Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) CEO Jim Rogers learned some invaluable lessons about campground operations – good and bad – during his stealth appearance at four KOA parks in California and Arizona last summer as part of the CBS hit “Undercover Boss,” which appeared nationally Friday night (Jan. 11).
The four-year-old Emmy Award-winning series, in which business executives leave the comfort of their corner offices for undercover missions within their own companies, gave Rogers and viewers a rare look inside KOA’s $200 million-a-year franchise campground business based in Billings, Mont. — a system consisting of 488 parks, 26 of them company owned.
When it was all over, Rogers revealed his true identify and spread some of his wealth – $165,000 – to the campground owners and staff he had innocently deceived over the course of the filming.
For those who missed the hour-long episode, Rogers, the head of the world’s largest campground chain, assumes his alter ego and stars as Tim Bickford, an unemployed accountant from San Francisco in the popular series filmed over 10 days last June. A frumpish fellow with his polo shift all buttoned and shorts hitched up, “Tim” allegedly is a contestant touring those four campgrounds for the launch of a pilot TV show.
He was assigned as a “front line” employee at each of the parks.
“My front line assignments on ‘Undercover Boss’ affirmed the importance of creating KOA systems that maximize the time that campground staff members can spend with guests,” Rogers told Woodall’s Campground Management, a sister publication of RVBusiness, prior to the episode’s airing. “I learned that the great people we have on the front lines can always use more time to better know and serve our guests. Our campground owners and their staffs are the real heroes of KOA. Being undercover gave me an unobstructed view of where our business gets done.”
As for his alter ego in the episode, “I’m more like Forest Gump than Jim Rogers,” says the affable Rogers, describing his disguise that included a dyed mustache and a pair of white socks. Rogers, who shaved his signature beard for the show, succeeds in coming off nerdy, once prompting Paul, the guest services manager at the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA in California, to remark, “If I was picking teams for a pickup football team, I would not pick Tim.”
Paul, efficient and engaging, opens up to Rogers and shares his life philosophy, the essence of which is that family and friends come before money. Paul also notes that showing appreciation to employees is important, noting that he was disappointed when KOA upper management failed to show any interest in the park’s regular staff workers like him when they gathered at the campground a year earlier.
Rogers says he realizes that he needs to find more time to listen to other people as a result in part of Paul, who subsequently earned a standing ovation at the KOA convention in November when Rogers announced that he made a $50,000 donation to KOA’s Care Camps in Paul’s name.
Since Rogers spends part of each summer working at KOA campgrounds, taking on the variety of tasks given him – ripping out a tree with a backhoe, paving and doing routine maintenance – came easily to him. What he didn’t like, however, was some of the poor customer service he witnessed first hand, questionable or spotty business procedures and the lack of perceived appreciation from the home office.
Sadie, the overworked office manager at the Tower Park Resort in Stockton, Calif., loses her patience with a potential guest who is kept waiting on the phone for five minutes while she helps campers in her store and blames a system she calls “archaic, not user friendly.” Rogers, who stood by nonchalantly and witnessed the chaos, confesses later, “It was ripping me apart inside.”
At the Ventura Ranch KOA near Los Angeles, Rogers (who is afraid of heights) gets his now well-chronicled ride on an 800-foot-long zipline and helps to adjust some housekeeping practices. “We need to whip this program into shape up here. It’s clear we have work to do.”
Rogers seems most pleased by the KOA in Williams, Ariz., near the Grand Canyon where owners Bruce and Lori are expanding their cabin inventory and want to install a golf course and go-cart track for their guests. When Tim mentions that his typical work week is 40 to 50 hours, Bruce replies that is “half a week here.” Rogers endorses their enthusiasm in striving to make their park the best KOA in the system.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) marked its 50th year in 2012 by adding 18 more locations to its 489-campground system in North America.
KOA, the world’s largest system of family-oriented campgrounds based in Billings, Mont., experienced 3.3% growth in short-term camper nights in 2012, the highest percentage of growth since KOA’s record year in 2007. Registration revenues also increased nearly 6 percent from 2011 figures.
