San Diego KOA in California



Balancing life & business: clint bell [san diego koa] - PART I

Manager & Entrepreneur Of California Park Discusses The Changing Landscape Of Campgrounds & Continuing Inspiration

Clint Bell of San Diego Metro KOA. [Courtesy: Clint Bell]

Clint Bell has the gift of communication. As a pro auctioneer who, with his direct and extended family, run the San Diego Metro KOA along with their three satellite KOA campgrounds in Flagstaff, St. Louis & The Grand Canyon, the exchange of information, the implementation of directives and the efficiency and responsiveness in customer service is of utmost importance. Passion and a sense of self along with a stable family consciousness also play a substantial role. Bell sat down with The Buzz for the 1st part of a 2-part interview to discuss business models, engaging with the community, logistics and the evolving nature of camping.

The Buzz: Can you speak on the basis of your business and how it appeals and motivates you as a person?

Clint Bell: We have been in this business since 1968 when my grandfather started it and pursuant to his mission statement back in that time, it was to create a business which not only supported his family and then our family for generations to come but to also to provide an area for families to get together, get away and have a reasonably valued vacation. At the same time, it was also expected [that we] have great customer service, great facilities and that kind of good stuff. That is something that has kind of been born into all three of the third generation [of this business]: my brother, my sister and myself. Plus it's unique to be a part of a business that people from all walks of life…people from all over the world….really find unity [in]. It is unlike the haves and have-nots of 5-star hotels versus budget accommodations. [Here] you get both sides of that social spectrum inside a campground. It creates a community like none other. [For me] it's also a passion to continue that family legacy of great service... that family legacy of always innovating new facilities. This business gives us the ability to do that. [And] it's pretty rare to be in a business where you have the comfort and the ability of trying new ideas…of trying that expansion model…of getting into multiple property ownership and operation...and yet have a great safety net and a support network including the founder [Clint's grandfather] who comes to work every day. He is, in fact, replacing a water heater right now in our commercial laundry area because it blew up. So it is an incredible environment and one that is unique to be part of.

The Staff At San Diego Metro KOA Pose Together. [Courtesy: Clint Bell]

The Buzz: Can you talk about the logistics of maintaining multiple park ownership and management and how that has to work within the family to keep the level of hospitality consistent?

CB: A lot of it centers around good communication…in making sure that everybody is kind of aware of each and every part of each operation. We rely heavily in our remote locations just on great managers...people who have been groomed either from existing staff members or have had the opportunity to come to the San Diego location and get some intensive training on how we do the camping business and the RV resort business. It is [about] making sure everyone is connected…and everyone’s up to date on the status of all the park’s projects going on. [This includes] ground level customer interaction and ground level decisions which are left to our very capable managers who then report back [to us]. Having these systems in place allows the managers to easily utilize the technology allowing them to post messages [efficiently] and get [quick] responses answers. This also creates a kind of united resource on our data servers. [That way] when somebody comes up with a great idea at one of the other properties, it has the opportunity to be shared around all four parks so that another manager, or another department, feels like “That is a great idea! We can grab hold of that!” from a management [perspective]. At the end of the day [though], the people that you work with in that family environment are your family first and they are there to be supportive and be helpful. Disagreements may arise and you may share a different point of view but the opportunity to express those [ideas] in a comfortable environment is absolutely critical. That way everybody stays on that same decision making plane. But, by keeping each other informed, it allows us to go and do other things while still being able to keep our feet on first base. You never feel like you’re completely left [alone] or gone away because you’ve always got the information that people have shared with you. You can always stay in touch. Thus it creates an environment…and it is not something we discourage…where you can say: “This is a wild and crazy idea!What if we did this!”. Allowing that information base to share between our managers really helps facilitate multiple property opportunities. It also helps facilitate a family working together because, again, at the end of the day, you can go and have a Sunday dinner or have a birthday celebration for a member of the family. Then come Monday morning, those great relationships are [still and] always existing.

Clint Bell Helping Out A Happy Customer. [Courtesy: Clint Bell]

The Buzz: How does your work of being an auctioneer as well as moving out among the community facilitate better communication?

