Editor’s Note: The following is a portion of an interview conducted by Woodall’s Campground Management with Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers. KOA, celebrating its 50th year, records over 15 million camper visits annually. To watch a video of the entire interview click here.
WCM: KOA has a storied history. Your brand is the best known in camping circles and among non-campers as well. The company was recently named one of the Top 50 Franchises in the U.S. Tell me what you think are the major company developments and accomplishments and milestones along the way in the past 50 years.
ROGERS: Well gosh, I’d need an hour to do that, maybe even longer. But let me just try to identify some top ones. I think the recognition that we continue to receive that you just mentioned is essential in any franchise organization. The fact that we are receiving great feedback from our franchisees, and that’s what we were measured for, to be one of the Top 50 Franchises in all those hundreds of them out there, so that’s an accomplishment for sure.
A milestone is we just did a Harris Poll in 2011; the Harris organization is a very prominent research group. And we learned that 25 percent of American adults have stayed at KOA at some point in their lives in the last 50 years. So we’ve touched a lot of Americans. And obviously at the heart of our business is the whole idea that we’re helping Americans and visitors to our country and Canada to get outdoors with their family and friends, and that’s certainly a part of our culture.
I think the other milestone is the consistency of our brand. We are known for a great experience no matter where they travel. And again, that’s a tribute to our wonderful owners and staffs. KOA.com, as a website, does twice the traffic of all the others in our business combined. It is a horse. It is a great source of information, and I think the technology that we’ve created to support that effort serves the entire industry well.
I think a milestone of reaching halfway around the world to find a sister company or a partner in the Australian KOA, called the Big 4 Holiday Parks, is another accomplishment. We’ve looked a lot of places, and these people are so great and ahead of us in many ways, and we’ve been working on that for about seven years.
And I think lastly, the greatest milestone of our business and of KOA is that we’re guest-driven. We have done so much in the last 10 to 15 years to indeed orient ourselves and our evaluations, based upon the ultimate umpire, which is our guests.
So I think we’ve had a super history and we’re not going to dwell too much on where we’ve been. We have so much going on that’s going to focus us on where we’re going in the next 50.
WCM: Jim, that was a great segue into my next question. KOA is constantly monitoring its customers’ likes and dislikes, and you have a very sophisticated way to do this. Tell me what you learned in 2011 about your guests.
ROGERS: We started with guest feedback the day we opened 50 years ago. Dave Drum, our founder, actually would go down in the evening and handed out a survey, and we actually have the results from that original survey. So guest feedback and impacting our strategies and driving our business has been critical.
Specifically about what we learn, you have to appreciate is that our owners and operators receive today specific verbatim detail on the experience of their guests yesterday and the day before. So it’s not about necessarily a trend. Certainly at KOA headquarters we look at the data and the verbatims and see if there’s something common, is it a fact or if it’s Wi-Fi problems or is it cleanliness problems or, you know, general kinds of things. But the real true benefit here is there are owners and operators that have such pride about the performance of their parks that are getting specific details, both positive and constructive criticism about what the guests experienced just recently, and that has made it incredibly strong in terms of upgrading the overall quality.
And I think the other thing that has been accomplished in the last four or five years, because we have this measurement and this monitoring, KOA’s overall system quality is improved. Last year alone in what we call the ‘net promoter score,’ which is a device that many, many organizations are using to question their customers about whether they would recommend the brand or their service to others, we saw an 8 percent increase across our system. So KOA continues to make a tremendous commitment to that guest feedback and the fact that we get verbatim detail for each franchisee, makes a tremendous impact on where we’re going.