“It was a pretty exciting year, start to finish,” said KOA CEO Jim Rogers. “Celebrating our 50th Anniversary was very special, and it was just fantastic that we saw an increase in camping this year, too.”
The momentum from 2012 continues to carry into 2013 for KOA. On Jan. 11, Rogers will be featured on the Emmy-award-winning CBS reality series “Undercover Boss.” Rogers will go under cover at four KOA locations, learning the day-to-day operations of a campground from front-line staff. “Undercover Boss,” now in its fourth season, won an Emmy in 2012 as the top-rated reality series on television.
The “Undercover Boss” episode will air Jan. 11 at 8 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific), and 7 p.m. (Central and Mountain). For more on KOA’s episode of “Undercover Boss,” go to www.KOA.com.
Campgrounds added in 2012 include: Bluffton/Findlay SW, Ohio; Honesdale/Poconos, Pa.; Butler North, Pa.; Jonestown, Pa.; Travelers Rest/Greenville North, S.C.; Buffalo, Wyo.; Ozark/Fort Rucker, Ala.; Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.; Wildwood, Fla.; Lake Bomoseen, Vt.; Victoria/Coleto Creek Lake, Texas; Carbondale/Crystal River, Colo.; Lynchburg NW/Blue Ridge Parkway, Va.; Clinton/Knoxville, Tenn.; Batesville, Ind.; Salome, Ariz.; St. George/Hurricane, Utah.
KOA’s 18th additional franchise added in 2012 is a yet-to-be-announced campground in the Southeast U.S.
Other 2012 highlights for the iconic camping brand were a record-breaking 2012 KOA International Convention in Orlando, Fla., in November, with nearly 290 KOA campgrounds represented. More than 800 owners and staff attended the event. The Convention’s KOA Expo also set a new record with more than 150 vendors providing their products and services to KOA owners.
KOA’s industry-leading Value Kard Rewards program also saw strong growth in 2012, with an increase in membership of more than 7.5% from 2011.
KOA also partnered with 18 major companies in 2012 to offer KOA campers unique deals on products and services to enhance their camping lifestyles.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) CEO Jim Rogers helps put the RV park and campground sector on center stage next week by going undercover at four KOA parks in California and Arizona during the Jan. 11 episode of CBS TV’s “Undercover Boss,” the 4-year-old Emmy Award-winning series in which business executives leave the comfort of their corner offices for undercover missions within their own companies.
Rogers, the head of the world’s largest campground chain, assumes his alter-ego and stars as Tim Bickford, an unemployed accountant from San Francisco in the popular series filmed over 10 days in 2012. Rogers assumes the role of a contestant touring those four campgrounds, allegedly for the launch of a pilot TV show.
He was assigned as a “front line” employee at each of the parks.
“My front line assignments on ‘Undercover Boss’ affirmed the importance of creating KOA systems that maximize the time that campground staff members can spend with guests,” Rogers told RVBUSINESS.com. “I learned that the great people we have on the front lines can always use more time to better know and serve our guests. Our campground owners and their staffs are the real heroes of KOA. Being undercover gave me an unobstructed view of where our business gets done.”
In the episode, “I’m more like Forest Gump than Jim Rogers,” says the affable CEO, describing his disguise that includes a dyed mustache, shirt buttoned at the top and white socks. Rogers shaved his beard for the show.
Rogers spends part of each summer working at KOA campgrounds, so taking on the variety of tasks given him – ripping out a tree with a backhoe, paving and doing routine maintenance – came easily to him.
His biggest challenge was when he was asked to ride the zip line at one of the parks. “I’ve always been afraid of heights, so this was difficult,” he said. “I had to put it into my head that Jim is afraid of heights but Tim isn’t. At the end of the day, I am glad I did it. It was a surprise and a thrill. I have ridden many zip lines since.”
And despite his celebrity status among the Billings, Mont.-based franchise network’s personnel – KOA operates nearly 500 franchise and company-owned parks — no one ultimately recognized Rogers. In fact, when he reveals his true identity at the climax of the episode, his colleagues were “flabbergasted,” he reports.
