Nature's Resort RV Park At Florida RV Super Show
GM Michael Shoemaker Discusses Realistic Dreaming
MRV: The Buzz, Your Outdoor Lifestyle Insider.
Realistic Dreaming: Nature's Resort RV Park
General Manager Michael Shoemaker Talks About Creating & Enhancing His Oasis At The Florida RV Super Show In Tampa
Doing what you love and building on it is the dream of any person. But making that aspect of reality can always be challenging. With Nature’s Resort RV Park in Homosassa, Florida, it snagged the hope of one Michael Shoemaker who arrived 5 years prior from a different life in Illinois. Shoemaker, now the GM of the property, sat down with MRV: The Buzz at the Tampa RV Super Show to discuss enhancements, logistics and living the good life.
The Buzz: How did your passion for camping begin and grow into what you do now heading Nature’s Resort.
Michael Shoemaker: I just camped here as a snowbird myself but I lived in Illinois. I was down here one winter, the job opened up, I interviewed for it [and] five years later, here I am.
The Buzz: Can you talk about some of the specifics of how you transformed the park?
MS: It had really gotten run down quite a bit and wasn't getting a lot of maintenance like it needed. The profits weren't there. People weren't coming because the park wasn't nice. And of course making the park nice again and rejuvenating the park has increased the cash flow immensely. With more money, I have to make more improvements. [So] that's what I'm doing.
The Buzz: Could you talk specifically about some of the enhancements you have made?
MS: All the different tiki huts we've built. We've got them behind the marina and behind the clubhouse. We remodeled the clubhouse…we've remodeled every building in the park basically including the bathrooms. We've also got 90 new sites going in, so we'll have 400 sites when it's all done. We have 22 cabins throughout the park that we rent also. We've remodeled pretty much every one of them as well. We've changed out all the appliances and flatscreens and all that…updated everything. And I think that's really what makes it work. People want to go somewhere nice.
The Buzz: Can you talk about expectation in terms of the modern camper/RVer?
MS: You learn two things that bring back [people back] to your campsite all the time. Number one is always going to be clean bathrooms and number two is WiFi. Those two things...they've got to be very, very good, top-notch and updated. Somebody just put a new system in here two years ago and it's working very well. It's expensive to do but it's a huge enhancement to the park and you've got to have it. Nowadays everybody's online all the time.
The Buzz: And you don't do a two-tier system…it's just the one tier, right?
MS: One. The fastest one you can get to the whole park and [it's] toll-free. We don't charge anything and we still keep the rates still nice and low…38 bucks a day.
The Buzz: Can you talk about appeal because you do have snowbirds, and you have to do that a certain way. But you also have the people that come through, plus the destination ones.
MS: Two different appeals. Totally. The summer people that come down in the summer… they're on vacation. The kids are out of school. They really don't care what anything costs. They're on vacation for their two weeks, or a month, or whatever they got. When the snowbirds come down, they're looking to spend three, four, five, six months and looking for bargains, if they can find a bargain, but they still want nice stuff, though. They want to pay for what they're getting [though], which is great because they're very nice people. We do a ton of business from Michigan and all through up there. I always go to the Hershey, Pennsylvania RV show also. I've had real good luck with Hershey bringing people down for the winter. It works very well.
The Buzz: Can you talk about the importance of coming to RV shows and connecting with people that way?
MS: Oh, it's huge. I mean, so many of my other customers are here all the time anyway. I see them, and they're like “Wow! We can't wait to see you again next weekend or next month because we enjoy it so much. We've been telling all our friends about it.” That's great. That's the best advertisement in the world. You can't buy that. But you meet a lot of good people who are always looking for where they want to go next year, especially in the winter time. This show's in the winter and people are down here now from Ohio or whatever. They're staying in a park in some other part of Florida. But they’re looking for something different next year, or to meet different people. Also a lot of the rallies are always looking for a different spot to hold their week-long event every year.
The Buzz: People can use Nature’s Resort as a base camp of sorts but you also offer a lot of possibilities right out of your backyard.
MS: Everything's right there. We have our own boat rentals right there. Our own boat ramp right there. It makes it so nice because you don't have to leave the park for anything. We have our own little country store. I mean, you got a golf cart. The park's a half-mile long. From the front to the back, it's a half mile. A little country store and everything keeps it so handy because you don't have to leave the park. There's restaurants all over [near us]. We have our own little beer and wine bar right inside and there’s food there all the time. Our number one seller, of course, is our ribeye steak. We do a boneless ribeye for 14.95.
The Buzz: And then the water’s right behind you.
