When Asst. Financial Controller, Dan Stanford, started working for RoyaleLife he was part of a team of four accountants looking after 15 parks across the UK. Now, that finance team has grown to 29, the Royale Group has over 90 parks, and has launched a new RoyaleResorts brand offering holiday park breaks and holiday home ownership in outstanding locations across the UK.
Not so much a growth path but a growth superhighway, and there’s no sign of it slowing up any time soon.
Where it started
RoyaleLife, the UK’s leader in bungalow living was established in 1945. Part of the Royale Group, the proud family-owned business delivers top quality bungalow developments for over 45s in desirable locations across the UK, including Cornwall, Dorset, Kent, and Norfolk. RoyaleResorts, a new luxury holiday and holiday home ownership concept was launched in 2020, comprising of over 20 resorts – some with indoor and outdoor heated pools, cottages with private hot tubs, plus marinas, aquaparks, and lots of activities for all the family.
Anticipating Royale’s strategic growth, Group Finance Director, Cherelle Ball put the wheels in motion back in 2018 for RoyaleLife to make the transition to Elite Dynamics software solutions. As part of the supporting team at the time, Dan knew how important it was to be prepared for what was to come: “A year before making the leap to Elite Dynamics, we bought six new parks and that was huge compared to what our portfolio was back then,” he said. “We were using Sage 50 for the accounts, and we knew if we were going to invest in our growth, we needed to invest in our systems. We went from nothing to a full park management system. Now, looking back, I couldn’t imagine having over 90 parks and using spreadsheets, it would be crazy!”
Ambitious growth plans
Fast forward to 2020, a challenging year for anyone connected with any part of the holiday industry, and the RoyaleGroup launched RoyaleResorts. Having previously dipped a toe in the water with touring parks, holidays and holiday home purchases still presented a new set of challenges that the software had to be able to handle. Dan continued: “Even though we were dealing with similar products with our holiday parks and residential developments, they are two completely different industries in many ways. RoyaleLife is residential and there are a lot of different VAT rules for residential v holidays. They are very separate, but the EliteParks solution works for both because you can tailor everything. We were operating EliteParks for a couple of years before we even started to use the booking system. For us, although it was part of the existing solution, it was a new feature we only needed when we launched the RoyaleResorts brand.”
For a company with such ambitious growth plans, RoyaleResorts wasn’t just interested in acquiring small holiday parks. Cue the purchase of Billing Aquadrome in Northamptonshire in autumn 2021. Based on capacity, with 1,500 owners and touring capacity for around 1,300 pitches, it is one of the largest holiday parks in England no less. At around the same time, the company was also migrating bookings for an earlier acquisition at Stowford Village in North Devon. Although Stowford Village was already using EliteParks for its Finance functionality, the booking system was with Prophet, so had to be migrated to EliteParks to join the rest of Royale’s portfolio. Dan soon found he had a huge job on his hands to move across and import 5,500 plots into EliteParks in one day. “When we acquired parks in the past, I had always been able to handle the data import on my own,” said Dan. “However, this time, we were purchasing Billing Aquadrome plus migrating the bookings for Stowford Village, so I knew I was going to need some help. I got in touch with Elite Dynamics and between us both we were able to get the job done. Without their support, I’d probably still be inputting the data now!”
“Purchasing Billing Aquadrome also introduced us to the Maintenance function on EliteParks for the first time. We hadn’t needed it on any of our residential developments and most of our existing holiday parks weren’t big enough to warrant implementing it, so that was brand new for us. Our Lead Consultant at Elite Dynamics helped implement it for our 1,500 owners at Billing Aquadrome and we were all really impressed with the functionality. The Maintenance staff had used another system before, but the feedback on EliteParks was that it was a lot easier to understand, was user-friendly and looked much cleaner. They also commented that they liked the modern and fresh look of EliteParks whereas the previous system had looked quite archaic – everything was just a bit too grey. It’s the little things, isn’t it?”
