Campground Industry News
NEWS IN FOCUS
New Ohio Jellystones Report Big Boost
Many segments of the U.S. economy have been dominated by corporations, particularly publicly-traded companies. But the campground business remains fiercely independent and, for the most part, family owned and operated.
Even campgrounds that are part of Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), which franchises Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts across the U.S. and Canada, are almost all family owned and operated, including the Jellystone Parks in Ohio's Holmes County, Mount Gilead and Uniontown, each of which joined the Jellystone Park network during the past two years, according to an announcement from LSI.
“People often think Jellystone Parks are owned by a big corporation. They’re not,” said Michele Wisher, LSI director of marketing. “Most Jellystone Parks are family owned and operated.”
But even families that purchase Jellystone Park franchises are often surprised by the net increase in business they experience. “After a campground becomes part of the Jellystone Park system, history has shown positive effects on their occupancy and revenue because they are more likely to be on the radar of families searching for fun places to camp,” Wisher said.
Indeed, while most of the nation’s 8,000 or so privately owned and operated campgrounds are independent, most of them do not have the brand recognition that national chains have.
“I was very pleasantly surprised to see the loyalty to the Jellystone Park chain,” said Matt Smith, a spokesman for the Whispering Hills Jellystone Park in Holmes County, which joined the Jellystone Park network in 2014. “I couldn’t believe the people we’ve had coming from other areas to check us out just because we were a Jellystone Park.”
Smith’s campground, which was previously called Whispering Hills RV Park, has been owned and operated by three generations of the same family since Wayne and Ruth Saurer opened the park in 1969. But in the years just before the Jellystone Park conversion, the park no longer had so many family guests, and most of its campers were older seasonal campers.
That changed, however, soon after Whispering Hills joined the Jellystone Park chain. “Our occupancy and our business increased,” Smith said. “Our demographic is also changing back to young families with kids.”
Other family campground operators in Ohio who recently joined the Jellystone Park network have had similar experiences.
“Our business is definitely up about 20% over last year’s figures,” said Nancy Felber, who converted the former Dogwood Valley Camping Resort in Mount Gilead to a Jellystone Park in 2014.
Richard and Nancy Felber purchased Dogwood Valley Camping Resort in 2009 and were invited to join the Jellystone Park system as making significant improvements to the park. These improvements included new water and sewer service connections; a 2,000-square-foot store and office; and two new swimming pools, complete with a 250-foot waterslide and a 75-foot tubular slide.
“The business has been doing very, very well,” Nancy Felber said of the park, which she and her husband, Richard, manage with the help of their daughter, Sara, and son-in-law, Nick. “We’ve just been growing and growing.”
The Felbers said they weren’t sure if they needed to be part of the Jellystone Park franchise system because their business had been doing well on its own. But after learning that CampJellystone.com, the Jellystone Park franchise website, received 1.6 million visits in 2013, the Felbers realized they could grow even more by joining the family oriented campground network.
“We find that a lot of people only camp at Jellystone Parks,” Nancy Felber said.
Of course, such changes don’t happen simply by changing the name of the park. Before a campground can join the Jellystone Park network, they have to meet Leisure Systems’ national standards and demonstrate that they can offer a broad range of amenities and activities.
“Our specifications are higher because we want to provide consistent standards across the country,” Wisher said.
Most parks that join the Jellystone Park network continue to invest in improvements, so they continue to get better each year, according to LSI.
For example, the Whispering Pines Jellystone invested in a new swimming pool, which was installed last summer, and more water features are being planned. Other improvements include rental accommodations to better serve family reunions, as well as families that don’t have an RV or tent or simply prefer to camp in a cabin.
“We’re actually building luxury cabins right now,” Smith said, adding that the park is adding five more units, boosting its total number of rental accommodations to 30 by next year.
Felber said she likes the quality that Jellystone Parks represent. “We really are tuned in to what they stand for, and that is driving us to be better,” she said.
Jellystone Parks also offer numerous planned activities, which are listed on the websites of each Jellystone Park Camp-Resort so that families can plan their vacations weeks or months in advance.
“During the season, we have activities 7 days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” Smith said. “We have added almost hourly activities on weekends.”
Even during the fall, Ohio’s Jellystone Parks keep busy with Halloween and autumn harvest activities, which keep families camping until the first weekend of November, when Yogi Bear typically hibernates for the winter.
For example, the Uniontown campground near Akron, which has 68 campsites and five rental cabins, had fun, fall family activities taking place the last weekend of September and the first three weekends of October.
“We had magic pumpkin weekends where kids got magic seeds, planted them and returned later to pick up their pumpkins,” said Donna Williams, the park’s general manager.
Other activities included arts and crafts, pumpkin carving, campsite decorating, costume contests and trick-or-treating. “We built a giant haystack for the kids to play on,” Williams said.
Business was up substantially at the Uniontown park from last year, Williams said, adding that converting to a Jellystone Park is bringing in more families than ever before
The Uniontown park, formerly known as Clear Water Park Camping Resort, was originally built in 1947. Mert and Charlene Yoder purchased the campground 12 years ago, fixed it up and joined the Jellystone Park franchise in the spring of 2013.