“The CBS crew complimented me on my acting and said I was one of the few bosses who pulled off a character completely,” he said.
Though he had not yet seen the edited version, Rogers said the show provides good PR not just for KOA, but also for the campground and RV business, thanks in part to a Class C motorhome used liberally by the film crew throughout the taping.
“’Undercover Boss’ is great entertainment, but it also does a great service by taking the general public behind the scenes of popular companies,” Rogers said. “Every episode is a case study in business management.”
In particular, Rogers said he got a first-hand look at the cabin and lodging business at the four KOAs and came away with a better understanding of how to fine-tune the ever-growing “covered shelter” business at RV parks.
“One thing that is true for the entire campground sector, not just KOA, is housekeeping. We are moving as aggressively as we can into deluxe cabins but with that comes a housekeeping requirement,” he explained. “There are ways to do that well. We have spent a year finding the right suppliers, but we have work to be more consistent in the delivery of standards.
“I spent 18 years in the casino business,” Rogers added. “I know it can be done. There is a process that is required. We have to deliver on this new service, and I know many owners are saying, ‘We’re not going to do it.’ In our case, we have a certain standard we have to live up to. We have a ways to get there.”
“It’s a great opportunity, a great story, a great show. I hope it does really well for the sector and outdoor hospitality and for KOA,” he said.’s
Jim Rogers, the gregarious CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc., will transform into mild-mannered Tim Bickford, an out-of-work accountant from San Francisco on CBS’s hit series “Undercover Boss,” Friday, Jan. 11 (8-9 p.m., ET/PT).
Rogers has been at the helm of KOA – the world’s largest system of family-friendly campgrounds – for the past 12 years. The company, born in Billings, Mont., in 1962 and still headquartered near that first campground location, now has 489 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
The Emmy Award-winning Undercover Boss show is now in its fourth season.
“My front line assignments on ‘Undercover Boss’ affirmed the importance of creating KOA systems that maximize the time that campground staff members can spend with guests,” Rogers stated in a news release. “I learned that the great people we have on the front lines can always use more time to better know and serve our campers. Genuine engagement, ultimately, is what it’s all about. KOA campground owners and their staffs are the real heroes of KOA.”
Rogers said he welcomed the chance to go undercover, taking on the persona of a “front line” KOA employee.
“’Undercover Boss’ is great entertainment, but it also does a great service by taking the general public behind the scenes of popular companies,” Rogers said. “Every episode is a case study in business management.”
“My experience on ‘Undercover Boss’ once again confirmed to me the importance of ‘sweating the small things,’” Rogers said. “Being undercover gave me an unobstructed view of where our business gets done. Being there were no special advanced preparations for me, and that led to a lot of surprises – some good and some not so good.”
Rogers said he was heartened by KOA frontline staff’s understanding of the “Golden Rule” when serving campers, always doing their jobs in a manner that would exceed a guest’s expectations.
“It was also great to see our franchisees and our staff’s commitment to our charity effort for KOA Care Camps for children with cancer,” he said. “Their support for Care Camps really makes a difference.”
Each week, the Emmy Award-winning show, which is in its fourth season, follows a different executive as they leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their companies. While working alongside their employees, they see the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organizations and get an up-close look at bot
Those of you who wiggle out of family camping trips by claiming you’re just not into roughing it will have to find another excuse.
A range of camping options and innovations have made it far more comfortable to eat, sleep and otherwise spend time in the Great Outdoors.
“’Soft rugged’ is what so many Americans are seeking in their outdoor experience today,” says Jim Rogers, chairman and CEO of Kampgrounds of America, or KOA, which runs about 500 campgrounds around the country. So much so that he now refers to the camping industry as “outdoor hospitality.”
KOA has beefed up some of its campgrounds to include both basic and luxury cabins – the latter being the kind more often equated with family resorts than places to pitch tents. Rental costs $100 to $150 per night. Some sites offer coffee carts, pancake breakfasts, kids’ activities and entertainment.
Campers who want things a bit more – but not much more – rustic can browse the equipment lining the shelves at well-stocked outdoors stores (although some of the fancy new goodies may hike the price of that simple camping trip).
