When Gary Ott first laid eyes on Wekiva Falls RV Resort in 2007, it was a wreck.
As reported by Woodall’s Campground Management, the man who developed the Central Florida property 30 years before and ran it with his wife had passed away, leaving his widow to manage the 100-acre, 800-site park alone. It had fallen into grave disrepair and devolved from a popular camping destination into the worst trailer-park stereotype.
Ott decided it was perfect and bought it within a year.
It seemed to him a perfectly sound investment choice, even though the park had no modern amenities and its original 1970s-era electrical system was still in use; what it did have was a beautiful natural landscape at his precise desired location between Orlando and Daytona, and plenty of room to grow.
It was also irrelevant that he had no experience whatsoever in campground management, or any facet of the outdoor recreation industry. Ott’s 20 years of experience in self-storage business operations and ownership was, he felt, sufficiently applicable. “His very basic thought process was, ‘Instead of storing boxes, I’ll be storing people,’” explained his daughter, Heidi (Ott) Runels.
She and her brother, Gary Jr., moved to Florida in 2008 to join the family business — which turned out to be difficult and unpleasant at the start.
“It was extremely hard,” Runels said frankly. “Not only did we have a huge learning curve, but we underestimated the deplorable condition of the park and its horrible reputation amongst campers. We had to overcome both.”
Wekiva Falls required a “complete overhaul,” she said, starting with the immediate ejection of 100 of the park’s 200 residents. Then they got to work on the property by upgrading the electrical system, adding cable, paving the roads, pouring new concrete pads, cleaning up the marina, remodeling the store and laundry facilities and building new bathhouses, an office, a walk-in concession area and the park’s first clubhouse — a 9,000-square-foot facility with a stage and a large kitchen.
Symbiotic relationships with local RV dealerships were set in motion “from day one,” according to Runels. “We reached out to give them brochures on our park in hopes of getting our name in front of our target audience,” she related. “We offer a free night at our park for anyone who purchases an RV from a local dealership.”
Wekiva Falls also houses rallies for dealers such as Giant Recreation World in Winter Garden, Fla., which has its own RV club that visits twice a year; and when La Mesa RV opened its newest store just five miles away, they easily fell into a partnership.
“La Mesa often has transient employees who stay in RVs, and we offer them a discount on the monthly lot rent,” said Runels, and many times customers redeeming their free night’s stay after a purchase at La Mesa are new to camping and find the experience extremely helpful for them. “We have a very knowledgeable staff, since they are all campers too, to help them get their new RV all set up and situated in their site.”
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