CB: A phrase that a lot of people throw around is that “you never know what you don’t know”. And getting out and seeing other operations that are not related to the camping industry...getting out to see sales corporations and sales force training and those types of things...are all part of that emcee work [I do]. The creativity that exists out in the world is a huge pool. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to go out and be part of some of those things. [This allows me to] help usher some of those things together and meet people in random industries that may or may not prove beneficial. One of the great things [in particular] that San Diego definitely has to offer as a big town is that there are lots of things going on. You go out and meet individuals and you start to recognize markets because you are constantly thinking about your core business...the campground business...and how it can be better, and what markets we can identify and expand into. [This also includes] clients we potentially don’t yet serve that we might be able to [connect with] and how we can interact. [Perhaps you] end up meeting somebody who is an event planner for a big corporation that wants to plan their corporate retreat. [Right there] an idea bulb goes off and says “Hey…what if we used some of the facilities that we have in our park to help facilitate that [event]?” Next thing you know the local children’s hospital…they’re coming down….they’re hosting a meeting…they’re meeting in the café. The business starts to come full circle. Yesterday I was able to have a sit down…we are doing an event for an incredible Living Coast Discovery Center coming up here in August. One of the individuals that was there was a representative of the general manager of a local farm that a lot of high end restaurants [in the San Diego area] get their produce from. We sat down and kind of chatted things through. [This lady] had some really great ideas on tours and interactivity between camping and food and vegetables and gardening. We’ve also got a big farm here on the property. So it's unique to be able to kind of gain those perspectives. We can see what practices she put into place to make their farm successful. Then we can put them into place over here and find the best way we can market that.

Enjoying A Birthday Celebration At The KOA Park. [Courtesy: Clint Bell]

The Buzz: Can you speak on the evolution of the campground industry as someone who was been in it all his life?

CB: When I was a kid we did a lot of things that were on the verge of what is now commonplace…pancake breakfasts and those kinds of things. What we always found was that folks were really using campgrounds as a jumping off point …a base point…from which to go and explore the region around them ...[optimizing that] true spirit of RVing…that nomadic presence...that opportunity to carry everything you need, explore different parts of the country and really immerse yourself in local or tourist activities. Now, we are beginning to see, in [this campground] culture, especially in the United States, people have less and less leisure time, vacation time, recreation time…and they want to get the maximum for it. Sometimes that doesn’t mean driving all the way across the country, stopping, and then just going and exploring the area. People [I think] want to slow down a little bit…they want that adventure to be a little slower paced...they want to be a part of [the vacation]…and enjoy all the amenities a park has to offer. [For us], they are coming certainly to San Diego [to our location], to be entertained. They have taken advantage of some of the smaller activities that we have done [and turned it into] full blown [vacation fun] with three [consistent] activities every day during the course of their stay [from May to September]. People are enjoying it. It may be the same “tye-dye t-shirt” but that same family comes back over and over again. We are seeing that repeat business really becoming a core marketplace…especially here in San Diego. That is different from our Grand Canyon property. The Grand Canyon is still very much [about] that quintessential Rver…that nomadic RVer who is coming to see something incredible that they can’t see at home. They are coming out to see the Grand Canyon…one of the wonders of the world. [By comparison] in Flagstaff, we get a mix of people who are traveling over the road but want to cool their jets for a couple days in a larger city environment and be able to restock and get some new things going. The RV marketplace has changed from the road trip adventure where the real adventure was the road to now it being a service point. In some locations though, the service point is becoming the destination which is awesome.

A Family Enjoying Activities At The San Diego Metro KOA. [Courtesy: Clint Bell]

CP: We are seeing multi-generational families now traveling in one RV. We are seeing where Grandma and Grandpa have the grand-kids and Mom & Dad aren’t there. The grandparents are taking the kids on a couple of states’ tour. They are taking them out and Rving. Part of that might be from a financial standpoint. Grandma and Grandpa have a little bigger of nest egg. They haven’t spent their retirement fund…that kind of good stuff. But what we are also seeing a lot of is that with Mom and Dad…they are two income families…they are home and working…and they may not necessarily get the time off but they still want to offer that opportunity to their kids to get out and do some of the things they did. We are also seeing more and more neighborhood [people coming together]. People saying “Hey…you guys want to come with us? We don’t have an RV but we’re thinking of buying one! We’re going to rent one!” So you’re getting these great groups of people who are starting to travel together. What cracks me up a little bit is that, back in the day, we saw RVers that were [completely] self contained…they were people that were like “Listen…I’m doing this because of the adventure. I am doing this because I want to get away…because I want to find a little bit of that isolation.” I think KOAs and certainly with our park in San Diego which is where I have the most experience…people are coming here going “This is great community. We just want to be a part of it. We want to invite our friends to be a part of it!” There is no longer that self reliance…but [rather]comfort in numbers, as it were. People are traveling with others. They enjoy hanging out at a place they love and sharing that experience. It is great as a campground owner because it continues to grow and breed business. Our best opportunity is when somebody says “Hey…we had a great time here…come with us!” Then they start doing their own thing. [That way] we have changed from an overnight stop to a base camp if you will…a destination…where the “on-park” experience is as just valuable…just as important as that adventure over the road.

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

San Diego Metro KOA

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San Diego Metro KOA, one of San Diego's most popular camping resorts and a top-rated destination for family fun. The campground, about 20-minutes from everything the city has to offer, is perfectly located to be the base-camp for your San Diego vacation.

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