Take, for instance, REI’s Kingdom 8 tent, which is big enough to sleep eight. For $529, the tent is not just waterproof and bug-proof but also has moveable room dividers to create separate spaces with private entrances. Fill it with cots, airbeds and perhaps a ceiling fan created for tents, and you’re bound to get in a good night’s sleep. Toss in another $100, and you can add to it a “garage” to store food or gear — or use it as a place for the family dog to sleep.
Nifty outdoor stoves and cooking gear have made campfire-cooked canned beans and hot dogs moot, unless you really like them.
REI’s camp kitchen, for example, is a folding trove of food-prep workspace and storage – all of which can be carried around in a zipper bag. It even includes hooks for hanging up spatulas, and windproof screens so the elements don’t mess with your cooking.
Coleman, one of the biggest manufactures of camping gear, sells a camping oven that fits handily onto one of the company’s two- or three-burner grills.
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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.
Publisher’s Note: KOA Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers is arguably the industry’s most relentless marketeer. A former Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. executive, he has etched KOA’s yellow brand into the American psyche and now looks to change the face of KOA’s 463 parks — and American campgrounds in general — with the infusion of more and more sedentary camping “cabins” and “lodges.” Here are the highlights of an interview conducted during KOA’s Nov. 17-20 convention at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott in the Houston suburbs.
RVB: The general atmosphere of your convention was pretty positive, given all of the headwinds that the American economy has faced recently.
Rogers: KOA has just come out of its strongest summer in 47 years. If you take camper nights and registrations for the period of June, July, August and September, we’ve just exceeded anything we’ve done in the past. Where we hurt in 2009 and anticipate hurting this winter and probably early 2010 is in the Snowbird markets that are more dependent on a fixed-income lifestyle. What we did not see last year in America is the transient Snow Bird.
So, we had the resident Snow Bird that headed into Texas and Arizona and committed to three or four months, but the people who were going down and spending a month here and there did not show up. And that’s what we don’t have any certainty about.
Having said that, the cruise lines are indicating very strong advance reservations, which to me is the same market that we look at for this transient Snowbird. But it’s hard to predict that. Again, we anticipate the 2010 summer will be as strong as 2009′s was, if not a little better.
RVB: Looking back at September of 2008 and the economic meltdown that occurred then, could you have imagined that you’d be sitting here now coming off a near-record 2009, with gains anticipated in both camper nights and revenues?
Rogers: No. We went into our plan for 2009 very concerned. The surprise was that we quickly became the affordable (lodging) option. America traded down. They traded down everything they’ve done, and we exceeded expectations. They’ve gone to Costco more aggressively than they did previously, as they did with the camping alternative. If people were going to take a vacation, instead of staying at a Marriott or going to Europe, they decided to go camping again.
There were record tent sales last year in the United States. People found a different way to get outdoors. And, again, we continue to see people staying closer to home – even though Yellowstone Park, a distant destination, posted a record year.
And when they went to a KOA campground, they didn’t find their grandfather’s campground. They found the latte machine, they found (park model) lodges that had a bathroom and kitchen in them for $125 and a swimming pool and they were surprised. They were hooked. We continue to see 14-15% of our campers are first-time-ever campers. And among the first-timers, 50% are families. That’s great news for us that we are bringing in new people to experience KOA and the campgrounds that we’ve got. That’s going to play well long-term.
RVB: So, what do you really think these newbies are looking for in terms of camping accommodations?
Rogers: Anyone who has an investment in an RV brought their gear out of the garage this year. They might not have used it for a while. But our greatest growth will be a double-digit increase in camper nights in the lodge business — the 400-square-foot park model that offers a kitchen and a bathroom and a deck out front. That’s where our greatest growth is, and that’s why we’ve developed the new models with three suppliers, General Coach, Cavco Industries Inc. and Thor’s Breckenridge division.
RVB: What, in your opinion, is behind this evolution to more sedentary – or “destination” — styles of lodging?
Rogers: A lot of things are. Initially, it was this trend toward staying closer to home. People didn’t want to spend the gas or didn’t have the RV and they wondered what to do. In the process, people began to realize that these accommodations were there.
