The Jenkins Org

The Jenkins Organization continues to expand its footprint in the RV park and campground sectors.

Ricky Jenkins spent three decades building The Jenkins Organization (TJO) into a powerhouse in the self-storage business.

His Houston, Texas-based company currently owns 30 self-storage properties and manages 70 others with operations in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Louisiana and Minnesota.

But the self-storage business is currently overbuilt and has too much capacity, prompting Jenkins to search for more lucrative business opportunities with strong growth potential.

“We settled on the RV industry,” Jenkins said, “and the more I dug into RV parks, the better it got. It reminded me of the self-storage business 25 years ago. It’s a very fragmented industry. There are not a lot of major players and large owners. There is a lot of room for growth. Demand in a lot of areas exceeds supply.”

Jenkins also shared another insight: “There’s not a lot of third-party management companies in this industry. (Campgrounds and RV parks) are more difficult to operate than most property types. So, you see a lot of independent owners.”

The challenges of running a private park are even more complex if the park offers lots of activities and amenities, Jenkins said. But this is a good thing, he said, if you have the energy and motivation to seize this kind of market opportunity.

“We wrote a business plan,” Jenkins said, and the company repositioned its acquisitions and development teams, sending them across Texas and around the country to scout not only potential private park acquisitions but also locations where TJO could build its own parks from the ground up.

In the past two years, TJO has acquired six parks, broken ground on two more, and has additional acquisitions and development plans for new parks on the horizon.

“We’re averaging over $100 million in investment per year, all private equity,” Jenkins said, adding that the company plans to hang on to its parks as long-term owners and operators. “We’re not building or buying properties to sell.”

Jenkins’ first acquisition was the Colorado Springs Kampgrounds of America (KOA) in Fountain, Colo., which it acquired in February 2019. TJO has completely renovated the 180-site park and plans to expand it in 2021 with 31 new sites.

Revenue from the Colorado Springs KOA is up 40% in 2020 compared to the previous year, Jenkins said.

“We like being part of the KOA system because they have good training programs. They have got very good data. It was a great way for us to enter the industry,” Jenkins said.

The second acquisition was the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort location in Pelahatchie, Miss., which the company purchased in May of 2019.

The park needed improvements, and TJO immediately overhauled the campground, adding many new amenities, including laser tag, a jumping pillow, human foosball, Water Wars games, 20 additional rental golf carts, six kayaks, two water trikes, corn hole and horseshoe games. The company also added soft-serve ice cream in the cafe, updated the tennis and basketball courts and added five cabins and another three-bedroom rental lodge.

The Jenkins Organizations’ efforts proved to be so successful that the company won several top awards from Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), which franchises over 75 Jellystone Park locations in North America, in 2019, including Most Improved Recreation, Most Improved Guest Satisfaction and Rookie of the Year.

Year-over-year revenue at the Jellystone Park location in Pelahatchie is up 90% in 2020 compared to the previous year, Jenkins said.

Ricky Jenkins

Ricky Jenkins founded the business in 1989.

Additionally, The Jenkins Organization just purchased two more parks, expanding its ownership of Jellystone Park locations. These include:

— Mark Twain Landing in Monroe City, Mo.: TJO acquired this park in December, its fifth acquisition. Jenkins said the park, about two hours northwest of St. Louis, will be converted to a Jellystone Park location. TJO plans to make significant improvements to the park, including major renovations to the existing water park, upgrading the Wi-Fi system, adding 75 rental carts, a gaga ball bit, jumping pillow, Water Wars games, human foosball, lazer tag and bumper boats.
The Jellystone Park at Shangri-La in Milton, Pa.: TJO acquired this park in December, its sixth acquisition to date. The company plans to add five cabins and seven glamping units. Other improvements will include water park upgrades, cabin renovations and improvements, the addition of 50 golf cart rentals, a gaga pit, jumping pillow, Water Wars game, laser tag and a human foosball game.

“We like the Jellystone model,” Jenkins said. “Creating the guest experience and seeing the joy that family-oriented, destination type parks bring to so many people is very satisfying.”

He said TJO plans to acquire more Jellystone Park locations in the future.

Owning campgrounds in both the Jellystone and KOA franchise networks gives TJO inside information on best practices and operating strategies of both networks, which is obviously a powerful platform for the company as it expands its footprint and the campground and RV park business.

But TJO didn’t stop there. The company is also developing its own unique brand of family destination parks, called Great Escapes RV Resorts, which it plans to develop across the country, both through park acquisitions and by building new parks from the ground up.

Recent park acquisitions that are part of the Great Escapes RV Resorts brand include:

Austin Oaks RV Resort in Cedar Creek, Texas: TJO acquired this 60-site park in February, which was its third acquisition. The park is about 15 minutes southeast of Austin. TJO expanded the park by an additional 74 sites and planned other improvements, including a new swimming pool, clubhouse, laundry facility, dog park and enhanced common areas. The park is designed to accommodate long-term campers.
Mitchell Resort and RV Park in Perrin, Texas, about an hour northwest of Fort Worth: TJO acquired the park in November, its fourth acquisition to date. The company plans to make significant improvements to the park, including construction of a five-acre lake that will include a Wibit floating obstacle course; the installation of a splash park and Water Wars games; a gaga ball pit, human foosball game and the addition of a 10,000-square-foot store and cafe. The company is also adding golf cart rentals and a full children’s activities program.

