Outdoor Hospitality News

For owners, operators, team members, and anyone else interested in camping, glamping, or the RV industry.

News for October 3, 2023

MC Fireside Chats – November 16th, 2022

Episode Summary

This week on MC Fireside Chats, this special edition of the show takes place at this year’s KOA Convention & Expo! Podcast host, Brian Searl, is joined by KOA campground owners around the country. KOA President & CEO Toby O’Rourke, Brigham City KOA’s James Settlemire, KCN Campgrounds’ Nate Thompson, Sandusky/Bayshore KOA’s Jeff Hoffman, and Raton, New Mexico KOA’s Grant Robertson joined today’s show, discussing KOA’s and the camping industry’s direction in the future. The show kicked off with Toby O’Rourke telling KOA’s new direction and mentality moving forward, especially since the organization recently experienced its best year in their history. She said it was time to look back and “think like a start-up” company once again since they have been in business for 60 years. It could help KOA learn how they can keep growing as an organization and “be mission-driven.” She added that the companies that started at the same time as they did 60 years ago are no longer in business, so they don’t want KOA to be disrupted and go out like the others. She believes it’s best to keep looking for ways to improve. She mentioned some future projects of the organization, like ideating new technology, data analysis, and other equipment that can help them and their franchisees go to the next level. The discussion continued with Jeff Hoffman explaining the status of his KOA and its ongoing plans, then his recent experience in the event’s session, especially how deserving the campgrounds who won this year’s awards in the KOA awards show. James Settlemire said KOA has always been hands-on when it comes to supporting the operations of its franchisees and their entrepreneurial spirit. And, how the conference was always about the people in the industry, giving them to keep up with change and adapt to recent times. As a first-timer in the convention, Nate Thompson shared how impressed he was with KOA and their use of data analytics, determining their best course of action. He said he wants to keep using the organization’s support and technology to help grow and improve his campground. As someone who’s been going to the convention for 20 years, Grant Robertson said that people are becoming increasingly interactive with each other, sharing how their respective campgrounds improved through the years. “They dont ask franchisees to change without trying some actions first. KOA doesn’t demand change [immediately]. They first suggest action plans and what could work, helping [franchisees] slowly but surely adapt to the changing times without disrupting them too much,” he said. He said KOA has been supportive and meeting the expectations of their franchisees and customers, giving each the best experience possible. The current KOA makes them feel valued and provides value in the work they do. Nate shared that he loved the startup mentality since he started in a few tech companies in the past, understanding the direction. He has lived the experience of trying something new then keep it if it works, then moving forward if it failed. It allows them to learn. James. the guests coming in has changed, and they are not just staying in their RV, they want to go around the area and experience the outdoors. He likes the experience of trying something new and learning from it. He is excited about how KOA will understand the new guest demographic coming in their campgrounds. Jeff said KOA does a great job helping their people, from the new members to the old. They provide the support they need. They are an innovative company always looking to new things to grow. He said People in the organization are leaders not followers. All their operation systems need to keep growing and he loves the data they receive to show them what works. One of the great things about KOA is that he gets to sit down and chat with other industry members and discuss the technologies, amenities, and ideas that could help them grow. They share information to help them thrive.

Recurring Guests

Special Guests

Toby O'Rourke
President & CEO
Kampgrounds of America
James Settlemire
CEO
Brigham City KOA
Nate Thompson
Co-Founder
KCN Campgrounds
Jeff Hoffman
Owner
Sandusky/Bayshore KOA

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] 

Brian: Welcome to another episode of MC Fireside Chats. My name’s Brian Searl with Insider Perks. Normally here is always with Cara Csizmadia. We tried to put her on the show. She’s in Canada. She’s the only one who’s not [00:01:00] live here at the KOA Convention in Expo in Orlando, Florida. My, my laptop is terrible. It doesn’t have good audio, so I couldn’t hear really far away.

So Cara is actually watching backstage. She’s gonna kind of wave at me if she has super important and insightful things to say because really nobody wants to hear from me. But we’re super excited to be here at the KOA Convention. We have Toby O’Rourke, president and CEO of KOA With us, we’ve got Jeffrey Hoffman from the Sandusky Bayshore KOA Founders Award President’s Award winner.

We was talking a little bit about that stuff. We’ve got James from the grants koa. Like you have another Kway James, right? You threw me off there for a second cuz we work for you. And I’m like, we don’t work for grants. Anyway we’ve got Nate Thompson from KC and Campgrounds own six franchises. And we’ve got Grant who is a elite addition to the show.

Grant is from Raton Kway. Can we see Grant? We gotta all like, kind of shift around here. If you don’t see yourself in here when you’re talking, we can make it work. But all these people are here, so super excited to have them. We’re start with I think with Toby. We have a little mic we’re gonna pass around here.

We’ll see if this ends up in a disaster. But Toby. First impressions. 60 years, right? 

Toby: [00:02:00] 60 years. This is a big convention for us. It’s really fun. That’s why we’re in Orlando. You gotta go big when it’s your 60th anniversary. So we’ve had a great week. We had a big kickoff at Universal Studios. We just got done celebrating our partner awards and it even gave away two lifetime achievement awards, which we don’t typically do every year.

Give that away. So that was pretty special. But the energy’s great. Everyone’s excited. Koa, everyone’s excited about the anniversary and it’s been a good week so far. I know I went to your first timers event where Mr. Bell lost his voice, I think, and some of the other people have too. But super excited.

Everybody’s just thrilled to be here. I saw the little tunnel for all the award people that we ran in that Kaba got going. So yeah, just super excited. It’s always, there’s always a special energy koa, right? Cuz you guys are also proud to be part of the franchise. And we are. I mean, we call it the KOA family.

It really feels that. These people have been in business together for a number of years. We’re welcoming in, you know, new conversions, new people that are coming into the business and immediately they’re welcome into that KOA family. Good energy, good spirit one supports each other. We’re just very proud to be in the business we’re in and [00:03:00] that we all wear yellow.

Brian: Is there something that you can point out that’s kind of really impressed you about this year’s convention? And I know everyone is special, right? Is there something you pick out that you’re just like, wow, that’s cool that, that happened that way.

Toby: Oh goodness. I don’t even know where to start. I mean, from the, like, simply Love Logistics.

I think our kickoff night at Universal Super special, we had Marvel Island just for us, so that was really fun. Everyone got to ride the Hulk over and over. But I think what was pretty special is our owner was here, Oscar Tang. He hasn’t been to convention for at least 10 years. At our 50th anniversary.

He may have been here. Six or seven years ago. But it’s pretty special when he comes and everyone likes to hear him speak. And it was pretty cool to see Oscar even out riding the roller coasters, but then coming in the next day and talking about his passion for KOA and his, you know, deep support for the franchise system and his assertion.

He wants to continue to own this company for the long term. So it’s pretty special. Awesome.

Brian: I’m gonna just let a few other people here talk and if you need to go, by all means, or you can hang out [00:04:00] with us, whatever you wanna. Jeff is the owner of the Sanduski Bayshore KOA Holiday, also on the Arvi Board of Directors.

Yes. But super excited to see you here, Jeff. I think we’ve been hanging out for about a week and a half now. Tell me what’s been going on at the Bayshore KOA holiday and what are your impressions of this amazing 60th year convention so far? 

Jeff: Well, actually at the Sanduski Bayshore, we’ve shown some growth over this year, which was great.

We’ve added some new sites, which is what I think most of the campgrounds have been doing lately. And it’s been a very Different year, but a good year overall. Yep. And I don’t know. We had a good year. I love coming to this convention. As you know, we were both at Rvac. This convention always has a lot of energy for me.

Yeah. Because the people are here. Everybody’s in yellow and it’s great. The two awards they gave out today that they gave to Al Johnson and to Mr. Be. Are so well Lifetime. Lifetime. Achieve awards. Yeah, so well deserved. There’s not two people that I respect more in the [00:05:00] industry than Al Johnson and Mr.

Bell. They have just done so much for the industry all the way along, , 

So tell me, what are your impressions of the conference so far? Like, 

Brian: obviously you’ve been to quite a number of these KOA one shows, right? What are your takeaways? What have you learned? Any good conversations that you’ve had that are really amazing?

Jeff: have a lot of amazing conversations. I’m 

usually late to everything that I go to because I end up talking in the hallway too long. I’ve noticed it. and just the energy that’s here yeah, the growth in koa. And just the excitement that people have at KOA this year is amazing. I mean, I’ve been to a few obviously we missed a couple years with Covid and, but this is even, it is the 60th, but it seems to have an energy all of its own, it’s.

So far it’s been a great convention. I haven’t even got to the expo yet. I know. Should open up here in a few hours. Yeah. Then it should be awesome. We’ve [00:06:00] got, I believe, a record number of vendors this year too. 

Brian: So do we. Okay. I hadn’t heard that yet, so probably shouldn’t have. Let the cat outta the bag was probably a secret press release that you were supposed to like embargo or something.

Not a lot of tough secrets. Jeff. 

Jeff: You know me, . I’m not good at that. 

Brian: Let’s talk to James. James is from the Brigham City, Perry, south Koa, but also brand new owner, advanced koa. Much like KOAs, right?

James: Yes. We love the brand. We love what it represents. It’s definitely, I think there’s in buying a new one recently.

I think the biggest thing is there’s a bit of a security blanket around it with all the support and. You know, just references to go to for any problems at any turn. 

Brian: it’s really one of the things that impresses me so much about KOA is obviously you’ve got a huge corporate team, but they’re doing so many things for you at so many levels that no matter what your question is or what your problem is, there seems to be, there’s always.

Probably three or four people that you can turn to and get those answers from pretty quickly. 

James: Yeah. Yeah. It’s always really quick. I mean, there’s always somebody that can, you know, I remember when we first brought into the franchise five [00:07:00] years ago you know, we talked, we did our diligence, talked to tons of owners, you know, what’s koa because you know, you start this lifestyle to try to get away to do something different. You’re trying to be your own it’s got the entrepreneurial spirit to it, and then you throw a franchise corporate on top of it and you go, wait, am I just buying into a job? Another corporate job? And every camp run owner that we talked to was, you know, it wasn’t a job.

It wasn’t anybody overseeing you. It wasn’t a thumb on you, it was somebody, Hey, how do we support you? How do we make you better? How do we take you to the next? So, and that’s from a corporate standpoint, and then you know, come to things like this, like we can mention with people, right? Yeah. And then you’ve got the, the people that really get their hands dirty and are able to tell you all the nitty gritty, how to make it better.

Brian: So what’s the biggest thing that you’ve, kind of same question to him, right? Taking away from this conference, anything unique or special that stands out?

James: You know, I mean, I think the conference is always great. It’s always about the people. But there’s always things to take away.

I’ve been to, you know, a few of the classes, different things. And I think and I apologize. I forget the motto, Toby, the thing she left she’s right behind you. Yeah, [00:08:00] right. . She is really but But she but no, the, you know, basically there’s, you know, everything’s changing, right? It’s always gonna change.

It’s always gonna evolve and, you know, COVID was something that was out of our control and we just all had to adapt and deal with it. Yeah. But when you start talking you know, just getting started, right? Just getting started is the motto. Or you appointed Thes helping me outs, he’s helping me out.

It’s is, there’s something on my faces. Yeah. Jeff’s got my back. But you know, I think it’s, you know, we talked about ev right? And in some of the classes they’re talking about 2024, the RVs, the E RV will be coming out. Yep. And, you know, how are we gonna react to that? How are we gonna adapt to that? Glamping is becoming huge.

How do we adapt to that? And then I think, you know, Probably the biggest thing that, that drives all of our businesses forward that I took away from a couple of the classes was the people part. How do we inspire that team? How do we inspire that next generation? How do we connect with them to where they, they wanna work, they wanna be part of it.

They wanna be part of each of our organizations. So, I think that’s probably my biggest takeaways. 

Brian: Awesome. Nate, [00:09:00] Casey and Campground met this gentleman, what, a couple weeks ago now? 

Nate: Yeah, a couple weeks ago. 

Brian: little bit longer, but super excited obviously to be in the KOA system. Six. KOA franchise.