If you talk to our franchisees, they’re going to tell you they had 20 requests (for park model “lodges”) that exceeded what they could fulfill.
At the same time, the lodge customer gives us the highest satisfaction rating by 10 points. If you ask our lodge customer what they think of the experience, they are way above the average. They have the highest intent to return and they tell us they get the best price value. And they are paying the most for the experience. It’s all there. What a future!
RVB: What’s the demographic profile of a “cabin” or “lodge” customer?
Rogers: They skew more to families and first-timers and people who drive up in a car. It’s basically a customer who is right now using a motel or hotel. That’s where we’re going. We are learning from our Australian friends (Big 4 Holiday Parks, with whom KOA has a marketing partnership), who have 32% of their inventory in cabins and lodges.
You are going to see KOA on Travelocity, Orbitz, hotels.com. You talk about a new market and what we’ve got to offer; we’ve got to get the inventory out there.
Plus, KOA is going to produce a million directories in 2010. We intend to mail 400,000 to our Value Kard holders, and in the middle of the directory is a five-page, full color lodge brochure. You are going to begin to realize there is indeed a different offering in that experience. The fact is, with a motel, you get a room. What we are going to tell people is that this is a social activity.
RVB: To what extent do you anticipate expanding your lodge business?
Rogers: We’ve got 4,000-plus cabins (smaller units without water), but we only have about 1,000 lodges (generally park models with full facilities) among our 56,000 sites. That’s about 10% that are currently this type of accommodation. We’ve got to increase that inventory to go out to the market and grow this segment of our business – tremendously.
In the next three to five years, we hope that gets closer to 15-20% of our total inventory. It won’t happen that fast. That’s an aggressive goal. We are going to lead the charge at our 25 company-owned properties.
RVB: Needless to say, this would be a huge shift in the basic character of a so-called RV park or campground if it actually occurred to the extent that you’re describing it.
Rogers: There’s no question that the mix is dramatic. We have RV inventory with full hookups that is going unused that is getting $40 to $45 a night, and we put in a unit and we get $150 a night using the same real estate using the same hookups and the demand is right there behind it.
RVB: Do all of your lodges exude that “rustic” look that we’ve seen so much of lately?
Rogers: KOA has a team that has gone to the manufacturers, CAVCO and Breckenridge and General in Canada, and designed eight different models that run from a studio model that is probably 199 square feet to the big baby, which is 400 square feet. They all have bathrooms and kitchens and they all have concrete siding that looks like wood. They look like something from New England. Most of the inventory will be a log-side perceived look. That reinforces the cabin look that we’ve created. This is where we have an incredible growth opportunity.
By no means are we going to say adios to the RV industry. But we see the ability to be more diverse to whom we appeal to and we’ve got to reorient how we meet the demand for the supply that is out there.
RVB: So, do you also see growth in the entry-level type campers who, in some cases, prefer tents?
Rogers: We’ve definitely seen an increase in our tenter business. But the problem we’ve had is that over the last few years, we’ve reduced the inventory of tent sites. It’s a matter of figuring out what we have, and, ultimately, we see the tenter converting to a lodge or cabin.
RVB: With regard to private parks, many states are under extreme economic financial pressure. Your thoughts on all that?
Rogers: We all have to realize that public parks are as diverse as commercial parks. And we need to make sure that national parks still draw people for vacations and do a good job of taking care of them.
The more localized experience, the state parks that are indeed in dire shape, I think they will continue to be in difficult shape, and, hopefully, American campers will consider the commercial option more so than they have in the past.
The states need to find a new economic engine.
The other thing is that campers are coming to expect a certain level of services and the states aren’t going to be able to provide that.
So, some people who are partial to public parks have now begun to try the commercial side, and they’re pretty happy. They are more entertained and they are staying closer to home. They are staying longer and they expect a little more. Fishing for four days isn’t going to keep them entertained. They need something else going on. So, while I want public parks to continue to operate, I know that some of the business is going to swing over to us.
