That First Year

3 New KOA Owners Hit the Ground Running With VERY Fast Starts

EDITOR’S NOTE: Three KOAs in three different states, offering different amenities, serving different audiences. What do they have in common? All three owners, who bought their existing KOA campgrounds in 2018, have hit the ground running, making improvements at their sites, focusing on customer service and seeing great results from all their hard work. The Craig KOA Journey in northwest Colorado, Perry KOA in Florida’s Panhandle and Oregon Dunes KOA Holiday in North Bend, Oregon, all saw their numbers go up dramatically over the past 12 months. That includes their Net Promoter Scores (NPS), their Overall Satisfaction Ratings, and their camper night totals. Here are their stories:

Craig KOA Journey, Colorado / Chad and Kristi Hodnefield

Craig KOA Photos

By The Numbers (pre / post purchase):

  • Net Promoter Scores: 59 Before Purchase / 78 After First 12 Months
  • Overall Satisfaction: 63% Before Purchase / 69% After First 12 Months
  • Camper Nights: 6,836 in 2017 / 9,828 in 2018

Chad, 45, and Kristi, 43, ran a 200-acre crop farm and poultry operation in Wisconsin, before a family member involved in campground financing got them interested in trading farm life for a new life.

“It was getting time to step away from agriculture,” Kristi said. “We knew we liked Colorado and once this came up we came and looked at it.”

The couple took over ownership in May 2018 of the 89-site campground that sits at an elevation of 6,500 feet, between the Dinosaur National Monument and Rocky Mountain National Park on the way to Yellowstone Park.

Customers vary by season. Snowbirds tend to stop by in October and April, traveling to their winter destinations and back again. June through August is the time when families stop by. And hunters show up in October.

The couple have four children, two who live with them at the campground full time and a third at home to help out for the summer season. Other than one employee who cleans the restrooms, the family runs the campground.

The Craig KOA Journey had good bones to begin with and just needed a few upgrades, Kristi said. “We put our lipstick on it, what we wanted it to look like.”

In the first year that has included remodeling the campground’s store, upgrading the fencing, planting new flowers and mulch, revamping the playground and adding Adirondack chairs to the fire pit. Most recently, they’ve upgraded the satellite and internet service.

“We have a list of projects, when we have the time and money,” she said.

But the upgrades aren’t the key reason for their success, Chad said.

“Our main focus here is customer service, working with campers, trying to get what they need at their site,” he said. “They’re on vacation and we’re just trying to help them enjoy themselves even more.”

He and Kristi like to interact with the campers, Chad said. The pair has adopted a little more laid-back style, and that approach seems to be a drawing card.

“We’ve had quite a few people come back to the campground and say they appreciate the change,” he said. “Word travels, people read reviews. I think that has contributed to our success.”


Oregon Dunes KOA Holiday / Steve and LaVerne Dayton

Oregon Dunes KOA Photos

By The Numbers (pre / post purchase):

  • Net Promoter Scores: 40 Before Purchase / 54 After First 12 Months
  • Overall Satisfaction: 67% Before Purchase / 72% After First 12 Months
  • Camper Nights: 10,269 in 2017 / 11,633 in 2018

Steve Dayton figures people travel from more than 1,000 miles away to come to the Oregon Dunes KOA Holiday near North Bend, Oregon. This is definitely a destination campground.

“It’s pretty well known for being a really great riding area,” he said, which draws enthusiasts from the I-5 corridor in Oregon but also from far away.

Oregon Dunes KOA Holiday was recently listed by UTV Action on its website as one of 10 KOAs directly connected to dunes-riding trails. It’s the only full-service private campground on the southern Oregon coast with full ATV and ORV access to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

“Everybody that comes in has a trailer with ATVs in the back of it,” he said. “They pull in, drop the tailgate, unload the ATVs, set up and as soon as they’re done, they hop into the ATVs and head for the dunes 3⁄4 of a mile away.”

The journey Steve and Laverne Dayton, both 58, took to get to the campground is a little different as well. The couple moved to the area in 2008 to own and operate an ATV sales and rental shop adjacent to the KOA.