That’s 

Nate: right. Yeah. First year doing convention. And so it’s been a whirlwind. It’s been great. I think a couple of other folks have talked about just the people and the energy, and Toby touched on that as well. It’s palpable. It’s really great being here and seeing this and doing the breakouts and picked up a lot of great information already.

The EV stuff I thought was fascinating as well. I thought that was gonna be a ways out, a little bit further, and it’s kinda knocking on the door. Thinking and planning to do now around that as we look at our parks and yeah, overall it’s been great. 

Brian: But now you mentioned it’s your first convention, so you’ve been acquiring pretty fast.

We have. Why koa?

Nate: Well, I did a lot of research before, like it sounds like you did before joining the franchise and everything that I learned about KOA was really impressive. Among other things, just the real use of data in all the decision making and being able to aggregate trends and data across all the parks and lift that back up to the franchisees.

It’s just been great. The whole franchise system has been really supportive. To your point, there’s not one person to get [00:10:00] answers from. There’s maybe two or three. So it’s been great. It’s been, you know, everything that I was hoping for and then some. 

Brian: So where is Kcn going from here? What’s your philosophy?

How. I mean, don’t tell us your secret sauce, right? Yep. But where do you wanna go? Where do you wanna be in a couple years? 

Nate: Well, we’re very big in the Camping space. We think it’s got continued growth as well. I think Toby touched on this year’s kind of a new plateau from which we’ll continue to grow.

So we continue ourselves. 

Brian: Can you go steal it for me, Jeff, and get more parts? Hey, Toby. Toby, can I ask you one more question before you leave? Go ahead Nate. Yeah. No, continue. Please. Yeah, I’m so sorry. I just wanted, I forgot to talk about your startup mentality. Can you tell us about that real quick?

Like I really wanted you to touch on that cause that was powerful. 

Toby: Oh, sure. Yeah. So we in my opening remarks, I talked about the fact that, you know, it’s our 60th anniversary, so it’s a good time to look back. Talked about how our founders had this startup, had an idea, had a vision, and you know, and now we’re 60 years later, how can we tap back into that startup mentality?

So there’s a lot going on at k. All the time. [00:11:00] I tell people, I’m like, yeah, we’re an established company, but I feel like I’m working for a startup just because how busy things are, right? Yeah. And businesses accelerated so dramatically, and everybody we’re doing so many things, and so I just decided to play off that concept.

So I talked about people having to tap in, you know, ask questions, continue to improve every aspect of your business, you know, build high performing teams. You know, mission driven and just ways that we can start to think like a startup, because I think established companies, if they can’t pivot, they can’t be adaptable and flexible.

They’ll be disrupted. And I’m not gonna let Kay get disrupted. So we gotta keep moving. 

Brian: You’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Do you remember the conversation we had at AR years ago where I told you were gonna be CEO and you’re like, no. No. It’s not ever gonna happen. 

Toby: No, I don’t remember that.

Brian: I knew at that time you were the smartest person at KOA. 

Toby: Oh, that’s super nice. But I don’t know if that’s true, but I love it here and. We’ve got great people. Love my team. Franchise system is so solid. It’s, we’ve got a lot of good things going for us.

Brian: So yeah, it really impressed me when you said that.

Cause obviously I’m an entrepreneur, I build [00:12:00] businesses. But what you’re saying, like it’s very easy to get lost and stuck in the same, I read a stat, I can’t remember. Exactly what it was. But in the 1950s, I think the average company lasted 70 or 80 years and now it’s 40 or 30. Oh really? Plus they just aren’t to that like Kodaks and the IBMs and they aren’t able 

Toby: That’s true.

Yeah. I’m gonna have to look that up cuz that’s really relevant to where we’re at. It is pretty cool cuz some of the companies that came about the same time we did are no longer here. Kodak’s a preference example, and in fact we talked about that in previous conventions. You know, we’ve continued to hold up.

But now our business, like I showed the other day with 34%. Ahead of where we were in 2019, which was our best year in history. That’s why we need this. You know? We need to tap into that energy. Right.

Brian: So, all right. Last question. You’ve got your bunch of your franchisees.

Toby: I know. I’m just saying I’ve got really good franchisees and really good new franchisees coming in.

It’s not just the old timers like Jeff, who are awesome. Him. 

Brian: Look at, he’s so young. I just mean he’s been around the system a long time. We’ve got a lot of new energy too, which is awesome. Recovery.

Jeff: I heard a. It’s called [00:13:00] experienced Campground donor.

Toby: We have a lot of experienced Campground owners. So last question.

Brian: What does the future hold for these guys and everybody else is in this room? 

Toby: Oh gosh. Well, you know, A program we started, which, you know, about many years ago was Campground of the Future. . What’s been fun of that wasn’t just a one and done. So every year we’re refreshing Campground of the future work.

K what does K look like in five years, does K look like in 10 years? You know, as part of that startup mentality too. What I think’s been really fun is some of the initial concepts that we thought about and ideated on like four or five years ago were actually building. You’re gonna see these solar recharge stations at expo tomorrow, which is a really great, you know, new addition.

Yeah. And people can recharge themselves and plug in their devices and it’s all solar energy. We’ve got new main building designs. We introduced something called a Signature Site, which takes our KOA patio site concept to a whole new level, and just ways [00:14:00] that we can continue to have these unique things about our Campground that we can market because we’re marketing companies.

So yeah, sun Campground can go build signature sites, but we’re gonna put. Our marketing machine behind that and it got really something special that campers, they show up your park like, what’s your signature site? You know what, cuz all signature sites are gonna be different. There’ll be a base level requirement, like what’s signature about, what do you do differently?

So it’s fun, right? And so 

Brian: it’s really gonna change game. , I saw some of the sites they build in Australia, right? And how they’re so far advanced and people see that over here. 

Toby: And I think Australia, a lot of parks in Australia. Australia does accommodations really well. Okay. Far exceed in site RV sites.

Okay. By far. So I think, and that’s been fun. We actually have partnerships with some of the companies in Australia, big Four, where we do a lot of well Big Four and also discovery parks. Okay. Yep. Where we do a lot of idea sharing. And so we have, I think, a lot of innovation. And really putting our stamp on what [00:15:00] ideal our V sites are.

And then we learn a lot about the accommodations business. So a lot of that stuff has been infused in what we deliver, you know, glamping, continuing to grow on popularity. That’s gonna be a key in our future. A lot. 

Brian: You won an award, like Whitney was at the glamping show. 

Toby: We did, we won an award for what we’ve done with our other brand, but we take a lot of.

Learning and that’s infusing our OA system. A lot of our Ks have some form, maybe unique accommodation. That’s not just something we do in Temore. A lot of our parks, you sit in our awards this morning, we’re showcasing our president and founders award and we put pictures up, two or three pictures.

Those are all pictures sourced from campers. Yeah. You know, it’s not the, what the owner’s taking, it’s a camper photo and there was a lot of shots of glamping units, you know, a lot of unique accommodations out there. Cause that’s what campers. That struck. I mean, I made a mental note about this morning, like that’s what people are taking the pictures of and they’re excited about.

Brian: Well, and I’m sure Whitney came back and told you 37 countries, there were 77 different accommodations set up outside, and so [00:16:00] many people from the UK who we met are just kind of like a blueprint for where this is probably gonna go in the States. 

Toby: Yeah that’s a big trend that we’re definitely capitalizing at KOA.

I like to say we release a North American 

glamping report. When you ask Glampers what they consider glamping cabins are the number one mention accommodation. So we are the largest source of glamping in North America by that definition. And if we can reframe cabins in that equation, which a lot of times you talk glamping, you’re just thinking of this tent.

TP or your cabins really are what customers call glamping. Yep. I mean, more than any other form KOA wins, right? So we continue to invest in our accommodations and our glamping, and we’re gonna attract this whole new audience base. And that’s what glamping is about. It’s people that maybe don’t wanna consider traditional Camping, but they’re attract.

Did you? Outdoor stays in a unique way. Cool. 

Brian: Well I’ll let you go. I know you got tons of, 

Toby: I’m gonna go sign a license plate. That’s pretty, you’re gonna go sign ?

[00:17:00] License plate? No, we’ve got a lot of people that have KOA license plate, so we’re gonna go check it out.

Brian: Remember the KOA yellow Hummer somebody had at convention years ago?

Yeah. We always auction off a A vehicle and I think one year we had a yellow hummer. We’ve had jeeps, we’ve had yellow sports cars. 

Jeff: We had a yellow Mustang, yellow jeep. I haven’t won one yet. 

Toby: I haven’t won. I never win. 

Brian: You’ll get there, Jeff. 

Toby: We have a bright yellow golf cart this year, which is pretty cool.

Brian: Awesome. Well thank you so much. I appreciate it. I’m gonna talk to these other people, I just don’t wanna hold you up. Thank you so much again for joining us. Right. Okay, so Nate, we cut you off a little bit. Let’s get to Grant here real quick. So Grant, like I legit don’t know anything about your Campground cause you were a last minute guest.

I was gonna interview for an article, but now you’re just live on the show, which is even better. So we’re broadcasting to 13 Facebook pages, groups, LinkedIn, YouTube, no. There’s only about a potential audience of 30,000 or something. 5,000 names a year. There you go. That’s, so tell us about, is it Raton Journey, Northeast New Mexico.

Grant: The la the last town leaving in the first town [00:18:00] coming into New Mexico from Colorado. Small Campground. One of the first, actually it was the first camp first KOA in New Mexico. Okay. I’ve been there, March will be 20 years. So I’m almost at the 20. I’ll be up on stage next year maybe.

That’s awesome. Yeah. So congratulations. Unless things change, but love it. My father-in-law had one Garden City, bear Lake, Utah, or what is now Lakeside. He had that one for 13. And asked us to manage that one for him. And on the way over, he said someone made an offer on the property. And so, he worked it out so that my wife and I trained the new owners for a year while we researched.

And this is the one we chose cuz of its location and parts that were important for us. We’re with an easy shot driving get to, and so we’ve been there. My wife was four months along when we took possession of the property and both of my kids are in college now. So it’s been a place where we raised our kids and very pleased about the choices we made.

Brian: So, 20 years coming to KOA conferences, off and on ish, 20 years coming to KOA conferences off and on is, 

Grant: I’ve probably been [00:19:00] the. 12 to 14 KLA conventions. 

Brian: So what is, what has changed from the first convention to today in your mind that sticks out the biggest for you? 

Grant: The thing that I appreciate the change the most of to be kind of, Off the wall is, originally they had everybody that won an award go across the stage, shake their hand and so you had 300 people going across the stage and then they go across again and give them the next award.

They don’t do that anymore. They do it as a groups up on the screen, which is nice cuz then. We can all applaud to each of them as opposed to all us being on stage and nobody, yeah, nobody acknowledging us. But the way that the technology is changing, the way that they’re able to help us analyze the information that we have and to better fine tune the site, the campgrounds.

It’s like being in in a family. I can go to the other campgrounds and say, I’m having trouble, or is this working for you? And KOA has a cor, a few corporate owned properties that they do all the experiments on. Yeah. So they don’t [00:20:00] ask us to make a change until they’ve tried it in those, 

Brian: it’s a pretty unique benefit.

Grant: It overcomes so. Potential problems by doing that and then going in and seeing how we can, it’ll help us decide or help us give us information. KOA doesn’t demand that we do anything. They suggest things and we make the decisions ourselves based on our own desires, how ambitious we are how much we’re willing to hurry or rush, or how.

Timid. I’m more of a timid Campground owner. Okay. So I make changes slowly for some of the others. Like the Campground of the year and those kind of philosophies. They’ve been in it for generations and have learned that growth is beneficial. So much more ingrained in them than it is for me coming from other industries before coming into the uh, into the Camping.

Brian: So what tell us about your park. Like, what’s what’s so something you’ve learned along the way in 20 years that you feel would help other owners who are new to the KOA system kind of not make those same first time mistakes? Right. 

Grant: Well, my first time mistakes weren’t quite so many because [00:21:00] my father-in-law, when he sold, he moved to my town.

Okay. And so he mentored me. Right and lived nearby. Actually lived on the Campground for a while. 

