Llano Grande sets RV park bar
“People my age are starting to retire and have a whole different outlook on life than the previous generation,” said Karen Pike, 57, resort manager at Llano Grande Resort and Country Club. “They want to be entertained and to go where their every need is met. They are not penny pinchers. If they saved up for retirement, they are going to spend it.”
Named the best large RV park in Texas in 2015 and 2016 by the Texas RV Association, Llano Grande occupies 135 acres in Mercedes, with 1,100 lots for homes, mobile homes, park models and motorhomes. Amenities include an 18-hole golf course, four pools, tennis courts and more exercise and craft courses than will fit into a busy schedule.
“Busy people are usually happy people. We have tons of entertainment going on all the time,” Pike said. In fact, the resort outgrew its rec hall and built the 1,100-seat Hynes Event Center, a performance venue which has become “an entertainment mecca.” The Oak Ridge Boys performed at its inauguration in 2016 and returned for four encore performances in January 2017.
“The key to staying in this business is to go with the flow. The mindset is changing and it is a positive change. You have to anticipate what your customers want and be willing to change, to be flexible. And that takes money,” Pike said. Vancouver developer Stephen Hynes bought the land in the 1980s, which once belonged to early Valley physician Marion Lawler Sr., and restored the Lawler hacienda style home as the administrative office.
Hynes until recently owned Victoria Palms, which Pike previously managed. “He’s always been cutting edge. He’s never spared expense to keep people happy and coming to his parks,” she said, noting that this winter Llano Grande was at full capacity.
“To stay customer-service oriented is the path to success. You have to try to be everything for everybody as much as you can,” Pike said. “Our company’s willingness to stay with the times means we appeal to the current generation. It’s not bingo anymore.” Consulting with Welcome Home RGV’s Kristi Collier has led them to modernize their brand, from logos and brochures to the name of the sales division. Llano Grande residents can buy or lease land, cottages, mobile home and RV sites. The wide, lushly landscaped boulevard branches into side streets green with tropical plants and mature trees that shade park models and expensive 40-foot long motorhomes.
“We are growing so fast. We’re already starting to plan how we are going to take care of the increase in business,” Pike said. An addition to the resort will be built north of the event center in the near future.
Over the years, Hynes has added to the property so it is now has 500 acres, with the undeveloped land still in orange groves and farmland that are leased to growers.
The resort operates with 37 full-time employees. During the winter season, it takes on about 100 work campers, who typically exchange part-time work for space rental.
One issue for Llano Grande is that Google Maps has its location wrong. Another problem is that the final segment of Mile 2 West leading to the resort and levee has a “no outlet” sign. “A lot of people don’t know we’re back here. It poses a challenge, so we have to do things,” Pike said. While she believes that word of mouth is the most effective way of attracting new customers, she has begun using billboard advertising.
The up-and-down nature of border tourism, linked with Canadian dollar fluctuations and stories of border violence, impact the Valley economy in general and RV parks in particular. Last summer, Pike worked to organize a tourism task force that would spread the word of the Valley’s amenities and safety. “We always have a vision, those of us in travel and RV industry, that we’re here and we’re safe. This is a place you can come and do fun things and it is safe.”
Llano Grande has evolved as its customers shift generations. Activities include karaoke nights. The Hynes Event Center, with its state-of-the-art kitchen and stage, has its own website and online ticketing system. It’s available for meetings and special events including weddings. “We have all kinds of options for meetings or photo shoots on the golf course,” said Pike. The resort café, which serves breakfast and lunch, is open to the public.
Pike, who has managed the resort since May 2015, said “The generation that is retiring now is demanding. I can say that because I am one of them. But this is what I love to do.” What she does, in reality, is oversee a small town.
For more information, see llanogranderesort.com.
This story by Eileen Mattei appears in the March 2017 edition of Valley Business Report