Jim Rogers, chairman and CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), will join an industry panel discussion examining the current economic factors affecting the RV industry during the RV Dealers International Convention/Expo at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.
The panel, titled “RV Market: Rebound in Sight,” will be led by RV industry’s retail scorekeeper Tom Walworth of Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 2:30 p.m., according to a release from the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).
Rogers currently focuses on strategic partnerships and corporate growth for KOA. KOA offers more than 55,000 RV, tent, and Kamping Kabin sites at more than 450 U.S. and Canadian campgrounds.
In addition to Rogers, the panel of industry experts includes Mark Beecher, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Bank of the West, and Derald Bontrager, president and COO of Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind. The group will focus on the mindset of today’s RV traveler and what products they will buy, how these trends will impact the market, and how dealers can better position their dealerships for success.
“We are fortunate to have these knowledgeable people in the RV industry join us for what will be an interesting and informative session as we prepare for the recovery that we know is coming,” said RVDA Education Foundation Chairman Rick Horsey.
This is just one of the workshops planned for the RV Dealers International Convention/Expo featuring the RV Learning Center, which will be held Oct. 6-9. For special advance registration savings, register by Sept. 4. For more information and to register, visit the convention section of www.rvda.org and follow the RV Learning Center and convention on Facebook and Linkedin.
Meanwhile, advance registration for the event is exceeding expectations.
With the deadline on Friday to take advantage of discounts, RVDA has 280 people from 163 U.S. dealerships and 59 people from 34 Canadian dealerships registered, according to Phil Ingrassia, RVDA vice president of communications
“It’s better than we thought,” he told RVBUSINESS.COM. “It’s not up to last year (when 560 dealers were registered). But to be honest with you it’s better than what we had budgeted for. We’re very pleased with this turnout but we would like to get it higher.”
He said RVDA would mount a big push this week to urge dealers to sign up to take advantage of the best rates to attend.
“We knew it was going to be a tough year, but we think we have put together a good value proposition for dealers,” he said. “We have good workshops, good hotel rates at the Rio and tried to keep all costs down. It will still be a very important meeting.”
RVDA has tracked 160 dealership closings since 2008, but with RV production picking up across the U.S., there are signs that the worst is over.
“That’s what we’re hearing from a lot of dealers,” Ingrassia continued. “You’ve got to feel like it will be better in 2010. but some dealers are still having a lot of issues. We’ve built the (Expo) program around that — financing, business planning and human resources. These are issues dealers have to look at when they get ready for the recovery.”
Pat Hittmeier, a 28-year veteran of Kampgrounds of America Inc.’s (KOA) home office in Billings, Mont., and most recently the vice president of its Sales and Campground Development Division, has been promoted to the position of COO for the 47-year-old company.
Hittmeier replaces Shane Ott, who has resigned from the positions of president and COO of KOA Inc. The position of president will remain vacant, according to Jim Rogers, KOA’s CEO and chairman, and the duties will be split between Hittmeier and Rogers, according to a news release.
“Pat Hittmeier has done nearly everything there is to do at KOA, so he brings a depth of knowledge to this position that just can’t be matched,” Rogers said. “Early in his career, he worked in our Company Operated Properties Division, learning the nuts and bolts of campground management. He later was in the field, building new KOAs like the beautiful park we have in Polson, Mont. He’s also been at the helm of our Franchisee Services Department, a very complex operation that is at the very heart of the value KOA brings to its franchisee partners. He intimately understands the needs of both our staff and our campground owners, most recently as vice president of sales and development, where he has achieved the remarkable result of adding 50 new campgrounds to KOA in just two years.”
Ott, who is ending a 23-year career at Kampgrounds of America, is planning to create his own consulting business, to be based in Billings. He served as KOA’s president and COO for the past 2 1/2 years. He had previously been the senior vice president of KOA’s company operated properties.
Hittmeier, a native of Litchfield, Ill., is a graduate of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He moved to Texas after graduation and worked with youth outdoor education programs in Houston and Waco. In 1977 he moved to Montana and became a forester for the state of Montana. In 1979, he came to Billings to be sales coordinator for the Mossmain Industrial Park before joining KOA in June 1981.