KOA Reports on Newest Franchise Affiliates
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) this week reported on a number of new franchisees affiliated with KOA. Highlights of those reports follow.
Rick and Debra Sweigart, new owners of the KOA in Perry, Fla., are new to the campground business, but their first steps have shown what they're made of.
"We have only owned the campground for a few weeks, but in that short time we have really made some progress," says Rick Sweigart. "The very first thing we did was raise a new American flag at the entrance. The old one was tattered and worn. We have started clearing years of clutter and are cleaning, organizing and stocking. Tree trimming is in full force and we're planting some colorful flowers in front of the registration office and at the entrance. We have pressure washed the pool deck and the pavilion patio as well as pool furniture. We are getting ready to make some of our tent sites into deluxe tent sites and have started to remodel some of our park models. We have addressed some electrical issues on some sites and have them operational again."
The Sweigarts are used to staying busy. After four years in the Air Force, Rick had a 25-year career with the North Naples Fire Department in Naples, Fla. Debra worked as a paramedic for Collier County EMS in Naples and as an office manager for a medical transcription service.
"We both enjoyed camping as children and continued that love of camping while raising our six children. They are all now grown and they still love to camp," says Rick. Rick and Debra's two sons are joining them at the campground, as there is enough work for everyone.
"The Perry KOA had everything we were looking for in a campground. We saw real potential to make it into our idea of a great campground. It has great "bones." There are many amenities here that can increase camper nights and remind people what camping is all about. Some of our campers that have been here before have complimented us on the improvements they have seen already. We are looking forward to putting lots of personal touches on it and truly making it the campground we know it can be," says Debra.
"We both love being outdoors and the variety of work that there is to do on a campground. We also love the idea of taking a good campground and making it better. We have a plan for what we want our campground to be and we are excited to be able to watch it happen day by day," says Rick.
"We always camped with our children at KOAs because we knew that there would be clean bath houses and things for us all to enjoy as a family. We all have many great memories while camping at KOAs. We also love the support and guidance offered by owning a KOA. It is invaluable to a new campground owner," says Debra. "We are extremely proud and excited to be part of the KOA system.”
The new owners of the Hardin, Mont., KOA, Dave and Gina Trzebiatowski, are eager to begin the next chapter in their lives, as KOA owners. They are so eager, they opened the Hardin KOA earlier than it has been opened in the past, in spite of a colder-than-normal spring in Montana. "We have welcomed a lot of campers who are new to the Hardin KOA this year," explains Dave.
You might expect the Trzebiatowskis to be looking forward to a life of relaxation at this point. Dave was a maintenance superintendent for 26 years at an iron foundry. "I had 54 people working under me in the melt department. It was a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week job," says Dave. "Gina worked as a teacher's aide for 18 years, primarily with special needs children." "We had our picture taken with our very first guests, who were from the Yukon. As we chatted, we found out that the gentlemen worked for the same company that I had, in a different branch! That's the best part of the campground lifestyle: meeting new people that have a passion for camping and hearing the stories they have to tell," says Dave.
"Gina and I have been avid campers for many years. We started out with tents and over the years we worked our way up to a class A motorhome. We have always stayed at KOAs when possible. We look forward to overlooking the operations at Hardin KOA during the summer as owners and then traveling south in our motor home for the winter," says Dave.
Dave and Gina are from Wisconsin, where their three grown children and three grandchildren live. "I'm sure that they will be at the Hardin KOA from time to time throughout the summer," says Dave.
Gina and Dave live on the campground and are in the process of instilling their own personalities in the property. They are planning to add a pole building and possibly a home for themselves. They are currently living in the apartment above the registration area in the 1960s-era, A-frame building.
"We love wearing the yellow downtown and being recognized as KOA people. Our customers also support the KOA brand and have stopped and camped just because we are a KOA," says Gina.
"We love all the support and help we have received, not only in person, but over the telephone also. There were so many great people we met at KOA-University in Billings.”
Ken and Carrie Conger, and Robert and Betty Conger took their time when deciding to buy a campground. If all goes well, it may not be their last.
"Coming from Michigan, we were looking to escape the long cold winters, but did not want to move too far south where it could be too hot and humid in the summer. We have been searching for the perfect campground for many years and when the Natural Bridge/Lexington, Va., KOA came on the market, we rushed to check it out and fell in love with the area. There are beautiful mountains all around, but we are still close to schools and shopping. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail are close by, as are other natural and historical attractions."
Ken and Carrie will enjoy the help of several family members, including their two sons, ages 10 and 13; Ken's parents, Bob and Betty, who will also live at the campground; and, as time allows, his sisters Kim and Becky who will visit from their homes in Minnesota and North Carolina. Their lab-terrier mix, Dancer, will take on the campground dog duties.
