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MC Fireside Chats – January 31st, 2024

Episode Summary

In a recent episode of MC Fireside Chats, hosted by Brian Searl, the conversation delved into the intricacies of the outdoor hospitality industry, featuring insights from Jenny McCullough, Director of Brand & Operations at Terramor Outdoor Resort/KOA; Jim Ritchie, CEO and Founder of AEONrv; and Dan and Angela Ugstad, Owners of Cuyuna Range Campground. The discussion spanned a range of topics, from the evolution of camping and glamping experiences to the integration of technology and sustainability in outdoor hospitality. Jenny McCullough shared the vision behind Terramor Outdoor Resort, a venture by KOA aimed at offering an elevated camping experience. She highlighted the importance of connecting people to the outdoors and each other, a mission central to KOA’s ethos. Terramor, embodying the concept of luxury camping, has been successful in attracting both seasoned campers and those new to the outdoor experience, demonstrating the growing appeal of glamping. McCullough emphasized the role of personalized guest experiences and the significance of staff interaction in enhancing the overall stay, underscoring the balance between technology and human touch in creating memorable visits. Jim Ritchie introduced AEONrv, a company focused on redefining the RV experience with high-tech, all-season vehicles designed for off-road and off-grid adventures. Ritchie’s background in Silicon Valley has informed the innovative approach of AEONrv, which aims to cater to a niche market seeking sustainable and durable RV options. He discussed the challenges and opportunities in expanding the RV market, particularly in relation to winter camping, and highlighted the importance of sustainability in the design and operation of RVs. Dan and Angela Ugstad shared their journey of establishing Cuyuna Range Campground, emphasizing their commitment to creating a private and nature-centric camping experience. They discussed the challenges of starting a campground from scratch, including navigating environmental regulations and designing a layout that prioritizes privacy and space. The Ugstads’ approach reflects a growing trend in the industry towards offering more secluded and environmentally integrated camping options, catering to campers seeking a retreat into nature. The conversation also touched on the broader trends in the outdoor hospitality industry, including the rise of winter camping and the increasing demand for sustainable practices. The speakers discussed the potential for campgrounds and RV manufacturers to adapt to these trends, offering insights into how businesses can evolve to meet the changing preferences of campers. The importance of listening to guest feedback and leveraging technology to enhance the camping experience was a recurring theme, highlighting the dynamic nature of the industry and the need for continuous innovation. Sustainability emerged as a key topic, with discussions on how campgrounds and RV companies are incorporating eco-friendly practices into their operations. From planting native trees and supporting local ecosystems to designing energy-efficient RVs, the speakers shared their efforts to minimize the environmental impact of camping and promote conservation. The introduction of honeybee hives at Terramor Outdoor Resort was highlighted as an innovative approach to combining education and conservation, illustrating the potential for campgrounds to contribute to environmental awareness and stewardship. The episode underscored the complexity of balancing technology, sustainability, and personalized guest experiences in the outdoor hospitality industry. The speakers shared their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities in catering to a diverse range of campers, from those seeking luxury and convenience to those desiring a more traditional connection with nature. The discussion reflected the evolving expectations of campers and the ongoing efforts by industry leaders to innovate and adapt to these changes. This episode provided a comprehensive overview of the current state and future directions of the outdoor hospitality industry. Through the experiences and insights of Jenny McCullough, Jim Ritchie, and Dan and Angela Ugstad, the conversation highlighted the importance of innovation, sustainability, and guest-centric approaches in shaping the future of camping and glamping. As the industry continues to evolve, the commitment to enhancing the outdoor experience while preserving the natural environment remains a central theme, driving the efforts of campgrounds and RV manufacturers alike.

Recurring Guests

Special Guests

Jenny McCullough
Director of Brand & Operations
Terramor Outdoor Resort
An image of a person in a circle, featured in an episode.
Jim Ritchie
CEO and Founder
AEONrv
Dan and Angela Ugstad
Owners
Cuyuna Range Campground

Episode Transcript

This is MC Fireside Chats, a weekly show featuring conversations with thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and outdoor hospitality experts who share their insights to help your business succeed. Hosted by Brian Searl, the founder and CEO of Insider Perks and powered by insights from Modern Campground, the most innovative news source in the industry.

Brian Searl: Welcome everybody to another episode of MC Fireside Chats. My name’s Brian [00:01:00] Searl with Insider Perks. Apologies, we’ve got a couple minute late start there. It’s really weird. We were talking beforehand and I had to disconnect and reconnect the network and that it just kicked everybody outta the software.

So it’s been a while since we’ve had a bug here. It excite me, like I have to figure it out really quick and troubleshoot, and it makes my brain work. Wednesday, sleepy day in the middle of the afternoon, but super excited to be here with you guys for our fifth week episode. We don’t usually have these, so we don’t have panel recurring guests here, but we do have three, four really good people.

Three good guests. I didn’t mean to discount you, Dan. There i’s. See you there. So really excited to be here with Jenny McCullough from Terra, More, Outdoor Resorts, Dan and Angela who are gonna tell you about their campground. They own Crayona Range in Minnesota. And Jim Ritchie from Aon RV. You guys wanna go around, just briefly introduce yourselves and.

Tell us a little bit about what you have to offer and then we can dive into your stories. Whoever wants to start. 

Jenny McCullough: Do you want me to start? I can start. So I’m Jenny. I’m with Camp Friends of America KOA, and I manage their new brand, Termore Outdoor Resorts, which is more of a high-end [00:02:00] elevated climbing experience.

It’s nice to be here. 

Thanks for letting me be on your show. Brian. 

Brian Searl: Thanks for being here, Jenny. Appreciate it, Dan and Angela, wanna go? 

Angela Ugstad: So yes, I’m Angela Ugstad. That’s my husband, Dan. We own Kayana Range Campground. We it’s an RV campground located in North Central Minnesota specifically in Crosby which has really become a big destination area in Minnesota over the last several years.

We developed the campground over about a two and a half year time period and opened last summer. So we’re very new. Still kinda learning the ropes. So definitely excited to be a part of the conversation today and, learn some things and hear from Jenny and Jim. So yeah, thank you for having us on, Brian.

Brian Searl: Awesome. Except Dan, do you have anything to add? 

Dan Ugstad: No. Angela nailed it pretty well. 

Brian Searl: Alright, we’re excited to have you guys here. For those of you who are watching for the first time, apparently, this is Dan and Angela’s first podcast. I don’t want you guys to be nervous ’cause this is my first podcast too [00:03:00] Jim?

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. Thanks for having me on. I’m Jim Ritchie. I’m the CEO and Co-founder of AEONrv. We’re located in Reno, Nevada. We’re building what we think is the most high-tech. Small RV designed to go off-Road, off-grid camp all season, dealt with lots of technology, kind of unique things, trying to bring a new spin to the RV space for adventurers, overlanders, people like that.

And excited to be here. 

Brian Searl: Most high-tech, I’m gonna definitely grill you on. We’re gonna find out. 

Jim Ritchie: Sure. 

Brian Searl: We’re gonna make sure, give you some hard-hitting questions later. 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. 

Let me just jump in. I did spend 30 years in Silicon Valley. Running most of the software companies and I actually was running a AI company in San Francisco before doing this, so I’m happy to be grilled.

Brian Searl: Alright. Can it fly? 

Jim Ritchie: Can’t fly, but it can be controlled remotely by apps and we’re actually imp we’re planning to implement some AI features in it as well. 

Brian Searl: Alright, 

[00:04:00] Let’s just start with you there for a second then, Jim, we’ll talk to you. So tell us a little bit about what. The history of AEONrv, right?

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. 

So interestingly enough, I’m a big backcountry skier, hiker, biker, and li Live had a house in San Francisco and I wanted my own small van or RV to go out and enjoy the great outdoors. Looked around, didn’t like anything that was on the market, so I thought I’d build my own just to build one, and designed it in CAD for fun while running a software company in San Francisco.

I talked to a buddy of mine building one. We were just gonna build for, for our own use. And spent about a year doing that. Took it to a trade show and the industry went crazy about it and got a bunch of orders. So we threw up a website and now we’re here three years later with about a 130 unit backlog.

We’ve delivered 12 customer units. We’ll deliver another 60 this year. And kinda have a real company. So that’s what we’re doing. And they’re just trying to bring some outside thinking to the RV [00:05:00] space, which historically has a been a little bit insular, I would say. Interesting to me.

80% of RVs in the US are built in one county in Indiana Elkhart. And so we’re just trying to bring a different way of thinking about building RVs and providing a way for people to go out and enjoy the 

outdoors. 

Brian Searl: Awesome. All right, so let me ask you this. What problem were you, in your mind, there’s probably multiples, right?

As you got into the product design thought I could do this better or that differently, or, but when you first started designing that in your CAD, when you were working in San Francisco, what were you trying to solve primarily that you found frustrating? 

Jim Ritchie: The primary thing was a true all season RV.

A lot of RVs. I’d like to say that, but that means what’s unique about us is we’re about built out of what are called FRPs or fiberglass reinforced insulated panels. And our whole RV box is glued together, so it’s not built like using traditional things like aluminum frames and fasteners.[00:06:00] 

By building out FRPs and all fiberglass, we have a much stronger, a much better insulated. Box in a traditional RV. And that was the primary thing we were trying to solve for a true four season RV. And then secondly was just using much more modern components, higher tech components. It’s all electric inside.

We don’t use propane. Things like that. Just taking a modern, more modern approach and making it all software controlled. 

Brian Searl: All right, so then let’s talk, let’s pivot that and talk, ’cause this is your wheelhouse, right? Tech in Silicon Valley. And you mentioned AI a little bit, although AI has been around since 1943.

I did learn that the other day. But talk to us about some of the tech and the things that, that are, because obviously there’s a place for people who want to go four seasons off-roading, all the versatility, right? But then they also want that comfort of home sometimes, so they wanna bring with them.

So how does the tech help them do that? 

Jim Ritchie: We have a lot of features. So you can remotely monitor and control the say the heating cooling. So we have [00:07:00] features where, if you’re away from their unit, one of the things we wanted to do was be able to keep our we travel with our dog, I think sixty-five percent of RVers travel with animals.

So we wanted, if we’re like in a national park where we couldn’t take the dog on the trail, we wanted to be able to put the dog in there and safely make sure the environmentals were at the right temperature. So we build a lot of features like that, but primarily it’s, it’s all electric. There’s high-end components, all lithium ion batteries and.

All, like I said, managed by software, so it makes it just easier. And we also designed the electrical system to be more like your house, so you don’t have to worry about managing the, what you have plugged in or how the batteries are gonna run out. So it’s really a different approach to thinking about, making it more easy to enjoy the, while you’re out camping.

Brian Searl: All right, 

so I wanna rotate through everybody else, but one last question I have for you, and then obviously you can jump into the conversation, we’ll probably come back to you at some point. But tell us what the future, if you could do what you want to do that’s in your Silicon Valley [00:08:00] head, right?

There is AEONrv tech-wise or whatever-wise, in five years? 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah, in five years. So we’re in the, what I call the fourth phase of our company. We’re really scaling manufacturing, so we’re going from, building a one off into a production line. And our vision of the future is more software, more integration, more ease of use, and just scaling up our manufacturing to meet the demand is, we have such a big backlog right now.

It’s really just focused on that. And in terms of, we’ll expand the product line, some different platforms, we’re gonna do a Tobler trailer. We have a lot of people that want that’s using the same technology. 

Awesome. Super excited to, to check in with Ian again. Please stick around.

We’ll go I’ll find a question to come back to you. I promise we won’t let you leave be saying that. Yeah, the whole show. But feel free to just jump in if you have any comments or anything like that. I think I wanna start with Jenny first. From Terra. More because Jenny, my plan is we talk about before the show, have you talked about Terra More, we’ll go talk to Angela and then maybe come back and talk a little about customer [00:09:00] experience and some of the other data points.

