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.”
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) recognized members for longevity during last weekend’s International Convention at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla., which marked KOA’s 50th year of operation.
According to a press release, Duane Spader, owner/operator of the Sioux Falls, S.D., KOA Campground, was honored for 40 years of service with KOA.
“Duane got involved in our industry because he moved his recreational vehicle dealership from Brookings, S.D., to Sioux Falls to a location that had a campground next to it,” recalled KOA President Pat Hittmeier. “At the time, the campground belonged to a franchise called Teepee Town Inc., but Duane soon converted the park to be a KOA.”
Hittmeier said Spader was instrumental in leading the KOA system to adopt a “20-group” system that encouraged franchisees to share operational best practices and advanced many programs quickly throughout the KOA system.
“Today, Spader 20 Groups are involved in 10 different industries,” Hittmeier said. “Duane was also a leader in making improvements. He basically worked with KOA in the 1970s to modify more than two-thirds of the park, bringing in more than 30,000 cubic feet of dirt to get it right.”
KOA also recognized the Scialdo Family, owners of the Herkimer Diamond KOA in N.Y., for 30 years of service.
“Our 30-year partnership award to the Scialdo family is a long overdue recognition for a wonderful family and a great KOA partner,” said Hittmeier. “Many years ago my family and I were invited to spend a number of days on the Herkimer KOA, and I can tell you that it is still one of the highlights from when my kids were young and I still remember the warm welcome and hospitality, the great connection this family has with each other and with their guest, the enthusiasm they have for their many businesses the fun exciting way they approach their lives each day.
On hand to receive the award were Rudy and Rena Scialdo, as well as Dr. Renee Scialdo Shevat and husband Sam Shevat, current owners and operators of the campground and Herkimer Diamond Mine.
Eight KOA franchisees were honored for 20 years of service, including:
• Jay and Carol Coates, Durango, Colo., KOA
• Paul and Cam Friesen, Watkins Glen, N.Y., KOA
• The Bruice and Gilkeyson Families, Asheville East, N.C., KOA
• Ken and Kathryn Harris, Medford/Gold Hill, Ore., KOA
• Recreation Adventures Company, Astoria/Warrenton/Seaside, Ore., KOA
• The Bergeron Family, Gettysburg Battlefield, Pa., KOA
• Lynne Joannette and Christian Renaud, Montreal West, Quebec KOA
John and Cindy Simoneau, Placerville, Calif., KOA
KOA also recognized 20 franchises for 10 years of service, including:
• Bruce and Andrea Bryant, Milton/Gulf Pines, Fla., KOA
• David and Linda Waszak, LaSalle/Peru, Ill., KOA
• John and Carole Downing, Rock Island/Quad City, Ill., KOA
• Hope Perkins and Nick Harrison, Elkhart Co./Middlebury, Ind., KOA
• Larry and Nancy Babyak, Saco/Old Orchard Beach, Maine KOA
• Frank and Melinda Christianson, Jackson, Minn., KOA
• Leigh Ashley and Frances Prior, Niagara Falls N/Lewiston, N.Y., KOA
• Victor and Kathleen Arsenault, Canandaigua/Rochester, N.Y. KOA
• Garry and Vicki Cole, Shelby/Mansfield, Ohio KOA
• Jerry and Barbara Dale, Manchester, Tenn., KOA
• The Moldenhauer Family, Bear Lake/Garden City, Utah, KOA
• John and Brenda Kelley, Holbrook/Petrified Forest, Ariz., KOA
• Thomas and Sarah Martin, Buena Vista, Colo., KOA
• Gene and Michelle Rowland, Renfro Valley, Ky., KOA
• Donald Cloutier and Elizabeth McCann, Skowhegan/Canaan, Maine KOA
• Denzil and Deborah Matthews, Las Vegas N.M., KOA
• David and Valencia Fetterolf,, Elk City/Clinton, Okla., KOA
• Martin and Ellen Henion, Mercer/Grove City, Pa., KOA
• Thomas and Kevin Lumsden, Dallas NE/Caddo Mills, Texas KOA
• Kevin and Kathy Wright, Brigham City/Perry South, Utah KOA
The San Diego Metro KOA Campground was named 2013 KOA Franchisee of the Year on Friday (Nov. 16) during Kampgrounds of America’s annual International Convention at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla.