The Congers have already begun the work of preparing the park for the summer season. "Since we bought the Natural Bridge/Lexington KOA, we have upgraded the bathroom facilities by replacing the countertops, sinks and faucets. We also reroofed a cabin so all our cabins now have new roofs; the previous owners had been replacing one roof a year on the older cabins," says Ken.
Ken is no stranger to taking on big projects and strategically planning and executing their successful completion. "I was an electrical engineer at General Dynamics in Sterling Heights, Mich. I started there as a laboratory engineer, designing test equipment for the Stryker 8-wheeled combat vehicle. Later in my career there, I transitioned to software and emulator development."
During Ken's career, Carrie took the lead with the home and children. Bob, Ken's dad, is a retired systems engineer; Betty, Ken's mom, is a social worker and enjoys working with children and running summer camps.
The entire Conger family loves camping and usually plans at least two camping trips a year. "We owned a cabin in northern Michigan and enjoyed spending time up there making fires and relaxing by the lake," says Ken.
Ken and Carrie are looking forward to meeting the variety of campers who'll stay at the campground, "I love being around people and sharing stories of our adventures through life," says Ken. "I think we have a good mix of campers. Being located right off the Interstate, we get a lot of snowbirds making their annual migration. They typically stay for one night before continuing south for the winter or back north for summer. We also get quite a few campers who will stay for long weekends or all week during the summer months."
"We have loads of activities planned for the little ones – and the young at heart – including karaoke, bingo, movie nights, outdoor pools, playgrounds, basketball and volleyball courts, a giant checkerboard and nature trails. We have a different theme every month in spring, summer and fall and plan our activities to match the theme. People also enjoy visiting local attractions," says Ken.
"I like the feeling of being part of a family – that's why KOA is appealing. We attended KOA-University in Billings and everyone was so nice and willing to help with anything we needed. It is nice to know they are just a phone call away. I like the idea of having a corporation being there to assist me with operating and promoting my campground. The employees at the home office have a wealth of knowledge regarding KampSight software, and website design and layout, as well as ideas to improve existing camping sites and add new cabins and other unique site types. I am planning on working with Mike Atkinson, cabins program director, to look at adding Deluxe Cabins, and with Doug Mulvaney, facilities development director, to help upgrade electrical and improve site layout across the campground," says Ken.
Andy and Carin Zipser, along with their daughters and their husbands, have taken a running leap and jumped in the deep end of the pool. They took ownership of the Staunton/Walnut Hills, Virginia KOA this winter. They'd never owned a campground before the purchase.
But, they have a sense of humor, a willingness to learn and an appreciation for the variety that campground ownership offers.
Andy Zipser honed his ability to face daily challenges during his career in news, as a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, Barron's and The Newspaper Guild's publication, The Guild Reporter. Carin Zipser has the design and sales background; she has been a prolific seamstress and still creates doll clothes that continue to sell briskly in the campground store.
Andy has a long history of bicycling, backpacking and back-country tent camping, while Carin's concept of "roughing it" is a black-and-white TV in a motel room. But this mismatched couple found a happy medium when their younger daughter, Erika, was in her early teens and the family traveled the West and Mid-West in borrowed campers. Subsequently, they owned a couple of small RVs, including a pop-up and a Jayco Kiwi.
The Zipsers spent about a year searching for the right campground. When their daughters expressed interest in joining the campground management endeavor, Andy and Carin expanded their search to include larger properties. They combined their love of mountains, aversion to extreme weather and a desire to remain close to family and friends by purchasing the beautiful Staunton/Walnut Hills KOA.
"A big bonus that came with the campground was the staff: we inherited a couple of great employees, who are helping ease the family into our new roles, while making an enormous, observable difference with our campers," says Carin.
Andy and Erika were pleased to find another big source of support in the KOA Home Office in Billings, Montana, during their KOA-University session in February.
"The biggest impression we've had so far is the willingness with which KOA folks will share experiences, insights and advice, which makes a huge difference for neophytes like us," says Erika.
Since early 2013, they've been busy cutting down dead trees, scrubbing all the cabins, ordering and erecting signage, leveling three back-in sites and are about to start repairing potholes. Future plans include de-silting the fishing pond and installing a pet park.
The Zipsers are ready to do what it takes to attract new guests and keep the old ones coming back.
"We get a great mix of through-traffic from nearby I-81, from campers who need a place to overnight en route to Florida or Canada," says Andy. "We have repeat business from folks who have been coming here for many years, who view this as an inexpensive vacation 'in the country'. And, we'll see a good amount of business from tourists visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the many cultural, historic and environmental attractions."