KOA has to share and things like that. Jenny for those who have been perhaps, I don’t wanna say living in a hole, but who don’t know about Terramor. Let’s start there. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah. So Terramor is a new brand from Camp Friends of America. We opened in August of 2020, and right now we have one resort located in our Harbour Main, and it’s truly an elevated, I don’t wanna say clamping, but camping experience. Yeah. Sixty-four canvas tents on property. They all have in-suite bathrooms. We have a large lodge really modeled after a national Park Lodge. Which has food service gear lending. We have a on-site Outfitter who’s more like a concierge and they’ll help our guests really direct them to certain adventures in the area.

Set up tours. This year for the first time, we’re going to actually do hosted hikes through Acadia National Park, which we’re really excited for. So just really overall more of a elevated getaway, [00:10:00] elevated outdoor resort. That KOA has made. And so we’re, we’ve had we’ve had that one open now for, this is our fourth season.

And we’re looking at expanding and opening some more locations throughout the country. 

Brian Searl: Sorry for the, apparently the construction people decided it was warm outside and they’re building something horrifically large right off my balcony. So I apologize for noise that you guys can hear that. But so tell us for Terramor, right?

So walk us through the thought process from KOA’s perspective of. Obviously there’s very clearly a demographic. There’s a need to separate glamping, luxury, camping, whatever we’re gonna call it. Into the separate resort area. And then there’s also the campgrounds, the franchisees that you work with too, from the KOA side, who are building facets of glamping that are obviously totally driven to tear more into their property.

So what was the thought process for KOA when we were I imagine the first step was like let’s put glamping or something similar into the campgrounds, and then it evolved from there. Yes. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah. The KOA’s mission is connecting people to the outdoors in each other.

And [00:11:00] we do, as we’re a big research driven company. Since 2014, we’ve been putting out the the National Camping Report. About 2018, 2019, we noticed that there was really this big push for, what was turned glamping at the time. People, staying in about, in a unique accommodation.

And so we did some further research to really try to identify who these who these guests were and what they were expecting and what glamping really meant. And what we found was that it was. It was really undefined. Glamping to, somebody could be staying in a tent in somebody’s backyard.

Or it could be a really high-end resort, like Posa in Montana where it’s, very expensive. It’s all-inclusive. But there was this really big need from the leisure traveler market, not necessarily the camping market people who identify as campers, but the leisure traveler market for outdoor experiences.

And so we knew that we do outdoor experience as well. And we really believed that we could help connect people who aren’t campers to the [00:12:00] outdoors in another way. And that’s really where Terramor came up from. So Terramor literally means love of land. So Terra is land and Amor is love.

And it’s been it’s been really fun to see the demographic of people that come through and our target audience. And we do get some crossovers. So we do get some Mkewe campers that will come to Terramore and probably vice versa. But it’s been great ’cause we get a lot of repeat guests too, which means we’re doing something right and connecting them to the outdoors.

Brian Searl: So I remember reading and I don’t know how many years ago it was, how many years? Terebo? It’s only been open for a year. Are you sure? It feels like longer than 

Jenny McCullough: no. Four years. 

Brian Searl: Oh, okay. Yeah. Alright. I know I’m getting old and I’m losing my memory. I thought it was longer than, okay. So I remember reading the, like years ago.

Of all the high-tech things that Terramor is gonna put into the property when you were first announcing it. And it’s for sure, like still today is amazing, all the stuff that you packed into there, right? From a technology or experience standpoint, or just the unique things that you had never seen before in the outdoor hospitality space as you’ve [00:13:00] moved forward now four years into this.

And I think one day there may be some other locations for Terramor in the future, but as you look toward those newer locations. And some of the things that you’ve seen, the other people who are in the glamping industry at the same level that you are come out with, and I keep calling it glamping, there’s no good word for it yet.

I think luxury camping is a better fit. But anyway. So as you see what those people have come out with and added and enhanced and innovated with, are there things that you’re looking or you would like to do at Terramore that further would enhance that experience at your next resort or. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, we’re always looking to improve and I think that’s one of the fun things about creating a new brand within a large very established brand.

We have the backing and the history of 60 years of outdoor hospitality. But we’ve been able to be really nimble and have changed. As you said, when we first started in 2020 we had, great [00:14:00] concepts things that we were gonna do. And after that first year, many of those things we realized weren’t feasible from an operational standpoint, or our guests didn’t really want them.

And so we’ve been able to change and really define those guest experiences. I’m constantly visiting other outdoor resorts or clamping resorts just to, see what they’re doing well and how we compare and what the industry is doing. Right now there’s a lot of focus on more digital check-ins and more less people and more seclusion, from some of those outdoor experiences and we’re going in the other direction.

We’ve noticed that our guests really. Value our staff. They’ll come in and they’ll know our staff by first, their first name, and they’ll have conversations with them. They’ll ask their their opinions on things to do. And so while many groups are going more digital we’re taking a step back and we’re bringing people back in.

So that’s one of our, main pushes this year is to even create more on-site experiences, utilizing our [00:15:00] staff and off-site experiences. 

Brian Searl: And I think that’s really important, and I think this will be a good segue after I ask this next question based on our previous conversation to Dan and Angela, right?

About experiences and then how people engage at their campground too. Remember your answer, right? Angela, word for word. 

Angela Ugstad: Yep. 

Brian Searl: Okay. Alright. So when you talk about experiences like that, I think you’re right. I think that it’s really interesting because there’s a market for everything, right? Almost everything, but, so if you go and it frustrates me by the way, for the consumers, and I’m not.

Suggesting that you need to answer this question, but it frustrates me that like we can’t just all have that iPhone thing like Steve Jobs where I’m just gonna introduce something and everybody’s gonna love it and they didn’t know they needed it before and they’re just gonna buy everything. And I’m gonna control all the things, right?

I just wanna put all this is with my clients too, right? Like I just wanna give them all the AI tech and just have them like want it from day one. ’cause I know how cool, right? But it doesn’t work that way. But either way, if you do, if you’re a data-driven company, if you do your market research like KOE clearly does.

You realize that maybe this didn’t work. But maybe this does, and let me pivot and then, and I think that’s [00:16:00] really an interesting direction to add into, because you’re right, we hear a lot of the emphasis on the tech, the less touch points. People don’t wanna call and talk to somebody on the phone. And certainly there’s a very clearly a demand for that.

But I think if the whole industry overcompensates that way, there’s a big void that’s gonna have to be filled. Would you agree or. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah I completely agree. And, I’m a, I’m very into customer service. And having that people touch point, which probably is not normal, I’d rather call somebody than try to send an email and wait for a response or try to do the chat GPT and not be able to communicate effectively.

But, as an example I recently stayed at a competitor and it was all it was all tech based. From, we just got slammed with emails on the codes to gates and the codes to the house, and what to do once you’re in the location. And just, please don’t do this and please don’t do that, but please do this.

Yeah. And it gets to the point where it’s overwhelming in the communication. And then,[00:17:00] as the guest and as the user, how you read something is not necessarily how. The person wrote it, right? What the intention was. The perception things. Yeah, the perception. So it can come across very negative when you don’t need to be negative.

And there was nobody to contact if per se, your toilet broke or something. And so just having a face for the property and for the brand is very important. 

Brian Searl: Yeah, I think this is something that the whole industry is gonna have to come to grips with, right? What is the middle ground?

Because there surely is value in technology, both from a time-saving standpoint and a guest experience standpoint. And I don’t wanna spend too much time on this. I’m going to you Dan Angela in a second. But what is that balance between overwhelming but also. Giving ’em the information they need, but not more than they need.

And then again, always making sure that customer experience is there. If you have, chances are if you’ve done everything correctly and you’re operating a good park, a good resort, whatever else, and you’ve provided all the [00:18:00] information, you’ve done all the studies, you’ve given everything, everybody you want, right?

And you’ve learned from your mistakes, then most people aren’t gonna need that customer touch point. But it’s gotta be there no matter what. Like you have to be able to, I can’t remember who this was. I think it was Marriott. I’m gonna call out Marriott on the show. Like it took me, I’m a platinum elite member in Marriott.

It took me 25 minutes to find a customer service number the other day. Nowhere in the app, nowhere in my emails, nowhere on the website, nowhere in the contact. It was crazy. Yeah I mean there has to for sure be a balance to that. And like you mentioned, and it like whatever the technology ends up being.

And for us, like we, we do the AI chatbots and Okay. We always got a great AI chatbot they just released too. For us we didn’t even consider that problem in the beginning. And it had, it was a, an issue we had to run into with a client where they said what if somebody types, there’s a bear outside my cabin or my toilet’s clogged.

Like no AI in the world, no matter how smart that is gonna be able to solve it, right? So we had to build something into our chatbot where it could detect an emergency and it would send a text message to somebody. Yeah. Yeah. But those are the cool things you just have to run into. And realize are problems.[00:19:00] 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah. And the only thing I would add there too is there’s opportunities to have that human element with digital, right? With those touch points. And we’ve done that with creating videos on how to use your tent. And so as soon as they check in, we have an actual, a video of an actual person walking through the tent.

And utilizing and showing them how to use everything. And that’s eliminated a lot of questions that we’ve gotten from our front desk. But it still gives that human element to it. So there’s that balance, like you said. You just have to think outside of the box of how you can make it both work.

Brian Searl: How far away do you think we are from the hologram version of Jenny walking everybody through their tents 

Jenny McCullough: very far away. 

Brian Searl: Alright, we gotta put that, yeah, I think send an email. Cole has to put that on his radar. So Dan and Angela, I wanna pivot to you for a second and talk about your campgrounds. So we were the context for the people who weren’t nobody was watching the show before we started was we were talking about how the difference between, and I want to go back to that [00:20:00] too ’cause I think that’s a good piece of your conversation, Jenny later, is the difference between how guests come to KOA and experience that versus how, and this is part of what we’re gonna talk about right at Terra.

But we were talking about that conversation of how the campgrounds at the KOAs, and obviously many other campgrounds are, full of life sometimes, depending on the type of campground, right? And they’re swimming in the pool and they’re playing miniature golf and they’re in the store and they’re having ice cream and sitting around having picnic tables or lunch at picnic tables and things like that.

But it’s different at Dan and Angela’s campground. They’re gonna tell us that in a second, I think intentionally. But it’s different at glamping. Sometimes too, depending on the design and the type of people that are coming there. So before we get to that though, do you wanna just tell us about Cuyahoga Range Campground and how you guys got started?

Angela Ugstad: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll definitely have Dan speak to the infrastructure installation and all of the, paperwork and everything that kind of went into starting the campground. But we started the [00:21:00] process. In December of 2020 when we bought it’s on just under 40 acres. We bought some wooded raw land in Crosby.

And so had to kinda figure out, how we wanted the campground to be laid out. We definitely wanted it to be wooded, private, secluded. But we’re still only, 10 or 15 minutes from a number of different towns and activities and lakes. So how do we. Get that feel without just, raising all of the trees on the property.

So it was, you wanna talk a little bit about kind of the process that we 

took? 

Dan Ugstad: Sure. We had an idea on what we wanted to bring. We wanted these more private sites. We felt like that was something that nobody else is really, we bring it to the table every, usually when people make a campground, it’s, how many people, I’ve got this much space, how many people can I fit in this space, sort of thing.

And we decided to go a [00:22:00] little bit different where you want at least a little bit of privacy, between each site and you have your own area rather than, your. Neighbors pull out, just going right into your campfire sort of thing. 

Brian Searl: That’s really interesting. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but that’s really interesting because I think the and I don’t if anybody wants to agree with me here, right?

But I think there’s two kind of sides we were talking about going all the way, right? Like with customer experience in glamping, I think some people have seen that happen. And maybe this is just my experience, right? But you’ve typically got that state park, BLM land, super quiet, isolated nature experience.

And then it seems like the industry for the last number of years has been going toward what you’re talking about. The more of the, put as many people as we can with the luxury of, it’s still a great experience. Nobody’s knocking it. But put as many people as you can with the nice deluxe pads and everybody can see each other and there’s, that kind of amenity. But I don’t know, maybe we’ve overcompensated in that way to a certain extent in their need. And there’s a middle ground that can be filled [00:23:00] by people like you. 

