Hoosier KOA Succeeds in Evolving Market
Business is pleasure for Thomas Jetzer and his wife, Patricia Schenk, left, avid travelers who bought the South Bend (Ind.) East Kampground of America (KOA) in nearby Granger in 2005.
The partners, who came from Switzerland in 2001, had been working in the Chicago area. Schenk was general manager at an RV rental company branch and Jetzer was a mechanic at a GM dealership, according to the South Bend Tribune Business Weekly.
In their spare time, they logged more than 100,000 miles, on coast-to-coast trips and shorter jaunts, in their restored 1973 GMC motorhome.
"This is how we fell in love with camping," she says. "We bought our first camper then. That's how we came to KOA. We always loved to travel. We combine business and pleasure, or at least we try to.
"The camping business is an interesting business because you have all kinds of little businesses inside the big business."
The different responsibilities of campground ownership provide a convenient division of labor. Jetzer is technical director, responsible for repairs and maintenance, among other things, while Schenk looks after accounting, marketing and human resources work.
"We work together," she says. "It's an ideal situation."
The Granger campground, built around 1990, was once part of a larger complex that included batting cages and a sports bar. Jetzer and Schenk bought 13 acres that holds 100 campsites, including 20 cabins.
"We are a midsized campground," she says. "We can house quite a bit. You're still able to get personal contact with the campers. It's not like the big resorts. We know who we house. We can house small to medium groups. Our goal is to offer high-quality camping for a moderate price."
The KOA hosts rallies, family reunions and other events, including a vintage trailer rally July 30-Aug. 2.
The location combines the rustic feel of a wooded hiking trail with the close convenience of grocery, hardware, drugstores and other retail and restaurants in Granger.
"Once you are here, you feel like you're somewhere in the boonies," Schenk says. "You have a little paradise. We try to offer good family quality time. You can spend the weekend all together. There's a lot to do here, a lot of activities."
Campers can play volleyball, basketball or tetherball, visit the petting zoo, rent bicycles or take a hike in the campground. Many also visit such nearby attractions as the RV/MH Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame, Studebaker National Museum, University of Notre Dame, Amish country and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Campground Sponsors Day Camp
The setting's facilities also support a day camp with organized activities for some 40 to 50 youngsters in the summer.
"Day camp is a second leg of our business," Schenk says, listing sports, games, arts and crafts, swimming, fashion shows and rainy-day movies among the offerings.
The campground, open April 1-Nov. 23, attracts a wide variety of short-term and long-term campers.
"We have all kinds of customers, from the one-time customer passing by on his way somewhere to the locals who come back several times a year," she says. "Some people from Western states come here and stay the whole summer with us."
The economic slowdown has not slowed business, partly because some families are choosing to take their vacations closer to home.
"We are busy," Schenk says. "Compared to last year, we are doing about the same. Probably some people had to cut back, but that's replaced by somebody who's not staying in an expensive hotel somewhere."
Maybe, she says, the first-timers will discover that the convenient and economical trip is at least as fun as the long drive to faraway campgrounds.
"It's the same camping experience," Schenk says. "You have your campfire. You burn your marshmallow."