When Jim Rogers speaks at the inaugural RV Industry Power Breakfast next month at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., he plans to share good news for the Elkhart-based RV industry.
As reported by The Elkhart Truth, the CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) sees a huge potential for growth in the RV market.
“What’s important for us all to realize is we have just scratched the surface. When you go through a capacity reduction that’s happened in the last five years, when you have to let people go … I think we’re stronger together than apart, and by bringing the three sectors of the manufacturer, the dealer and the campground together we can optimize the potential that exists within the north American marketplace,” said Rogers in a phone interview.
“It’s bigger than the assembly line. You have a community there that needs to see some hope and some opportunity for the future,” and Rogers believes Elkhart County has that hope and opportunity in the RV industry.
Rogers is chairman and chief executive officer of KOA, which owns 26 campgrounds and works with franchisees who run another 461 campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada.
When he got the invitation to speak at the power breakfast, he jumped at the opportunity, and he credits Sherman Goldenberg, publisher of industry publication RVBusiness magazine, with a great idea.“It’s quite the accomplishment because Sherman to me kind of represents the United Nations of the RV world. He brings all the different components together, which I think is one of the things exciting to us,” said Rogers. “The campground sector hasn’t had a lot of engagement with the manufacturers or the dealers,” even though the campgrounds end up as the proving ground for many of the RVs made in the Elkhart County area.
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With the big-boy RVs stretching nearly 50 feet, many pulling trailers full of toys, turning and parking in campgrounds can be a problem.
The Billings (Mont.) Gazette reported that people no longer back into campsites, they want drive-throughs. That change and the demand for more modern amenities helped create more work for Doug Mulvaney at Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA).
“Probably the biggest challenge in the industry in the last 15 to 20 years is addressing the size of the RVs being manufactured,” said Mulvaney, KOA’s manager of facilities development.
While working for the former Montana Power Co., Mulvaney handled underground electrical utilities. He uses that experience to help modernize some of KOA’s 550 campgrounds, many designed decades ago.
“The biggest thing I do, year in and out, is upgrading electric service, usually to 50 amps,” he said.
Campground owners also must respond to RV manufacturers moving the location of utility hookups on the RV. They may have to offer plug-ins on both sides or install front and back sewer hookups, Mulvaney said.
Redesigning curves to allow a wider turning radius for the big rigs and consolidating and angling camp sites for drive-through access are his other duties.
“There are several campground layouts where you kind of look at it and scratch your head,” Mulvaney said.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) set a new record for revenue in 2012, and enjoyed its second-best year ever in camper night growth since the company began tracking all of its locations on a centralized reservation system in 2005.
According to a press release, short-term camper nights in 2012 at the nearly 490 KOA campgrounds in North America increased by 3.3% over 2011 final figures. Campground registration revenues were up nearly 6% over 2011.
“It was a good year for camping,” said KOA President Pat Hittmeier. “We added 18 great new camping locations in some wonderful spots, and our campers proved, once again, that they love the camping lifestyle and they love KOA.”
The Billings, Mont.-based company reported that results were strong in nearly all areas. KOA’s Value Kard Rewards program, which now has 351,000 members, experienced a 7.5% increase in card sales in 2012.
KOA’s deluxe cabin program also continued to grow in 2012 as camper nights were up nearly 21%. A portion of that growth was driven by the addition of nearly 250 new deluxe cabins at KOA campgrounds. In total, the KOA system now has more than 2,100 Deluxe Cabins at more than 300 KOAs in North America.
Even use of the traditional log KOA cabin, first introduced into the KOA system in 1980, saw growth in 2012. Basic KOA cabins have electricity, but no kitchens or bathrooms.
“We saw a 2.5% growth in the use of our basic KOA cabins in 2012,” Hittmeier said. “That’s particularly interesting, in that we really haven’t added more units to our 4,500-unit inventory of those cabins. That growth was driven strictly by increased use by campers.”
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) will be hosting a Work Kamper Boot Camp March 20 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Branson, Mo., KOA campground. The event is open to both current members of KOA’s Work Kamper Program, as well as non-members who may be considering the Work Kamping lifestyle, according to a news release.