Angela Ugstad: Yeah. And I definitely think that there’s, folks who are looking for that kind of experience, right? They go with several other families.

They wanna all be in the same spot. They wanna have all of the amenities so that, that’s, that is the destination, is the campground. And, our focus was really more developing a campground that’s a home base for RV campers. Where they can be in nature. It’s not, just a kind of a wide open space.

They can have some of the privacy, they can have their, the spaciousness. All of our campsites are 40 feet by 60 feet, and they have 30 feet of woods in between. So it’s it’s only 17 sites, so it’s not a big campground when you go, even if it’s completely full you don’t feel overcrowded.

It’s not noisy. It’s definitely more lively I guess I would say in the evening ’cause people are coming back from, going out and exploring the area, going out to eat and then, you have a lot of campfires and it’s [00:24:00] nice and dark so you can see the stars. So I think it’s a nice balance ’cause we offer the amenities of full hookups, picnic table, fire pit, but also the amenity of nature.

And that’s, I think something that a lot of our guests have really appreciated in their feedback is you guys obviously put a lot of thought into how you were laying this out and the, the feel of the campground. So that’s been nice feedback to hear. And I think something that was missing in the area in Crosby.

There’s a lot of camping options for tenting and smaller campers, but not really a lot for. The bigger RVs or the bigger campers that have that nature, that space, that privacy and also the full hookup amenities. 

Brian Searl: And I want to, I wanna go back to Dan and give him a chance to finish ’cause I rudely cut him off.

But Dan, I think that’s, I’d love to hear more of the thought process behind how that decision was made, right? Because you obviously had the land, if you had 30 feet between each site. For sure there’s at least room to put one more site in there if you [00:25:00] wanted to make more money. Yeah. So that had to be a conscious decision of I want to prioritize the experience more than what I’m going to earn from the property.

So was there, I’m assuming there was a story behind that more than I just wanna give some room for the bears to be in between the sites or 

Dan Ugstad: there are bears. I think a big part of it is we liked it better that way. We both, enjoy our privacy at times, it’s. And we went, we’ve been to Alaska a couple times past time we went we were RV camping and a lot of the sites there are a little bit more spread out and you have your own area, you’re not, sharing an area with everyone else.

And we really liked that. So it’s let’s look around, let’s see if anyone else is doing this kind of in our area. And they weren’t. And we talked to a lot of people. I. Got their thoughts on it what would you think about this? And a lot of positive feedback, so we just went 

Brian Searl: with it, that’s awesome. But how, so how did you though, I mean I obviously when you were talking to people there, that financial component comes into it, right? [00:26:00] Correct. So how did you decide how much space was going in between, how many total RV sites you wanted? The layout of that, like how did that come together?

Sure. 

Dan Ugstad: When we were coming up with the design initially we were planning on a few more, 

Angela Ugstad: Like 30 to 40. 

Dan Ugstad: I think originally we were planning on it being a little bit bigger. Yeah. And then I think we redesigned it down to twenty-five or something like that. But because of the way so we had a wetland delineation and because of the way like certain plants grow in certain areas you can’t build.

Uncertain areas. So we had to redesign it again, and then we came up with this best design that we could. As far as the delineation, played out. And we’re also building a house on that site, so we want our house to be a little bit private, not right in the campground sort of thing.

So with the land that you’ve got and the way the delineation was that’s just where we designed things around. 

Brian Searl: So where does the [00:27:00] future go for Cuyuna Range? Are you happy with the 17 sites? Are you adding amenities? Are you adjusting like Terramor is, are you, where do you go? I think, we’re pretty 

Jim Ritchie: new.

Dan Ugstad: I think we’re in a data gathering phase right now. We’re seeing. How booked we are. What’s the demand? We do have some area to expand if we want to. So we’re, yeah. That’s where we’re at. We’ve gotten through one season. We’re looking forward to our next year, and we’re gathering the data and seeing where to go next.

Brian Searl: Awesome. Stick around. I wanna talk to you, obviously a little bit more as the show goes on. Jim, I’m curious, where do you, where do most of the Aeon RVs end up? Are they mostly BLM land campers, or do they, is there some private camping components to it, or? 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah, I think they end up in various places, but it’s, the vehicle was primarily designed for going off road and off grid.

But of course, when you’re traveling, people also like to stop at, campgrounds. And so we have, when we [00:28:00] use it, we stop at a, we’ll find various places we like to go. It just depends on where we’re at. So it’s designed, it’s got hook, it’s got, hookups in terms, it doesn’t have plumbing hookups, it’s not designed for that.

But you can plug into shore power, when you’re at, when you’re at a charging station. So there’s a 30 amp. Charger. It’s all a mix. In our customer base is spread all over. So we have people in Virginia, North Carolina, other places in Northeast and a lot of those areas there’s, less chance to camp in BLM land or something like that.

So people do a all 

over the place. 

Brian Searl: Do you think that as you enjoy more success, you said what, a hundred and thirty-five a hundred thirty-seven units that are back ordered or something like that? 

Jim Ritchie: Yes. 

Brian Searl: Yeah, so you, if you can, not, if when you continue, we’re all gonna be positive here.

When you continue to enjoy the success you are and even more, do you feel like there’s an opportunity for you to pivot into different types of models that might be better suited for ’cause you have a high tech background, right? 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. 

Brian Searl: So corporate, some of that tech into models that might be better suited or used more [00:29:00] at private campgrounds.

Jim Ritchie: Our fundamental mission and value proposition is around the. The Aeon name. So it’s all Season Electric Cabin, Off-Road, off-Grid and new and high-Tech. So we will be building other models and I mentioned we’ll probably gonna be rolling out a trailer with those similar characteristics next year.

But we’re not really, we’re looking to just go into that niche. We’re not really looking to expand into kind of general RVs, if you will. It’s a pretty focused. Niche. That is a growing niche though, so it can certainly, people can take it in campgrounds and that, that’s not a problem.

That’s really our focus is to have that capability and really the all-season thing is fundamental. 

Brian Searl: That’s what I was getting at. I guess I just didn’t ask the right question. Because specific to the plumbing, I feel like that’s really only the small tweak that you might need. But with all season, I know Jenny, I dunno if you have these statistics in front of you, but there was a lot of talk about winter camping, right?

Being on the rise at [00:30:00] KOA, those types of units, right? Might be actually a interesting niche market for you to expand into and still be niche. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, absolutely. The, and I don’t have the statistics in front of me either, but winter camping is just, the interest in winter camping and how many people are trying it for the first time.

It just continues to grow and I, I think about some of the winter destinations that I like to go to and individuals that do like ice climbing and whatnot and right up that alley. 

Brian Searl: Yeah. Yeah. 

Angela Ugstad: That’s really interesting. ’cause we have gotten questions about whether, we have winter camping and right now, our current permit doesn’t allow for it, but it’s definitely something that we’ve been thinking about. In the future, there’s a little bit more work associated with it in terms of, plowing all the snow. This year it’d be no problem. We have no snow. In, in other years, in the future in this area, there’s a lot of fat tire biking.

In the winter, there’s a lot of snowshoeing. So I, I think that’s something, I’ll be interested to read the [00:31:00] new KOA report, Jenny. ’cause we definitely referenced those reports as we were doing our, business research and business plan. ’cause that’s, something we have on our radar for the future, as, an opportunity.

’cause in Minnesota, the camping season is quite short. Short, yeah. Okay. So most half of the year we’re closed. I was curious, Jim, if there is a. Like temperature range, if it right, Minnesota can tend to get down to, negative 20. Negative 30. Is there a range on the temperatures that you can take the RV 

in?

Jim Ritchie: Yeah, so let me, so there, besides just making sure your water doesn’t freeze, there are some other technical things that you wanna make sure that you handle. One is condensation. So if you camp in a traditional RV, a lot of times, especially if it’s a metal van that’s been insulated, you have condensation issues.

And that’s because you have thermal transfer from the outside to the end. So we designed the RV specifically to have no thermal transfer from the outside to end, and it’s all fiberglass, so [00:32:00] there’s no metal that goes from outside to end, so you can’t form condensation. And that’s a really key thing, especially when you’re sleeping because you put out a lot of moisture that would condensate on any cold material inside.

The second thing we do, which is unique for our size is we have an insulated sliding door. That shuts off the cab where you’re driving, which is not insulated and has single pane windows, and that’s a one inch insulated door. It’s R seven and that’s a kind of a game changer in keeping condensation forming on the windows, both or heat transfer from cold to hot, both in summer and and in the winter.

And so those are other key technical things. The answer to your question one of our first customers lives in Alaska and he took his RV up there, and last year he camped all winter in Alaska. He’s a big backcountry skier, and he was camping down to minus 20 Fahrenheit very comfortably.

The, so our RV is about five times better insulated than a traditional RV. [00:33:00] And so that’s another key factor. So you keep it warm. In the winter you use much less energy. So our batteries and we actually heat with a heat pump that so a traditional, like a kind of a heat pump, so you can actually heat down to minus 13 Fahrenheit with that.

And then we have a air heater that runs off the gas in the engine or then the gas tank that will work down to, minus 40 if you will. So we’re very comfortable saying you could camp in minus 20 degrees in our RV without any issues. Yeah. 

Angela Ugstad: Nice. 

Brian Searl: And this is like I, again, I think this is just, we’re exploring this more, right?

But if you look at Dan and Angela or many camp runners who closed during the winter. You know that there’s certainly a segment of campground owners who just want to go to Florida and don’t want to talk to customers for a while. Which they probably deserve. I’m definitely not brave enough to own a campground and deal with customers for even three months.

But for the segment of people who would like to expand their business based on either data from KOA or just because they wanna serve people deeper into these months because there’s demand, [00:34:00] I think there’s a lot of opportunity for a vehicle that can go Off-road, but can traverse some of these places that would have to be plowed too often.

Or in upper Minnesota who are harder to access. And so I think there’s a lot of this infrastructure here that opens up some of these markets for both of you guys. 

Angela Ugstad: Is it, I agree. 

Brian Searl: Certainly like to go off road, right Jim? But not really. Like maybe not as far off road.

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. The other thing for winter camping that we specifically wanted to 

Brian Searl: provide. That these other RV manufacturers are probably not gonna build. 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah it’s, they would’ve to change things in a dramatic way. But the other thing that we wanted to do was, especially for winter camping, was the ability to store all your gear inside in those cold temperatures.

So we have a big gear garage where you could put a fat tire bike inside, if you were or your cross-country skis, or your snow shoes, or more importantly for me, my downhill skis and my boots. So they’re actually all [00:35:00] stored inside. And we even have a feature where we have a boot warming area in the gear garage where we actually duck in heat, specifically say your ski boots or your your whatever.

If you’re whatever you want could be heated. That’s the kind of things that we’re doing.

Brian Searl: That’s awesome. All right. Let’s pivot Jenny, let’s go back to you for a minute. Let’s talk about customer experience. ’cause I think that. It’s really interesting to me. Again, we talked, we touched on how customer experience has evolved, but what does, let me just throw this to you. What does customer experience mean to Jenny?

Jenny McCullough: Oh, wow. That’s a loaded question. 

Brian Searl: I just didn’t want to talk anymore. Everybody’s tired here. 

Jenny McCullough: I think it’s meeting our customer of where they are. We really train our staff to help our guests adventure at their own pace. So really understand. What they’re looking for out of their vacation.

Vacations are sacred. We don’t get as many as we should. We don’t take as many as we should. So understanding what it is that the guest is looking for. We talked about having people on [00:36:00] site to develop those relationships for, but not everybody wants that.

As you, as people come in and really. Understanding their energy and are, do they wanna just be left alone? Are they looking for that weekend getaway where they’re off tech and they’re reading and they’re just getting back into nature and doing a refresh? Or is it somebody who’s is truly looking for some recommendations, is their first time in Acadia.

They want to know, what hikes to do. Even on the level of what level hiker are they, so really understanding who they are and what it is that they’re trying to accomplish for their trip. 

