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News for January 25, 2022

Scott Foos: Investing in Your Team and Sanity for 2022

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Let’s face it, 2021 was a year for the outdoor hospitality record books in virtually every way: record RV shipments, record new camping households, record occupancies, record rates, and revenues. We have a lot to be thankful for to be sure, and 2022 is shaping up to be every bit as successful. But we would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t admit that the prospect of doing it all over again is a bit… daunting! 

The phrase “it takes a village” couldn’t be more true of our industry and line of work. Successfully operating an outdoor hospitality property is a labor-intensive task, and it’s no wonder that the hospitality and travel industry has been the number one employment sector to be impacted by national employment trends post-COVID. It’s hard work, and most often, cheap work. 

But as our industry continues to advance and grow at warp speed, I don’t see enough focus on new ways to view and structure teams and onsite staff. For decades, our industry-focused on low-or-no-cost labor by virtue of a heavy dose of site trade that most often entailed a mostly-retired employment base that would largely work just enough hours to cover their site. And that worked for many years, and I owe a debt of gratitude – and my career – to the countless fellow coworkers that fit this demographic as I was getting my start in the industry the summer after my sophomore year of high school. This generation taught me the value of hard work and treating your guests as you’d like to be treated.

While many of these values will forever remain at the core of our industry, there is no denying that a new era of camping guests – many of whom are spending more time in outdoor hospitality than the traditional indoor hospitality vacation experiences they’re used to – are demanding a new era of what outdoor hospitality really means. And while that is its own subject worthy of a series of articles, there are steps we operators can follow to build a team that provides you with a new level of talent, more stability, and higher guest satisfaction. 

To be sure, your team should by far be your highest priority and investment in time and resources. At Horizon, we have been incredibly lucky to build a diverse corporate team of talent, perspectives, and backgrounds. We invest in our people in meaningful ways that show our gratitude and respect for their talents and contributions to our team. I’m humbled everyday by the simple reality that these folks could choose any place to spend their time, but they choose to spend it with us, and I am fervent in my desire to pay them back in spades for that commitment.

In 2021, Horizon said goodbye to only one General Manager (GM) who relocated for personal reasons. We promoted four GMs to the corporate team or larger properties and had very minor staffing issues across our managed portfolio. Those properties that were initially struggling with department-level employment were mostly resolved with a focus on the following principles:

Invest in living wages and benefits. Employees are not a means to an end, they are the end. Without great team members, you can’t provide a great experience for your guests and thereby drive profits for your business. Reevaluate your compensation structure for your entire team, ensuring equity across positions that your team members can actually support themselves with. And while it is difficult for individual owners and operators to offer access to health insurance, there are companies you can partner with who provide access to voluntary benefits like medical, vision, and life insurances, as well as 401k plans. Shoot me an email and I’d be happy to bridge an introduction. 

It is important to us that our team feels they can make a living and plan for their future in exchange for contributing their time and talent to our properties. We understand that these are real expenses that may seem out of reach, and it’s important to assess what your company can offer and offer the most you can. I encourage you to think about the intangible benefits: less turnover, higher commitment to your business, higher guest satisfaction, and more peace of mind for you. Not to mention the tangible benefits: the phones are being answered, sites and rooms turned on time, and the ability to have a full, stable team to meet the unprecedented demand will lead to higher satisfaction, occupancy, and revenue. 

Preach and practice a work-life balance. To give their best, your team needs to feel their best. Ensure they have their dedicated time off (and schedule working couples with the same days off) and let them have it without an interruption from you. Consider a rotating “Manager on Duty” or after-hours point person for your team with a clear schedule and expectation, or better yet, invest in an after-hours guest services team member to handle those inevitable issues and requests, and monetize their position by having them sell firewood and ice after the office closes.

Above all, practice what you preach. Lead by example by taking your time off, and when you inevitably have to work longer hours by nature of your role as the owner or GM, do so quietly without the need for recognition of your efforts by your team.

Provide resources and knowledge. It’s almost tragic how often we step into a property and find that the team has self-developed a hodge-podge assortment of procedures to follow for carrying out routine tasks if they have anything documented at all. And while the team should be recognized for taking the initiative to create something, they should’ve been given the tools they need to do their jobs in the first place. That’s why we developed the Horizon Field Guide for our onsite teams: an online resource and knowledge base that every onsite team member across our portfolio has access to, with step-by-step training on procedures and policies relevant to their role, with ongoing training as new policies and procedures are developed. It allows us to ensure each team member receives the same consistent training and provides them with the knowledge they need to both understand the expectation of their job and how to do it well to be successful. 

I encourage you to do the same for your property; identify key stakeholders for each department and task them with outlining the steps required to complete the necessary steps of their department’s jobs (and pay them extra to do it). Refine these steps and standardize them to develop a consistent application for each department, and ensure every team member (current and new) is trained on the steps required. 

Provide a path for advancement. There is no worse feeling than the feeling of being at the dead-end of anything, especially your job. It can be difficult to find many paths for advancement at an independently operated outdoor hospitality property, but it’s not impossible. Consider creating department lead positions and cross-training across departments. Provide an opportunity for your team to flex their talent muscles a bit, they will likely surprise you!

At the end of the day, we must prioritize what is most important to us and our business goals. For me personally, with Horizon, it’s in ensuring that we are investing as much as we can back into our corporate team as possible. In doing so, I know that this incredible team will provide us with employment stability, great innovations, and a commitment to our clients and onsite teams that’s infectious and addicting. I encourage you to think along the same lines, and by doing so, you’ll bring greater peace of mind and a solid foundation of talent and coverage for your property in what is bound to be another record-setting year. 

Here’s to a prosperous and profitable 2022 with a touch more sanity than 2020 and 2021 brought us! 

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Scott Foos

Scott Foos

Scott Foos is the CEO and Co-Owner of Horizon Outdoor Hospitality, a leading full-service management, consulting, and accounting firm exclusively serving the outdoor hospitality industry since 2004. Learn more about Horizon at https://horizonoutdoors.com, and contact Scott via [email protected]
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