Jim Rogers is hitting the road.
After seven years as president and CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Rogers announced at KOA’s annual convention Nov. 13-17 in Las Vegas that he plans to buy a motorhome and take various six- to eight-week trips across the country with his wife, Sandy, and Murphy, his golden Labrador retriever.
Rogers isn’t leaving KOA. But he has promoted former Senior Vice President Shane Ott to the newly created position of COO. The move transfers KOA’s day-to-day management responsibilities to Ott, while Rogers focuses on strategic growth opportunities for the company. Rogers told franchisees he plans to spend about one week a month at KOA’s corporate headquarters in Billings, Mont., with the balance on the road.
“I want to get down to the grass roots,” he said. “There’s no Lee Iaccoca for our industry. I want to get out there and give a face to KOA. I want to interact with our campers. I want to interact with our franchisees.”
Rogers also wants to reach out to RV manufacturers, tour their facilities and share information with them. “I need to be over there learning about their business so that they can learn about our business,” he said.
Sharing KOA’s management duties with Ott will also enable Rogers to better assess strategic opportunities for the company. “I want to be at 30,000 feet,” he said. “I want to continue to be a visionary for our company. We have a great deal of inquiries from people that want to buy a company like ours or from people who want to invest. I want to get out and try this for a while. I’m going to work on very high corporate expansion opportunities for our company and work with Shane Ott on ways we’re going to grow KOA.”
The growth, in fact, is already happening.
KOA plans to announce the acquisition of close to half a dozen parks in the coming weeks, and more will follow as KOA works to grow the company from 438 parks to more than 500 during the next three years, both through acquisitions and by conversions of independent parks to KOA franchises.
“Our goal by 2010 is to add another 10 to 15 locations and have about 35 company-owned stores,” Ott said. “We pride ourselves in being very disciplined buyers. We know our niche well. We understand our niche well. We’ll probably look at 30 to 40 parks a year for acquisition purposes. Well be happy if we purchase two or three.”
Ott said KOA-owned parks produce a number of benefits for franchisees. Like the KOA at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, most company-owned facilities are located in major tourist destinations, which can serve as jumping off points for campers traveling to other destinations where there may be another KOA.
KOA also uses its company-owned parks to test new products, amenities and recreational programs. “We like to think we take the financial risks out of the decisions that a franchisee makes,” Ott said.
Rogers said that the “greenhousing” of new KOA amenities will help pave the way for continued growth, despite continuing concerns over fuel prices.
“I don’t see 2007 being a record year by any means,” he said. “Depending on what happens with gas, the behavior and the pattern we saw this year is that people camped as much, but didn’t travel as far. It had an impact on all of our campgrounds in the industry because when people stay with you longer, they need entertainment. They need recreation. They need facilities that allow them to do something different in the morning or the afternoon and they need staff that helps provide that.”
Rogers said many of the new amenities on tap for the coming year focus on family activities.
“We’re going to have more jumping pillows, more inflatable movie theatres, more pet playgrounds,” Rogers said.
KOA also plans to grow its occupancy levels and business base through a new partnership with ReserveAmerica, the leading provider of online reservations for public parks in North America.
ReserveAmerica routinely turns away 30% of its reservation inquiries because it doesn’t have sufficient public park campsites to meet demand, Rogers said. But through its new marketing arrangement with KOA, ReserveAmerica will now market KOA parks as an alternative to campers who are unable to find public park sites they originally hoped to book.
“A small percentage of that (business) could have a gigantic impact (on KOA),” Rogers said, noting KOA saw a 2% increase in overall occupancy in 2006, while revenue climbed 7%. “It’s a great opportunity to continue to our growth.”
KOA, meanwhile, is working on other fronts as well, from making continued refinements to front desk and online reservations system to growing its Workkamper program.
“If you ask our franchisees, ‘What’s the number one operational issue today?,’ it’s finding employees,” Ott said. “The fact that we’ve gone out and built this system of quality Workkampers who are very willing and eager to work across the country is pretty dynamic. They’re KOA trained. When they walk into a campground, whether its WaKeeney, Kan., or Seattle, Wash., they immediately know how to run the front desk using our Kampsite reservation system. They can move from location to location and immediately make an impact on the franchisee.”
Rogers said the growing base of KOA-trained Workkampers is a huge plus for the network. “We’re at 750 All-Star KOA Workkampers,” he said. “That means they’ve worked for us for two or three seasons. They haven’t stolen quarters. They haven’t pulled up their rig in the middle of the night and disappeared. They help the quality of our operations and impact the overall satisfaction.”
Ott said KOA hopes to have 1,000 workkampers within two years.
Ott also noted that KOA’s continuing success with its in-house online reservations is helping to free up front-desk staff so that they have more time to spend on the phone or in person with KOA campers.
“We’re always looking for opportunities for better efficiencies, for better programs, for opportunities to drive revenue for our franchisees. It’s core operational disciplines that we’re bringing to the table,” Ott said.
KOA’s next annual meeting will take place Nov. 4–7 in conjunction with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) InSites 2007 Convention & Expo in Phoenix, Ariz.