A flexible solution to meet the needs of a modern, growing holiday park operation
One of the biggest selling points of Elite Dynamics is the company’s willingness to deliver exactly what the holiday park customer might need. That’s why they’ve designed modern, flexible business solutions to grow with customers and integrate, if needed, with their existing systems and processes. The Royale Group was no exception. Royale’s diverse offering, stretching across holidays, holiday home ownership, and residential, really showcases just how flexible and capable the software is. Dan added: “We had some rather bespoke processes at Stowford Village, so we had to ask the Elite team to develop some large modifications for us when we were migrating the data across. One example related to the storage of caravans during the winter months and how the Maintenance team would move the caravans to a touring plot ready for a customer’s holiday before moving It back into storage after the customer had departed. Elite Dynamics created a modification, which meant the software would know if the customer had a caravan in storage when the booking was made. It would then create a tow-on/tow-off report for the Maintenance team, so they’ll know to move the caravan from plot 4 on the storage field onto plot 9 on the touring field, for example.
“We’ve asked for quite a lot to be incorporated into the software, mostly related to our residential parks. We were the largest residential park operator to sign up to EliteParks, so we had to factor in quite a few modifications. The good thing we’ve realised about Elite Dynamics is that almost anything you want; they can get it done.”
Improving reliability whilst reducing costs in the cloud
In summer 2021, Royale were one of the first Elite Dynamics customers to take advantage of the EliteParks solution, moving to a SaaS (Software as a Service) model. This gives them full access to the holiday park software via a cloud-based system, without the restriction (and expense) of managing additional hardware and infrastructure. Pretty much overnight the company was able to strip thousands of pounds off infrastructure costs. Dan continued: “Being on a static IP, we did have a lot of issues with the servers. Firstly, there was the obvious annual outlay to an external company to maintain them, but then the biggest challenge was how they could go down at any time and we found this was becoming a more frequent occurrence. However, now we’re on the cloud, if anything goes down, it means that Microsoft has gone down and it’s a much bigger global issue! That’s pretty unlikely, so you’ve always got that added reliability and reassurance.”
Getting to grips with the software functionality
Now that Royale are on the cloud and on the latest version of EliteParks, they are fully focused on the next phase – getting to grips with the functionality and making sure staff across the business are fully trained up to get the best out of the software. “Working closely with our Account Manager at Elite Dynamics on the recent integrations has taught me so much. I’ve learned what EliteParks can do,” said Dan. “Everything from implementing the Purchase Order system, to the ability to export deal documents for sales… there’s so many good things that we need to get using. But there’s no tight deadline, we can take it all at our own pace. We’re rolling out integrations with Hoseasons and Pitchup and there’s a Reevoo integration – a TripAdvisor for the holiday park industry – happening too. This means when a customer has completed a booking on one of our parks, they’ll receive an automatic link to leave us a review on Reevoo.”
That kind of CRM (customer relationship management) activity is a must for holiday parks in today’s mostly digital world. CRM is all about building relationships with customers, which in turn will improve the overall customer experience and help boost sales. Staff across every department of the holiday park operation will have full visibility of their customers’ journeys. “CRM was something we implemented when we upgraded to SaaS and already we have seen the huge potential for our Sales and Marketing teams and for lead generation across the entire business,” added Dan. “Where we’ve got the different industries with RoyaleResorts and RoyaleLife, we’ve two sets of data there. What’s to say that someone who owns one of our residential homes doesn’t want to purchase a holiday home on another park, or doesn’t want to go for a week’s stay in a luxury cottage for example. We can now merge the entire portfolio together in terms of our needs – CRM is a very powerful tool.”
What’s next for RoyaleLife and RoyaleResorts?
“The board isn’t showing any signs of slowing down on our acquisitions, so there’s definitely still capacity for more growth!” laughs Dan. “The business is in a different place from 12 months ago and we’ve now got all the tools we need to continue growing and improving processes. With the thousands of customers we have now, we couldn’t be without some of the technology. Take the site fee invoicing function on EliteParks for example. Every owner is pre-assigned a site fee, which you can easily increase annually and then send them all out at the click of a button… that’s huge. There are so many massive time savers. Having a system that’s not a manual spreadsheet immediately mitigates user error. There really is so much more EliteParks can do and we’ve not even experienced most of it.
“Once the processes are there, you can deal with anything. Everything is autonomous. In this industry, no two parks are ever the same and that’s exactly why EliteParks is such a good system. It isn’t a case of ‘there’s the product and the door is closed’, you can bend and flex the software to your needs.”
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