Brian Searl: So how do you do that on a per person basis, right? Because obviously you can do that from a demographic standpoint or if you’re working with Scott in one of your KOA reports.

But how do you do that on a person-by-person level. Is there just a button and you’d pressed for human and one pops out of the closet, or, 

Jenny McCullough: If I had the right answer to that, then I’d be doing, I’d be. A millionaire, 

Brian Searl: but certainly you’re running a great would be copy. So you must have some idea of how to get a [00:37:00] sense of Right.

Jenny McCullough: So we, yeah, I mean we do several things. We do a lot of touch points pre-stay that are pre-stay communication links to itineraries. We do pre-state text messages. Once they get there, we have that human component and that human element tied to where we again, we train our team to address the individual by name or find some commonality with them.

Recognize when they come back, from a trip and ask how their day is. And then, even when they’re visiting us, but they’re not on site, doing some automated text messaging or or whatnot to create that interaction with the guests still. But it’s, a lot of it is creating the culture at your campground or your resort where you have staff that wanna interact and they wanna, they want to create that really great experience 

for others.

Brian Searl: So you don’t think the button would work? 

Jenny McCullough: It. Maybe for some. For some it might. [00:38:00] I’m gonna have understanding which ones it’ll work for. 

Brian Searl: Yeah. We’re gonna study the button thing specific. No, I’m kidding. Yeah. But yeah, I think it’s interesting understanding those preferences is something that’s long, been the holy grail of marketers, two it, I mean it obviously customer experience from your standpoint, but marketing plays a big role in that too. Research and all that kind of stuff. And it’s something we’ve long struggled with too. Like you, we have, we still do email marketing for people. I know you guys do email marketing at KOA and obviously Terra more too, but there’s a, there’s that difference of how do I not send an email blast to 20,000 people when I know that the content of that email is only gonna be valued by 5,000 of those people.

How do I segment them into groups and provide more value and give them a targeted message? That’s the same way of like, how do I get those answers from customers about what they prefer? How do I log that? How do I manage that in the CRM so I make sure I don’t have to ask them every time they come, if their VB guests.

It’s really interesting the way the technology is progressing and how it’s gonna enable us to do more of that and provide better service [00:39:00] while still again, connecting them with the outdoors. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, I think that the key there is just listening to your guests, right? And it, it starts from the beginning when they ask questions about their stay all the way through the, their stay, whether they’re chatting with friends or whatnot.

Just being aware and listening to their conversations because there’s so many things that you can pull from those conversations and those little comments or remarks. And then all the way to their after-stay reviews. And that’s we’ve. Really changed a lot of our customers experiences and our on-site amenities based off of some of those reviews.

It’s funny. Asks 

tell 

Brian Searl: you, so that’s what I think tech enables though, right? Because there’s so many Mom-and-pop campgrounds, or even people with five or six employees who absolutely want to pay attention to hang on every single word that a guest says to make the experience the best they possibly can.

But they’re catching ’em in the middle of a campground when they’re trying to fix a busted sewer pipe or Right. And they [00:40:00] listen, they hear, and then it’s gone in five minutes. Yep. And so I think that’s an important piece of Utilizing that tech as one example of here’s how I can gather, aggregate, collate that data, and then actually take action on it, instead of remembering two out of 10 yep. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah 

Angela Ugstad: we are definitely the mom and pop hamper down right here. Like it’s just Dan and I running it. So when we developed our technologies, a lot of it we tried to have, be more kind of self-serve lower maintenance. So we have, they book online and we have some automated emails that go out ahead of their stay, but everything has our phone number on it.

So they can all, and we, it’s interesting ’cause we do have a mix, right? We have people who will call, we’ll have people who will send us an email. We’ll have folks who will use the contact us button on our website. And then, we mostly Dan will walk through the campground and, some people really do wanna engage and we’ll have some really nice conversations with [00:41:00] them and see how things are going.

And other people, they wave ’cause they’re in their camping mode, and that’s great. So we have a mix of, there’s the technology side of it. And we created a survey for folks last year so that they could, fill out what did you like, what could we improve?

And there’s some things this year that were, implementing just smaller things. But it’s nice, you think you create a really nice campground. It’s always nice to hear that the things that you were focusing on are what people are appreciating. So yeah Dan does all of the customer service.

Aspect of it. And I know well, you, I’ll let you speak. So I’m the chatter of the two of us if you couldn’t tell, 

so 

Dan Ugstad: What do you want to know? 

Brian Searl: Anything you wanna tell us? 

Dan Ugstad: It’s we designed it relatively passively. That was the idea. Angela’s got a job and I’ve got other things that I’m doing too [00:42:00] with.

Real estate. We can’t, we didn’t want something where we’d have to, be operating the gate, letting everyone in, things like that. We wanted, that’s the way we designed it to be relatively passive. And for the most part it is. There’s not a whole lot to go wrong there.

It’s just campsites and hookups, and 

Angela Ugstad: and there have multiple ways to get in contact with us. Yep. 

Dan Ugstad: Our phone number’s on every site or my phone number’s on every site, and we just don’t run into many issues. 

Angela Ugstad: Knock on wood. 

Dan Ugstad: Knock on wood. 

Angela Ugstad: I only been open one here. 

Brian Searl: So takeaway I’m taking from this whole show is that Jim can solve all the world’s problems.

You just add a few tweaks to his RV. Jim, have you seen these new tiny little robots that Samsung came out with at CAS? Rolling Wheel. Disney’s got one too, and I think Samsung’s got one. And Royal Samsung. 

Jim Ritchie: No, I’ve looked at the new Rabbit product. That was an AI product kind of device that came. 

Brian Searl: Oh yeah, I order, I pre-ordered one of those.

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. Yeah, those are cool. 

Brian Searl: That’s great. I don’t know if [00:43:00] that’s long lasting, but I’ll have fun playing with it. 

Jim Ritchie: So can I ask Dan and Angelo, are you guys using a specific booking software platform or do you, did you do something yourself or how does that work for you guys? 

Angela Ugstad: We, so I built a website on WordPress and then we have a Vic Booking plugin that does all of the booking and scheduling and so far that’s worked really smoothly. And then all of our payments are through Stripe, so it all just connects and we haven’t had any issues with that. But, yeah, that what, that’s what we’re using too.

Brian Searl: The size for the size you are. I think that works. I think that works fine. 

Angela Ugstad: Yeah. Yeah. 

Brian Searl: So Jim, like briefly, I don’t wanna harp on this but the little box, can we have them, like the button thing? Can we have them come out the little closet with a little a

Jim Ritchie: what? I’m sorry. 

Brian Searl: I’m not, that’s what I want.

Jim Ritchie: Oh, okay. 

Brian Searl: All right. Anyway. Okay, so we got about 10 minutes left here. Jenny, do you have any more ideas? [00:44:00] Anything you wanna talk about? 

Jenny McCullough: I have a lot of ideas. No, I don’t think I have 

Brian Searl: any one outta the air. We’ll talk about it. Whatever you wanna talk about. 

Jenny McCullough: I don’t have anything specifically, no.

I, the Angela you mentioned our report. We will be coming out with our camping report, outdoor hospitality report here in the next few months. So I know we have some really good data and insights. To share there. So be on the lookout for that. But no, I don’t think I necessarily have any huge thoughts.

Brian Searl: If you don’t have a good idea, I’m gonna be forced to talk about like geeky, SEO spammy things that I ran into for 

Jim Ritchie: I have a topic I’d be interested in hearing these, 

Brian Searl: go. Anything that stops me from talking, the audience will love. Let’s go. 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. So one of the big things I think that, especially as we go off road and off grid, is sustainability.

As the population grows, more people are interested in camping and we’ve already seen like BLM land usage, the federal government trying to cut back because people aren’t cleaning up or they’re driving in places, or [00:45:00] camping in places they don’t, shouldn’t go. And then it also relates to our vehicle.

Like for us, we’re, we’re trying to. Build a vehicle that lasts longer, higher quality. So that’s one aspect of sustainability. Energy and inputs in the energy and inputs out and making it just more sustainable for things like not using propane. It’s not perfect, of course we’re using lithium-ion batteries.

They have to be recycled. So you have those issues, but I’m just curious what from, other people think about, where that trend is going. As maybe more people looked at camp, ’cause it’s something we think about and, worry about, if you will. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, I can talk through a little bit from the KOA standpoint and even from Terramor standpoint.

As we evolve, we’re really looking at sustainable practices throughout the system as well. So anything from, simple things like adding the water fill stations and getting rid of plastic bottles at properties to adding EV charging [00:46:00] and solar. There’s things that we can do within even like our septic systems to be more sustainable.

What I will say is I think, the industry that we’re in naturally leans for us. To be more sustainable because our guest is starting to expect it more. And the great thing is that we’re introducing nature and the environment to people. And so the more people have those experiences in nature and have those outdoor experiences, the more they’re gonna wanna preserve it.

And so we’re. We’re also creating that culture of wanting to have sustainability and so it’s this big cycle, right? You just have to continue to look to see what you can do and what’s viable. I know one of the areas that we have some. From the KOA side that we have some hardships with this.

Just the recycling in general. Some communities it’s really hard to recycle. And so we’re trying to solve for that within our 

system. 

Brian Searl: That was one of the most interesting things moving up to Canada. I know this is unrelated, but the recycling aspect of it. ’cause [00:47:00] I came from Ohio and there was very few things, plastic-wise.

Like you had to look at your plastic. What type of plastic is it? What numbers on the bottom is this gonna be able to recycle? There was virtually no composting in Cleveland where I was, at least I didn’t hear of it. And I come up here and like I had to, it took me a year almost to get used to it.

And my girlfriend had to keep reminding me like literally anything that is plastic, anything that is paper, anything, just put it in there and they’ll do it. And so it was really interesting to me, just the difference in, and I’m sure that exists in some US cities too, but it wasn’t where we were at. But the ability of that.

We can all of a sudden make use and recycle a lot more than we could before, and the technology is there. So how do we get that and be stewards of that and make that available to more people. I don’t wanna have that conversation that was related to. I think is there certain innovations at Terramore?

I know KOA was working on solar panels right at least one market in Arizona a few years ago that read about are there specific innovations that makes Terramore a little bit more of an [00:48:00] eco-friendly glamping operation or places you’ve linked ahead that will do that? 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, 

So Terramor, when we built our property and Bar Harbor we turned an existing KOA into Terramor.

And so we actually replanted I think over a thousand native trees. Because it went from, an RV park, which is typically more clear cut to really private experiences and forested experiences. We try to utilize locally made, products and services we utilize, local ingredients in our restaurant. We have our own herb garden on site that we’ll pull within our restaurant too. But one of the biggest things that we did this year, and it was actually really surprised on how well it was received with our guests, is we added honeybees. And so we have five or six honeybee hives.

And we have a beekeeper. And we go out and we check our honeybees and we planted blueberry bushes and wildflowers all around it. We started doing a beekeeper’s[00:49:00] talk once a week, and it quickly became one of the most favorite. Activities at our resort. People love it. And we’ve now bought more beekeeping suits.

Our guests will be able to go in and actually see the bees and learn about why they’re so important. So it’s, bringing in those educational act experiences 

as well. 

Brian Searl: This is one of those, again we’ll close maybe on experiences here. And I think that this is one of those things that goes to, that there’s so much you can do in the outdoor hospitality industry.

Whatever you call it, glamping, camping, whatever, right? That no one, like you consistently hear the same ideas. Often when you’ll go to, and I, and this is not a sleight of confidence, right? But when you go to conferences, you hear not from the same people, but the same type of ideas, and you don’t often hear about the beekeeping ideas or the unique things that.

No one else has considered because they’re not as widespread as they are before. But that stuff is fascinating and you can unlock such a [00:50:00] huge new market. This actual next report that Scott and I are gonna release for MC in February early February is gonna talk a little bit about event hosting and different ways you can do some unique things on your campground.

