Recreational Adventures Co. (RAC), a group of South Dakota-based investors, plans to add to the network of 10 KOA-franchised campgrounds it has been building since the late 1970s.
“We began with the purchase of a Holiday Inn Travel Park in the Mount Rushmore area which became a KOA facility a few years later,” reports Executive Vice President Al Johnson, adding that RAC comprises seven investors, headed by majority owner and President Rich Cutler.
Johnson said the business has grown to include 10 activity and entertainment oriented campgrounds situated throughout the U.S., all of which are KOA affiliated.
“KOA offers built-in value and has national recognition with consumers,” said Johnson, who oversees operations for RAC. “Our priority with each purchase was finding campgrounds that offered a good business opportunity. We are looking to add more campgrounds as other opportunities arise.”
Johnson’s entrepreneurial instincts were honed while working at his parents’ campground in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
“I’m the third generation in the campground business,” he said. “My grandparents had a cabin group, which was basically roadside cottages, and my parents ran the second private campground in the Black Hills.”
With the Mount Rushmore/Hill City location serving as home base, the group purchased the KOA in Rapid City, S.D., in the early 1980s. Then RAC began broadening its scope. “Mount Rushmore is a very large campground, and we had a lot of talented young people we could export,” Johnson said, noting RAC in itself is not a franchisor. “We also had the capital, so it made sense to look at expansion.”
The next site was in Pine Island, Fla., which posed a new set of challenges.
“We went into the Florida market so we could be counter-seasonal,” Johnson said. “We thought we knew the campground business, but Florida was a real learning experience. The South Dakota operation was overnight camping. Pine Island is seasonal, which offers a whole new set of dynamics because people are there for extended stays. Plus you don’t have very many families, which is what we were used to.”
RAC then bought the Astoria/Warrenton/Seaside KOA in Hammond, Ore., which provided another business model.
“The Oregon campground had mainly weekenders, so most of your business is done on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Johnson said.
Although each RAC campground is different, there is a central theme that is maintained at every location.
“We want to provide activities and entertainment that key in on what’s special about the area,” Johnson said. “In Oregon, we have a 4-wheel drive army truck that we take to the beach. We have a campground in Harper’s Ferry with a Civil War cannon that we fire off. And at our New York location we offer firetruck rides.
“Our goal is to provide an environment that promotes the nation’s history along with family values.”