Q&A: Jim Rogers, CEO, KOA Campgrounds

KOA Campgrounds CEO Jim Rogers on celebrating 50 years for KOA and future of camping in America.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

KOA — the largest network of franchised family campgrounds in the world, with 450 campgrounds and 55,000 recreational vehicle, tent and Kamping Kabin sites in the U.S. and Canada — was new to Outdoor Retailer this summer.

CEO Jim Rogers talks to SNEWS about the value of finding family fun in the outdoors, how to get kids engaged in fresh air activities and the evolution of the American outdoorsman.

What are the key elements of a great camping experience?

Planning, great people, a campfire and fun. Too many people wait until the last minute to decide that they want to visit the outdoors. They miss all the benefit that is associated with the “anticipation phase” of a recreational experience. What’s more, without some planning, too much time is spent during the campout dealing with logistics, meal decisions or equipment challenges rather than having fun … especially for the organizer.

A good time is even better if you share it with family or friends, and what could be better to share than an outdoor weekend, holiday or vacation. Today’s lifestyles tend to minimize the opportunity for genuine engagement with the people who are important to us. A camping experience can recreate that “family dinner table” feeling or provide the time to have a catch-up conversation with friends. How about over a campfire with s’mores?

A campfire is an essential ingredient to any great camping experience. It can be the kitchen, the living room, the family room and the playroom of the campsite. It provides the heat to cook and the warmth to remain comfortable outside. It is a magnet for campers and a catalyst for great conversations or quiet.

Let your hair down, pack your sense of humor and leave your frustrations back home. Whether you are in your backyard or the backcountry, fun is the order of the day. You can relax, plan a few fun activities during the day and a campfire skit or game for the evening. Just as we continually recharge our personal technology, we need to recharge ourselves. Plan a few days of camping, include a few great people, find a location that permits campfires and let the fun begin!

From car camping to backcountry adventure, your company sees everything from the casual to core outdoorsman. What kinds of activities do you see gaining popularity with the average American?

Not sure there is an “average American” any longer. What has to happen today is that we have to adapt our outdoor equipment and services to meet the mosaic of adventures that outdoor enthusiasts pursue. No longer can it be “one size fits all.” A participant that today is climbing the Tetons may be paddleboarding on Yellowstone Lake tomorrow. A bike ride in Moab may be followed by a RV trip to Montana. What we see is a huge diversity of activities by individual outdoor enthusiasts. We need to “cross sell” the variety of experiences and be more “turnkey” as an industry (more focus on the user rather than the product or service) to better serve the ultimate customer — the camper one-stop shop.

How does attending Outdoor Retailer help you make decisions about your business? Any examples, past or present?

KOA is new to OR. We are still learning how we can be of assistance or provide services or expertise to help grow sales and outdoor participation for all Americans. We make the outdoors “easy” to get to and we are the link between the backyard and the backcountry. We are affordable, helpful, friendly, safe and fun. The fact that we have a service orientation and want to offer a consistent brand of hospitality can certainly accelerate the growth of camping and outdoor participation.

In just two generations of the Rogers family there are 10 Eagle Scouts! How has scouting contributed to your engagement with the outdoors?

Scouting helped me know who I am. It not only trained me how to be comfortable as an outdoorsman, it provided me leadership experience, civility and values to live by for my life. The fact that our family found Scouting to be so valuable is a testament to their outdoor values.

Young people seem to be spending more time indoors on the Internet, playing video games and watching TV, yet you must see many families passing through your properties. Any advice on how to get kids — and their parents — psyched about playing outside?

It all starts with the parents and the friends. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have been getting young people outside for over 100 years and teaching young Americans values that will serve them for life. We don’t need new programs, but we should do a better job of supporting these two proven and unique Scouting organizations. They have plenty of room for additional scouts, know how to train volunteers, have wonderful camp programs and are eager to grow. What’s more, they are very affordable and want to reach a greater diversity of America’s youth.

KOA is celebrating its 50th anniversary. What are some of your hopes for the next 50 years?

The outdoors is a “prescription for America” and we need to get back to it, from the backyard to the backcountry, as it can have a favorable impact upon much of what ails our country. KOA will play a major role in getting North Americans outdoors as we makes it easy, safe and fun, and provide outdoor hospitality like no one else. We also believe we have to find a public park model that can sustain our extraordinary public campgrounds at the local, state and national level. KOA would like to create a “hybrid” public/private partnership that helps public campground managers learn the enterprise disciplines along with their forest, water, environmental and land management expertise. We have been doing it successfully with other Americans for over 50 years. Let’s get back outdoors!

--Megan Mulligan


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