But that is we were in Iceland in September and went into a greenhouse full of tomatoes and there was tons of bees just flying all over that. And the instant thought is they’re gonna bother me. They’re gonna be a right. I don’t wanna get stung. But they’re not anywhere near you. They don’t want anything to do with you.

They just wanna do their work. And the ability to educate those people, like you said, on and that loops back into nature. And conservation and eco-friendly and how the bees make sure the flowers exist and. Cool. I think just there’s so many opportunities out there for camp current owners to, to embrace and adapt these unique aspects of it and I’m really excited to hear Morse doing that.

I know other people are too great, but So anybody have any final closing thoughts? No. You’re all just gonna let me wrap it up. Alright, thank you guys. I appreciate it for another [00:51:00] episode of MC Fireside. Chats, Dan and Angela. Wish you all the best at Cuyona Range Campground there in Minnesota. You thanks.

I love to check back in with you in a little bit maybe and see how you’re going with another couple years under your belt, maybe Jim, wait for you to solve all the world’s problems, buddy. As you keep stalling ’em, you just let us know our best. We’ll have you back on. We want to, yeah I’m excited to see where you guys go.

’cause I really do think there’s a need for that and I think you should explore. Some of the things we talked about, maybe it ends up not making sense, right? Yeah. But at least it’s worth having a conversation as winter camping continues to, grow in popularity. Because I think there’s so many campgrounds that can stay open, like I said, and extend their season.

And I think they need help of rigs like you to make that happen. And Jenny, thank you as always for all the great insights from KOA, from Terramor, from all that kind of stuff. Really appreciate all three of you being on here. And we will see you next week for another episode of MC Fireside.

Chats. Take care guys. 

Jim Ritchie: Thanks. 

Thanks for joining us for this episode of MC Fireside Chats with your host Brian Searl. Have a suggestion for a show idea. Want your campground to accompany in a [00:52:00] future episode? Email us at hello at moderncampground.com. Get your daily dose of news from Moderncampground.com, and be sure to join us next week for more insights.

Into the fascinating world of outdoor hospitality.

This is MC Fireside Chats, a weekly show featuring conversations with thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and outdoor hospitality experts who share their insights to help your business succeed. Hosted by Brian Searl, the founder and CEO of Insider Perks and powered by insights from Modern Campground, the most innovative news source in the industry.

Brian Searl: Welcome everybody to another episode of MC Fireside Chats. My name’s Brian [00:01:00] Searl with Insider Perks. Apologies, we’ve got a couple minute late start there. It’s really weird. We were talking beforehand and I had to disconnect and reconnect the network and that it just kicked everybody outta the software.

So it’s been a while since we’ve had a bug here. It excite me, like I have to figure it out really quick and troubleshoot, and it makes my brain work. Wednesday, sleepy day in the middle of the afternoon, but super excited to be here with you guys for our fifth week episode. We don’t usually have these, so we don’t have panel recurring guests here, but we do have three, four really good people.

Three good guests. I didn’t mean to discount you, Dan. There i’s. See you there. So really excited to be here with Jenny McCullough from Terra, More, Outdoor Resorts, Dan and Angela who are gonna tell you about their campground. They own Crayona Range in Minnesota. And Jim Ritchie from Aon RV. You guys wanna go around, just briefly introduce yourselves and.

Tell us a little bit about what you have to offer and then we can dive into your stories. Whoever wants to start. 

Jenny McCullough: Do you want me to start? I can start. So I’m Jenny. I’m with Camp Friends of America KOA, and I manage their new brand, Termore Outdoor Resorts, which is more of a high-end [00:02:00] elevated climbing experience.

It’s nice to be here. 

Thanks for letting me be on your show. Brian. 

Brian Searl: Thanks for being here, Jenny. Appreciate it, Dan and Angela, wanna go? 

Angela Ugstad: So yes, I’m Angela Ugstad. That’s my husband, Dan. We own Kayana Range Campground. We it’s an RV campground located in North Central Minnesota specifically in Crosby which has really become a big destination area in Minnesota over the last several years.

We developed the campground over about a two and a half year time period and opened last summer. So we’re very new. Still kinda learning the ropes. So definitely excited to be a part of the conversation today and, learn some things and hear from Jenny and Jim. So yeah, thank you for having us on, Brian.

Brian Searl: Awesome. Except Dan, do you have anything to add? 

Dan Ugstad: No. Angela nailed it pretty well. 

Brian Searl: Alright, we’re excited to have you guys here. For those of you who are watching for the first time, apparently, this is Dan and Angela’s first podcast. I don’t want you guys to be nervous ’cause this is my first podcast too [00:03:00] Jim?

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. Thanks for having me on. I’m Jim Ritchie. I’m the CEO and Co-founder of AEONrv. We’re located in Reno, Nevada. We’re building what we think is the most high-tech. Small RV designed to go off-Road, off-grid camp all season, dealt with lots of technology, kind of unique things, trying to bring a new spin to the RV space for adventurers, overlanders, people like that.

And excited to be here. 

Brian Searl: Most high-tech, I’m gonna definitely grill you on. We’re gonna find out. 

Jim Ritchie: Sure. 

Brian Searl: We’re gonna make sure, give you some hard-hitting questions later. 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. 

Let me just jump in. I did spend 30 years in Silicon Valley. Running most of the software companies and I actually was running a AI company in San Francisco before doing this, so I’m happy to be grilled.

Brian Searl: Alright. Can it fly? 

Jim Ritchie: Can’t fly, but it can be controlled remotely by apps and we’re actually imp we’re planning to implement some AI features in it as well. 

Brian Searl: Alright, 

[00:04:00] Let’s just start with you there for a second then, Jim, we’ll talk to you. So tell us a little bit about what. The history of AEONrv, right?

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. 

So interestingly enough, I’m a big backcountry skier, hiker, biker, and li Live had a house in San Francisco and I wanted my own small van or RV to go out and enjoy the great outdoors. Looked around, didn’t like anything that was on the market, so I thought I’d build my own just to build one, and designed it in CAD for fun while running a software company in San Francisco.

I talked to a buddy of mine building one. We were just gonna build for, for our own use. And spent about a year doing that. Took it to a trade show and the industry went crazy about it and got a bunch of orders. So we threw up a website and now we’re here three years later with about a 130 unit backlog.

We’ve delivered 12 customer units. We’ll deliver another 60 this year. And kinda have a real company. So that’s what we’re doing. And they’re just trying to bring some outside thinking to the RV [00:05:00] space, which historically has a been a little bit insular, I would say. Interesting to me.

80% of RVs in the US are built in one county in Indiana Elkhart. And so we’re just trying to bring a different way of thinking about building RVs and providing a way for people to go out and enjoy the 

outdoors. 

Brian Searl: Awesome. All right, so let me ask you this. What problem were you, in your mind, there’s probably multiples, right?

As you got into the product design thought I could do this better or that differently, or, but when you first started designing that in your CAD, when you were working in San Francisco, what were you trying to solve primarily that you found frustrating? 

Jim Ritchie: The primary thing was a true all season RV.

A lot of RVs. I’d like to say that, but that means what’s unique about us is we’re about built out of what are called FRPs or fiberglass reinforced insulated panels. And our whole RV box is glued together, so it’s not built like using traditional things like aluminum frames and fasteners.[00:06:00] 

By building out FRPs and all fiberglass, we have a much stronger, a much better insulated. Box in a traditional RV. And that was the primary thing we were trying to solve for a true four season RV. And then secondly was just using much more modern components, higher tech components. It’s all electric inside.

We don’t use propane. Things like that. Just taking a modern, more modern approach and making it all software controlled. 

Brian Searl: All right, so then let’s talk, let’s pivot that and talk, ’cause this is your wheelhouse, right? Tech in Silicon Valley. And you mentioned AI a little bit, although AI has been around since 1943.

I did learn that the other day. But talk to us about some of the tech and the things that, that are, because obviously there’s a place for people who want to go four seasons off-roading, all the versatility, right? But then they also want that comfort of home sometimes, so they wanna bring with them.

So how does the tech help them do that? 

Jim Ritchie: We have a lot of features. So you can remotely monitor and control the say the heating cooling. So we have [00:07:00] features where, if you’re away from their unit, one of the things we wanted to do was be able to keep our we travel with our dog, I think sixty-five percent of RVers travel with animals.

So we wanted, if we’re like in a national park where we couldn’t take the dog on the trail, we wanted to be able to put the dog in there and safely make sure the environmentals were at the right temperature. So we build a lot of features like that, but primarily it’s, it’s all electric. There’s high-end components, all lithium ion batteries and.

All, like I said, managed by software, so it makes it just easier. And we also designed the electrical system to be more like your house, so you don’t have to worry about managing the, what you have plugged in or how the batteries are gonna run out. So it’s really a different approach to thinking about, making it more easy to enjoy the, while you’re out camping.

Brian Searl: All right, 

so I wanna rotate through everybody else, but one last question I have for you, and then obviously you can jump into the conversation, we’ll probably come back to you at some point. But tell us what the future, if you could do what you want to do that’s in your Silicon Valley [00:08:00] head, right?

There is AEONrv tech-wise or whatever-wise, in five years? 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah, in five years. So we’re in the, what I call the fourth phase of our company. We’re really scaling manufacturing, so we’re going from, building a one off into a production line. And our vision of the future is more software, more integration, more ease of use, and just scaling up our manufacturing to meet the demand is, we have such a big backlog right now.

It’s really just focused on that. And in terms of, we’ll expand the product line, some different platforms, we’re gonna do a Tobler trailer. We have a lot of people that want that’s using the same technology. 

Awesome. Super excited to, to check in with Ian again. Please stick around.

We’ll go I’ll find a question to come back to you. I promise we won’t let you leave be saying that. Yeah, the whole show. But feel free to just jump in if you have any comments or anything like that. I think I wanna start with Jenny first. From Terra. More because Jenny, my plan is we talk about before the show, have you talked about Terra More, we’ll go talk to Angela and then maybe come back and talk a little about customer [00:09:00] experience and some of the other data points.

KOA has to share and things like that. Jenny for those who have been perhaps, I don’t wanna say living in a hole, but who don’t know about Terramor. Let’s start there. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah. So Terramor is a new brand from Camp Friends of America. We opened in August of 2020, and right now we have one resort located in our Harbour Main, and it’s truly an elevated, I don’t wanna say clamping, but camping experience. Yeah. Sixty-four canvas tents on property. They all have in-suite bathrooms. We have a large lodge really modeled after a national Park Lodge. Which has food service gear lending. We have a on-site Outfitter who’s more like a concierge and they’ll help our guests really direct them to certain adventures in the area.

Set up tours. This year for the first time, we’re going to actually do hosted hikes through Acadia National Park, which we’re really excited for. So just really overall more of a elevated getaway, [00:10:00] elevated outdoor resort. That KOA has made. And so we’re, we’ve had we’ve had that one open now for, this is our fourth season.

And we’re looking at expanding and opening some more locations throughout the country. 

Brian Searl: Sorry for the, apparently the construction people decided it was warm outside and they’re building something horrifically large right off my balcony. So I apologize for noise that you guys can hear that. But so tell us for Terramor, right?

So walk us through the thought process from KOA’s perspective of. Obviously there’s very clearly a demographic. There’s a need to separate glamping, luxury, camping, whatever we’re gonna call it. Into the separate resort area. And then there’s also the campgrounds, the franchisees that you work with too, from the KOA side, who are building facets of glamping that are obviously totally driven to tear more into their property.

So what was the thought process for KOA when we were I imagine the first step was like let’s put glamping or something similar into the campgrounds, and then it evolved from there. Yes. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah. The KOA’s mission is connecting people to the outdoors in each other.

And [00:11:00] we do, as we’re a big research driven company. Since 2014, we’ve been putting out the the National Camping Report. About 2018, 2019, we noticed that there was really this big push for, what was turned glamping at the time. People, staying in about, in a unique accommodation.

And so we did some further research to really try to identify who these who these guests were and what they were expecting and what glamping really meant. And what we found was that it was. It was really undefined. Glamping to, somebody could be staying in a tent in somebody’s backyard.