The all-day session is intended to add expertise in KOA systems and practices for current KOA Work Kampers, and introduce potential Work Kampers to this career. Along with having the ability to network with fellow KOA Work Kampers, those attending Boot Camp will receive the “KOA Boot Camp Graduate” icon on their Work At KOA website resume; take advantage of one-on-one training to help use the Work At KOA resume website; and also get help finding a job for next season at the KOA Work Kamper Virtual Job Fair.
The Work Kamper Boot Camp is free to current members of the KOA Work Kamper Program. Non-members will be charged a $20 per person fee. The Branson KOA Campground is offering free nights of camping to those who attend the full day of Work Kamper training. A free lunch will also be provided.
Current KOA Work Kamper Program members can register by signing on to the www.workatkoa.com website. Non-members can register by emailing Shari Scribner at email@example.com. Space is limited.
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
Scooter and Gail Reaser knew a great opportunity when they saw it.
The Reasers, longtime recreational boating enthusiasts on Coleto Creek Lake in Texas, noticed that the very basic camping facilities offered at the Coleto Creek Reservoir just weren’t meeting the needs of campers.
So, they decided to convert the 60-acre pasture that they owned near the reservoir into a top-notch campground, according to a news release.
In the current economy, newly constructed campgrounds are a rarity. But trying something a bit different didn’t scare Scooter or Gail.
In October, they opened Phase 1 of the new Victoria/Coleto Creek, Texas KOA Campground, which included 124 campsites, each with free cable television and Wi-Fi, a patio with barbecue, a 10,000-square-foot Kamp K-9 pet playground and a nature trail that meanders through acres of undeveloped land.
Coming soon will be Phase 2 and Phase 3, which include a large pavilion and additional recreational activities including bicycle and watercraft rentals and an additional 200 campsites.
“Those plans will be far easier to complete, now that we have the infrastructure in place,” said Vernon (Scooter) Reaser. “The initial challenges of getting the permits, the electricity and sewer, and engineering are now done. Basically, it’s been like building a small city – far from existing services – from the ground up.”
The Reasers are dedicated to making everything on their KOA top notch. Guests entering the campground will see a palm-tree-lined, double-lane boulevard with the U.S, Texas and Kampgrounds of America flags flying high on a circular island.
“The state flag of each guest’s home state will be flown throughout their stay here,” said Gail. “You can drive up and see your own state flat and know that someone from your state is here, too. I’m looking forward to seeing everybody with their campfires and barbecues going, having fun, enjoying the park and the outdoors.”
While the campground has it’s own catfish pond, as well as hiking trails and swimming, the KOA entrance is just 100 yards from the Coleto Creek Lake Reservoir entrance, so boaters and watersports enthusiasts can stay as busy as they like.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) drew a record crowd of park operators and exhibiting expo vendors Nov. 15-18 for its 50th Annual KOA International Convention at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. – a significant “Golden Anniversary” moment for the Billings, Mont.-based park franchisor that came on the heels of a strong business year despite plenty of natural and political headwinds.
Among them were some of the hottest temperatures on record accompanied by insufferable drought conditions over half the country and wildfires in Colorado and other western states that curtailed to an extent the regular summer season for the 486-park system of which 26 facilities are company-owned.
“The KOA system proved to be strong enough to increase camper nights and revenue and grow our footprint, all in a year when the economy and consumer confidence were sluggish, heat records were set across the country and gas prices fluctuated, but remained high,” KOA stated in its annual report released at the convention at which the company’s senior management introduced a bold new “brand positioning” initiative.
As of late October, in fact, the nearly 500-park system rated among the “Top 50 Franchisors” for the fourth year in a row in Franchise Business Review’s annual survey, was reporting:
- Systemwide camper nights up 2.2% over 2011 with registration revenue 4.7% ahead of 2011’s.
- Growth in every North American region except the Mid-Atlantic, with Western Canada leading the pack on a 14.9% increase in camper nights and an 11.6% uptick in registration revenue.