Brian: And so your advice is every to get a father-in-law, . 

Grant: Yes. One, one problem with having a father-in-law that used to own a Campground is that whenever somebody needs something, if you didn’t have it in a store, he could take it off your trailer and sell it

Then you had to go buy a replacement parts for your trailer before you could go anywhere. But because of that the revisiting of the guests has just grown. If we treat them properly, they will remember and they will come back. Even my work campers, I had three sets of work campers that have stayed, that have worked for me, eight or more seasons.

If you can get work campers that you trust, get them to come back and they will make. Ownings so much easier. Because they’re the ones that are doing your work. They’re the ones that the customers see. Also they’re my sales staff. They’re the ones that get people to come back because they treated nice.

They told them that it was something you missed this time that you can visit next time you come through. And so, [00:22:00] I sent my workers to the museum so that they can say what the history is of the area. Not a bad idea because I don’t have events per se. Mine’s more outdoors. They can say, this is the history of here.

This is where Jesse James was, this is where this guy’s buried. This is where you can hike through the coal count. And so, they, do you know where the bodies are buried? Is that what. You said, I know a couple of ’em. 

Brian: That’s interesting. 

Grant: Yeah. Okay. But not talk about that later. Not on there. Yeah.

Yeah. But the more you know about your area and your Campground, the more, more you can sell the guests on the area, not just what you have. One disadvantage I have is that my customers come in at night to leave in the morning. I don’t get all day to talk to ’em. And so I’ve got to sell them on their next visit.

. And to come and give yourself an extra day and and then we can show you if you wanna stay week, I can keep you busy for a week and find stuff for them to do. You don’t have anything to do. Come and ask me and we’ll talk about it Right then. What do you wanna do? Well, that’s part of the experience though, right?

That’s what brings people back to you because of your service. We talked a lot about on the show, experiential hospitality. You know, it’s glamping, it’s [00:23:00] luxury Camping, but it’s an experience that the customer is craving. And that can be as little as a curated concierge service. It can be package deals that you put together.

It can be luxury cabins, unique tents, the new amazing sites that Toby showed, right? And so it can be so many things 

and sometimes I see other. We used to have a, a forge generation motorcycle family come through. Okay. And they’d come with all other cooking supplies and they’d shop at the local markets, buy stuff from the local stores, cook everything.

They couldn’t take anything with it, just so they gave it out to the other, the guests. And the other guests would come and sit there and have fried chicken and fresh corn on the CO and all the beans and coleslaw and all the stuff they made from scratch and meet those new people. And then they’re gone.

They go to the next Campground. People go up and go fishing and get their limit and come back, and they just do that for. Three or four days and on the last day they have a fish fry. Everybody’s cooking in a different formula and you want come by and try one and they let you try. So, so the more you can get them to interact the different it is from a hotel.

Cause no one sits on the porch swing outside their hotel. So [00:24:00] it Camping is, and RVing is so much different than any other way out. It’s just when we started getting people that wanted work Camping to be their career, that kinda let me, that people were looking at Camping as a legitimate thing now as opposed to just something you go and someone brings you firewood or something.

It brings you ice at your site. It is so much more because you get to see the, you get to talk to the people next to you. Yep. You get to know what’s in the area without having to Is this place worth coming by again? I only had 20 minutes. No, it’s not big difference when the people and the staff can say hi and stay and talk with you.

Yeah. Or the people next to you are willing to tell you what they did last time they were through. We’ve had family members that didn’t know they were related, running into each other at the Campground and finish their trip together. That’s interesting. So it’s. Every Campground has so many different opportunities from the one next to ’em, but when I go into business, I’ve got cousins that I can [00:25:00] ask questions to.

I’ve got uncles that have been in there forever that I can call and ask questions to. If the people I call here don’t have an answer, then they’ll get together with another 15 and figure out how to deal with. Yeah I’m never alone unless I wanna be, I don’t call anybody. I’m fine. I call somebody if I need help or when I call for help on the computer.

They are so nice and I say, I’m sorry I bug you. Oh no, you’re fine. You’re no problem. That’s what I’m here for. And it’s just a fun conversation just to get an answer to a probably problem on my computer. It’s just an incredible family to deal with on the whole. 

Brian: Awesome. Well, thank you, grant. What else do we gotta talk about?

How much time do we have? I’m gonna cheat and look at my phone here. We’ve only been here for 28 minutes. Guys, we’ve gotta talk about something else. we’ve been talking about convention and some of the breakout sessions and stuff like that. We’ve been through award winners. I don’t know what most impresses you about maybe where KOA is headed.

Like you’ve got some steep peak to these sites and stuff like that. Maybe their direction that they’re gonna go with Temore. Some of the innovations that they’re doing, they. Is it [00:26:00] public? Am I allowed to say that they’re gonna have shoes? I don’t know if that’s, yeah. Oh, they’re right behind me. Okay.

I thought I was gonna get in trouble with somebody. I feel like it was public, but so all kinds of different innovations and branding and things that are gonna change the future. So I guess, is there something that most excites you about where KOA is headed?

Because you’re gonna be here another 20 years, right? 

Grant: Maybe it’s possible. Yeah. If I hire the right people, then it’s very doable. If you get enough. Any Campground can keep going. The more you try to do on your own, the more you try to do by yourself harder. It is. I was short staffed this year. It was me and one other, one other guest work, and so we didn’t get to do anything about what was necessary.

But before that, when I have couples working, then I have enough staff, then I can go and talk to people. I can get to see what they need, what they want, what they’re looking forward to. And I can make those changes for next year. I can make those corrections to meet what the guests are looking for. If there’s a problem, I [00:27:00] won’t hear about it unless I talk to ’em.

They’ll tell the next Campground. They won’t tell me that’s true. And so that kind of makes it hard for me until I go and look at the evaluations and the reviews that we get. Something that really helps with is if you’re getting into the system or getting outta the system, they will help you on both ends.

They’ll talk to you, answer. If you’re looking to buy a Campground, and then they’ll tell you what kind of campgrounds are available and what those things, kind of a lifestyle that give year round. Is it seasonal and you get to go away for a couple of months. And then if you’re leaving, they’ll help you learn how to evaluate your Campground and how to how to price it right for the next person to come in.

And then they will help try to find the right person for that Campground so that it stays in the system and then they can continue to grow in the direction that’s best. That region and that type of so that was, they’ve got sessions on how to best treat your work campers. Yep. That’s a really good one because the look of work campers is changing.

It used to be the average guest was about 74% of the guests. Guests [00:28:00] were 15 over. 

Brian: Oh yeah. That was a crazy stat. And now it’s 70. It was 76% or 45 or older 10 years ago. And then in 10 years now, 73%, they’re 45 or younger. Yes. That’s crazy. That is mind blowing. 

Grant: The guests are changing and so the work campers are changing.

You’re gonna be find fewer retirees and more people that want to get out of the corporate structure that are still in the working age, and that one of my campers is a. Tired letter carrier from Vermont. Another one of my work campers is a a for is a Marine who’s under 30 or under 40. So you can get people on all spectrums if you’re willing to take the time to find the right people, 

Brian: well take the time to find ’em and treat them well.

Right. Make sure they’re valued and they have enthusiasm and that kind of thing. Right. And that’s how you keep and retain staff, especially when it’s really hard to find them. 

Grant: We’ve already like, like staff, there’s gonna be a problem. Yeah. With more of them if you treat them like, like family members, family.

Yep. Then then you’re gonna find someone that just doesn’t seem like work to they’ll still be there on time and sometimes they’ll [00:29:00] stay late cause they wanna finish the project and they forget to put that on their time card and sping you, if you work, you get paid. Yeah. Write it down to, no, I just wanted to finish it.

No. Come in early, you know, a couple weeks early and they say, I’m bored. I’m gonna go do something. So unless I tell ’em, stop, they. Start working, even though they’re not being paid it, the Campground becomes theirs and they treat it like that. And so it’s really really beneficial to have people that, that love your property.

And it’s just a testament to your leadership. That’s all. It’s love your family. Okay. Good ice cream. It could be. 

Brian: That’s it. It’s the little things. Nate. Yep. Same question. What are you most excited about for the future of koa? 

Nate: Well, I love the startup mentality as a recovering technology. Myself. Yeah. 

Brian: Do you briefly wanna touch on your background?

Nate: Well, sure. I’ve started a number of tech companies in my past and that’s been my professional career and I’ve always done real estate in the night, my night job, always wanted [00:30:00] to turn that into day job, which I’m now able to do. It’s very exciting, kind, personal shift for me. But looking at that startup mentality, the ability for within that context.

One of the things I believe having done this in the past in a different, Context is doing lots of proof of concepts, lots of different trials, fail fast, fail quickly, learn from and move on. And so in the first year we did a solar project in Kansas for doing glamping kind of POC and sharing Wyoming and at Wisconsin Dells.

And we’re just doing all these little different kinds of, you know, experiments to see what moves the needle and what doesn’t. And it fits directly in with that kind, vision, startup mentality, growth mindset, those types of things I think are really, I. 

Brian: Yeah. It’s so critical. Yeah. And yeah, I mean, I think your background plays really well with that going into what you’re gonna do in the future and just that ability, like that ability to pivot and change and fail.

Like, I love failing. Because you can’t win unless you know how suck at first. Right. May not. Yeah. So, cool. Thank you. James, same question to you. What most excites you about the future of [00:31:00] KOA? 

James: You know, I think the thing that excites me the most really is that statistic, which blew my mind, which I think all of us would.

So we’ve seen this shift, we’ve seen, you know, where you don’t gotta be 65 or older to own an RV. You can be younger and it’s okay. And the pandemic just spurred that like crazy and working from home. And so I think that’s what excites me the most is, you know, these, the clientele that’s coming in is changing Yeah.

Dramatically. Right? So, which probably hasn’t changed in 50 years. 50 years, right? It’s been kind of under this umbrella and now it’s dramatically changing where you’ve got. You know, 40, 50 year olds, they’ve got families, they’ve got kids, and they’re not just looking to hang out at their RV or just chill like they’re looking for stuff to do.

They’re looking to, Hey, what’s in your area? What can I do? So I have a business perspective. I’m looking at it, you know, how do I make sure that I get that conversation with them that says, Hey, let me go show you or tell you about these five things in my area. If I’m gonna text that out to ’em. Am [00:32:00] I gonna email that out to ’em?

How do I connect with them on a different level that they equate? You that’s gonna engage. I mean, I think that’s what excites me the most, like figuring that out. Plenty of trial and error in that process. I’m sure. What’s gonna work? The verbiage, the signage, and how many times do I hit ’em before life?

Just, I’ve never coming You marketed the heck Academy, which is fine, right? We’re gonna learn from that. But I think that’s what excites me the most is how do we engage those younger groups, those families? How do we get ’em to stay a couple extra nights? How do we get ’em, you know, to make. You know, overnight or pass through, like, Hey, we’re gonna catch you on the way back.

We’re gonna hit you next year here and we’re gonna stay two or three nights instead. And so, because they had a great time, right. And always experience. Right? And it always goes back to that staff, right? You got that core, you got that staff, then you can fail all the time, right? Because there’s always somebody there to pick you up and you know, all, you know, the family is part of that staff plus what we have in our campgrounds.

But I think that’s, Excites me the most is just it really is a new time. [00:33:00] Yeah. I don’t think we’ve ever bid before and you know where we’re gonna go. It’s definitely not stagnant, no. 

Brian: Beginning, I think of that new time. It’s gonna change so rapidly and nobody really knows where it’s gonna go, but I feel like we all know that here and everywhere else in the industry that we’ve got, a lot of people are gonna be there to have our backs.

Right. Yep. You’re a KOA you’re an independent or whatever, but especially if you’re a KOA, there’s a lot more yellow shirts. Yes. So, yeah. Supports huge. Yeah. Jeff, same question to you, sir. Well, I block your Beautiful. I’m turn a little bit, 

Jeff: Brian, you know I did start a A new career, right? 

Brian: Yes. You did. Yeah.

Okay. That for a minute if you want. 

