COE Tradeshow

Last year’s Campground Owners Expo attracted over a 100 vendors and even more are expected this year.

After an inaugural conference that was filled with plenty of energy, the Campground Owners Expo (COE) is returning to Branson, Mo., from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.

Co-founded by Lori Severson, who is the owner of Severson & Associates and executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners, along with Bud Styer, owner of Bud Styer Associates, last year’s show was held closer to Christmas — from Dec. 15-18 — and attracted more than 250 attendees, and over 100 vendors.

“We were able to book ahead a little bit this year and get a little closer to the dates that we wanted,” Severson told WOODALLSCM.com (WCM).

Major sponsors of the event include PlainsCraft Covered WagonsAccess ParksBlackhawk Bank, Campgrounds for Sale, CampgroundViews.comCommercial Recreation SpecialistsCoverra InsuranceUtility Supply Group and WCM.

Severson said that Styer and her created the event as a cost-effective way for smaller park owners to gather and benefit from educational sessions and networking events.

“Specifically, park owners who don’t have access to a state association,” she explained. “That is a huge problem for some parks because state associations just help in so many ways. The education component is so important, and associations are often the only place that can help owners when it comes to talking about zoning, legislative issues and those kinds of things.”

Another key reason that Severson and Styer created the COE was to offer experiential events that allow park owners to learn from other businesses that have been around for decades.

“This year we are excited to be meeting the owners of the Five & Dime store in Branson, which has been family owned for over 60 years,” Severson said. “They are going to talk with attendees about their history and how they have remained successful as different generations of the family have taken over. We want to tackle questions like, how did you pass the business down? What did you teach them? How did you come up with new and exciting strategies to keep that retail thing going?

“This year campgrounds have seen retail sales move up and this will help owners learn some different strategies to keep increasing business,” she added.

Severson told WCM that she is also excited about a networking event that will be hosted by Mark Koep, founder of CampgroundViews.com and host of several popular park owner Facebook pages including The Padded Room of Rants and the RV Park/Campground Owners and Managers Operations & Marketing Forum, on Wednesday (Nov. 30) afternoon at Andy B’s.

The event is meant to allow owners to “let loose with peers, while everyone tells their craziest, funniest and most outrageous guest experiences.”

“After that is finished, attendees will then be taking a behind-the-scenes tour of Andy B’s,” noted Severson. “We will see how the facility operates activities from bowling to escape rooms and all of those kinds of things.”

Severson said the behind-the-scenes experiences are what separate the COE from other national conventions in the outdoor hospitality industry. The price point for attendees is also key.

“I am pretty sure that there is no convention on the planet that you can go to and bring five people for $200,” she noted.

On the education front, Severson wouldn’t spill the details on who the conference keynote speaker was going to be.

“They aren’t totally confirmed, but we are excited about who it is,” she said.

Koep is going to be doing three different sessions on digital trends, how campers are finding parks and more.

“We also have someone who will be talking about in-store displays, another lady will be speaking about how a park can be a part of the community and how to build excitement about your park,” noted Severson. “We have got other sessions on legal and accounting issues, guest services, personality styles, employment issues, time management and more.”

The show will also have sessions geared toward people who are looking to open a park.

“We want to help them understand what they need to know to open a park,” Severson mentioned. “I think so many times people come in under-financed to be able to run a campground, and that gets you in trouble right out of the hopper. We try to educate people and help them with that.”

Severson said she sets up the conference so that attendees don’t have to spend all day in sessions.

“We have mostly half days that allow people to take in everything that Branson has to offer,” she explained.

COE Session 2

Educational sessions stayed pretty busy during the Campground Owners Expo in 2021.

At least one state association, the Illinois Campground Association, is planning to host its annual meeting at the event, something Severson hopes more smaller state associations take advantage of.

“It is tough, especially for vendors, to make it to all the smaller shows when you aren’t going to have very many people to interact with, so that is why we are working to provide a space for everyone to get together,” she said. “We pay for the space anyways, so we are offering meeting rooms for free to any of the state associations that are either trying to form or already have one.”

On the vendor side, Severson said that the COE already has more vendors signed up than the number that participated last year.

“We are expecting to double the number from last year,” she explained.

Last year, Commercial Recreation Specialist setup a beach area in the expo hall and Severson told WCM that should be back again this year.

“The great thing about this venue is that it offers us a ton of space and it gives us opportunities to be creative with vendors who want to work with us,” she explained. “It is a big space, but last year the entire event felt very intimate, and I think that is what resonated so well with vendors and attendees.”

Dennis Steinman, the founder of PlainsCraft Covered Wagons, was one of those attendees and he noted to WCM that the show allowed the company to sell a couple of wagons.

“We met a lot of great, interesting people at the conference last year,” he explained. “I am looking forward to it again this year.”

When asked what type of attendees the COE is set to attract, Severson noted that the industry is changing, with more corporate owners coming into the market, but noted that it is important to train every owner/operator.

“There are going to be some corporate buyouts and consolidation is going to happen,” she said. “I think there will be guests that will be looking for specific campgrounds that they know are privately held. Where they know they’re going to be able to see and touch the owner. Then I think that there’s going to be a group of campers that aren’t so concerned with that piece of it but focus instead on what amenities the parks offer and what they can enjoy and those kinds of things. I think there’s room for everybody.”

Severson even noted that glamping park operators are going to find the conference worth attending.

“There is a lot of crossover, and the rules and regulations are still important to know,” she told WCM. “Information is key to running any business.”

Looking ahead, Severson said she expects the COE to take place in Branson in 2023 as well, and then move to another location.

“Right now, we are keeping that a secret,” she told WCM.

To look at the conference’s full agenda and to register, go to www.campgroundownersexpo.com.