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Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : news : news August 22, 2017

1/10/2017 7:27:00 AM
Vilas County passes on hiring expensive campground consultant
Vilas County parks and recreation administrator Dale Mayo received a bit of a shock at last week's forestry, recreation and land committee meeting when committee member Jay Verhulst invited a consultant to review the Torch Lake RV Park business plan.

"Mr. Bud Styer is a consultant who I have talked with," Verhulst said, "the chairman has talked with him. He looked at our campground, looked at our business plan and the projected revenues. After hearing what he has to say, there is a possibility we might want to have a consultant work with us on this."

The consultant, Bud Styer of Bud Styer and Associates, has worked in the campground industry for more than 30 years and recently helped the state streamline its own campgrounds. According to Styer, the Torch Lake RV Park has a "good" design, however he suggested making a slight change to the first phase of the project.

That slight change can also be described as expensive.

"Bathhouses are big deals," Styer said. "People like to take showers and I just didn't see that in this plan."

According to Mayo, the bathhouse is in fact in the second phase of the project and cannot be moved due to budget restrictions.

Styer also stressed marketing would be a key factor in drawing attention to the RV park. He described the ATV trail adjoining the park as a "jewel" and outlined several marketing strategies for the park.

"If you want to see big numbers, you're going to have to get into social media," Styer said. "You have to have events, you have to have giveaways. You have to get their attention and you have to get them to show up. If you were to open this park next summer, no one would know it's there. The marketing time is now."

Committee chairman Steve Doyen corrected Styer regarding the current marketing of the park, pointing out the county has already begun the endeavor.

For several months, the county's marketing consultant firm Pilch and Barnett has promoted the future park on various platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Insatgram. As it happens, the county economic development and tourism committee met the previous day and the meeting included an update from Lynn Pilch on the social media efforts as well as plans for the county's next seasonal giveaway prize.

"It's already on our social media and people know it's going to open next year," Doyen said. "We're actually ahead of the game with our marketing on this. The chatter is out there and it's positive."

Styer asked if the park was already taking reservations and Doyen said no.

"In the camping business, we take reservations four to six months out," Styer said. "It's not last minute. It's just not. If your marketing is really good, you're going to get a lot of action now until May because they're making plans."

Styer touched on the revenue projections the county set for the first year of the park, stating he didn't see them as realistic.

"Revenue in the campground industry is determined by site nights, not by percentages," Styer said. "I've looked at your plan and I've looked at some of the things you've projected and you've got numbers that are basically saying every day during the summer, somebody's going to be on all 22 sites. That's just not going to happen."

Additional discussion touched on certain elements in the bathhouse as well as the placement of toilets and meeting state codes.

"You have to have a toilet every 400 feet," Styer said.

"I don't think so," committee member Art Kunde said.

"I know so," Styer said. "I wrote the code."

"That's not county ordinance," Kunde said.

"Okay, that's a different set of rules, I deal with state," Styer said.

Mayo, who remained fairly quiet through most of the meeting spoke up at that point.

"I didn't know this was going to be on the agenda but we're second guessing what we did already?" Mayo asked. "We have three phases, we've already bid this thing out for the first phase and it's under construction. I guess I'm just kind of lost on where are we going with this?"

"Well, the whole point is we don't want you to make a mistake," Styer said.

Mayo pointed out the county has already worked with several consultants on the park.

"We've gotten some good advice, we've already got a plan going forward," Mayo said. "Why should we drop everything and follow your advice?"

"Well, I've been pretty successful at what I do for a long time," Styer said.

The consultant pointed out the basic concept of the park was fine but added the statement, "Just because you build it, does not mean they will come."

In the end, the committee did not take action to hire Styer as a consultant for the RV park, however Doyen said they would keep his information on hand if a future need arises.

Jessica Leighty may be reached via email at jleighty@lakelandtimes.com.

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