Jeff: Well, it’s not so much that, it’s just, I can tell you K does such a great job of helping their people. I have only one client that is a koa. Okay, so that’s okay. I gotcha. So that’s, so they do a very good job of supporting their campgrounds, their new members, their old members.

They give them a [00:34:00] lot of information. They give them a lot of time. They work with them. They’ve always been one of the most innovative companies in the industry. They have always been ahead of the curve, or at least have their. Out there looking for new things to adapt into the industry. So most of the KOA parks are leaders not followers in the industry, and that’s why they have a tendency to be more profitable than anybody else in the industry.

Yeah, I don’t know. They just, they do a great job. 

Brian: The future, Jeff, we’re focused on the future. Okay. They do a great job now. Right. 

Jeff: What we’re focusing on the future is they’re putting a lot of investment into the tech. We need to upgrade everything and get the technology and keep moving the technology forward.

I just think a commentary, our reservations systems, our operations systems all need to [00:35:00] keep growing because I’m sure you like data. I love data, and that’s the only way that. Can maintain our businesses. Yeah. We need to have that percent is online booking stuff. Yes. 71%. Yep. And I came, I also had came from the hotel business too, because I had hotels plus campgrounds and hotel business.

We had online reservation patients quite a few years ago. Then they integrated and were seamless and it got to the point at one time. Had 12 reservations sitting in one room that could answer or take reservations for all the hotels and the Camp Thrones. I’m now down to person that can do that. Cause all the reservations are online and KOA was pretty much on the cutting edge of that.

I think there was today that they said they had introduced that 10 years ago or [00:36:00] 20 years ago. I can’t, I know it was in there cause I wrote it down because. I have would’ve been really innovative. Yeah. Because I do have a meeting with Toby and some of the tech guys a little bit later today, and I wanted to bring that up.

Sure. You’re talking. But it’s been I’ve been in now 15 years into koa, so I’m actually a newbie kind of indicator the way I’ve been in Camping business for 

Brian: about 40 we were seeing, right? 

Jeff: Yeah. It’s 50 the highest, don’t think. Yep. But. The reason that I joined the koa I learned from other franchises that there’s no sense reinventing the wheel.

And when I was running campgrounds, I was out there on my own. I was the only person that was giving me advice. I was the only person that I could ask for advice and it’s lonely. , one of the great things about KOA is I can come to this, you and I. We can all sit in a room and chat and work out problems.

It’s one of the few industries that we can do [00:37:00] that. And moving forward, we steal ideas from each other. You know, our future is the path to it is kind of set here because everybody talks about where they want to go. And I’ll hear a great idea from, you know, Nate or from James or from Grant and go. That sounds like an awesome idea.

Brian: What about me? You want your ideas? , you left me out man club. 

Jeff: Well, you’re not part of the KOA club, but you are. You send me information every day via your 

Brian: information, but not good idea, but you are not long. And I wanna point out, ask me about, talk briefly. Everybody talking about right. Yeah.

James: Yeah. So KOA 20 groups. The idea is that you’ve got approximately 10 campgrounds and you guys get together on it. It’s just, you know, as opposed to a convention, it’s way more intimate. So, you’ll sit down, literally break down you know, maybe one meeting. It’ll just be [00:38:00] all about financials.

Another meeting would be, you know, just all about, you know, Or something to that effect. Usually have a guest speaker, that sort of thing where I’m a little new to the 20 group. We just went to Alaska this year. And you travel to these Campground, so it’s not like this, you know, getting your, it’s getting your hands on it, it’s feeling it, it’s getting to, you know, just inter interact with their teams and their Campground and their customer.

It just really see how it’s going. The idea. Huge. And it’s just like it. And it’s usually, I don’t know, three days approximately three, four days, twice a year. And it’s like any sort of learning that you’re gonna retain something from, it’s super immersive, right? You immerse yourself in it.

Right. You know, be or you know, something like that might work to learn a language. But look, you spend a week in, you know, Spain and your Spanish is definitely gonna be better than a week on Baby Promise. 

Brian: You remind me cuz I was. Learned German before I leave in two weeks for Germany and I have an open Babel in two months, but I subscribe to it.

Yeah, they got my money. 

James: So, but I mean, and it’s not [00:39:00] bad, right? You can learn a lot, right? You can go on the internet and you can YouTube and you can, you know, do all of these things. But that immersion is gonna just gain those insights. And to your point, you’re not alone, right? You got confidence, right?

You’ve got somebody standing next to you going, Hey, I don’t know, we’re both gonna jump off this bridge together. You know, if one of us swims, we win. And that’s okay.

Grant: I used to be part of a 20 group. I used to be part of one of the first 20 groups. Okay. And we had to leave cause of family medical issues.

The timing was wrong for the meetings. Yep. But you go to the campgrounds and you don’t steal ideas, they’re thrown at you. And we’d go to the Campground and the camp owner. Hey, can you please go around the Campground and tell me what stuff stands out to you and what recommendations would you have?

And so one of the things was they were, they’re in the forest and people were missing the sites after dark cuz of how everything, the road was curved and went around. Trees and stuff like that. And [00:40:00] everybody’s saying, put different signs, or take these trees out and change the road. And I said, what if you just use a different colored gravel?

So you’re brainstorming. Someone else. Yeah. And then they can decide which direction to go from there if they don’t do anything at all. So with, if you go and there’s five other campgrounds, six other campgrounds that are throwing out ideas, it’s a fresh set of eyes. And and when you go into the large group set here, you hear stuff from all over the country.

But when you go there, you hear people that you’re not afraid to ask a question to because there’s, they’re people that you know, right? They’re friends, they know you. They’re parking situation, they know you, they know your area, they know they’ve been to your Camron probably. And then they can make recommendations or just sit there, let you cry on their shoulder.

That’s what’s needed for that particular time. That’s awesome. 

Brian: All right. What else do we gotta talk about? What time is it? I don’t even know. 45. You’ve killed 16 more minutes. Do we have anything else you wanna cover? Cause like there’s tons of people standing here. We’re ready to go A Q I D exchange right now.

Have you guys ever, first camp convention, have you [00:41:00] guys, have they ever had this before? 

Jeff: I feel like think it used to be. Like a Cracker Barrel. Okay. Where they throw out ideas. But I love the name change because it gives you an idea of what it actually is. It’s an idea exchange, and it goes back to what he was talking about with the 20 group in that people will throw out an issue that they’re, and you’ll have a whole group trying to answer that question.

What other industry have you been in? Does that, 

Brian: I mean, none. But I’ve been in probably only three industries, so I’ve, I believe you, Jeff, 

Jeff: most of the ones I’ve been in are very secretive about what they think is their secret sauce that maybe them 

Brian: Okay. That’s true. Yeah. That’s fair. That’s fair. One other industry has as much collaboration and I think you’re right.

I can’t think of one. 

Jeff: No, that’s, I had my choice of to come back in once. They retired. [00:42:00] I had my choice of what industry free to come back into, and I came back into this one because the people that, whether it’s KOA or just Campground owners in general, are the best people ever. They’re so friendly and open.

It’s a great industry to be in. I, that’s why I’m still here. I love that 

Brian: you retire, you see you retired, you came back to Camping, and then you started a consulting company. Yes. Bored. Yes. Why did you retire in the first place? 

Jeff: Cause you’re supposed to. Oh, okay. And I found out it’s retirement’s actually horrible.

Brian: Yeah. That’s not for me. I worked on 9-6. That’s good point. Yeah. Yeah. He said, I don’t know if you heard him, but he said that’s why you get work campers. So they have something to do, which is, it’s awesome. So, right. I don’t know. What’s going on here? We got the expo. Let’s talk about the expo real quick.

We’ll fill up the last few minutes here and we’ll break early if we need to. So the expo preview is gonna open [00:43:00] tonight. There are about three hours. We’re gonna get in here right after the show. I think. Take our big yellow shirt folder, right? You guys will, I don’t, I can one. Yeah. But one of my, I think in the Slack channel, the team was commenting today with all the yellow shirts and they said, I look like grouped in dom minion cause I mismatch.

So, but what most excites you about the. Anything specific you’re looking forward to? Any companies you wanna check out? Anything you wanna, you know for sure you need to buy?

Jeff: Actually what we’re doing we’re, we are a pretty well planned for 23 on what we’re doing. We’re looking at 24 trying to find vendors for water parks.

Okay. And we did TV already in our park. We did it last year. The problem was we can’t get electric. We’re waiting for the boxes. So I can’t speak as to how EVs really gonna work because nobody got to plug into, so we’re trying to be ahead of that. But waterpark is one thing, and then we’re looking for unique structures to put onto our campsite to go along with the Campground [00:44:00] of the future, trying to give them the total experience, like maybe a Campground site with almost not a tiny house, but a nice little.

That has a fireplace in it where they can, you know, sit and have a good time, but they’re not in their motor home or their camp. So they have nice weather enclosed place that they can dinner and they’re still outside. So I’m kind of looking for something unique.

Brian: I don’t wanna put pressure on you. I think you should be the first guy to build that beautiful site that Toby was saying about.

I think that’s you, man. 

Jeff: I may already have some of those. 

Brian: Oh, really? James. 

James: Yeah. I’m gonna have to go check that out. I don’t know. Those deluxe sites are crazy. Yeah, I mean for me, I think it’s just one, just seeing what’s out there, where the market going, what are the vendors, right? I mean, KOA coming out with a shoe line, right? 

Brian: Like, I mean, do you think we can do one of these?

Steal one shoe on camera, [00:45:00] 

James: but I think. Me the I think the biggest thing I’m looking for at Expo is just getting the more of the relationships. 

Brian: Yeah. Here’s, it’s gonna be, you said

it’s the cool Okay. Issue. We’re gonna have these, I’m sorry I didn’t interrupt. 

James: I hadn’t, and I don’t know exactly the.

Brian: They’re gonna sell these things pretty widely. So, oh, there’s another version here. She’s another version out. Okay. So there’s that one, and then we got this little guy right here. Pretty cool.

Little shoe. Yes. Again, pretty cool. That should definitely further the brand a little. It’s a really interesting kinda idea. Go ahead, sorry. 

James: Yes. So, you juice, what’s, you buy? Juice. I’m probably not gonna be carrying that is not in my store plans, but you know, just seeing what’s out there. I think one thing that.

Look at closely is kids stuff, the toys it’s just always, it’s always evolving, always changing, [00:46:00] right? I mean it’s, you know, fidgets, spinners one week and it’s topics the next week and it’s staying up on that stuff, right? There’s, that’s always consistent animals. You, it’s out . So, and then also, you know, clothing, the t-shirts.

The trends. I think in the last 24 months we’ve really seeing the trend back to what I prefer to as the seventies some faded out looking, that’s got multi color little bit brighter. So just kind of seeing where the trends are going, trying to make sure that we’re anticipating the right merchandise in our ours for those type of things.

Brian: Cool. You’ve got six properties. Are they stock? Things are all the same things in your store. 

Nate: Very consistent location of each store.[00:47:00] 

I think I one, I’m noting Equip so up. Awesome. Grant.

Grant: I just did a

Brian: Did you do that because the Rising Star Award, like his wife made him remember?

No, it’s not because of your wife and she needed more shelf space. Okay. Oh right, okay. 

Grant: But I’m going.

It’s a lot of stuff as opposed to show where I got

that are necessarily related to the industry when I go in here and that[00:48:00] 

bring old stuff, platform to buy or something. the other issues. Yeah. Time sos very to . The same thing. with the different things’. Finding out of . We, some of the use. Okay. They come Did you that kind of stuck at the clamping show? Had a bar wagon? Yeah. Still pretty quick, but I want one in my backyard so.

I bet you they’ll make another. 

Brian: I think they’ll too. Yeah.

Grant: I haven’t chance.

But something, I think the habitats add on, but it Okay. Portraits and it’s about 61, which is enough for. They motorcycle. [00:49:00] Okay. . The motorcycle riders, they wanna have that wood and they want the, yeah, we give them a nice, they’re just screen, so they like . That’s soss.

Talk to where the Ss. Australia, we’re still so just so that I could get

that’s It’s okay.

Sos.

