part of the process. One way of minimizing the risk is to closely follow the leaders rather than blazing trails yourself, but you must be prepared to recognize successful ideas and to embrace them quickly.

Somebody operated the first campground to offer its guests wi-fi, another was the first with 50-amp electric pedestals, another was the first campground to replace its metal pipe playground with a modern playscape, and yet another recognized the declining popularity (and the associated maintenance costs) of tennis courts, and how the square footage that they occupied might be more profitably utilized. The challenge is to avoid being the last person to get onboard, particularly if you are introducing the latest fad rather than an innovation that capitalizes upon a long-term trend.

Part of the beauty of innovation is that it does not always involve a significant financial investment. Ideas are priceless. Although transforming ideas into realities might usually involve facilities and infrastructure, innovative thinking can also involve low-cost or self-sustaining programs such as your park’s calendar of events. When somebody looks at your calendar of activities and is interested in camping on the weekend of August 12-14, does what they read generate excitement and lead to an immediate online reservation, or does it simply lead them to click through to another park – probably your competitor down the highway?

It is time to think about what you will do next to bring a new wave of campers to your park. What really impressed you on that last cruise or your last visit to a major resort or theme park? Then think about how that great idea could be customized for your campground. Better yet, be a true trailblazer and be the first to come up with your own original ideas that your campers will immediately embrace and that your competitors will later attempt to emulate.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

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