When Steve found out the children of the campground’s owners had no plans to take over the KOA, he let them know he’d very much like to join the two properties together. The two couples talked and the Daytons signed a three-year lease-to-buy agreement, and the Daytons took ownership in May 2018.

The pair immediately got to work making improvements to the KOA.

“We’ve come up with new ideas every year,” Steve said. “We like to build things.”

They turned a machine shop, originally an old barn, into a recreation hall, with polished concrete floors, glass doors, a big flat-screen TV on the wall and a new stereo system. Steve called the addition of a Jump Pad on the grounds “the best $5,000 we’ve ever spent.”

“It gets inflated at 7 a.m. and kids are on it till dark,” he said.

LaVerne took another room, fixed it up and added furniture and toys geared toward children ages 2-4. That drew not only moms and their children, but dads as well.

The couple renovated a couple of railroad cabooses the previous owners bought but left undone and turned one into a honeymoon suite and the other into a room for six.

Then they redid the previous owners’ home so that groups of up to 12 people would have a place to stay.

This year they added supervised hatchet-throwing lanes in the back of the KOA they open Friday and Saturday nights to adult campers. During the day, basketball hoops are rolled in so kids can play HORSE.

The KOA has close to 100 sites, Steve said, “and I keep finding more corners to put people in,” he said.

Being able to lease the campground on their way to buying it was a boon to the couple, Steve said.

“The bank was able to look at the improvements we’d made, and we actually raised the appraisal by having some experience and some growth,” he said.


Perry KOA, Florida / Brian and Debby Somers

Perry KOA Photos

By The Numbers (pre / post purchase):

    • Net Promoter Scores: 18 Before Purchase / 65 After First 12 Months
    • Overall Satisfaction: 34% Before Purchase / 58% After First 12 Months
    • Camper Nights: 12,455 in 2017 / 16,502 in 2018

Brian and Debby Somers didn’t take their search for a KOA campground to buy lightly. They traveled around the country a couple of times from their home in a small New York State town, and flew across the country a couple more.

They looked at 25 parks in person, and researched another 25 online.

“When we got down to the final five and it ended up being a choice of what was in an area we liked,” Brian, 55, said. “We went for Perry.”

They took ownership of the KOA in March 2018. The day after they closed, they got to work redoing the pool and hot tub.

“It needed a lot of work, he said. “There was a lot of junk around it, it needed a paint job, needed to be power- washed. We sunk a lot of money into making that pretty.”

Other things they attacked right away: cutting the grass, removing downed tree limbs, re-staining the cabins a more natural color and upgrading the WiFi and cable technology.

“The TV was the only thing I could not fix,” Brian said. “So we ended up having Dish TV come in, and we had to pay for an independent contractor to fix up all the cable that was underground.”

The couple renovated the campground’s store. And they’re fixing up four of the smaller park models. They plan to adopt the KOA Journey brand yet in 2019.

“We put 18 sites back into the park that previously were not being used,” he said, which now total 132. “We fixed all the issues with those sites and we filled them.”

He added one other personal touch: raised beds where longer-stay campers can plant flowers and vegetables. Brian, who had a garden in New York, missed planting a garden, and he thought others might enjoy the activity as well.

“This year it was such a huge hit,” he said. “We had a couple from Quebec, Canada and the husband had never farmed before. His first batch of radishes made our Facebook page.”

The other thing the couple does is to engage the campers in conversation, to have fun with them. And everything combined led the Perry KOA to get better reviews, Debby said.

“Because of those, we’ve had people who had given up on it return,” she said, especially among snowbirds. “We’ve got reservations for this coming winter that, at this time last year, we didn’t have.”

The KOA also hosts temporary workers at a local paper mill, travelers passing through, as well as fishermen and hunters.

One couple who came last year was so pleased when the Somers were able to fix the TV issue that they returned this year and spent their entire vacation at the Perry KOA.

“And they brought a friend,” Debby said.

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