Brian: That’s true. That’s a good point. Okay, last question then we’re gonna go. What are you looking forward to? Journey. Journey[00:50:00] 

Awesome. Yeah. Some of the results.

See what doesn’t then?

Nate: Yeah, the, for us, it’s just continuing to grow, continuing to add value to the guests, amenities through different things to just make it, make you when our grants, okay, we’re gonna be down happenss, so that’s gonna huge. Transform the park by 30%. So be a big jump city. Keeping on, keeping an eye.

Jeff: I guess We’ve got lot changings already. I’m keep taking care of, guess what app is their’s changed ing. Awesome. And Jeff up. [00:51:00] I’m excited to We Electric. I put 39 with site. We’re supposed to be open July 1st, 2022. They’re still not open and, So our whole park couldn’t open because they didn’t get our May 1st opening.

Should be great because we’ve had these sites promised now for about six months, so we’re already booked for May. Awesome. Well, thank you guys. I really appreciate you joining us. Jeff James, Nate Grant, amazing. Last minute guest grant. You’re gonna have to be on the show more like you’re. I’m in Canada. He does come visit.

Brian: Come visit me in Canada too. We’ll go hike, right? Thank you guys. I really appreciate you watching another episode. Events, Fireside, Chats. Again, my name’s Brian Searl, thankful for car. We hung out in the back end through all this. Hopefully she got some good insights that she can take and I’m sure we’re talk about in [00:52:00] future.

So, so we’re gonna go back to this convention. They’re gonna share some ideas. We’re gonna check, we’re gonna have a good time. But thank you guys for joining us. I really appreciate it. Take it we’ll. See you next week. I’m gonna go this way. It’s gonna weird. I’m gonna stop the video. 

 

[00:00:00] 

Brian: Welcome to another episode of MC Fireside Chats. My name’s Brian Searl with Insider Perks. Normally here is always with Cara Csizmadia. We tried to put her on the show. She’s in Canada. She’s the only one who’s not [00:01:00] live here at the KOA Convention in Expo in Orlando, Florida. My, my laptop is terrible. It doesn’t have good audio, so I couldn’t hear really far away.

So Cara is actually watching backstage. She’s gonna kind of wave at me if she has super important and insightful things to say because really nobody wants to hear from me. But we’re super excited to be here at the KOA Convention. We have Toby O’Rourke, president and CEO of KOA With us, we’ve got Jeffrey Hoffman from the Sandusky Bayshore KOA Founders Award President’s Award winner.

We was talking a little bit about that stuff. We’ve got James from the grants koa. Like you have another Kway James, right? You threw me off there for a second cuz we work for you. And I’m like, we don’t work for grants. Anyway we’ve got Nate Thompson from KC and Campgrounds own six franchises. And we’ve got Grant who is a elite addition to the show.

Grant is from Raton Kway. Can we see Grant? We gotta all like, kind of shift around here. If you don’t see yourself in here when you’re talking, we can make it work. But all these people are here, so super excited to have them. We’re start with I think with Toby. We have a little mic we’re gonna pass around here.

We’ll see if this ends up in a disaster. But Toby. First impressions. 60 years, right? 

Toby: [00:02:00] 60 years. This is a big convention for us. It’s really fun. That’s why we’re in Orlando. You gotta go big when it’s your 60th anniversary. So we’ve had a great week. We had a big kickoff at Universal Studios. We just got done celebrating our partner awards and it even gave away two lifetime achievement awards, which we don’t typically do every year.

Give that away. So that was pretty special. But the energy’s great. Everyone’s excited. Koa, everyone’s excited about the anniversary and it’s been a good week so far. I know I went to your first timers event where Mr. Bell lost his voice, I think, and some of the other people have too. But super excited.

Everybody’s just thrilled to be here. I saw the little tunnel for all the award people that we ran in that Kaba got going. So yeah, just super excited. It’s always, there’s always a special energy koa, right? Cuz you guys are also proud to be part of the franchise. And we are. I mean, we call it the KOA family.

It really feels that. These people have been in business together for a number of years. We’re welcoming in, you know, new conversions, new people that are coming into the business and immediately they’re welcome into that KOA family. Good energy, good spirit one supports each other. We’re just very proud to be in the business we’re in and [00:03:00] that we all wear yellow.

Brian: Is there something that you can point out that’s kind of really impressed you about this year’s convention? And I know everyone is special, right? Is there something you pick out that you’re just like, wow, that’s cool that, that happened that way.

Toby: Oh goodness. I don’t even know where to start. I mean, from the, like, simply Love Logistics.

I think our kickoff night at Universal Super special, we had Marvel Island just for us, so that was really fun. Everyone got to ride the Hulk over and over. But I think what was pretty special is our owner was here, Oscar Tang. He hasn’t been to convention for at least 10 years. At our 50th anniversary.

He may have been here. Six or seven years ago. But it’s pretty special when he comes and everyone likes to hear him speak. And it was pretty cool to see Oscar even out riding the roller coasters, but then coming in the next day and talking about his passion for KOA and his, you know, deep support for the franchise system and his assertion.

He wants to continue to own this company for the long term. So it’s pretty special. Awesome.

Brian: I’m gonna just let a few other people here talk and if you need to go, by all means, or you can hang out [00:04:00] with us, whatever you wanna. Jeff is the owner of the Sanduski Bayshore KOA Holiday, also on the Arvi Board of Directors.

Yes. But super excited to see you here, Jeff. I think we’ve been hanging out for about a week and a half now. Tell me what’s been going on at the Bayshore KOA holiday and what are your impressions of this amazing 60th year convention so far? 

Jeff: Well, actually at the Sanduski Bayshore, we’ve shown some growth over this year, which was great.

We’ve added some new sites, which is what I think most of the campgrounds have been doing lately. And it’s been a very Different year, but a good year overall. Yep. And I don’t know. We had a good year. I love coming to this convention. As you know, we were both at Rvac. This convention always has a lot of energy for me.

Yeah. Because the people are here. Everybody’s in yellow and it’s great. The two awards they gave out today that they gave to Al Johnson and to Mr. Be. Are so well Lifetime. Lifetime. Achieve awards. Yeah, so well deserved. There’s not two people that I respect more in the [00:05:00] industry than Al Johnson and Mr.

Bell. They have just done so much for the industry all the way along, , 

So tell me, what are your impressions of the conference so far? Like, 

Brian: obviously you’ve been to quite a number of these KOA one shows, right? What are your takeaways? What have you learned? Any good conversations that you’ve had that are really amazing?

Jeff: have a lot of amazing conversations. I’m 

usually late to everything that I go to because I end up talking in the hallway too long. I’ve noticed it. and just the energy that’s here yeah, the growth in koa. And just the excitement that people have at KOA this year is amazing. I mean, I’ve been to a few obviously we missed a couple years with Covid and, but this is even, it is the 60th, but it seems to have an energy all of its own, it’s.

So far it’s been a great convention. I haven’t even got to the expo yet. I know. Should open up here in a few hours. Yeah. Then it should be awesome. We’ve [00:06:00] got, I believe, a record number of vendors this year too. 

Brian: So do we. Okay. I hadn’t heard that yet, so probably shouldn’t have. Let the cat outta the bag was probably a secret press release that you were supposed to like embargo or something.

Not a lot of tough secrets. Jeff. 

Jeff: You know me, . I’m not good at that. 

Brian: Let’s talk to James. James is from the Brigham City, Perry, south Koa, but also brand new owner, advanced koa. Much like KOAs, right?

James: Yes. We love the brand. We love what it represents. It’s definitely, I think there’s in buying a new one recently.

I think the biggest thing is there’s a bit of a security blanket around it with all the support and. You know, just references to go to for any problems at any turn. 

Brian: it’s really one of the things that impresses me so much about KOA is obviously you’ve got a huge corporate team, but they’re doing so many things for you at so many levels that no matter what your question is or what your problem is, there seems to be, there’s always.

Probably three or four people that you can turn to and get those answers from pretty quickly. 

James: Yeah. Yeah. It’s always really quick. I mean, there’s always somebody that can, you know, I remember when we first brought into the franchise five [00:07:00] years ago you know, we talked, we did our diligence, talked to tons of owners, you know, what’s koa because you know, you start this lifestyle to try to get away to do something different. You’re trying to be your own it’s got the entrepreneurial spirit to it, and then you throw a franchise corporate on top of it and you go, wait, am I just buying into a job? Another corporate job? And every camp run owner that we talked to was, you know, it wasn’t a job.

It wasn’t anybody overseeing you. It wasn’t a thumb on you, it was somebody, Hey, how do we support you? How do we make you better? How do we take you to the next? So, and that’s from a corporate standpoint, and then you know, come to things like this, like we can mention with people, right? Yeah. And then you’ve got the, the people that really get their hands dirty and are able to tell you all the nitty gritty, how to make it better.

Brian: So what’s the biggest thing that you’ve, kind of same question to him, right? Taking away from this conference, anything unique or special that stands out?

James: You know, I mean, I think the conference is always great. It’s always about the people. But there’s always things to take away.

I’ve been to, you know, a few of the classes, different things. And I think and I apologize. I forget the motto, Toby, the thing she left she’s right behind you. Yeah, [00:08:00] right. . She is really but But she but no, the, you know, basically there’s, you know, everything’s changing, right? It’s always gonna change.

It’s always gonna evolve and, you know, COVID was something that was out of our control and we just all had to adapt and deal with it. Yeah. But when you start talking you know, just getting started, right? Just getting started is the motto. Or you appointed Thes helping me outs, he’s helping me out.

It’s is, there’s something on my faces. Yeah. Jeff’s got my back. But you know, I think it’s, you know, we talked about ev right? And in some of the classes they’re talking about 2024, the RVs, the E RV will be coming out. Yep. And, you know, how are we gonna react to that? How are we gonna adapt to that? Glamping is becoming huge.

How do we adapt to that? And then I think, you know, Probably the biggest thing that, that drives all of our businesses forward that I took away from a couple of the classes was the people part. How do we inspire that team? How do we inspire that next generation? How do we connect with them to where they, they wanna work, they wanna be part of it.

They wanna be part of each of our organizations. So, I think that’s probably my biggest takeaways. 

Brian: Awesome. Nate, [00:09:00] Casey and Campground met this gentleman, what, a couple weeks ago now? 

Nate: Yeah, a couple weeks ago. 

Brian: little bit longer, but super excited obviously to be in the KOA system. Six. KOA franchise.

That’s 

Nate: right. Yeah. First year doing convention. And so it’s been a whirlwind. It’s been great. I think a couple of other folks have talked about just the people and the energy, and Toby touched on that as well. It’s palpable. It’s really great being here and seeing this and doing the breakouts and picked up a lot of great information already.

The EV stuff I thought was fascinating as well. I thought that was gonna be a ways out, a little bit further, and it’s kinda knocking on the door. Thinking and planning to do now around that as we look at our parks and yeah, overall it’s been great. 

Brian: But now you mentioned it’s your first convention, so you’ve been acquiring pretty fast.

We have. Why koa?

Nate: Well, I did a lot of research before, like it sounds like you did before joining the franchise and everything that I learned about KOA was really impressive. Among other things, just the real use of data in all the decision making and being able to aggregate trends and data across all the parks and lift that back up to the franchisees.

It’s just been great. The whole franchise system has been really supportive. To your point, there’s not one person to get [00:10:00] answers from. There’s maybe two or three. So it’s been great. It’s been, you know, everything that I was hoping for and then some. 

Brian: So where is Kcn going from here? What’s your philosophy?

How. I mean, don’t tell us your secret sauce, right? Yep. But where do you wanna go? Where do you wanna be in a couple years? 

Nate: Well, we’re very big in the Camping space. We think it’s got continued growth as well. I think Toby touched on this year’s kind of a new plateau from which we’ll continue to grow.

So we continue ourselves. 

Brian: Can you go steal it for me, Jeff, and get more parts? Hey, Toby. Toby, can I ask you one more question before you leave? Go ahead Nate. Yeah. No, continue. Please. Yeah, I’m so sorry. I just wanted, I forgot to talk about your startup mentality. Can you tell us about that real quick?