The San Diego Metro KOA is the first repeat winner of the award in KOA’s 50-year history. The Bell Family, owners of the San Diego campground and another park – Williams/Grand Canyon KOA in Arizona – also won the award in 1985.
“The Bell Family is a perfect choice to be our top campground for 2013,” said KOA President Pat Hittmeier. “The Bells have three generations currently working at the campground. That park has literally been their lives for the past 45 years.”
The San Diego Metro KOA is a tree-lined jewel in the heart of Chula Vista, just south of downtown San Diego. Patriarch Ted Bell built the campground in 1967 while working his “other” job as a detective for the Chula Vista Police Department. His son, Mike worked at the campground since age 13 and made the KOA his full-time job right after college. Mike’s sons and daughter – Josh, Clint and Molly – were all raised on the campground and all still working for the family business.
“The Bells run a very tight ship, and they do everything right,” Hittmeier said. “Their values, work ethic and desire to provide the best experience possible for their guests align perfectly with Kampgrounds of America.”
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) recently announced the winner in its 50th Anniversary Giveaway, presenting Marcia Maslyn with a travel trailer from Keystone RV Co.
According to a press release, Maslyn was selected from among 250,000 entries to win the trailer, valued at $40,000.
“This is just unbelievable,” Maslyn said. “We’ve had a Keystone Cougar fifth-wheel in the past, but we decided to was a bit too big. This new Keystone is going to be so much fun.”
Camping enthusiasts from throughout North America have been entering the KOA contest since last March. Maslyn’s name was randomly selected on Nov. 1.
Rob and Rachel Kaiser, owners of KOA franchises in Medina and Houghton, N.Y., made the short drive to Maslyn’s residence in Clifton Springs to deliver the news.
The Maslyns are dedicated campers, logging thousands of miles on cross-country camping trips. “We always love our KOA stays,” she said. “And now we’ll get to travel in that beautiful new Keystone RV. I just can’t believe it.”
KOA reported it will be working with Keystone again in 2013 in the next giveaway.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) is expecting a record crowd of park operators, vendors, staff and industry friends when it convenes Nov. 15-18 for the Billings, Mont.-based, campground franchisor’s annual KOA Convention.
The event, slated for the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., will mark the KOA system’s 50th year as a leader in the RV park and campground business.
In fact, things couldn’t have been looking much better for 488-park KOA’s November birthday bash, themed “Celebrate 50 Years of Fun – 1962-2012,” when Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM) touched bases on Sunday (Oct. 28) with Mike Gast, vice president of communications.
“Yes, we’re going to have record attendance,” said Gast. ”We have a grand total of 717 attendees representing 272 campgrounds. We can now officially say we have a record number of both people and campgrounds attending. This time last year we had 230 campgrounds registered.
“We sold out the Expo with more booths than we’ve ever had before. There’s about 140 vendors now, including prominent displays from the cabin manufacturers like preferred vendors Breckenridge (the Nappanee, Ind.-based Thor division) and Cavco (Cavco Industries Inc., Phoenix, Ariz.).”
Cabins have been a real point of emphasis for KOA, says Gast, adding that KOA’s system is up 25% this year in cabin rentals.
The highlights of the convention include the main social event – the 50th anniversary party and KOA Owners Association’s annual charity auction for the KOA Care Camps for kids with cancer on the last night of the event.
“Of course, Orlando’s a great location and people make their family vacations out of it, which really helps attendance,” adds Gast. “But it’s really only the second time in the history of KOA that Oscar Tang, the owner, is going to be there and speak at a general assembly meeting on Friday. The last time he spoke at a KOA convention was at our 40th anniversary in Nashville 10 years ago.”
