Campground Owner Spotlight: Sean Vidrine
CEO, Four Points RV Resorts
Paradise Ranch RV Resort, Tylertown, MI • Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park at Pine Lakes, Pittsfield, IL • Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park PA Wilds, Mansfield, PA • Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Monticello, Monticello, IA
How did you become involved in the campground industry?
For a long time, I worked a regular corporate job. And then I started investing in real estate about 17 years ago. The first investment that I made was into a rental property, which was a very, very old mobile home that cost $500. I didn't have the full $500 so I put $100 down and the seller financed the rest of it over the course of four months. I continued to do things like that over the years, and then I started buying single family houses and some multifamily houses and I got to where I was able to purchase some mobile home parks. I have a friend who's a real estate broker and he mentioned that he was getting ready to list a campground in Mississippi, and wanted to know if I was in. At that time, I didn't know anything about the industry at all, so he introduced me to some people that had been in the industry for many, many years. I went ahead and visited with them, and after our visit, we decided to buy some parks together. It’s been quite the journey.
Were you a camper yourself when you growing up or as an adult?
No. My grandparents had a camper and the only time they used it was whenever they were going to go across the country on vacation. There have been times when we would go with them, like from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Yellowstone, and we would stop at campgrounds on the way there. I thought people just used campgrounds to pull over on the side of the road, sleep a night or two and then get back on the road and keep going. I did not realize that the industry involved people actually going camping on the weekend or during the week or whatever, just to go to the campground and have a good time. That was very new to me.
What was it about the campground industry that appealed to you?
I had been introduced to Ed Van Der Molen who passed away earlier this year. He was very smart, and he understood the industry. He showed me that if you do certain things, then this is the result you’ll get. I was very skeptical about it, but after being in business for the first year, what he said did happen, so I got really excited about it.
It says on your Four Points website that your goal is to take each park to its full potential. What is your strategy for achieving that goal?
All of the parks that we buy are parks that need capital improvements. That could be building a new camp store, a cafe, adding a jumping pillow, a waterpark, a children's splash pad, waterslides, gem mining, all that good stuff. So basically, the majority of the parks that we're buying are parks that need improvement with regard to sites, cabins and other entities.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you find as you take on a new park?
Number one has been dealing with regulatory issues whenever you're going to do an expansion. In some states, there are definitely more regulations and hurdles that you have to get over, and most of that has to do with water and sewer. So that has been a challenge. Also, finding personnel in some areas has definitely been a challenge over the last couple of years. For the most part, those are probably the two biggest challenges. We were fortunate that during COVID, we only had to close one park for a very short time. ARVC has done a great job in getting legislation passed to where campgrounds are recognized as essential businesses. That’s a big deal.
A lot of parks have not only added additional RV sites, but cabins and tiny houses and other forms of accommodations for people who don't own an RV. Is that Is that something you're doing as well?
Absolutely. We have several different lodging types. We have cabins, we have tiny houses, we have glamping tents. So yes, lodging is a big deal. We're seeing a higher demand in some areas for lodging units than we are for RV sites.
What are you finding is the most popular amenity that people are looking for in a campground?
Water parks. People are not going to drive two-and-a-half hours just because you have a jumping pillow, but they'll come to a nice waterpark.
Three of the four parks that you currently own are Jellystones. What do you like about the franchise concept?
The people at Camp Jellystone have been amazing to work with. They’ve helped us with anything that we need with regard to support, such as how should we stock our store? What products should we carry? What is the demographic in the market that we're looking to buy? They have been very good to work with, so I believe that Jellystone adds value. I believe that whenever parents ask children, “Where do you want to go camping?” it’s Jellystone, even though Yogi Bear is not on the Cartoon Network anymore, like it was when I was a kid. People still know what Jellystone is. Kids know that when they go to a Jellystone park anywhere, they're going to have a great time. With the activity programs that Jellystone offers and the training they give to new franchisees, they really do try to set you up to be successful. Even without having the full amenities completed yet, we’re still continuing to see an increase in our business and our revenue and our occupancy.
Now that you’ve been in the industry for a few years, what is your impression of it?
What I really love about this industry is you can get as creative as you want and you can achieve some very, very nice financial results. And on top of that, whenever I'm at the parks and see people that are there with their families, I feel like we're doing something that families need. They can spend time together instead of just being on their cell phones and iPads and they're enjoying spending that time together. It's very rewarding to see that.
Do you have plans to acquire more parks in the future?
Yes, we're always looking at potential acquisitions. We are in the middle of negotiating on some parks right now. So yes, we definitely want to grow our business