- Increases in long-term RV camper nights for the summer season, May through October, of 12.8% with registrations up 14.3% for the same period.
- Value Kard Rewards loyalty card sales and renewals up 7.3% on revenue growth of 5.1%.
- KOA.com visitation hiked 27%.
- Deluxe cabin rentals, a key point of emphasis right now for KOA, up more than 20% with registration revenues growing 19.5%.
New Branding Unveiled
In a rather bold attempt to step away from the common perception of KOA over the past half century as a basic “roadside” lodging option for those navigating the Interstate highway system, KOA took the opportunity at its Florida convention to introduce a rather bold new “brand positioning” program through which KOA parks are to be promoted in three separate categories based on their amenities and general use by the traveling public.
The idea, says KOA CEO Jim Rogers, is to step away from a “one-size-fits-all” perception of KOA parks in the public’s eye and, in the process, to generate new business among consumers who will have a better ability to match their expectations with the park at which they choose to spend the night, the weekend or an entire vacation.
“Yes, along with this celebration, ” noted Rogers, “we’ve also introduced a major initiative to take us forward for the next 50 years, and Pat and his team have put it out to the system over the last three or four months in terms of the documentation on what we refer to as ‘brand positioning.’ We’re in such good shape in terms of the satisfaction of the system, the energy in the system and the leadership that’s been demonstrated to take advantage of what I’ve been talking about for years in growing the outdoor hospitality world and capitalizing on all those opportunities.”
The end result of this innovative new approach, a concept borrowed in part from the hotel business that’s often referred to in the industry as “segmentation,” is that parks are to be categorized and promoted to the public in the future as “KOA Journey,” “KOA Holiday” and “KOA Resort” facilities instead of simply “the next KOA down the road,” so to speak.
“We have to appreciate that this is where we have come from and that our research tells us that there are still millions upon millions of campers in this country that think of us as an Interstate system,” said Rogers, who is set to appear next year in CBS’s popular, 3-year-old “Undercover Boss” reality show. “This is what we are here to talk about – how we begin to break through that perception.”
“We use the term brand positioning,” said President Pat Hittmeier, “and what we’ve done is we’ve provided what might be called descriptors for three different groups of business based on how our guests use us today. So, there’s a ‘Journey KOA’ for the guest spending one night with us and moving on to another place. Then, there’s the destination park, which would be a place where you would go have an experience either at the park or, because of where it’s located, sort of as a base camp experience where you might be able to visit things around the area and spend multiple days at this park. We’re referring to those as the ‘Holiday KOA.’
“And then a sub-set of the Holiday KOA, which would be a place that has an abundance of services and facilities, would be the ‘Resort KOA.’”
All things considered, Hittmeier maintained, this new way of looking at KOA’s franchised and corporate-owned parks is not a “good, better, best” type of formula, but one that should instead appeal to an Internet-minded world in which a demanding and time-starved public has increasingly exhibited a “need-to-know” or a “know-before-you-go” sort of attitude. And KOA’s management believes these new brand positionings will not only help set those expectations, but, according to the plan, ultimately drive new business to KOA campgrounds.
“Now, in combination with that, we’ve sort of rolled in with this some new quality assurance requirements for our campgrounds,” said Hittmeier. “So, it’s not just a name. We’ve done a lot of deep research over the past ten years and worked with some focus groups and some qualitative studies to determine how and why people use us, and those requirements are part of getting into this brand positioning. So, campgrounds are not going to be able to just hang the sign up tomorrow without having to make sure that they meet these qualifications that we can then market to that particular defined camper to help drive that business.
What does Hittmeier anticipate with regard to the franchisees’ reception to this new approach, which is to be dialed in over the next couple of years and will be reflected in signage, the directory and website? “You know, based on the kind of reaction we’re getting here with this record crowd, I’d say that we were on the right track,” Hittmeier told RVBusiness. ”We laid things out on the first day and have been talking about this new program in the hallways and we’ve got a lot of momentum going with this right now, and I think it’s going to be very big.”