Also on hand for the first time will be the entire KOA Holdings Inc. board, a group that includes KOA President and CEO Jim Rogers.
“And we’ve got some major things to talk to the franchisees about that will be announced there – organizational things about where we go in the next 50 years,” adds Gast. “That’s really a pretty major directional change. I can’t say that much about it now, but everyone will find out when they get there.”
Don Lowe, CEO of Franchise Services Inc. and a former executive with Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), was honored recently with the Darrell Booth Lifetime Achievement Award by KOA.
Both Franchise Services Inc. of Mission Viejo, Calif., and Kampgrounds of America Inc. of Billings, Mont., are owned by KOA Holdings Inc., according to a news release.
The award, named after Darrell Booth, the first KOA president, was presented during Franchise Services Inc.’s recent national convention in Baltimore. Lowe currently heads a franchise management company that includes Sir Speedy, PIP Printing and TeamLogic IT. Sir Speedy and PIP are the largest printing and marketing services franchises in the world.
Raised in rural Kentucky, Lowe learned that fairness and integrity were prized values that could shape an organization. Lowe first joined the KOA Holdings family in 1972 as KOA’s national merchandising director. His KOA career included many promotions, and he was the senior vice president of KOA prior to his Sir Speedy assignment. Lowe’s franchise expertise was considered exceptional, and he demonstrated his natural leadership through a philosophy of fairness and respect to build relationships with franchisees.
When KOA was looking to acquire another franchise company, they learned of Sir Speedy, a struggling printing franchise that was in bankruptcy. KOA purchased Sir Speedy in 1978 and selected Lowe to lead the revival of the new sister company.
Under his direction, the Sir Speedy franchising model and its business practices changed dramatically — beginning with the franchisor/franchisee relationship. That solid relationship allowed Sir Speedy to lead its network through many changes, including offering consumers the newest technology offerings of color, faxing, desktop publishing, digital printing, print-on-demand, online ordering and document management.
Under Lowe’s leadership, Sir Speedy Inc. realized unprecedented growth that positioned the company to expand, and prompted the creation of a holding company, Franchise Services Inc. (FSI).In January 1996, FSI purchased MultiCopy, the largest franchise printing chain in Europe. Later that same year, FSI had the opportunity to purchase PIP Printing, the nation’s first quick printing franchise brand. Under his leadership as CEO, FSI has gained worldwide market share. Today the company includes more than 500 locations in 13 countries.
During his career, Lowe has helped over 1,500 people fulfill their desire to own their own business, control their own destiny and provide for their families. Lowe’s son, Richard Lowe, is now president and chief operating officer of Franchise Services Inc.
The Darrell Booth Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to deserving individuals whose values and achievements mirror those of Booth, who laid the foundation for Kampgrounds of America Inc. to become the world’s largest and most successful system of family-oriented campgrounds. The first recipient of the award was Richard A. Cutler, a founding partner in the Cutler and Donahoe Law Firm in Sioux Falls, S.D., and also president of the Recreation Adventures Company, which owns and operates 10 KOA campgrounds in the U.S.
Franchise Services Inc., (FSI) is a franchise management company that owns the franchise brands, Sir Speedy, PIP Printing and Marketing Services, Signal Graphics, Copies Now, MultiCopy and TeamLogic IT. Franchise Services has a 40-year history managing award-winning brands that support the small- to medium-sized business market. The company’s brands and worldwide affiliates encompass more than 500 locations in 13 countries. FSI’s brands have received numerous awards and recognition including; the Franchise Times Top 200, Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500, Quick Printing Top 100, Printing Impressions 400, Franchise Times Fast 55, Franchise 50 and the International Franchise Association’s Franchisee of the Year Award.
Kampgrounds of America is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2012. KOA was born on the banks of the Yellowstone River in Billings, Mont., in 1962.
