Success and growth through innovation – that’s been the guiding force behind Bluegreen Corporation.
After entering the timeshare business in 1994, Bluegreen decided to both grow and dramatically improve its product offering with its acquisition of Resort Development International (RDI) in 1997. A privately held vacation ownership developer, RDI had more than 40 resorts in Florida and Wisconsin, along with numerous management contracts with other resorts throughout the southeastern United States. David Bidgood, Senior Vice President and President of Bluegreen Resort Field Sales & Marketing, was one of the RDI owners at the time of the acquisition. “We were bigger than Bluegreen’s resort business at that time,” said Bidgood. “Bluegreen was a public company, and we were a large privately-held company; the union just made sense. Our philosophies of customer service and sales were a perfect match.”
The Bluegreen Vacation Club
The acquisition of RDI was monumentally significant to Bluegreen. Almost overnight the company went from being a small timeshare developer, marketing and selling traditional fixed-week timeshare interests, to a points-based Vacation Club with a collection of resorts in popular drive-to destinations. Allowing owners to purchase an allotment of Points gave them the opportunity to vacation someplace new every year, and still does to this day. This flexibility proved to be one of the first of its kind in the timeshare industry, and allowed Bluegreen the ability to sell timeshare ownership from any one of their sales centers all over the country.
“RDI’s points-based system was an industry innovation that set the stage for what Bluegreen is today,” said Wendy Poe, Senior Vice President, Club Services. “This was an incredible shift in focus,” Poe noted. “No longer were we dependent on tourism in certain markets.”
Bass Pro Shops® Alliance
New vacation destinations brought new opportunities. In 2000, then President and CEO of Bluegreen, George Donovan cultivated a relationship with Bass Pro Shops® forming one of the timeshare industry’s first retail alliances. This exclusive marketing agreement and joint venture relationship is based on the belief that leisure is one of the most important aspects of our busy lives and allows Bluegreen to market its Vacation Club product through various Bass Pro Shops channels including retail locations, catalogs and the Bass Pro website.
The partnership’s potential for success was greatly enhanced with the hiring of John M. Maloney, Jr., Bluegreen’s current President and Chief Executive Officer. His sales and marketing experience was invaluable, having worked for some of the industry’s major brands such as Marriot and Hilton. Since its inception, the relationship between Bluegreen and Bass Pro has flourished and couldn’t be any more natural. Today, it is viewed as one of the most successful relationships between a retailer and a vacation ownership developer. It’s no wonder the two partners recently agreed to extend the relationship for an additional 15 years through 2025.
“In addition to the sales and marketing contribution, in the Bass Pro relationship has made quite an impact on Bluegreen’s culture,” said Ahmad M. Wardak, Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Bluegreen. It has made the company more consumer-centric and has taught Bluegreen valuable lessons in developing and maintaining good partnerships. “We have learned a tremendous amount about what it takes to make a partnership work and make it work on a successful and sustained basis.” said Wardak. “That’s an invaluable skill for us as we seek future relationships and partnerships. We understand the importance of being a good steward of our partner’s brand.”
Before the downturn in the economy Bluegreen was thriving. The company was enjoying success, led by a visionary management team dedicated to growing the company and providing a flexible vacation experience to its owners. This along with Bluegreen’s scalable operating platform made Diamond Resorts International take notice. They approached Bluegreen to buy the company, but the transaction was abandoned due to the contraction in the credit markets. [member]
In the latter part of 2008, the state of the economy and more specifically the credit markets, caused a serious downturn in the vacation ownership industry. Even with Bluegreen’s excellent reputation, affordable product and proven track record of performance and success, credit availability immediately became limited to the levels of existing commitments for the company and the industry in general. As a result, the company was forced to reduce its vacation ownership sales, drastically reduce its workforce and close various sales and marketing operations. “The warning signs were there—we just hadn’t seen the likes of it before,” said Maloney. “Unfortunately, we felt we had no other choice but to right-size the company in order to weather the storm.”
The decision to “right-size” the company was extremely difficult on everyone, remembers Maloney. “The reduction in workforce had nothing to do with the performance of those affected,” stated Maloney “It was due solely to a lack of credit availability and our liquidity position at the time.”
“This was an extremely difficult decision for the management team because we cared deeply for the people we had to let go. They were all extremely talented and hard-working associates.” “It was ultimately a defining moment for us as a company,” said Maloney. “After making the difficult decisions to restructure the company, we immediately began discussing what we needed to do as a company to not only survive but thrive in this new environment.” This actually turned out to be an incredible opportunity for Bluegreen.