Parks TJO is building that will be part of The Great Escapes RV Resorts brand include:

— A new park under construction in Elgin, Texas, about 30 minutes east of Austin: TJO broke ground on the park in November, which is expected to be completed in February 2021.  The new park will have 208 extended stay RV sites, a clubhouse with a kitchen and resort-style pool with a hot tub and cabanas, a pavilion with a grill by the pool, and a fitness center. The park will also have three pavilions with grills and fire pits around a lake as well as a dog park. Storage unit and golf cart rentals will also be available.

— A new park under construction in Bryan, Texas, near Texas A & M University: TJO also broke ground on the park in November and plans to have it ready for occupancy by fall 2021.  The park will feature 304 RV sites and 64 cabins and will offer both short-term and extended stays. Amenities will include two clubhouses with resort-style pools, covered pavilions for tailgating and other special events, walking trails, a sports court, two dog parks, a camp store and workout facilities.
— A new park soon to be under construction in Austin, Texas, near the Circuit of the Americas F1 racetrack: TJO plans to bring ground on the park in spring 2021 and plans to have it ready for occupancy for spring 2022. The park will feature 387 RV sites and 48 cabins and will offer both short-term and extended stays. Amenities will include two clubhouses with resort-style pools, covered grilling pavilions, and a stage for concerts and other special events. The park will also feature three ponds for fishing, walking trails, dog parks, a camp store, cafe, food truck parking, a jumping pillow, a gaga ball pit, and workout facilities.
— A new park soon to be under construction in San Antonio, Texas, 20 minutes northwest of downtown: TJO plans to break ground on the park in spring 2021 and plans to have it ready for occupancy by winter 2021. The park will feature 241 extended stay RV sites and 10 cabins. Amenities will include a clubhouse with a resort-style pool, covered grilling pavilions, individual bath houses, a laundry facility, convenience store, and a stocked fishing pond.
— A new park soon to be under construction on Watts Bar Lake, Tenn., 40 minutes from downtown Knoxville: TJO plans to break ground on the park in spring 2021 and plans to have it ready by spring 2022. The park will feature 189 sites, 15 glamping tents, and 100 cabins and will offer both short-term and extended stays. Amenities will include a clubhouse with a store and cafe, a boardwalk and boat docks on Watts Bar lake, individual bath houses, walking trails, a resort-style pool, dog park, pickleball and sports courts, a water park, and an open-aire music pavilion by the water.

Moving forward, however, TJO plans to continue to expand its portfolio of parks in all three categories — with Jellystone Park, KOA and The Great Escapes RV Resorts — depending on which types of parks are best suited for each market.

In some cases, TJO purchases or builds parks in Opportunity Zones, which offer unique tax incentives, like redevelopment or enterprise zones. But Jenkins said his company is not limiting itself to investing in these zones because the determining factor is ultimately whether it makes sense for the company to purchase or acquire parks in certain locations.

Jenkins Yogi

The Jenkins Organization operates parks in both the KOA and Jellystone Park systems, as well as in their own system, Great Escapes RV Resorts.

“We are busy,” Jenkins said. “We are going to develop, acquire and operate all types of RV parks. We don’t want to limit ourselves geographically, either. We really enjoy creating the guest experience and seeing families enjoy themselves in the outdoors.”

To keep up with its expanding portfolio, TJO has hired individuals that are familiar with the industry. Recent hires include Kelly Jones, Leisure Systems Inc.’s (LSI) former vice president of operations, whose depth of industry knowledge is helpful, particularly as TJO acquires additional Jellystone Park locations. LSI franchises more than 75 Jellystone Park locations throughout North America.

TJO also has its own in-house team of two civil engineers, who design its parks. “All of our civil engineering is done in house,” Jenkins said, adding that the firm recently hired Peter Cairns, of Jones & Carter, an Austin-based civil engineering firm.

As he surveys the RV park business across the country, Jenkins said he sees more people entering the business, but it’s a minority of people who are wanting to own, develop or operate family destination parks, like the ones he wants to focus on.

All of this is a significant change in focus for TJO, which Jenkins founded in 1989. The family-run business employs both of Jenkins’ children and his wife, with his son, Kyle, serving as vice president of development, his daughter, Courtney, serving as director of marketing, and his wife, Caroline, coordinating all design aspects of the new developments. The company has 215 other employees.

TJO’s long-term plan is to invest at least $100 million in new park development and acquisitions each year. “That seems to be about what we can handle internally,” he said.

While TJO is relatively new to the private park business, Jenkins said the company has already learned some key lessons. Among them:

  • No matter how management-intensive you think the business is going to be, it’s at least double that to do it properly.
  • You are limited in what you can pay for land for an RV park development, and it’s tough to find reasonably priced land that has utilities in place.
  • Permitting always takes longer than you think it’s going to take.
  • Investments in high-quality Wi-Fi is critical: “We’re spending a lot of money to bring fiber into our parks, especially when people are able to work from their RV. It’s becoming more important that they have good Wi-Fi.”
  • Management, permitting and utilities are the three biggest hurdles facing campground and RV park developers.

Despite these challenges, Jenkins sees enormous opportunities in the private park business, which is precisely why he has refocused TJO to target this market. The opportunities in private parks are even greater as young people continue to purchase RVs in record numbers.

“The biggest buyers of RVs are Millennials,” he said. “I think that bodes well for the future of our industry. If Millennials are taking their kids camping, that’s going to be a long-term boon for the RV park business.”