Leadership Profile: Jim Button, OHE
Knowledge is Power!
Owner, Evergreen Campsites & Resorts
Area 3 Representative, ARVC Board of Directors
How did you get involved in the campground industry?
Some people say dreams don’t come true, but they do. When I was in third grade, I was a city kid who lived two hours away from this campground, and we had to write down what we wanted to be doing 20 years from now. I put down that I wanted to either own a car dealership or I wanted to own Evergreen Campsites. At the time, we were just campers here but my mom eventually married the campground’s owner. I’ve worked at the park since 1981 and I purchased the campground from my parents in 1996, so I’ve owned it for 25 years now.
You’re very active in the industry. Why do you feel it’s important for campground owners to get involved?
Back when I was a kid, they always preached that “knowledge is power,” and the more you know, the better off you are. So I would tell everybody to be involved with your state association and be heavily involved in your national association because you’ll have a heads up of what’s coming down the pike. It will also allow you to have a voice on issues like inherent risk legislation. ARVC’s programs are first class because they teach you the right way to do things. I couldn’t be more of an advocate for our national association.
How has attending the National School helped you in your day-to-day operations?
Those two weeks, over two years, taught me where I wanted to go with my park and how I was going to get there. Our graduating class wanted to keep learning so we formed our own 20 Group, Group 4, and the interaction we have is mind blowing. We push everybody to be the best that they can be.
What are some of the other ways you’ve gotten involved in the industry?
I go to the Hill with Jeff Sims (ARVC’s senior director of state relations and program advocacy) to advocate for legislation, I’m a trustee for the ARVC Foundation, I represent Voting Area 3 on the ARVC Board of Directors and I’ve often been a speaker at the Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo (OHCE). I also love small parks and advocate for them quite a bit because they don’t have the voice or the resources that the big guys have.
How has ARVC’s Music Licensing program made a difference in your park?
The music licensing program from ARVC is something you can’t get anywhere else. The savings from this program alone can help cover your ARVC dues. Having the right music in our different service areas is crucial. We use music all the time, whether it’s soft music playing in the store, bringing in a guitar player or having music when we do a wine and cheese social. If you play Caribbean music at the beach or pool, guests can close their eyes and imagine they’re in an ocean setting. People enjoy music. It sets the tone for their stay.
How do you think the next generation coming up will impact our industry?
The younger generation is more savvy and they’re in tune with today’s customers and trends. They can bring fresh ideas. I think we need to invest in them, send them to school and give them the tools that they need. The money that you spend on them is going to come back in the camper that’s going to be at your park, so why would you not want to invest in making that employee better? Hopefully, it will help with retention, too. If you can say “In one or two years I want to send you to this program,” they’ll have something to look forward to. I think investing in the young generation is necessary. They’re going to be the future of the campground industry.
What are some of the lessons you’re learned in your 25 years as a park owner?
One of them is doing what it takes to make sure guests have a good first impression when they visit your park. Another one is that even though we need to spend a lot of time maintaining our parks, we can’t forget to take care of ourselves. If you don’t take time for yourself and your family you’re missing the boat. You’ve got to be in good health and have a good aura about you because that will resonate with your staff. It’s okay to take an hour during the day and put your feet up. You deserve it. You need it. You’d be amazed at what an hour can do and the park or the business won’t go to heck in that hour.
I’ve also learned that even though we’re owners of our own parks, we can’t do it all. We have to have a solid core behind us, whether it’s one or three people or whatever you need to help you so you can get to the “Super Bowl.” So what’s the Super Bowl? Quite honestly, it’s winning ARVC’s Park of the Year award. I have a phenomenal staff and I always tell everybody, “This award was given to you. I’m just the guy behind the scenes. You’re the ones out there talking to the customers, making sure that they have a good time and a safe visit and want to come back.” It goes back to my point that you can’t do it alone.