This week’s highlight comes to us from Tennessee. Matthew Mann, the owner of Southlake RV Park, uses knowledge from his engineering background to run his campground. For him, it’s all about process. If you can get that right, you’re well on your way to creating a standout business.
Where is your RV park located?
“Our park is in Knoxville, Tennessee, forty minutes from the Smokey mountains.”
How long has your park been open?
“Our family bought the park in 1994. The park originally opened in 1982 and was built for when Knoxville hosted the World Fair.”
Matt and Southlake RV Park were one of the first organizations to adopt Bonfire for their operations.
What led to becoming a part of the RV/campground industry?
“Our family always liked camping. When we stayed at campgrounds, we found ourselves asking how these organizations functioned and after a while we realized that this was a business that our family could run well. My mother bought the park in ’94. I was in high school at the time and helped around when I could. But it was only two years ago, when my mother was looking to retire, that I took over completely.”
Can you describe your typical day?
“The first thing I do is look to see who’s coming in and who’s going out. Bonfire has really helped in this regard. I can get a list off the dashboard about what’s happening for the day. Then I loop around the park, making sure that people arriving and leaving are doing so on time.
Southlake is a very active park. We’re right by downtown Knoxville, so we have a steady churn of guests that need to be accounted for. I couldn’t do this as efficiently without Bonfire.
All the while I do trash pickup and general maintenance. I think it’s pretty standard for an RV park.”
What are the main challenges you have faced since taking over the family business?
“A big challenge has been changing the mentality of the park from a mom-and-pop outlook to the perspective of a modern, competitive business. There was quite a bit to do in this regard. I had to train new staff. I had to upgrade the camp’s website. And most importantly, I had to find a scalable system for taking orders. I’m an engineer by training and I instinctively look for inefficiencies in systems that I encounter. There were several that I thought needed to be overhauled before we could transition away from our old way of thinking. For one, when I took over we were getting paid in checks that were mailed in. People showed up who hadn’t paid. People who’d paid didn’t show up. There was no unifying organization to keep track of these constant and frequent changes."
How have you overcome those challenges?
“Having an idea and implementing it is the biggest challenge for any business. It took me several months to bring everything up to speed. I failed many, many times. But when I got there it was a great feeling of accomplishment."
"Bonfire helped a lot. It gave a great visual interpretation of everything that was happening in the park."
If you could offer any last piece of advice to others in the industry, what would that be?
“Anyone getting into the RV/campground business needs to have a clear idea of what is going to separate their park from the rest of the competition. This means understanding what makes a good campground. I find it is best to think of it as a process of incremental improvement. Also, a long-term perspective is a must."
So in Matt’s view, running a thriving campground takes planning, vision, and resilience. Keep testing and trying new things in order to create the best campground possible.
Reach out to Matt at Southlake RV Park if you would like to connect as well as share your own experiences. And as always, Let's Bonfire!
- Jack at The Bonfire Team
Matt @ Southlake RV Park
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