Advice from Jellystone Park Franchisee Ricky Jenkins
Today, The Jenkins Organization, through Great Escapes RV Resorts, owns eight camp-resorts, including four franchise Jellystone Park locations. It has both acquired existing Jellystone Park camp-resorts and converted independent campgrounds to the Jellystone Park brand. Its fifth Jellystone Park is being built from the ground up.
Ricky Jenkins, President of Houston-based The Jenkins Organization, did some homework before getting into the campground business. A lot of it. After 30 years in the self-storage industry, he was concerned that it was getting overbuilt. So, it was time to find something new. Campgrounds were intriguing, and he set out on a field trip of sorts. After visiting more than 300, he bought his first park three years ago.
“Acquiring an operating campground is the easiest and fastest way to get started because you have revenue in place,” Ricky said. He added, however, that choosing the right property is extremely important. “Many parks are old, have deferred maintenance and don’t have the infrastructure or space needed to be a successful family camping destination. You need to look at how much capital expenditure will be needed.”
Whether Great Escapes buys an existing Jellystone Park or converts an independent campground to the Jellystone Park brand, it immediately makes major improvements and enhancements, sometimes spending more on renovation and expansion than on the park itself. “The first year’s improvements are especially important, so we typically build a water park, bring in new cabins, golf carts and jumping pillows, as well as activities including laser tag and gem mining.”
Not everything needs to be done at once, however. “Guests like to see new things every year, but the improvements don’t have to be huge,” he said. “In the RV park business there are continual capital expenditure opportunities, like adding more cabins, which add to the revenue stream.”
Marketing also is extremely important when converting a campground, Ricky said. “Jellystone Park has an extremely loyal following, so we build in a much larger marketing budget the first year to get word out that there is now a Jellystone Park in the area.”
According to Ricky, the Jellystone Park locations are performing better than expected, in part because of ancillary revenue from equipment rentals, activities and retail sales.
He remains very bullish on the family camping industry and has this advice for those looking to enter it: “If you want to maximize the return on your investment, you need to make sure you can invest in it over the long haul.”