Almost 43 million Americans participated in camping last year, according to a new study released today by The Outdoor Foundation and sponsored by Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) and The Coleman Co. Inc. According to a press release, that equates to 14.9% of Americans over age six. The findings are part of the 2012 American Camper Report, a leading report tracking participation in camping in the United States.
The Outdoor Foundation’s American Camper Report provides data and analysis on overall camping participation and explores preferences, buying behavior and the future of camping. For the first time in the history of this report, people within the camping industry share trends that they are seeing in the field, and the report takes an in-depth look at Hispanic American campers to examine this growing minority’s unique motivations, preferences and barriers. The findings are based on an online survey of more than 38,000 Americans ages six and older and a supplementary survey of camping participants 18 and older.
“The American Camper Report shows that camping gained popularity in 2011 – adding nearly three million participants since 2010,” said Chris Fanning, executive director of The Outdoor Foundation. “The information and analysis in this report will help the outdoor industry and all stakeholders engage even more Americans in camping and transform non-participants into active outdoor enthusiasts and committed environmental stewards.”
KOA’s CEO Jim Rogers stated, “2012 is KOA’s 50th anniversary and KOA hopes that its outdoor hospitality legacy will continue to expand along with the businesses of other outdoor enterprises as we learn more about the needs, trends and outdoor behaviors of the American camper. The report’s special focus on Hispanic campers also aligns with KOA’s goals to find new ways to increase the engagement of ethnically diverse populations in camping and outdoor fun.”
“Throughout our 112-year history, Coleman has maintained a reputation for creating innovative, high-quality outdoor gear. Insights from studies like the American Camper Report are a foundational piece of Coleman’s ability to build and maintain that reputation,” said Robert Marcovitch, President and CEO of Coleman. “Thanks to the knowledge we gain from the Camper Report, Coleman continues to develop exciting gear for both the new and experienced outdoor enthusiast alike.”
The insights detailed in the 2012 American Camper Report are critical to understanding both campers and non-campers and building participation in the activity.
Some additional findings include:
Overview of Camping Participation
* Almost 43 million Americans went camping in 2011 for a total of 534.9 million days. Participation is up from 39.9 million campers and 514.8 million days in 2010.
* Almost all age brackets added participants, except the adolescent group.
* Camping gained a net of 2.6 million participants from 2010 to 2011, but it has a fairly high churn rate at 16 percent.
* Reports from public and private campsites and the Outdoor Industry Association illustrate a general uptick in camping participation.
* The Mountain Region has the highest camping participation rate.
* Seventy-seven percent of all campers are married or living with a domestic partner.
* Eighty-four percent of campers participate in multiple outdoor activities.
Profile of a Camping Trip
* Sixty-seven percent of participants camped the most in public campgrounds.
* The average camper went on 4.97 camping trips.
* Participants traveled a mean of 190.6 miles away from home to camp.
* Almost half of all American campers plan their trips at least one month in advance.
* Seventy percent of all trips are taken with friends.
* Hiking is the most popular activity to participate in while camping.
* More than half of camping participants are employed, and 29 percent are students.
* Battery lighting was the most popular purchase during the past year and was especially popular among older campers.
* Most camping purchases are planned at home before taking a camping trip.
Hispanic Campers: A Focused Look
* At 5.52 camping trips per year per participant, the average Hispanic participant goes camping more than the average Caucasian participant.
* Hispanics bought more camping equipment in the last 12 months than non-Hispanics.
* Twenty-three percent of Hispanic campers ages 18 and over tried camping for the first time in 2011.
Future of Camping
* Campers are planning an average of 4.33 camping trips next year.
* Fathers are the most likely person to take someone camping for the first time.
* The most cited reason for reducing the number of camping trips is a lack of time due to work and family commitments.
Editor’s Note: The following is an article that appears in the October issue of Woodall’s Campground Management profiling Kampground of America Inc.’s (KOA) CEO Jim Rogers. To read the entire story click here.