A New Business Model
In 2009, Bluegreen took a long hard look at its quality of earnings as well as the efficiency of its products and programs. It was determined that enhancing the business model would be paramount to the company’s long-term success, thus the company embarked on an aggressive initiative to reinvent itself. Bluegreen shifted its focus from quantity to quality. It implemented credit- underwriting policies in its finance operations. “For the first time in Bluegreen’s history, we began to turn away people who wanted our product, but whose credit profile didn’t meet our requirements” said Tony Puleo, Bluegreen Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer and President of the Bluegreen Treasury Services.
“Just discussing it wasn’t enough anymore. We had to do it.” In addition to the credit underwriting, the company’s sales organization was tasked with collecting more cash at point of sale. “We immediately put a plan together to generate more cash a point of sales and started seeing results,” said Bidgood. Soon thereafter, Bluegreen introduced its capital light fee-based services business catering to third-party resort developers and timeshare property owners’ associations. These services include selling and marketing third-party developers’ vacation ownership interests, mortgage servicing, construction management, title, owner services and resort management. This new business brought established resort properties into the Bluegreen Vacation Club. This gave Bluegreen owners access to even more vacation destinations—making their vacation ownership even more valuable. It also allowed Bluegreen to bring its highly specialized staff, which included title services, sales, marketing, Club operations and financial services, to benefit its clients.
“So many developers had unsold inventory at the time,” noted David Pontius, Chief Strategy Officer, Executive Vice President and President of Bluegreen Services. “It turned out to be a win-win for everyone.” He continued, “Bluegreen has the desire to expand the Bluegreen Vacation Club in new or popular vacation destinations, and through these arrangements, where inventory and financing are provided by the developer, Bluegreen provides the marketing and sales expertise to sell that inventory as part of our Club. In return, the developer receives proceeds for inventory that might otherwise remain unsold. The resort becomes part of the successful Bluegreen Vacation Club and expands vacation options for Bluegreen owners.” Fee-based services are now a key component of the company’s strategy.
Focused on Doing the Right Things
While Bluegreen reshaped its business model, internal efforts to stay true to company’s roots endured, and now more than ever the focus is on associates and giving back to the community. “Our associates are our greatest asset,” said Susan Saturday, Chief Human Resources Officer at Bluegreen Corporation. “Their generosity and caring nature has helped Bluegreen earn recognition both locally and nationally.” Bluegreen’s charitable giving and philanthropy efforts focus primarily on health issues, education and children in the communities in which Bluegreen associates live and work. Associates are encouraged to volunteer and contribute donations by the company’s in-house BEAR (Bluegreen Employee Action Resource) Team. Through the active involvement of all Bluegreen associates and their families, the company has raised and donated more than $1,000,000 to Christel House®, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation®, SOS Children’s Villages, Junior Achievement Program of South Florida, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation®, the American Red Cross® as well as many environmental protection and conservation programs.
Bluegreen executives believe generational differences and continued technological advances will dramatically alter the way timeshares are marketed and sold. “Innovative marketing and product offering will be essential to Bluegreen’s continued success,” said Maloney.
To that end, the company has made significant investments in technology to develop and enhance its web properties both from a servicing and marketing and sales perspective. Today, Bluegreen owners can conduct various transactions online from booking their vacations to paying their maintenance fees. The company hopes to launch a completely redesigned website with commerce capability along with the first phases of their Customer Relationship Management System next year.
Bluegreen has also expanded its “listening” capabilities by implementing a full consumer feedback mechanism encompassing the company’s entire ownership cycle, including marketing, sales, reservations and resort experiences. The company has also leveraged the web—primarily the various social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to listen and communicate with its owner base.
Today, Bluegreen is proud to cater to over 222,000 owners, including over 160,000 members in the Bluegreen Vacation Club, with a growing portfolio of over 57 owned or managed resorts, and access to more than 4,000 resorts worldwide. Bluegreen’s sights are set on growing its owner base and adding new destinations, primarily through its fee-based services business. “We have the right associates,
the right vision and the right platform,” Maloney said. “Most importantly, we believe we have the flexibility and creativity to adapt and take advantage of the ever changing paradigm that is the timeshare industry.” [/member]