Or it could be a really high-end resort, like Posa in Montana where it’s, very expensive. It’s all-inclusive. But there was this really big need from the leisure traveler market, not necessarily the camping market people who identify as campers, but the leisure traveler market for outdoor experiences.

And so we knew that we do outdoor experience as well. And we really believed that we could help connect people who aren’t campers to the [00:12:00] outdoors in another way. And that’s really where Terramor came up from. So Terramor literally means love of land. So Terra is land and Amor is love.

And it’s been it’s been really fun to see the demographic of people that come through and our target audience. And we do get some crossovers. So we do get some Mkewe campers that will come to Terramore and probably vice versa. But it’s been great ’cause we get a lot of repeat guests too, which means we’re doing something right and connecting them to the outdoors.

Brian Searl: So I remember reading and I don’t know how many years ago it was, how many years? Terebo? It’s only been open for a year. Are you sure? It feels like longer than 

Jenny McCullough: no. Four years. 

Brian Searl: Oh, okay. Yeah. Alright. I know I’m getting old and I’m losing my memory. I thought it was longer than, okay. So I remember reading the, like years ago.

Of all the high-tech things that Terramor is gonna put into the property when you were first announcing it. And it’s for sure, like still today is amazing, all the stuff that you packed into there, right? From a technology or experience standpoint, or just the unique things that you had never seen before in the outdoor hospitality space as you’ve [00:13:00] moved forward now four years into this.

And I think one day there may be some other locations for Terramor in the future, but as you look toward those newer locations. And some of the things that you’ve seen, the other people who are in the glamping industry at the same level that you are come out with, and I keep calling it glamping, there’s no good word for it yet.

I think luxury camping is a better fit. But anyway. So as you see what those people have come out with and added and enhanced and innovated with, are there things that you’re looking or you would like to do at Terramore that further would enhance that experience at your next resort or. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, we’re always looking to improve and I think that’s one of the fun things about creating a new brand within a large very established brand.

We have the backing and the history of 60 years of outdoor hospitality. But we’ve been able to be really nimble and have changed. As you said, when we first started in 2020 we had, great [00:14:00] concepts things that we were gonna do. And after that first year, many of those things we realized weren’t feasible from an operational standpoint, or our guests didn’t really want them.

And so we’ve been able to change and really define those guest experiences. I’m constantly visiting other outdoor resorts or clamping resorts just to, see what they’re doing well and how we compare and what the industry is doing. Right now there’s a lot of focus on more digital check-ins and more less people and more seclusion, from some of those outdoor experiences and we’re going in the other direction.

We’ve noticed that our guests really. Value our staff. They’ll come in and they’ll know our staff by first, their first name, and they’ll have conversations with them. They’ll ask their their opinions on things to do. And so while many groups are going more digital we’re taking a step back and we’re bringing people back in.

So that’s one of our, main pushes this year is to even create more on-site experiences, utilizing our [00:15:00] staff and off-site experiences. 

Brian Searl: And I think that’s really important, and I think this will be a good segue after I ask this next question based on our previous conversation to Dan and Angela, right?

About experiences and then how people engage at their campground too. Remember your answer, right? Angela, word for word. 

Angela Ugstad: Yep. 

Brian Searl: Okay. Alright. So when you talk about experiences like that, I think you’re right. I think that it’s really interesting because there’s a market for everything, right? Almost everything, but, so if you go and it frustrates me by the way, for the consumers, and I’m not.

Suggesting that you need to answer this question, but it frustrates me that like we can’t just all have that iPhone thing like Steve Jobs where I’m just gonna introduce something and everybody’s gonna love it and they didn’t know they needed it before and they’re just gonna buy everything. And I’m gonna control all the things, right?

I just wanna put all this is with my clients too, right? Like I just wanna give them all the AI tech and just have them like want it from day one. ’cause I know how cool, right? But it doesn’t work that way. But either way, if you do, if you’re a data-driven company, if you do your market research like KOE clearly does.

You realize that maybe this didn’t work. But maybe this does, and let me pivot and then, and I think that’s [00:16:00] really an interesting direction to add into, because you’re right, we hear a lot of the emphasis on the tech, the less touch points. People don’t wanna call and talk to somebody on the phone. And certainly there’s a very clearly a demand for that.

But I think if the whole industry overcompensates that way, there’s a big void that’s gonna have to be filled. Would you agree or. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah I completely agree. And, I’m a, I’m very into customer service. And having that people touch point, which probably is not normal, I’d rather call somebody than try to send an email and wait for a response or try to do the chat GPT and not be able to communicate effectively.

But, as an example I recently stayed at a competitor and it was all it was all tech based. From, we just got slammed with emails on the codes to gates and the codes to the house, and what to do once you’re in the location. And just, please don’t do this and please don’t do that, but please do this.

Yeah. And it gets to the point where it’s overwhelming in the communication. And then,[00:17:00] as the guest and as the user, how you read something is not necessarily how. The person wrote it, right? What the intention was. The perception things. Yeah, the perception. So it can come across very negative when you don’t need to be negative.

And there was nobody to contact if per se, your toilet broke or something. And so just having a face for the property and for the brand is very important. 

Brian Searl: Yeah, I think this is something that the whole industry is gonna have to come to grips with, right? What is the middle ground?

Because there surely is value in technology, both from a time-saving standpoint and a guest experience standpoint. And I don’t wanna spend too much time on this. I’m going to you Dan Angela in a second. But what is that balance between overwhelming but also. Giving ’em the information they need, but not more than they need.

And then again, always making sure that customer experience is there. If you have, chances are if you’ve done everything correctly and you’re operating a good park, a good resort, whatever else, and you’ve provided all the [00:18:00] information, you’ve done all the studies, you’ve given everything, everybody you want, right?

And you’ve learned from your mistakes, then most people aren’t gonna need that customer touch point. But it’s gotta be there no matter what. Like you have to be able to, I can’t remember who this was. I think it was Marriott. I’m gonna call out Marriott on the show. Like it took me, I’m a platinum elite member in Marriott.

It took me 25 minutes to find a customer service number the other day. Nowhere in the app, nowhere in my emails, nowhere on the website, nowhere in the contact. It was crazy. Yeah I mean there has to for sure be a balance to that. And like you mentioned, and it like whatever the technology ends up being.

And for us, like we, we do the AI chatbots and Okay. We always got a great AI chatbot they just released too. For us we didn’t even consider that problem in the beginning. And it had, it was a, an issue we had to run into with a client where they said what if somebody types, there’s a bear outside my cabin or my toilet’s clogged.

Like no AI in the world, no matter how smart that is gonna be able to solve it, right? So we had to build something into our chatbot where it could detect an emergency and it would send a text message to somebody. Yeah. Yeah. But those are the cool things you just have to run into. And realize are problems.[00:19:00] 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah. And the only thing I would add there too is there’s opportunities to have that human element with digital, right? With those touch points. And we’ve done that with creating videos on how to use your tent. And so as soon as they check in, we have an actual, a video of an actual person walking through the tent.

And utilizing and showing them how to use everything. And that’s eliminated a lot of questions that we’ve gotten from our front desk. But it still gives that human element to it. So there’s that balance, like you said. You just have to think outside of the box of how you can make it both work.

Brian Searl: How far away do you think we are from the hologram version of Jenny walking everybody through their tents 

Jenny McCullough: very far away. 

Brian Searl: Alright, we gotta put that, yeah, I think send an email. Cole has to put that on his radar. So Dan and Angela, I wanna pivot to you for a second and talk about your campgrounds. So we were the context for the people who weren’t nobody was watching the show before we started was we were talking about how the difference between, and I want to go back to that [00:20:00] too ’cause I think that’s a good piece of your conversation, Jenny later, is the difference between how guests come to KOA and experience that versus how, and this is part of what we’re gonna talk about right at Terra.

But we were talking about that conversation of how the campgrounds at the KOAs, and obviously many other campgrounds are, full of life sometimes, depending on the type of campground, right? And they’re swimming in the pool and they’re playing miniature golf and they’re in the store and they’re having ice cream and sitting around having picnic tables or lunch at picnic tables and things like that.

But it’s different at Dan and Angela’s campground. They’re gonna tell us that in a second, I think intentionally. But it’s different at glamping. Sometimes too, depending on the design and the type of people that are coming there. So before we get to that though, do you wanna just tell us about Cuyahoga Range Campground and how you guys got started?

Angela Ugstad: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll definitely have Dan speak to the infrastructure installation and all of the, paperwork and everything that kind of went into starting the campground. But we started the [00:21:00] process. In December of 2020 when we bought it’s on just under 40 acres. We bought some wooded raw land in Crosby.

And so had to kinda figure out, how we wanted the campground to be laid out. We definitely wanted it to be wooded, private, secluded. But we’re still only, 10 or 15 minutes from a number of different towns and activities and lakes. So how do we. Get that feel without just, raising all of the trees on the property.

So it was, you wanna talk a little bit about kind of the process that we 

took? 

Dan Ugstad: Sure. We had an idea on what we wanted to bring. We wanted these more private sites. We felt like that was something that nobody else is really, we bring it to the table every, usually when people make a campground, it’s, how many people, I’ve got this much space, how many people can I fit in this space, sort of thing.

And we decided to go a [00:22:00] little bit different where you want at least a little bit of privacy, between each site and you have your own area rather than, your. Neighbors pull out, just going right into your campfire sort of thing. 

Brian Searl: That’s really interesting. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but that’s really interesting because I think the and I don’t if anybody wants to agree with me here, right?

But I think there’s two kind of sides we were talking about going all the way, right? Like with customer experience in glamping, I think some people have seen that happen. And maybe this is just my experience, right? But you’ve typically got that state park, BLM land, super quiet, isolated nature experience.

And then it seems like the industry for the last number of years has been going toward what you’re talking about. The more of the, put as many people as we can with the luxury of, it’s still a great experience. Nobody’s knocking it. But put as many people as you can with the nice deluxe pads and everybody can see each other and there’s, that kind of amenity. But I don’t know, maybe we’ve overcompensated in that way to a certain extent in their need. And there’s a middle ground that can be filled [00:23:00] by people like you. 

Angela Ugstad: Yeah. And I definitely think that there’s, folks who are looking for that kind of experience, right? They go with several other families.

They wanna all be in the same spot. They wanna have all of the amenities so that, that’s, that is the destination, is the campground. And, our focus was really more developing a campground that’s a home base for RV campers. Where they can be in nature. It’s not, just a kind of a wide open space.

They can have some of the privacy, they can have their, the spaciousness. All of our campsites are 40 feet by 60 feet, and they have 30 feet of woods in between. So it’s it’s only 17 sites, so it’s not a big campground when you go, even if it’s completely full you don’t feel overcrowded.

It’s not noisy. It’s definitely more lively I guess I would say in the evening ’cause people are coming back from, going out and exploring the area, going out to eat and then, you have a lot of campfires and it’s [00:24:00] nice and dark so you can see the stars. So I think it’s a nice balance ’cause we offer the amenities of full hookups, picnic table, fire pit, but also the amenity of nature.

And that’s, I think something that a lot of our guests have really appreciated in their feedback is you guys obviously put a lot of thought into how you were laying this out and the, the feel of the campground. So that’s been nice feedback to hear. And I think something that was missing in the area in Crosby.

There’s a lot of camping options for tenting and smaller campers, but not really a lot for. The bigger RVs or the bigger campers that have that nature, that space, that privacy and also the full hookup amenities. 

Brian Searl: And I want to, I wanna go back to Dan and give him a chance to finish ’cause I rudely cut him off.

But Dan, I think that’s, I’d love to hear more of the thought process behind how that decision was made, right? Because you obviously had the land, if you had 30 feet between each site. For sure there’s at least room to put one more site in there if you [00:25:00] wanted to make more money. Yeah. So that had to be a conscious decision of I want to prioritize the experience more than what I’m going to earn from the property.