MS: You're sitting on the deck, eating, listening to live music…it just doesn’t get any better. The atmosphere's fantastic, and the people are good. I mean, I've been here over five years now, and I think we've had three people in the park I've had to escort out just because they weren't doing something right. As far as anybody fighting down at the bar and anything, no way… nothing. Nobody's down there for that. They're all down there just having a good time, coming down there for dinner, listening to music--
The Buzz: Certain parks have rules and standards. I mean, there's probably quiet when needed.
MS: Oh, we've got security guards, too. We've got quiet time after 11. We've got all that. That's normal, but it's just really not…people make the park.
The Buzz: True.
MS: That's what makes it. If you've got really nice people throughout the whole park, the ones that come in, even the weekenders, will leave happy because they made some new friends.
The Buzz: Is there a specific breakdown of your clientele?
MS: We’re very kid-friendly. We've always got something going with the Easter egg hunts and all that kind of stuff. We've got the big huge 30 x 30 bounce pad. This year I bought a dual lane water slide, 19 feet high. The kids love that, of course. But it’s just very important to keep it kid-friendly, because 10 years from now, that kid who was 10 years old, he's coming back with his new wife or whatever. Where are they going to go? Where they went camping as a kid…if they enjoyed it then.
The Buzz: Could you talk about that part of Florida. The geography is fairly untouched.
MS: Well, we're on an island. The bridge is the only thing that keeps us from being a [true] island. We're completely surrounded by water, so everything is back there. It's all about the water, [and] nature. I mean, you're sitting out there on the back deck and you're watching manatees go by. An hour later, there's an alligator swimming on the other bank. In the morning you're out there and the dolphins come in, they're feeding on the other side, eating mullet, going crazy out there in the water. You're seeing all that stuff right there, alive…it's in the wild, not at a zoo. You're out in the wild, seeing all this, right there with kayakers and all that. Oh my God, kayakers love it up there.
The Buzz: The ecosystem's unusual though.
MS: The ecosystem's so clean. We're right next to the springs and the water's 74 degrees year round. And the manatees flock to it in the wintertime, of course. And there's nothing better than being out in the water and swimming with the manatees, because they swim right up to you like a little, gentle puppy. They want you to pet them.
The Buzz: So people can book excursions to go swim with the manatees and stuff like that?
MS: Well, they can go right around the area but not from us. We rent pontoon boats… we rent kayaks, canoes. They can go out on their own, and just sit there all day and have fun. The fishing also is great. In the brackish water, you can get large bass, snook.
The Buzz: Coming back to your story…how did you end up at a campground in Florida from the North?
MS: Well, I owned a restaurant up in Illinois for about 19 years, and I was also a paving superintendent up there. You just don't do any paving in January, so I would come down here and camp for two or three weeks at a time. And then all of a sudden, this job opened up. I had no intention to come to work that winter. I just never left.
The Buzz: It is interesting because obviously you were more of a contractor, but then you had the restauranteur aspect…one is logistics, the other one's customer service.
MS: Well, everything's customer service in a campground. It's all customer service. And then having the construction background helped me a lot, too, because of all this expansion we just did. That made a big difference right there, because there's a lot of knowledge that goes with that. Not everybody would know [how to work] sets of plans and all that.
The Buzz: Could you talk about your approach to the refurbishment of the cabins…
MS: [It was just] sort of refreshing what was there, basically. The cabins are nice anyway, but they just needed [to be] livened up again…freshened up. [We had to do] some maintenance and dump money back into them, basically, making them nice…because there's nice and then there's a real nice, and you want them to be real nice. That's what it's all about.. just to enjoy it. They want what they pay for.
The Buzz: Can you talk about what keeps you engaged…what keeps you challenged day in and day out?
MS: I don't know. I'm a workaholic for one thing. So I've got to be staying busy all the time. I don't think I can ever see myself retiring. I couldn't sit still that long. There's no way. I don't know what I'd do with myself if I was off for a weekend because I work seven days a week. If I'm off, I don't know what I'm doing. It's go up to Illinois and see my kids or something for a couple of days. But I'm still on the phone all day talking business with my people. I'm kind of married to it, I guess…because it's if you either love it or you don't. Of course, I love it.
A graduate of New York University's Tisch School
Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim
has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde
Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct
craft beers among other things.
Make Sure To Stay At:
Nature's Resort RV Park, which is located in historic Homosassa Florida home of many fresh-water springs,
rivers, wildlife parks and the famous Homosassa Manatees. This secluded 97 acres scenic resort is a camper’s dream
on the Halls River which allows direct access to The Gulf of Mexico.