Late in 1999, Oscar Tang, owner of KOA Holdings Inc., reached out to the hotel and casino industry and hired Jim Rogers, who served as vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Reno, to succeed Peterson, who retired.
Under Rogers, KOA redirected its focus by curtailing international development, leaving the RV storage business and setting plans in motion to increase the number of its affiliated campgrounds.
The changes, according to Rogers, who was interviewed early in 2000 by RVBusiness magazine, should result in a closer relationship with franchise holders and, ultimately, an increase in the number of nights campers stay in KOA campgrounds.
He began to chart a course that KOA follows to this day.
“We are evolving,” Rogers said in that interview. “We are going to retrench on the segment of the business that we want to focus on and grow. We have an opportunity to expand with company-owned campgrounds and franchises. We have some major markets where we would like to establish campgrounds.”
As early as 2000, Rogers said KOA completed marketing surveys in Detroit, Houston and Seattle that “tell us we are very trusted, recognized for our family-oriented reputation.
“Our thinking is about going forward, being more aggressive to take advantage of our reputation,” he said. “Our research has created some focus that will allow us to be more effective in our marketing.”
Under Rogers, KOA has capitalized on its superior understanding of the campground marketplace and adopted cutting-edge technology to stay ahead of its competition.
It ranks among the top 50 franchise operations in the U.S.
A 2011 Harris Poll found that 25% of American adults have stayed at KOA at some point in their lives in the last 50 years.
To read the entire article click here.
Editor’s Note: The following is a story profiling Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) founder Dave Drum. Authored by Steve Bibler, its part of a series of stories commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) that appear in the October issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.
KOA founder Dave Drum was born March 7, 1923, in Rushville, Ind., but he grew up on a ranch near Miles City, Mont. He earned a Purple Heart serving with the U.S. Marines in World War II and then served his country again during the Korean Conflict. In between wars, he earned a business degree, in 1947, from the University of Montana.
“He was a cowboy with an IQ of 180,” says former KOA CEO Art Peterson.
He says that in a polite sense, as Drum did all manner of things to better himself.
“He was a smart guy and very successful,” adds KOA historian Jim Graff, “but he soon lost interest when things got up and running at KOA – and Dave moved on to other ventures.”
Drum’s place in the history of Montana, not to mention the outdoor hospitality business, was cemented in 1962 when he took a leap of faith and got into the campground business. His simple idea expanded dramatically during its first decade, with 262 franchises opening in the first seven years.
KOA went public in 1969, offering more than 300,000 shares of stock over a three-year period.
Drum remained active on KOA’s board of directors until 1972 and after selling his KOA shares in 1975, lived in Polson with his wife, Dorothy, and wintered in Palm Springs, Calif.
Everyone who knew Dave Drum has a favorite story about him. For Pat Hittmeier, KOA president, it’s when he was sent in the mid-1980s to negotiate a land sale with Drum for choice property Drum owned near Polson in northwest Montana. KOA wanted to put a campground there. By this time, Drum had already “made millions and lost millions a couple of times,” Hittmeier reckoned.
Hittmeier pitched KOA’s offer while Drum watched the Col. Oliver North trial on TV in his home.
“He started going on over all the things we would do if we built the campground, the kinds of people it would attract and how we might attract people there, but I could never get him to give me a price for the land,” Hittmeier said. “Ultimately, I had to buy land from somebody else.”
In addition to KOA, Drum’s business adventures included cattle ranching, feedlots, apple orchards and land development. He helped establish the Billings Metra, a large complex used for concerts, expositions, sporting events, livestock shows and the Montana Fair.
Meanwhile, Drum served in the 1967 Montana Legislature, was a member of the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1976 against John Melcher to fill the Senate seat vacated by Mike Mansfield.
In 1986 Drum told a reporter for U.S. News & World Report, “(Money) doesn’t mean a hell of a lot because chances are you’re still going to live with the same gal and drink the same whiskey.”
Drum died Oct. 19, 1994, in Billings.