Like I really wanted you to touch on that cause that was powerful. 

Toby: Oh, sure. Yeah. So we in my opening remarks, I talked about the fact that, you know, it’s our 60th anniversary, so it’s a good time to look back. Talked about how our founders had this startup, had an idea, had a vision, and you know, and now we’re 60 years later, how can we tap back into that startup mentality?

So there’s a lot going on at k. All the time. [00:11:00] I tell people, I’m like, yeah, we’re an established company, but I feel like I’m working for a startup just because how busy things are, right? Yeah. And businesses accelerated so dramatically, and everybody we’re doing so many things, and so I just decided to play off that concept.

So I talked about people having to tap in, you know, ask questions, continue to improve every aspect of your business, you know, build high performing teams. You know, mission driven and just ways that we can start to think like a startup, because I think established companies, if they can’t pivot, they can’t be adaptable and flexible.

They’ll be disrupted. And I’m not gonna let Kay get disrupted. So we gotta keep moving. 

Brian: You’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Do you remember the conversation we had at AR years ago where I told you were gonna be CEO and you’re like, no. No. It’s not ever gonna happen. 

Toby: No, I don’t remember that.

Brian: I knew at that time you were the smartest person at KOA. 

Toby: Oh, that’s super nice. But I don’t know if that’s true, but I love it here and. We’ve got great people. Love my team. Franchise system is so solid. It’s, we’ve got a lot of good things going for us.

Brian: So yeah, it really impressed me when you said that.

Cause obviously I’m an entrepreneur, I build [00:12:00] businesses. But what you’re saying, like it’s very easy to get lost and stuck in the same, I read a stat, I can’t remember. Exactly what it was. But in the 1950s, I think the average company lasted 70 or 80 years and now it’s 40 or 30. Oh really? Plus they just aren’t to that like Kodaks and the IBMs and they aren’t able 

Toby: That’s true.

Yeah. I’m gonna have to look that up cuz that’s really relevant to where we’re at. It is pretty cool cuz some of the companies that came about the same time we did are no longer here. Kodak’s a preference example, and in fact we talked about that in previous conventions. You know, we’ve continued to hold up.

But now our business, like I showed the other day with 34%. Ahead of where we were in 2019, which was our best year in history. That’s why we need this. You know? We need to tap into that energy. Right.

Brian: So, all right. Last question. You’ve got your bunch of your franchisees.

Toby: I know. I’m just saying I’ve got really good franchisees and really good new franchisees coming in.

It’s not just the old timers like Jeff, who are awesome. Him. 

Brian: Look at, he’s so young. I just mean he’s been around the system a long time. We’ve got a lot of new energy too, which is awesome. Recovery.

Jeff: I heard a. It’s called [00:13:00] experienced Campground donor.

Toby: We have a lot of experienced Campground owners. So last question.

Brian: What does the future hold for these guys and everybody else is in this room? 

Toby: Oh gosh. Well, you know, A program we started, which, you know, about many years ago was Campground of the Future. . What’s been fun of that wasn’t just a one and done. So every year we’re refreshing Campground of the future work.

K what does K look like in five years, does K look like in 10 years? You know, as part of that startup mentality too. What I think’s been really fun is some of the initial concepts that we thought about and ideated on like four or five years ago were actually building. You’re gonna see these solar recharge stations at expo tomorrow, which is a really great, you know, new addition.

Yeah. And people can recharge themselves and plug in their devices and it’s all solar energy. We’ve got new main building designs. We introduced something called a Signature Site, which takes our KOA patio site concept to a whole new level, and just ways [00:14:00] that we can continue to have these unique things about our Campground that we can market because we’re marketing companies.

So yeah, sun Campground can go build signature sites, but we’re gonna put. Our marketing machine behind that and it got really something special that campers, they show up your park like, what’s your signature site? You know what, cuz all signature sites are gonna be different. There’ll be a base level requirement, like what’s signature about, what do you do differently?

So it’s fun, right? And so 

Brian: it’s really gonna change game. , I saw some of the sites they build in Australia, right? And how they’re so far advanced and people see that over here. 

Toby: And I think Australia, a lot of parks in Australia. Australia does accommodations really well. Okay. Far exceed in site RV sites.

Okay. By far. So I think, and that’s been fun. We actually have partnerships with some of the companies in Australia, big Four, where we do a lot of well Big Four and also discovery parks. Okay. Yep. Where we do a lot of idea sharing. And so we have, I think, a lot of innovation. And really putting our stamp on what [00:15:00] ideal our V sites are.

And then we learn a lot about the accommodations business. So a lot of that stuff has been infused in what we deliver, you know, glamping, continuing to grow on popularity. That’s gonna be a key in our future. A lot. 

Brian: You won an award, like Whitney was at the glamping show. 

Toby: We did, we won an award for what we’ve done with our other brand, but we take a lot of.

Learning and that’s infusing our OA system. A lot of our Ks have some form, maybe unique accommodation. That’s not just something we do in Temore. A lot of our parks, you sit in our awards this morning, we’re showcasing our president and founders award and we put pictures up, two or three pictures.

Those are all pictures sourced from campers. Yeah. You know, it’s not the, what the owner’s taking, it’s a camper photo and there was a lot of shots of glamping units, you know, a lot of unique accommodations out there. Cause that’s what campers. That struck. I mean, I made a mental note about this morning, like that’s what people are taking the pictures of and they’re excited about.

Brian: Well, and I’m sure Whitney came back and told you 37 countries, there were 77 different accommodations set up outside, and so [00:16:00] many people from the UK who we met are just kind of like a blueprint for where this is probably gonna go in the States. 

Toby: Yeah that’s a big trend that we’re definitely capitalizing at KOA.

I like to say we release a North American 

glamping report. When you ask Glampers what they consider glamping cabins are the number one mention accommodation. So we are the largest source of glamping in North America by that definition. And if we can reframe cabins in that equation, which a lot of times you talk glamping, you’re just thinking of this tent.

TP or your cabins really are what customers call glamping. Yep. I mean, more than any other form KOA wins, right? So we continue to invest in our accommodations and our glamping, and we’re gonna attract this whole new audience base. And that’s what glamping is about. It’s people that maybe don’t wanna consider traditional Camping, but they’re attract.

Did you? Outdoor stays in a unique way. Cool. 

Brian: Well I’ll let you go. I know you got tons of, 

Toby: I’m gonna go sign a license plate. That’s pretty, you’re gonna go sign ?

[00:17:00] License plate? No, we’ve got a lot of people that have KOA license plate, so we’re gonna go check it out.

Brian: Remember the KOA yellow Hummer somebody had at convention years ago?

Yeah. We always auction off a A vehicle and I think one year we had a yellow hummer. We’ve had jeeps, we’ve had yellow sports cars. 

Jeff: We had a yellow Mustang, yellow jeep. I haven’t won one yet. 

Toby: I haven’t won. I never win. 

Brian: You’ll get there, Jeff. 

Toby: We have a bright yellow golf cart this year, which is pretty cool.

Brian: Awesome. Well thank you so much. I appreciate it. I’m gonna talk to these other people, I just don’t wanna hold you up. Thank you so much again for joining us. Right. Okay, so Nate, we cut you off a little bit. Let’s get to Grant here real quick. So Grant, like I legit don’t know anything about your Campground cause you were a last minute guest.

I was gonna interview for an article, but now you’re just live on the show, which is even better. So we’re broadcasting to 13 Facebook pages, groups, LinkedIn, YouTube, no. There’s only about a potential audience of 30,000 or something. 5,000 names a year. There you go. That’s, so tell us about, is it Raton Journey, Northeast New Mexico.

Grant: The la the last town leaving in the first town [00:18:00] coming into New Mexico from Colorado. Small Campground. One of the first, actually it was the first camp first KOA in New Mexico. Okay. I’ve been there, March will be 20 years. So I’m almost at the 20. I’ll be up on stage next year maybe.

That’s awesome. Yeah. So congratulations. Unless things change, but love it. My father-in-law had one Garden City, bear Lake, Utah, or what is now Lakeside. He had that one for 13. And asked us to manage that one for him. And on the way over, he said someone made an offer on the property. And so, he worked it out so that my wife and I trained the new owners for a year while we researched.

And this is the one we chose cuz of its location and parts that were important for us. We’re with an easy shot driving get to, and so we’ve been there. My wife was four months along when we took possession of the property and both of my kids are in college now. So it’s been a place where we raised our kids and very pleased about the choices we made.

Brian: So, 20 years coming to KOA conferences, off and on ish, 20 years coming to KOA conferences off and on is, 

Grant: I’ve probably been [00:19:00] the. 12 to 14 KLA conventions. 

Brian: So what is, what has changed from the first convention to today in your mind that sticks out the biggest for you? 

Grant: The thing that I appreciate the change the most of to be kind of, Off the wall is, originally they had everybody that won an award go across the stage, shake their hand and so you had 300 people going across the stage and then they go across again and give them the next award.

They don’t do that anymore. They do it as a groups up on the screen, which is nice cuz then. We can all applaud to each of them as opposed to all us being on stage and nobody, yeah, nobody acknowledging us. But the way that the technology is changing, the way that they’re able to help us analyze the information that we have and to better fine tune the site, the campgrounds.

It’s like being in in a family. I can go to the other campgrounds and say, I’m having trouble, or is this working for you? And KOA has a cor, a few corporate owned properties that they do all the experiments on. Yeah. So they don’t [00:20:00] ask us to make a change until they’ve tried it in those, 

Brian: it’s a pretty unique benefit.

Grant: It overcomes so. Potential problems by doing that and then going in and seeing how we can, it’ll help us decide or help us give us information. KOA doesn’t demand that we do anything. They suggest things and we make the decisions ourselves based on our own desires, how ambitious we are how much we’re willing to hurry or rush, or how.

Timid. I’m more of a timid Campground owner. Okay. So I make changes slowly for some of the others. Like the Campground of the year and those kind of philosophies. They’ve been in it for generations and have learned that growth is beneficial. So much more ingrained in them than it is for me coming from other industries before coming into the uh, into the Camping.

Brian: So what tell us about your park. Like, what’s what’s so something you’ve learned along the way in 20 years that you feel would help other owners who are new to the KOA system kind of not make those same first time mistakes? Right. 

Grant: Well, my first time mistakes weren’t quite so many because [00:21:00] my father-in-law, when he sold, he moved to my town.

Okay. And so he mentored me. Right and lived nearby. Actually lived on the Campground for a while. 

Brian: And so your advice is every to get a father-in-law, . 

Grant: Yes. One, one problem with having a father-in-law that used to own a Campground is that whenever somebody needs something, if you didn’t have it in a store, he could take it off your trailer and sell it

Then you had to go buy a replacement parts for your trailer before you could go anywhere. But because of that the revisiting of the guests has just grown. If we treat them properly, they will remember and they will come back. Even my work campers, I had three sets of work campers that have stayed, that have worked for me, eight or more seasons.

If you can get work campers that you trust, get them to come back and they will make. Ownings so much easier. Because they’re the ones that are doing your work. They’re the ones that the customers see. Also they’re my sales staff. They’re the ones that get people to come back because they treated nice.

They told them that it was something you missed this time that you can visit next time you come through. And so, [00:22:00] I sent my workers to the museum so that they can say what the history is of the area. Not a bad idea because I don’t have events per se. Mine’s more outdoors. They can say, this is the history of here.

This is where Jesse James was, this is where this guy’s buried. This is where you can hike through the coal count. And so, they, do you know where the bodies are buried? Is that what. You said, I know a couple of ’em. 

Brian: That’s interesting. 

Grant: Yeah. Okay. But not talk about that later. Not on there. Yeah.

Yeah. But the more you know about your area and your Campground, the more, more you can sell the guests on the area, not just what you have. One disadvantage I have is that my customers come in at night to leave in the morning. I don’t get all day to talk to ’em. And so I’ve got to sell them on their next visit.

. And to come and give yourself an extra day and and then we can show you if you wanna stay week, I can keep you busy for a week and find stuff for them to do. You don’t have anything to do. Come and ask me and we’ll talk about it Right then. What do you wanna do? Well, that’s part of the experience though, right?

