EMPIRE — Customer satisfaction is everything.
Indigo Bluffs RV resort owner Gary Becker believes that from dawn to sunset. He strives to deliver the best camping experience possible, from clean restrooms and showers to varied landscaping.
"I think camping is the front porch of America," he said.
The entrepreneur purchased the former Sleepy Bear Campground in 2008. He signed the purchase agreement on a Friday. The following Monday marked the start of the Great Recession. Becker, 51, admits the timing was not ideal. But solid planning has carried the project forward, he said. Becker's pursuit of upscale campers has been a big driver toward growth.
The campground in 2008 catered to campers who stayed on the property an average of just a couple of days. They slept in tents, pop-up campers and trailers.
Becker's entrepreneurial vision focused on a different demographic. He had spent time in the area each summer for seven years. He considered himself a "seasonal local," a term he uses for people who stay in the area for a lengthy summer visit year after year. He knew there were many seasonal locals. He knew they competed for places to stay near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He sought to fulfill that demand.
He bought the campground and began making changes. Much of the original camping area under a canopy of trees remains unchanged.
He converted some acreage at the west end of the property into a motorcoach resort, an upscale campground/neighborhood designed for large motor homes and trailers. That section of Indigo Bluffs has an open feel with flower-strewn meadows, small elevation changes, woodsy patches and a constructed water feature.
Many of the campsites have been sold to people who live there all season. Some summer residents have put in patios. Some have built ancillary 12-foot-by-16-foot coach houses for clothes washers and dryers, kitchenettes and storage.
The motorcoach area is secure behind an automated gate. Base lots in the motorcoach area sell for between $60,000 and $85,000. Purchasers must provide their own motorcoach.
Becker barred tents for a time after he bought the property. He reasoned that tent campers make heavy use of services like restrooms and showers and it's difficult to keep up on such chores. That remains true, Becker said. But the campground staff has grown to 20. Now they can maintain the required pace. Tent campers again are welcome.
"We've drifted back into it," he said.
The latest phase of construction at Indigo Bluffs consists of a grouping of cottages under the canopy of trees. Each unit legally is considered an RV because it has wheels, is towed to the site and encloses no more than 400 square feet. Becker will rent cottages for a minimum of two nights for between $185 and $245 per night. Some cottage sites are available for lease by people who purchase their own wheeled cottage. A base cottage sells for $85,000. Site rental is $4,500 per year.