So was there, I’m assuming there was a story behind that more than I just wanna give some room for the bears to be in between the sites or 

Dan Ugstad: there are bears. I think a big part of it is we liked it better that way. We both, enjoy our privacy at times, it’s. And we went, we’ve been to Alaska a couple times past time we went we were RV camping and a lot of the sites there are a little bit more spread out and you have your own area, you’re not, sharing an area with everyone else.

And we really liked that. So it’s let’s look around, let’s see if anyone else is doing this kind of in our area. And they weren’t. And we talked to a lot of people. I. Got their thoughts on it what would you think about this? And a lot of positive feedback, so we just went 

Brian Searl: with it, that’s awesome. But how, so how did you though, I mean I obviously when you were talking to people there, that financial component comes into it, right? [00:26:00] Correct. So how did you decide how much space was going in between, how many total RV sites you wanted? The layout of that, like how did that come together?

Sure. 

Dan Ugstad: When we were coming up with the design initially we were planning on a few more, 

Angela Ugstad: Like 30 to 40. 

Dan Ugstad: I think originally we were planning on it being a little bit bigger. Yeah. And then I think we redesigned it down to twenty-five or something like that. But because of the way so we had a wetland delineation and because of the way like certain plants grow in certain areas you can’t build.

Uncertain areas. So we had to redesign it again, and then we came up with this best design that we could. As far as the delineation, played out. And we’re also building a house on that site, so we want our house to be a little bit private, not right in the campground sort of thing.

So with the land that you’ve got and the way the delineation was that’s just where we designed things around. 

Brian Searl: So where does the [00:27:00] future go for Cuyuna Range? Are you happy with the 17 sites? Are you adding amenities? Are you adjusting like Terramor is, are you, where do you go? I think, we’re pretty 

Jim Ritchie: new.

Dan Ugstad: I think we’re in a data gathering phase right now. We’re seeing. How booked we are. What’s the demand? We do have some area to expand if we want to. So we’re, yeah. That’s where we’re at. We’ve gotten through one season. We’re looking forward to our next year, and we’re gathering the data and seeing where to go next.

Brian Searl: Awesome. Stick around. I wanna talk to you, obviously a little bit more as the show goes on. Jim, I’m curious, where do you, where do most of the Aeon RVs end up? Are they mostly BLM land campers, or do they, is there some private camping components to it, or? 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah, I think they end up in various places, but it’s, the vehicle was primarily designed for going off road and off grid.

But of course, when you’re traveling, people also like to stop at, campgrounds. And so we have, when we [00:28:00] use it, we stop at a, we’ll find various places we like to go. It just depends on where we’re at. So it’s designed, it’s got hook, it’s got, hookups in terms, it doesn’t have plumbing hookups, it’s not designed for that.

But you can plug into shore power, when you’re at, when you’re at a charging station. So there’s a 30 amp. Charger. It’s all a mix. In our customer base is spread all over. So we have people in Virginia, North Carolina, other places in Northeast and a lot of those areas there’s, less chance to camp in BLM land or something like that.

So people do a all 

over the place. 

Brian Searl: Do you think that as you enjoy more success, you said what, a hundred and thirty-five a hundred thirty-seven units that are back ordered or something like that? 

Jim Ritchie: Yes. 

Brian Searl: Yeah, so you, if you can, not, if when you continue, we’re all gonna be positive here.

When you continue to enjoy the success you are and even more, do you feel like there’s an opportunity for you to pivot into different types of models that might be better suited for ’cause you have a high tech background, right? 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. 

Brian Searl: So corporate, some of that tech into models that might be better suited or used more [00:29:00] at private campgrounds.

Jim Ritchie: Our fundamental mission and value proposition is around the. The Aeon name. So it’s all Season Electric Cabin, Off-Road, off-Grid and new and high-Tech. So we will be building other models and I mentioned we’ll probably gonna be rolling out a trailer with those similar characteristics next year.

But we’re not really, we’re looking to just go into that niche. We’re not really looking to expand into kind of general RVs, if you will. It’s a pretty focused. Niche. That is a growing niche though, so it can certainly, people can take it in campgrounds and that, that’s not a problem.

That’s really our focus is to have that capability and really the all-season thing is fundamental. 

Brian Searl: That’s what I was getting at. I guess I just didn’t ask the right question. Because specific to the plumbing, I feel like that’s really only the small tweak that you might need. But with all season, I know Jenny, I dunno if you have these statistics in front of you, but there was a lot of talk about winter camping, right?

Being on the rise at [00:30:00] KOA, those types of units, right? Might be actually a interesting niche market for you to expand into and still be niche. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, absolutely. The, and I don’t have the statistics in front of me either, but winter camping is just, the interest in winter camping and how many people are trying it for the first time.

It just continues to grow and I, I think about some of the winter destinations that I like to go to and individuals that do like ice climbing and whatnot and right up that alley. 

Brian Searl: Yeah. Yeah. 

Angela Ugstad: That’s really interesting. ’cause we have gotten questions about whether, we have winter camping and right now, our current permit doesn’t allow for it, but it’s definitely something that we’ve been thinking about. In the future, there’s a little bit more work associated with it in terms of, plowing all the snow. This year it’d be no problem. We have no snow. In, in other years, in the future in this area, there’s a lot of fat tire biking.

In the winter, there’s a lot of snowshoeing. So I, I think that’s something, I’ll be interested to read the [00:31:00] new KOA report, Jenny. ’cause we definitely referenced those reports as we were doing our, business research and business plan. ’cause that’s, something we have on our radar for the future, as, an opportunity.

’cause in Minnesota, the camping season is quite short. Short, yeah. Okay. So most half of the year we’re closed. I was curious, Jim, if there is a. Like temperature range, if it right, Minnesota can tend to get down to, negative 20. Negative 30. Is there a range on the temperatures that you can take the RV 

in?

Jim Ritchie: Yeah, so let me, so there, besides just making sure your water doesn’t freeze, there are some other technical things that you wanna make sure that you handle. One is condensation. So if you camp in a traditional RV, a lot of times, especially if it’s a metal van that’s been insulated, you have condensation issues.

And that’s because you have thermal transfer from the outside to the end. So we designed the RV specifically to have no thermal transfer from the outside to end, and it’s all fiberglass, so [00:32:00] there’s no metal that goes from outside to end, so you can’t form condensation. And that’s a really key thing, especially when you’re sleeping because you put out a lot of moisture that would condensate on any cold material inside.

The second thing we do, which is unique for our size is we have an insulated sliding door. That shuts off the cab where you’re driving, which is not insulated and has single pane windows, and that’s a one inch insulated door. It’s R seven and that’s a kind of a game changer in keeping condensation forming on the windows, both or heat transfer from cold to hot, both in summer and and in the winter.

And so those are other key technical things. The answer to your question one of our first customers lives in Alaska and he took his RV up there, and last year he camped all winter in Alaska. He’s a big backcountry skier, and he was camping down to minus 20 Fahrenheit very comfortably.

The, so our RV is about five times better insulated than a traditional RV. [00:33:00] And so that’s another key factor. So you keep it warm. In the winter you use much less energy. So our batteries and we actually heat with a heat pump that so a traditional, like a kind of a heat pump, so you can actually heat down to minus 13 Fahrenheit with that.

And then we have a air heater that runs off the gas in the engine or then the gas tank that will work down to, minus 40 if you will. So we’re very comfortable saying you could camp in minus 20 degrees in our RV without any issues. Yeah. 

Angela Ugstad: Nice. 

Brian Searl: And this is like I, again, I think this is just, we’re exploring this more, right?

But if you look at Dan and Angela or many camp runners who closed during the winter. You know that there’s certainly a segment of campground owners who just want to go to Florida and don’t want to talk to customers for a while. Which they probably deserve. I’m definitely not brave enough to own a campground and deal with customers for even three months.

But for the segment of people who would like to expand their business based on either data from KOA or just because they wanna serve people deeper into these months because there’s demand, [00:34:00] I think there’s a lot of opportunity for a vehicle that can go Off-road, but can traverse some of these places that would have to be plowed too often.

Or in upper Minnesota who are harder to access. And so I think there’s a lot of this infrastructure here that opens up some of these markets for both of you guys. 

Angela Ugstad: Is it, I agree. 

Brian Searl: Certainly like to go off road, right Jim? But not really. Like maybe not as far off road.

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. The other thing for winter camping that we specifically wanted to 

Brian Searl: provide. That these other RV manufacturers are probably not gonna build. 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah it’s, they would’ve to change things in a dramatic way. But the other thing that we wanted to do was, especially for winter camping, was the ability to store all your gear inside in those cold temperatures.

So we have a big gear garage where you could put a fat tire bike inside, if you were or your cross-country skis, or your snow shoes, or more importantly for me, my downhill skis and my boots. So they’re actually all [00:35:00] stored inside. And we even have a feature where we have a boot warming area in the gear garage where we actually duck in heat, specifically say your ski boots or your your whatever.

If you’re whatever you want could be heated. That’s the kind of things that we’re doing.

Brian Searl: That’s awesome. All right. Let’s pivot Jenny, let’s go back to you for a minute. Let’s talk about customer experience. ’cause I think that. It’s really interesting to me. Again, we talked, we touched on how customer experience has evolved, but what does, let me just throw this to you. What does customer experience mean to Jenny?

Jenny McCullough: Oh, wow. That’s a loaded question. 

Brian Searl: I just didn’t want to talk anymore. Everybody’s tired here. 

Jenny McCullough: I think it’s meeting our customer of where they are. We really train our staff to help our guests adventure at their own pace. So really understand. What they’re looking for out of their vacation.

Vacations are sacred. We don’t get as many as we should. We don’t take as many as we should. So understanding what it is that the guest is looking for. We talked about having people on [00:36:00] site to develop those relationships for, but not everybody wants that.

As you, as people come in and really. Understanding their energy and are, do they wanna just be left alone? Are they looking for that weekend getaway where they’re off tech and they’re reading and they’re just getting back into nature and doing a refresh? Or is it somebody who’s is truly looking for some recommendations, is their first time in Acadia.

They want to know, what hikes to do. Even on the level of what level hiker are they, so really understanding who they are and what it is that they’re trying to accomplish for their trip. 

Brian Searl: So how do you do that on a per person basis, right? Because obviously you can do that from a demographic standpoint or if you’re working with Scott in one of your KOA reports.

But how do you do that on a person-by-person level. Is there just a button and you’d pressed for human and one pops out of the closet, or, 

Jenny McCullough: If I had the right answer to that, then I’d be doing, I’d be. A millionaire, 

Brian Searl: but certainly you’re running a great would be copy. So you must have some idea of how to get a [00:37:00] sense of Right.

Jenny McCullough: So we, yeah, I mean we do several things. We do a lot of touch points pre-stay that are pre-stay communication links to itineraries. We do pre-state text messages. Once they get there, we have that human component and that human element tied to where we again, we train our team to address the individual by name or find some commonality with them.

Recognize when they come back, from a trip and ask how their day is. And then, even when they’re visiting us, but they’re not on site, doing some automated text messaging or or whatnot to create that interaction with the guests still. But it’s, a lot of it is creating the culture at your campground or your resort where you have staff that wanna interact and they wanna, they want to create that really great experience 

for others.

Brian Searl: So you don’t think the button would work? 

Jenny McCullough: It. Maybe for some. For some it might. [00:38:00] I’m gonna have understanding which ones it’ll work for. 

Brian Searl: Yeah. We’re gonna study the button thing specific. No, I’m kidding. Yeah. But yeah, I think it’s interesting understanding those preferences is something that’s long, been the holy grail of marketers, two it, I mean it obviously customer experience from your standpoint, but marketing plays a big role in that too. Research and all that kind of stuff. And it’s something we’ve long struggled with too. Like you, we have, we still do email marketing for people. I know you guys do email marketing at KOA and obviously Terra more too, but there’s a, there’s that difference of how do I not send an email blast to 20,000 people when I know that the content of that email is only gonna be valued by 5,000 of those people.