That’s what brings people back to you because of your service. We talked a lot about on the show, experiential hospitality. You know, it’s glamping, it’s [00:23:00] luxury Camping, but it’s an experience that the customer is craving. And that can be as little as a curated concierge service. It can be package deals that you put together.

It can be luxury cabins, unique tents, the new amazing sites that Toby showed, right? And so it can be so many things 

and sometimes I see other. We used to have a, a forge generation motorcycle family come through. Okay. And they’d come with all other cooking supplies and they’d shop at the local markets, buy stuff from the local stores, cook everything.

They couldn’t take anything with it, just so they gave it out to the other, the guests. And the other guests would come and sit there and have fried chicken and fresh corn on the CO and all the beans and coleslaw and all the stuff they made from scratch and meet those new people. And then they’re gone.

They go to the next Campground. People go up and go fishing and get their limit and come back, and they just do that for. Three or four days and on the last day they have a fish fry. Everybody’s cooking in a different formula and you want come by and try one and they let you try. So, so the more you can get them to interact the different it is from a hotel.

Cause no one sits on the porch swing outside their hotel. So [00:24:00] it Camping is, and RVing is so much different than any other way out. It’s just when we started getting people that wanted work Camping to be their career, that kinda let me, that people were looking at Camping as a legitimate thing now as opposed to just something you go and someone brings you firewood or something.

It brings you ice at your site. It is so much more because you get to see the, you get to talk to the people next to you. Yep. You get to know what’s in the area without having to Is this place worth coming by again? I only had 20 minutes. No, it’s not big difference when the people and the staff can say hi and stay and talk with you.

Yeah. Or the people next to you are willing to tell you what they did last time they were through. We’ve had family members that didn’t know they were related, running into each other at the Campground and finish their trip together. That’s interesting. So it’s. Every Campground has so many different opportunities from the one next to ’em, but when I go into business, I’ve got cousins that I can [00:25:00] ask questions to.

I’ve got uncles that have been in there forever that I can call and ask questions to. If the people I call here don’t have an answer, then they’ll get together with another 15 and figure out how to deal with. Yeah I’m never alone unless I wanna be, I don’t call anybody. I’m fine. I call somebody if I need help or when I call for help on the computer.

They are so nice and I say, I’m sorry I bug you. Oh no, you’re fine. You’re no problem. That’s what I’m here for. And it’s just a fun conversation just to get an answer to a probably problem on my computer. It’s just an incredible family to deal with on the whole. 

Brian: Awesome. Well, thank you, grant. What else do we gotta talk about?

How much time do we have? I’m gonna cheat and look at my phone here. We’ve only been here for 28 minutes. Guys, we’ve gotta talk about something else. we’ve been talking about convention and some of the breakout sessions and stuff like that. We’ve been through award winners. I don’t know what most impresses you about maybe where KOA is headed.

Like you’ve got some steep peak to these sites and stuff like that. Maybe their direction that they’re gonna go with Temore. Some of the innovations that they’re doing, they. Is it [00:26:00] public? Am I allowed to say that they’re gonna have shoes? I don’t know if that’s, yeah. Oh, they’re right behind me. Okay.

I thought I was gonna get in trouble with somebody. I feel like it was public, but so all kinds of different innovations and branding and things that are gonna change the future. So I guess, is there something that most excites you about where KOA is headed?

Because you’re gonna be here another 20 years, right? 

Grant: Maybe it’s possible. Yeah. If I hire the right people, then it’s very doable. If you get enough. Any Campground can keep going. The more you try to do on your own, the more you try to do by yourself harder. It is. I was short staffed this year. It was me and one other, one other guest work, and so we didn’t get to do anything about what was necessary.

But before that, when I have couples working, then I have enough staff, then I can go and talk to people. I can get to see what they need, what they want, what they’re looking forward to. And I can make those changes for next year. I can make those corrections to meet what the guests are looking for. If there’s a problem, I [00:27:00] won’t hear about it unless I talk to ’em.

They’ll tell the next Campground. They won’t tell me that’s true. And so that kind of makes it hard for me until I go and look at the evaluations and the reviews that we get. Something that really helps with is if you’re getting into the system or getting outta the system, they will help you on both ends.

They’ll talk to you, answer. If you’re looking to buy a Campground, and then they’ll tell you what kind of campgrounds are available and what those things, kind of a lifestyle that give year round. Is it seasonal and you get to go away for a couple of months. And then if you’re leaving, they’ll help you learn how to evaluate your Campground and how to how to price it right for the next person to come in.

And then they will help try to find the right person for that Campground so that it stays in the system and then they can continue to grow in the direction that’s best. That region and that type of so that was, they’ve got sessions on how to best treat your work campers. Yep. That’s a really good one because the look of work campers is changing.

It used to be the average guest was about 74% of the guests. Guests [00:28:00] were 15 over. 

Brian: Oh yeah. That was a crazy stat. And now it’s 70. It was 76% or 45 or older 10 years ago. And then in 10 years now, 73%, they’re 45 or younger. Yes. That’s crazy. That is mind blowing. 

Grant: The guests are changing and so the work campers are changing.

You’re gonna be find fewer retirees and more people that want to get out of the corporate structure that are still in the working age, and that one of my campers is a. Tired letter carrier from Vermont. Another one of my work campers is a a for is a Marine who’s under 30 or under 40. So you can get people on all spectrums if you’re willing to take the time to find the right people, 

Brian: well take the time to find ’em and treat them well.

Right. Make sure they’re valued and they have enthusiasm and that kind of thing. Right. And that’s how you keep and retain staff, especially when it’s really hard to find them. 

Grant: We’ve already like, like staff, there’s gonna be a problem. Yeah. With more of them if you treat them like, like family members, family.

Yep. Then then you’re gonna find someone that just doesn’t seem like work to they’ll still be there on time and sometimes they’ll [00:29:00] stay late cause they wanna finish the project and they forget to put that on their time card and sping you, if you work, you get paid. Yeah. Write it down to, no, I just wanted to finish it.

No. Come in early, you know, a couple weeks early and they say, I’m bored. I’m gonna go do something. So unless I tell ’em, stop, they. Start working, even though they’re not being paid it, the Campground becomes theirs and they treat it like that. And so it’s really really beneficial to have people that, that love your property.

And it’s just a testament to your leadership. That’s all. It’s love your family. Okay. Good ice cream. It could be. 

Brian: That’s it. It’s the little things. Nate. Yep. Same question. What are you most excited about for the future of koa? 

Nate: Well, I love the startup mentality as a recovering technology. Myself. Yeah. 

Brian: Do you briefly wanna touch on your background?

Nate: Well, sure. I’ve started a number of tech companies in my past and that’s been my professional career and I’ve always done real estate in the night, my night job, always wanted [00:30:00] to turn that into day job, which I’m now able to do. It’s very exciting, kind, personal shift for me. But looking at that startup mentality, the ability for within that context.

One of the things I believe having done this in the past in a different, Context is doing lots of proof of concepts, lots of different trials, fail fast, fail quickly, learn from and move on. And so in the first year we did a solar project in Kansas for doing glamping kind of POC and sharing Wyoming and at Wisconsin Dells.

And we’re just doing all these little different kinds of, you know, experiments to see what moves the needle and what doesn’t. And it fits directly in with that kind, vision, startup mentality, growth mindset, those types of things I think are really, I. 

Brian: Yeah. It’s so critical. Yeah. And yeah, I mean, I think your background plays really well with that going into what you’re gonna do in the future and just that ability, like that ability to pivot and change and fail.

Like, I love failing. Because you can’t win unless you know how suck at first. Right. May not. Yeah. So, cool. Thank you. James, same question to you. What most excites you about the future of [00:31:00] KOA? 

James: You know, I think the thing that excites me the most really is that statistic, which blew my mind, which I think all of us would.

So we’ve seen this shift, we’ve seen, you know, where you don’t gotta be 65 or older to own an RV. You can be younger and it’s okay. And the pandemic just spurred that like crazy and working from home. And so I think that’s what excites me the most is, you know, these, the clientele that’s coming in is changing Yeah.

Dramatically. Right? So, which probably hasn’t changed in 50 years. 50 years, right? It’s been kind of under this umbrella and now it’s dramatically changing where you’ve got. You know, 40, 50 year olds, they’ve got families, they’ve got kids, and they’re not just looking to hang out at their RV or just chill like they’re looking for stuff to do.

They’re looking to, Hey, what’s in your area? What can I do? So I have a business perspective. I’m looking at it, you know, how do I make sure that I get that conversation with them that says, Hey, let me go show you or tell you about these five things in my area. If I’m gonna text that out to ’em. Am [00:32:00] I gonna email that out to ’em?

How do I connect with them on a different level that they equate? You that’s gonna engage. I mean, I think that’s what excites me the most, like figuring that out. Plenty of trial and error in that process. I’m sure. What’s gonna work? The verbiage, the signage, and how many times do I hit ’em before life?

Just, I’ve never coming You marketed the heck Academy, which is fine, right? We’re gonna learn from that. But I think that’s what excites me the most is how do we engage those younger groups, those families? How do we get ’em to stay a couple extra nights? How do we get ’em, you know, to make. You know, overnight or pass through, like, Hey, we’re gonna catch you on the way back.

We’re gonna hit you next year here and we’re gonna stay two or three nights instead. And so, because they had a great time, right. And always experience. Right? And it always goes back to that staff, right? You got that core, you got that staff, then you can fail all the time, right? Because there’s always somebody there to pick you up and you know, all, you know, the family is part of that staff plus what we have in our campgrounds.

But I think that’s, Excites me the most is just it really is a new time. [00:33:00] Yeah. I don’t think we’ve ever bid before and you know where we’re gonna go. It’s definitely not stagnant, no. 

Brian: Beginning, I think of that new time. It’s gonna change so rapidly and nobody really knows where it’s gonna go, but I feel like we all know that here and everywhere else in the industry that we’ve got, a lot of people are gonna be there to have our backs.

Right. Yep. You’re a KOA you’re an independent or whatever, but especially if you’re a KOA, there’s a lot more yellow shirts. Yes. So, yeah. Supports huge. Yeah. Jeff, same question to you, sir. Well, I block your Beautiful. I’m turn a little bit, 

Jeff: Brian, you know I did start a A new career, right? 

Brian: Yes. You did. Yeah.

Okay. That for a minute if you want. 

Jeff: Well, it’s not so much that, it’s just, I can tell you K does such a great job of helping their people. I have only one client that is a koa. Okay, so that’s okay. I gotcha. So that’s, so they do a very good job of supporting their campgrounds, their new members, their old members.

They give them a [00:34:00] lot of information. They give them a lot of time. They work with them. They’ve always been one of the most innovative companies in the industry. They have always been ahead of the curve, or at least have their. Out there looking for new things to adapt into the industry. So most of the KOA parks are leaders not followers in the industry, and that’s why they have a tendency to be more profitable than anybody else in the industry.

Yeah, I don’t know. They just, they do a great job. 

Brian: The future, Jeff, we’re focused on the future. Okay. They do a great job now. Right. 

Jeff: What we’re focusing on the future is they’re putting a lot of investment into the tech. We need to upgrade everything and get the technology and keep moving the technology forward.

I just think a commentary, our reservations systems, our operations systems all need to [00:35:00] keep growing because I’m sure you like data. I love data, and that’s the only way that. Can maintain our businesses. Yeah. We need to have that percent is online booking stuff. Yes. 71%. Yep. And I came, I also had came from the hotel business too, because I had hotels plus campgrounds and hotel business.

We had online reservation patients quite a few years ago. Then they integrated and were seamless and it got to the point at one time. Had 12 reservations sitting in one room that could answer or take reservations for all the hotels and the Camp Thrones. I’m now down to person that can do that. Cause all the reservations are online and KOA was pretty much on the cutting edge of that.

I think there was today that they said they had introduced that 10 years ago or [00:36:00] 20 years ago. I can’t, I know it was in there cause I wrote it down because. I have would’ve been really innovative. Yeah. Because I do have a meeting with Toby and some of the tech guys a little bit later today, and I wanted to bring that up.

