The Tabor City, N.C. campground won the Overall System Camp-Resort of the Year Award in addition to awards for top sales and occupancy growth and top scores on park assessments
“We’re just as ecstatic now as we were in 2008 when we won this award the first time,” said park co-owner Rick Coleman. “It was a complete shock.”
Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems, Inc. (LSI) franchises 80 Jellystone Park campgrounds with more than 17,000 campsites and vacation rentals across the U.S. and Canada and plans to expand to more than 100 parks in the next few years.
“Competition for this award is more difficult now because there are so many qualified parks and so many people buying into the camp-resort concept,” Coleman said.
The Camp-Resort of the Year Award wasn’t the only award the Jellystone Park at Daddy Joe’s received.
Coleman and his team also received LSI’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which is given to parks that achieve the highest year-over-year growth in revenues and occupancies. Plus, they received the Outstanding Customer Service Award and Recreation Award, which are given based on scores from the franchise annual guest survey.
The Jellystone Park at Daddy Joe’s logged an eye-popping 20 percent increase in occupancies, while revenues rocketed 37 percent compared to 2016 figures.
The Tabor City campground was also one of five Jellystone Parks across the country that earned The Carroll Award, an award given to parks that achieve the highest assessment ratings in the Jellystone Park franchise network.
All of these awards are noteworthy achievements for the Tabor City campground, which joined the Jellystone Park network in 2004.
Coleman said his family was originally involved in agriculture and used their Tabor City land to raise tobacco, corn, beans and cattle. But when market conditions changed in the 1990s, Coleman and his family looked for new business opportunities, starting in 1999 with a hunting and fishing resort known as Daddy Joe’s Fishing Hole.
“We have nine irrigation ponds that were originally used to irrigate our tobacco crop. But we made those into fishing ponds,” Coleman said, adding that they are currently stocked with largemouth bass, sunfish and channel catfish.
It didn’t take long for the Coleman family to realize that they could generate even more business by targeting families who wanted to camp together. “We had people who were requesting overnight occupancy,” he said, which prompted his family to install their first yurts in 2000 and their first 32 RV sites in 2001.
But even from their earliest days in the campground business, the Colemans aimed to set themselves apart from their peers.
“In researching campgrounds, we saw that a lot of campsites were small and close together,” Coleman said.
Instead, the Colemans spaced their campsites further apart from each other to give their campers more space and privacy than they typically experience in private campgrounds.
“All of our campsites are at least 50 by 70 feet,” Coleman said. “In 2001, we put in concrete pads on all the sites and made all of them full hookup sites.”
The Colemans also erected high-quality log cabin-style buildings with metal roofs and they planted lots of trees, including crape myrtles, live oaks and American holly, which complement the grassy areas throughout the campground.
Operating the campground as “Daddy Joe’s,” the Colemans saw a steady increase in business. In fact, by 2004, their campground business had grown to the point where they needed help, and the Colemans felt it made sense to join the Jellystone Park network because of its focus on the family market.
“We were no longer a mom and pop campground,” Coleman said. “We were segueing into a resort and LSI offered not only the Jellystone Park brand, but assistance and guidance on policies and procedures as well as input on human resources and federal regulations.”
LSI provides its franchisees with training on every aspect of park operations as well as information on how to develop activity programs for children and adults.
Only Jellystone Parks have Yogi Bear™, Boo Boo™ and Cindy Bear™, and children love to interact with them. Jellystone Parks are also famous for providing fun, family activities and themed weekends that include everything from crafts and games to wagon rides.
Themed weekend activities, which typically run from March to November, include superhero and pirate themed weekends as well as Christmas in July weekends with campsite decorating contests, campsite caroling, cookie and ornament making activities. The increasingly popular Halloween themed weekends include costume and campsite decorating contests and trick or treating activities.
By joining the Jellystone Park network, Coleman found he could also network with other Jellystone Park owners and learn from their successes as well as their mistakes.
“We were a small park,” Coleman said, “but LSI let us come in and we promised we would add amenities as we could.”
The Colemans eventually expanded their park to 212 sites, including 15 cabins, two bunkhouses that can each sleep 20, and seven yurts.
“We put in the bunkhouses in 2012 and they keep really busy with church groups and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts,” Coleman said. “We probably have 40 different church groups a year that rent those units. What’s good is they come as a group, and then they come back individually as families.”
Coleman noted that when families come to his park, he and his staff are really marketing to two generations because if the kids have a good time and develop wonderful memories there, they will bring their own kids back to the park when they become adult campers.
In addition to the bunkhouses, the Colemans have also created 14 “quad sites,” which enable large groups to park four RVs perpendicular to each other, creating their own private camping area in between their RVs.
The Colemans have also added more amenities, including a mini golf course, a playground, a splash zone, a bike track, a gem mining sluice, a jumping pad and a dog agility course. Last year, they built a 2,200 square foot heated indoor swimming pool and installed a 20-foot-tall AquaPlay structure that features water cannons, water slides and buckets that fill up and dump water on children playing below.
While the indoor pool is popular during the cooler months and on cloudy days, it was also popular during the summer months with parents with toddlers and infants who could not be outdoors in the sun.
The park also has a restaurant and an ice cream concession called The Creamery at Daddy Joe’s, which sells homemade ice cream. The Creamery expects to sell more than 50,000 cones this year, a 50 percent jump from last year’s figures and a new record for the business.
The Jellystone Park at Daddy Joe’s draws most of its guests from a 150-mile radius of the park, from Columbia, S.C. to Raleigh, N.C.
“We took a stab at putting in a quality resort close to Myrtle Beach and we have been able to market to those people,” Coleman said.
Looking ahead to 2018, Coleman said he has no further expansion projects planned for right now, preferring instead to further refine and improve his existing facilities and amenities.
“We’re fine tuning the product and revisiting our quality and refreshing everything,” he said, adding that he expects his campground business to continue to grow.
“Next year looks to be very strong,” he said. “We do five Halloween themed weekends and they are always full. But by March, our Halloween weekends will be sold out.”
For more information on the Jellystone Park at Daddy Joe’s, please visit https://taborcityjellystone.com.