How do I segment them into groups and provide more value and give them a targeted message? That’s the same way of like, how do I get those answers from customers about what they prefer? How do I log that? How do I manage that in the CRM so I make sure I don’t have to ask them every time they come, if their VB guests.

It’s really interesting the way the technology is progressing and how it’s gonna enable us to do more of that and provide better service [00:39:00] while still again, connecting them with the outdoors. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, I think that the key there is just listening to your guests, right? And it, it starts from the beginning when they ask questions about their stay all the way through the, their stay, whether they’re chatting with friends or whatnot.

Just being aware and listening to their conversations because there’s so many things that you can pull from those conversations and those little comments or remarks. And then all the way to their after-stay reviews. And that’s we’ve. Really changed a lot of our customers experiences and our on-site amenities based off of some of those reviews.

It’s funny. Asks 

tell 

Brian Searl: you, so that’s what I think tech enables though, right? Because there’s so many Mom-and-pop campgrounds, or even people with five or six employees who absolutely want to pay attention to hang on every single word that a guest says to make the experience the best they possibly can.

But they’re catching ’em in the middle of a campground when they’re trying to fix a busted sewer pipe or Right. And they [00:40:00] listen, they hear, and then it’s gone in five minutes. Yep. And so I think that’s an important piece of Utilizing that tech as one example of here’s how I can gather, aggregate, collate that data, and then actually take action on it, instead of remembering two out of 10 yep. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah 

Angela Ugstad: we are definitely the mom and pop hamper down right here. Like it’s just Dan and I running it. So when we developed our technologies, a lot of it we tried to have, be more kind of self-serve lower maintenance. So we have, they book online and we have some automated emails that go out ahead of their stay, but everything has our phone number on it.

So they can all, and we, it’s interesting ’cause we do have a mix, right? We have people who will call, we’ll have people who will send us an email. We’ll have folks who will use the contact us button on our website. And then, we mostly Dan will walk through the campground and, some people really do wanna engage and we’ll have some really nice conversations with [00:41:00] them and see how things are going.

And other people, they wave ’cause they’re in their camping mode, and that’s great. So we have a mix of, there’s the technology side of it. And we created a survey for folks last year so that they could, fill out what did you like, what could we improve?

And there’s some things this year that were, implementing just smaller things. But it’s nice, you think you create a really nice campground. It’s always nice to hear that the things that you were focusing on are what people are appreciating. So yeah Dan does all of the customer service.

Aspect of it. And I know well, you, I’ll let you speak. So I’m the chatter of the two of us if you couldn’t tell, 

so 

Dan Ugstad: What do you want to know? 

Brian Searl: Anything you wanna tell us? 

Dan Ugstad: It’s we designed it relatively passively. That was the idea. Angela’s got a job and I’ve got other things that I’m doing too [00:42:00] with.

Real estate. We can’t, we didn’t want something where we’d have to, be operating the gate, letting everyone in, things like that. We wanted, that’s the way we designed it to be relatively passive. And for the most part it is. There’s not a whole lot to go wrong there.

It’s just campsites and hookups, and 

Angela Ugstad: and there have multiple ways to get in contact with us. Yep. 

Dan Ugstad: Our phone number’s on every site or my phone number’s on every site, and we just don’t run into many issues. 

Angela Ugstad: Knock on wood. 

Dan Ugstad: Knock on wood. 

Angela Ugstad: I only been open one here. 

Brian Searl: So takeaway I’m taking from this whole show is that Jim can solve all the world’s problems.

You just add a few tweaks to his RV. Jim, have you seen these new tiny little robots that Samsung came out with at CAS? Rolling Wheel. Disney’s got one too, and I think Samsung’s got one. And Royal Samsung. 

Jim Ritchie: No, I’ve looked at the new Rabbit product. That was an AI product kind of device that came. 

Brian Searl: Oh yeah, I order, I pre-ordered one of those.

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. Yeah, those are cool. 

Brian Searl: That’s great. I don’t know if [00:43:00] that’s long lasting, but I’ll have fun playing with it. 

Jim Ritchie: So can I ask Dan and Angelo, are you guys using a specific booking software platform or do you, did you do something yourself or how does that work for you guys? 

Angela Ugstad: We, so I built a website on WordPress and then we have a Vic Booking plugin that does all of the booking and scheduling and so far that’s worked really smoothly. And then all of our payments are through Stripe, so it all just connects and we haven’t had any issues with that. But, yeah, that what, that’s what we’re using too.

Brian Searl: The size for the size you are. I think that works. I think that works fine. 

Angela Ugstad: Yeah. Yeah. 

Brian Searl: So Jim, like briefly, I don’t wanna harp on this but the little box, can we have them, like the button thing? Can we have them come out the little closet with a little a

Jim Ritchie: what? I’m sorry. 

Brian Searl: I’m not, that’s what I want.

Jim Ritchie: Oh, okay. 

Brian Searl: All right. Anyway. Okay, so we got about 10 minutes left here. Jenny, do you have any more ideas? [00:44:00] Anything you wanna talk about? 

Jenny McCullough: I have a lot of ideas. No, I don’t think I have 

Brian Searl: any one outta the air. We’ll talk about it. Whatever you wanna talk about. 

Jenny McCullough: I don’t have anything specifically, no.

I, the Angela you mentioned our report. We will be coming out with our camping report, outdoor hospitality report here in the next few months. So I know we have some really good data and insights. To share there. So be on the lookout for that. But no, I don’t think I necessarily have any huge thoughts.

Brian Searl: If you don’t have a good idea, I’m gonna be forced to talk about like geeky, SEO spammy things that I ran into for 

Jim Ritchie: I have a topic I’d be interested in hearing these, 

Brian Searl: go. Anything that stops me from talking, the audience will love. Let’s go. 

Jim Ritchie: Yeah. So one of the big things I think that, especially as we go off road and off grid, is sustainability.

As the population grows, more people are interested in camping and we’ve already seen like BLM land usage, the federal government trying to cut back because people aren’t cleaning up or they’re driving in places, or [00:45:00] camping in places they don’t, shouldn’t go. And then it also relates to our vehicle.

Like for us, we’re, we’re trying to. Build a vehicle that lasts longer, higher quality. So that’s one aspect of sustainability. Energy and inputs in the energy and inputs out and making it just more sustainable for things like not using propane. It’s not perfect, of course we’re using lithium-ion batteries.

They have to be recycled. So you have those issues, but I’m just curious what from, other people think about, where that trend is going. As maybe more people looked at camp, ’cause it’s something we think about and, worry about, if you will. 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, I can talk through a little bit from the KOA standpoint and even from Terramor standpoint.

As we evolve, we’re really looking at sustainable practices throughout the system as well. So anything from, simple things like adding the water fill stations and getting rid of plastic bottles at properties to adding EV charging [00:46:00] and solar. There’s things that we can do within even like our septic systems to be more sustainable.

What I will say is I think, the industry that we’re in naturally leans for us. To be more sustainable because our guest is starting to expect it more. And the great thing is that we’re introducing nature and the environment to people. And so the more people have those experiences in nature and have those outdoor experiences, the more they’re gonna wanna preserve it.

And so we’re. We’re also creating that culture of wanting to have sustainability and so it’s this big cycle, right? You just have to continue to look to see what you can do and what’s viable. I know one of the areas that we have some. From the KOA side that we have some hardships with this.

Just the recycling in general. Some communities it’s really hard to recycle. And so we’re trying to solve for that within our 

system. 

Brian Searl: That was one of the most interesting things moving up to Canada. I know this is unrelated, but the recycling aspect of it. ’cause [00:47:00] I came from Ohio and there was very few things, plastic-wise.

Like you had to look at your plastic. What type of plastic is it? What numbers on the bottom is this gonna be able to recycle? There was virtually no composting in Cleveland where I was, at least I didn’t hear of it. And I come up here and like I had to, it took me a year almost to get used to it.

And my girlfriend had to keep reminding me like literally anything that is plastic, anything that is paper, anything, just put it in there and they’ll do it. And so it was really interesting to me, just the difference in, and I’m sure that exists in some US cities too, but it wasn’t where we were at. But the ability of that.

We can all of a sudden make use and recycle a lot more than we could before, and the technology is there. So how do we get that and be stewards of that and make that available to more people. I don’t wanna have that conversation that was related to. I think is there certain innovations at Terramore?

I know KOA was working on solar panels right at least one market in Arizona a few years ago that read about are there specific innovations that makes Terramore a little bit more of an [00:48:00] eco-friendly glamping operation or places you’ve linked ahead that will do that? 

Jenny McCullough: Yeah, 

So Terramor, when we built our property and Bar Harbor we turned an existing KOA into Terramor.

And so we actually replanted I think over a thousand native trees. Because it went from, an RV park, which is typically more clear cut to really private experiences and forested experiences. We try to utilize locally made, products and services we utilize, local ingredients in our restaurant. We have our own herb garden on site that we’ll pull within our restaurant too. But one of the biggest things that we did this year, and it was actually really surprised on how well it was received with our guests, is we added honeybees. And so we have five or six honeybee hives.

And we have a beekeeper. And we go out and we check our honeybees and we planted blueberry bushes and wildflowers all around it. We started doing a beekeeper’s[00:49:00] talk once a week, and it quickly became one of the most favorite. Activities at our resort. People love it. And we’ve now bought more beekeeping suits.

Our guests will be able to go in and actually see the bees and learn about why they’re so important. So it’s, bringing in those educational act experiences 

as well. 

Brian Searl: This is one of those, again we’ll close maybe on experiences here. And I think that this is one of those things that goes to, that there’s so much you can do in the outdoor hospitality industry.

Whatever you call it, glamping, camping, whatever, right? That no one, like you consistently hear the same ideas. Often when you’ll go to, and I, and this is not a sleight of confidence, right? But when you go to conferences, you hear not from the same people, but the same type of ideas, and you don’t often hear about the beekeeping ideas or the unique things that.

No one else has considered because they’re not as widespread as they are before. But that stuff is fascinating and you can unlock such a [00:50:00] huge new market. This actual next report that Scott and I are gonna release for MC in February early February is gonna talk a little bit about event hosting and different ways you can do some unique things on your campground.

But that is we were in Iceland in September and went into a greenhouse full of tomatoes and there was tons of bees just flying all over that. And the instant thought is they’re gonna bother me. They’re gonna be a right. I don’t wanna get stung. But they’re not anywhere near you. They don’t want anything to do with you.

They just wanna do their work. And the ability to educate those people, like you said, on and that loops back into nature. And conservation and eco-friendly and how the bees make sure the flowers exist and. Cool. I think just there’s so many opportunities out there for camp current owners to, to embrace and adapt these unique aspects of it and I’m really excited to hear Morse doing that.

I know other people are too great, but So anybody have any final closing thoughts? No. You’re all just gonna let me wrap it up. Alright, thank you guys. I appreciate it for another [00:51:00] episode of MC Fireside. Chats, Dan and Angela. Wish you all the best at Cuyona Range Campground there in Minnesota. You thanks.

I love to check back in with you in a little bit maybe and see how you’re going with another couple years under your belt, maybe Jim, wait for you to solve all the world’s problems, buddy. As you keep stalling ’em, you just let us know our best. We’ll have you back on. We want to, yeah I’m excited to see where you guys go.

’cause I really do think there’s a need for that and I think you should explore. Some of the things we talked about, maybe it ends up not making sense, right? Yeah. But at least it’s worth having a conversation as winter camping continues to, grow in popularity. Because I think there’s so many campgrounds that can stay open, like I said, and extend their season.

And I think they need help of rigs like you to make that happen. And Jenny, thank you as always for all the great insights from KOA, from Terramor, from all that kind of stuff. Really appreciate all three of you being on here. And we will see you next week for another episode of MC Fireside.

Chats. Take care guys. 

Jim Ritchie: Thanks. 

Thanks for joining us for this episode of MC Fireside Chats with your host Brian Searl. Have a suggestion for a show idea. Want your campground to accompany in a [00:52:00] future episode? Email us at hello at moderncampground.com. Get your daily dose of news from Moderncampground.com, and be sure to join us next week for more insights.

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