Sure. You’re talking. But it’s been I’ve been in now 15 years into koa, so I’m actually a newbie kind of indicator the way I’ve been in Camping business for 

Brian: about 40 we were seeing, right? 

Jeff: Yeah. It’s 50 the highest, don’t think. Yep. But. The reason that I joined the koa I learned from other franchises that there’s no sense reinventing the wheel.

And when I was running campgrounds, I was out there on my own. I was the only person that was giving me advice. I was the only person that I could ask for advice and it’s lonely. , one of the great things about KOA is I can come to this, you and I. We can all sit in a room and chat and work out problems.

It’s one of the few industries that we can do [00:37:00] that. And moving forward, we steal ideas from each other. You know, our future is the path to it is kind of set here because everybody talks about where they want to go. And I’ll hear a great idea from, you know, Nate or from James or from Grant and go. That sounds like an awesome idea.

Brian: What about me? You want your ideas? , you left me out man club. 

Jeff: Well, you’re not part of the KOA club, but you are. You send me information every day via your 

Brian: information, but not good idea, but you are not long. And I wanna point out, ask me about, talk briefly. Everybody talking about right. Yeah.

James: Yeah. So KOA 20 groups. The idea is that you’ve got approximately 10 campgrounds and you guys get together on it. It’s just, you know, as opposed to a convention, it’s way more intimate. So, you’ll sit down, literally break down you know, maybe one meeting. It’ll just be [00:38:00] all about financials.

Another meeting would be, you know, just all about, you know, Or something to that effect. Usually have a guest speaker, that sort of thing where I’m a little new to the 20 group. We just went to Alaska this year. And you travel to these Campground, so it’s not like this, you know, getting your, it’s getting your hands on it, it’s feeling it, it’s getting to, you know, just inter interact with their teams and their Campground and their customer.

It just really see how it’s going. The idea. Huge. And it’s just like it. And it’s usually, I don’t know, three days approximately three, four days, twice a year. And it’s like any sort of learning that you’re gonna retain something from, it’s super immersive, right? You immerse yourself in it.

Right. You know, be or you know, something like that might work to learn a language. But look, you spend a week in, you know, Spain and your Spanish is definitely gonna be better than a week on Baby Promise. 

Brian: You remind me cuz I was. Learned German before I leave in two weeks for Germany and I have an open Babel in two months, but I subscribe to it.

Yeah, they got my money. 

James: So, but I mean, and it’s not [00:39:00] bad, right? You can learn a lot, right? You can go on the internet and you can YouTube and you can, you know, do all of these things. But that immersion is gonna just gain those insights. And to your point, you’re not alone, right? You got confidence, right?

You’ve got somebody standing next to you going, Hey, I don’t know, we’re both gonna jump off this bridge together. You know, if one of us swims, we win. And that’s okay.

Grant: I used to be part of a 20 group. I used to be part of one of the first 20 groups. Okay. And we had to leave cause of family medical issues.

The timing was wrong for the meetings. Yep. But you go to the campgrounds and you don’t steal ideas, they’re thrown at you. And we’d go to the Campground and the camp owner. Hey, can you please go around the Campground and tell me what stuff stands out to you and what recommendations would you have?

And so one of the things was they were, they’re in the forest and people were missing the sites after dark cuz of how everything, the road was curved and went around. Trees and stuff like that. And [00:40:00] everybody’s saying, put different signs, or take these trees out and change the road. And I said, what if you just use a different colored gravel?

So you’re brainstorming. Someone else. Yeah. And then they can decide which direction to go from there if they don’t do anything at all. So with, if you go and there’s five other campgrounds, six other campgrounds that are throwing out ideas, it’s a fresh set of eyes. And and when you go into the large group set here, you hear stuff from all over the country.

But when you go there, you hear people that you’re not afraid to ask a question to because there’s, they’re people that you know, right? They’re friends, they know you. They’re parking situation, they know you, they know your area, they know they’ve been to your Camron probably. And then they can make recommendations or just sit there, let you cry on their shoulder.

That’s what’s needed for that particular time. That’s awesome. 

Brian: All right. What else do we gotta talk about? What time is it? I don’t even know. 45. You’ve killed 16 more minutes. Do we have anything else you wanna cover? Cause like there’s tons of people standing here. We’re ready to go A Q I D exchange right now.

Have you guys ever, first camp convention, have you [00:41:00] guys, have they ever had this before? 

Jeff: I feel like think it used to be. Like a Cracker Barrel. Okay. Where they throw out ideas. But I love the name change because it gives you an idea of what it actually is. It’s an idea exchange, and it goes back to what he was talking about with the 20 group in that people will throw out an issue that they’re, and you’ll have a whole group trying to answer that question.

What other industry have you been in? Does that, 

Brian: I mean, none. But I’ve been in probably only three industries, so I’ve, I believe you, Jeff, 

Jeff: most of the ones I’ve been in are very secretive about what they think is their secret sauce that maybe them 

Brian: Okay. That’s true. Yeah. That’s fair. That’s fair. One other industry has as much collaboration and I think you’re right.

I can’t think of one. 

Jeff: No, that’s, I had my choice of to come back in once. They retired. [00:42:00] I had my choice of what industry free to come back into, and I came back into this one because the people that, whether it’s KOA or just Campground owners in general, are the best people ever. They’re so friendly and open.

It’s a great industry to be in. I, that’s why I’m still here. I love that 

Brian: you retire, you see you retired, you came back to Camping, and then you started a consulting company. Yes. Bored. Yes. Why did you retire in the first place? 

Jeff: Cause you’re supposed to. Oh, okay. And I found out it’s retirement’s actually horrible.

Brian: Yeah. That’s not for me. I worked on 9-6. That’s good point. Yeah. Yeah. He said, I don’t know if you heard him, but he said that’s why you get work campers. So they have something to do, which is, it’s awesome. So, right. I don’t know. What’s going on here? We got the expo. Let’s talk about the expo real quick.

We’ll fill up the last few minutes here and we’ll break early if we need to. So the expo preview is gonna open [00:43:00] tonight. There are about three hours. We’re gonna get in here right after the show. I think. Take our big yellow shirt folder, right? You guys will, I don’t, I can one. Yeah. But one of my, I think in the Slack channel, the team was commenting today with all the yellow shirts and they said, I look like grouped in dom minion cause I mismatch.

So, but what most excites you about the. Anything specific you’re looking forward to? Any companies you wanna check out? Anything you wanna, you know for sure you need to buy?

Jeff: Actually what we’re doing we’re, we are a pretty well planned for 23 on what we’re doing. We’re looking at 24 trying to find vendors for water parks.

Okay. And we did TV already in our park. We did it last year. The problem was we can’t get electric. We’re waiting for the boxes. So I can’t speak as to how EVs really gonna work because nobody got to plug into, so we’re trying to be ahead of that. But waterpark is one thing, and then we’re looking for unique structures to put onto our campsite to go along with the Campground [00:44:00] of the future, trying to give them the total experience, like maybe a Campground site with almost not a tiny house, but a nice little.

That has a fireplace in it where they can, you know, sit and have a good time, but they’re not in their motor home or their camp. So they have nice weather enclosed place that they can dinner and they’re still outside. So I’m kind of looking for something unique.

Brian: I don’t wanna put pressure on you. I think you should be the first guy to build that beautiful site that Toby was saying about.

I think that’s you, man. 

Jeff: I may already have some of those. 

Brian: Oh, really? James. 

James: Yeah. I’m gonna have to go check that out. I don’t know. Those deluxe sites are crazy. Yeah, I mean for me, I think it’s just one, just seeing what’s out there, where the market going, what are the vendors, right? I mean, KOA coming out with a shoe line, right? 

Brian: Like, I mean, do you think we can do one of these?

Steal one shoe on camera, [00:45:00] 

James: but I think. Me the I think the biggest thing I’m looking for at Expo is just getting the more of the relationships. 

Brian: Yeah. Here’s, it’s gonna be, you said

it’s the cool Okay. Issue. We’re gonna have these, I’m sorry I didn’t interrupt. 

James: I hadn’t, and I don’t know exactly the.

Brian: They’re gonna sell these things pretty widely. So, oh, there’s another version here. She’s another version out. Okay. So there’s that one, and then we got this little guy right here. Pretty cool.

Little shoe. Yes. Again, pretty cool. That should definitely further the brand a little. It’s a really interesting kinda idea. Go ahead, sorry. 

James: Yes. So, you juice, what’s, you buy? Juice. I’m probably not gonna be carrying that is not in my store plans, but you know, just seeing what’s out there. I think one thing that.

Look at closely is kids stuff, the toys it’s just always, it’s always evolving, always changing, [00:46:00] right? I mean it’s, you know, fidgets, spinners one week and it’s topics the next week and it’s staying up on that stuff, right? There’s, that’s always consistent animals. You, it’s out . So, and then also, you know, clothing, the t-shirts.

The trends. I think in the last 24 months we’ve really seeing the trend back to what I prefer to as the seventies some faded out looking, that’s got multi color little bit brighter. So just kind of seeing where the trends are going, trying to make sure that we’re anticipating the right merchandise in our ours for those type of things.

Brian: Cool. You’ve got six properties. Are they stock? Things are all the same things in your store. 

Nate: Very consistent location of each store.[00:47:00] 

I think I one, I’m noting Equip so up. Awesome. Grant.

Grant: I just did a

Brian: Did you do that because the Rising Star Award, like his wife made him remember?

No, it’s not because of your wife and she needed more shelf space. Okay. Oh right, okay. 

Grant: But I’m going.

It’s a lot of stuff as opposed to show where I got

that are necessarily related to the industry when I go in here and that[00:48:00] 

bring old stuff, platform to buy or something. the other issues. Yeah. Time sos very to . The same thing. with the different things’. Finding out of . We, some of the use. Okay. They come Did you that kind of stuck at the clamping show? Had a bar wagon? Yeah. Still pretty quick, but I want one in my backyard so.

I bet you they’ll make another. 

Brian: I think they’ll too. Yeah.

Grant: I haven’t chance.

But something, I think the habitats add on, but it Okay. Portraits and it’s about 61, which is enough for. They motorcycle. [00:49:00] Okay. . The motorcycle riders, they wanna have that wood and they want the, yeah, we give them a nice, they’re just screen, so they like . That’s soss.

Talk to where the Ss. Australia, we’re still so just so that I could get

that’s It’s okay.

Sos.

Brian: That’s true. That’s a good point. Okay, last question then we’re gonna go. What are you looking forward to? Journey. Journey[00:50:00] 

Awesome. Yeah. Some of the results.

See what doesn’t then?

Nate: Yeah, the, for us, it’s just continuing to grow, continuing to add value to the guests, amenities through different things to just make it, make you when our grants, okay, we’re gonna be down happenss, so that’s gonna huge. Transform the park by 30%. So be a big jump city. Keeping on, keeping an eye.

Jeff: I guess We’ve got lot changings already. I’m keep taking care of, guess what app is their’s changed ing. Awesome. And Jeff up. [00:51:00] I’m excited to We Electric. I put 39 with site. We’re supposed to be open July 1st, 2022. They’re still not open and, So our whole park couldn’t open because they didn’t get our May 1st opening.

Should be great because we’ve had these sites promised now for about six months, so we’re already booked for May. Awesome. Well, thank you guys. I really appreciate you joining us. Jeff James, Nate Grant, amazing. Last minute guest grant. You’re gonna have to be on the show more like you’re. I’m in Canada. He does come visit.

Brian: Come visit me in Canada too. We’ll go hike, right? Thank you guys. I really appreciate you watching another episode. Events, Fireside, Chats. Again, my name’s Brian Searl, thankful for car. We hung out in the back end through all this. Hopefully she got some good insights that she can take and I’m sure we’re talk about in [00:52:00] future.

So, so we’re gonna go back to this convention. They’re gonna share some ideas. We’re gonna check, we’re gonna have a good time. But thank you guys for joining us. I really appreciate it. Take it we’ll. See you next week. I’m gonna go this way. It’s gonna weird. I’m gonna stop the video. 

 

Stay Updated
Outdoor Hospitality News