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KOA CEO bringing optimistic message to Elkhart

When KOA Chairman Jim Rogers comes here to speak next month, he will bring a message of hope for the RV industry and Elkhart County: He sees huge potential for the RV market to grow in North America.
Justin Leighty
Posted on April 16, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 16, 2013 at 11:56 a.m.

ELKHART — When Jim Rogers speaks at the inaugural RV Power Breakfast next month at the RV/MH Hall of Fame, he plans to share good news for the Elkhart-based RV industry.

The chairman of Kampgrounds of America sees a huge potential for growth in the RV market.

“What’s important for us all to realize is we have just scratched the surface. When you go through a capacity reduction that’s happened in the last five years, when you have to let people go ... I think we’re stronger together than apart, and by bringing the three sectors of the manufacturer, the dealer and the campground together we can optimize the potential that exists within the north American marketplace,” said Rogers in a phone interview Monday, April 15.

“It’s bigger than the assembly line. You have a community there that needs to see some hope and some opportunity for the future,” and Rogers believes Elkhart County has that hope and opportunity in the RV industry.

Rogers is chairman and chief executive officer of KOA, which owns 26 campgrounds and works with franchisees who run another 461 campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada.

When he got the invitation to speak at the power breakfast, he jumped at the opportunity, and he credits Sherman Goldenberg, publisher of industry publication RV Business, with a great idea.“It’s quite the accomplishment because Sherman to me kind of represents the United Nations of the RV world. He brings all the different components together, which I think is one of the things exciting to us,” said Rogers. “The campground sector hasn’t had a lot of engagement with the manufacturers or the dealers,” even though the campgrounds end up as the proving ground for many of the RVs made in the Elkhart County area.

If manufacturers, dealers and campgrounds work together, “there’s so much opportunity,” he said. Campgrounds and dealers share similar geographic areas, and campgrounds provide an automatic audience for dealers and manufacturers for people interested in the lifestyle that recreational vehicles serve, he said. “There’s a lifestyle and this is a chance to accelerate that,” Rogers said.

“We have a huge opportunity in the fact that 15 percent of Americans camp. There’s so many people that don’t camp, 85 percent. How do we get more people into this opportunity?

“There’s a diversity consideration that we have not had a real effective way to reach Asians, African Americans, Latinos. The population’s changing dramatically in this country and we have to put our heads together as an industry to figure out how to serve that. That’s growth potential. Imagine where we can go,” Rogers said.

In fact, the industry’s Go RVing campaign is working to expand into the Latino market, hoping the RV lifestyle will appeal to the strong family culture of that market, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

Rogers said over the years he’s seen a more diverse crowd coming to KOA sites. Many come stay at cabins or park-model trailers, which KOA calls deluxe-model cabins. Rogers said that while some in the RV industry dismiss those campers as unlikely to become RV owners, “the people who are in those units may be first timers, and they tend to be a diverse segment. There’s an entry point to get them to hospitality, and we’re saying, ‘Hey, maybe you’d like the lifestyle,’” he said.

He looks forward to getting together with the broader RV industry at the breakfast May 9, and said while it’s great, “it’s just a start. We need to make sure there are follow-up meetings and discussions,” he said.

Goldenberg said he hopes to see that happen and wants the event become an annual gathering.

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