The Story of How We Began
(This speech was read by the owner Carmine Torella at a 2014 Business to Business Breakfast)
Good morning everyone. My name is Carmine Torella and I am the managing member of The Great Divide Campground. We are located in beautiful Green Township….but for some reason everyone makes me put Newton on my business card. I may need someone to help explain why to me.
Also with me here this morning is our Campground Director, Jan Hudson.
Aside from the Campground, I am an Electrical Contractor. So, my job right now is an electrical contractor. But for some reason, I had always felt a void in my soul. I felt like I was meant to do something different with my life. For 12 years prior, my wife Lisa and I had owned RV’s and been avid campers. In a campground we used to frequent, my neighbor Jan, used to spend weekends with us there. Like all start up businesses, our main idea, our little spark came while sitting around the campfire, which we would do every weekend. It was at that campfire that everyone kinda looked at me and said, you know we do this every weekend together, Carmine, why don’t you just buy a campground, and we’ll all go there every weekend. In fact Jan even said to me at that campfire, and I quote “Carmine if you buy a Campground, I’ll quit my job and come manage it for you”. This was the seed.
Four months later I found myself looking all of the traditional ways. I called every real-estate I could find, I searched the internet, I called camprounds myself. I had one major limiting factor…I needed to stay within an hour and a half of my job. I gave up. It seemed truly like a lost cause. I then started looking at starting from the ground up and building one. That idea was quickly shot down, as the process to get a campground approved in this day and age of EPA regulations would have been nothing short of a nightmare. I really needed to find an existing campground.
Two or three months later, I got the urge again. With a renewed spirit, I searched the internet, I called those realtors again….. I came up dry again. Then one day, I stumbled upon an advertisement. I’ll never forget what it said. “If you are looking to purchase a campground using the traditional methods, stop wasting your time. Call us, we’ll show you how to do it”. At this point, I had nothing to lose. I called and met a fellow named Dan Singer. His company was Recreational Business Partners, and they specialized in matching buyers and sellers of Recreational properties. As part of the process I gave Dan my limiting factors. Hour and a half from work, 250 campsites, my price range, and x-amount of dollars available for a down payment.
A week later, he had me sitting inside the home of a woman who owned a campground that she wanted to sell. It was 35 miles from my job. It was 270 campsites. It was priced lower than my price target and they were looking for less money than I had set aside for a down payment. Was this guy a miracle worker? I was skeptical. But it all changed when the woman told me her name. She told me her name was Jan. I knew at this point I was going back to my Jan to tell her to quit her job. So I chuckled to myself thinking this will be an easy transition for all of the existing people in the campground. Jan to Jan. But later in the conversation, the woman mentioned her “late husband Russ”. This is when I felt fate. I felt it. I stopped her and asked her, did you say your husbands name was Russ? She said yes. Well my Jan who was going to come be my manager, her husbands name is Russ. I just felt like it was meant to be.
I left that meeting, I called my wife, I called Jan, and as they say the rest is history.
We renamed the campground The Great Divide, which is a reference to a song called The Wedge by the band Phish. We sold our house in Livingston. Jan quit her job. My wife Lisa quit here job, and we’re all now living and working in this dream. By the way, my wife has her Master’s degree in Forensic Science….she was working for the State Police….and now we’ve changed our lives so much, we joke that part of her job now is to sell Slush Puppies in the campground store.
A campground to me is a place for people to get away. We all go on vacations, but a campground is a place to get away to more frequently, and with much less cost. The cost of keeping a camper at our campground for the whole season May to October is probably equal to or less than taking a family of four to the shore for one week. I believe camping is a Gateway. A gateway to so many other activities, fishing, hunting, hiking, boating, running, swimming, eating, playing, a way to reconnect with your family….
A campground is a safe place to bring your children where they can run and play, kinda like the way many of us grew up. Life is different now. I grew up in Livingston. And when I grew up there, we knew ALL of our neighbors. Twenty years later I would up purchasing the home I grew up in from the family my parents sold it to when I left for college. The neighborhood wasn’t the same. After being there 6 years, I hardly knew the people to the left or right of me, and the houses were 50 feet apart.
I want that spirit of neighborhood for my children. And I’m happy to say, it’s not JUST the campground that provides the spirit. It’s Sussex County. We live in a house on the campground, so for 7 months while it’s closed we are here on 105 acres by ourselves. Then the other five months we are open, there are a couple hundred people living basically in our backyard. But it’s in those 7 months that we are closed that we met our neighbors…and the neighbors in Sussex County are miles away, not 50 feet. And I just can’t tell you how many friends, and how happy we are to be here.
We’ve renovated most of the campground. We have an amazing staff. Don’t just go by what I’m saying. Peek around online, on our facebook page, on Trip Advisor.
Our experience was that many campgrounds we went to were run down, and the staff was less than what you would expect from what is essentially a hospitality industry. We focus on trying to help people have the best experience possible, and try to be creative in our approach. All the while being NICE to people. Our guests are, by the way, visiting our home.
Our approach is working. And it shows. The first year we were open, 2012….revenues were up 30% over the last year of the previous ownership. We were walking around beating our chests as how well we thought we did that year……but then just as we closed last, we met an enemy. Her name was Sandy. And Sandy didn’t like tall trees. In fact she didn’t like 200 of our tall trees. We spent most of the winter of 2013 chopping up trees and cleaning up. Our first major test as an organization. We cleaned up in time for opening this year May first. And I’m proud as ever to say in 2013, we doubled our volume from 2012. Something has caught on with this campground, and we invite each and every one of you to come experience it for yourselves. I will mention, for those that don’t have an RV, or don’t like to tent camp….we have full size park model cabins for rent. We actually coined a phrase for them….we call it “kinda camping”. Thanks for your time.
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