Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) CEO Jim Rogers helps put the RV park and campground sector on center stage next week by going undercover at four KOA parks in California and Arizona during the Jan. 11 episode of CBS TV’s “Undercover Boss,” the 4-year-old Emmy Award-winning series in which business executives leave the comfort of their corner offices for undercover missions within their own companies.
Rogers, the gregarious head of the world’s largest campground chain, assumes his alter-ego and stars as Tim Bickford, an unemployed accountant from San Francisco in the popular series filmed over 10 days in 2012. Rogers assumes the role of a contestant touring those four campgrounds, allegedly for the launch of a pilot TV show.
He was assigned as a “front line” employee at each of the parks.
“My front line assignments on ‘Undercover Boss’ affirmed the importance of creating KOA systems that maximize the time that campground staff members can spend with guests,” Rogers told Woodall’s Campground Management. “I learned that the great people we have on the front lines can always use more time to better know and serve our guests. Our campground owners and their staffs are the real heroes of KOA. Being undercover gave me an unobstructed view of where our business gets done.”
In the episode, “I’m more like Forest Gump than Jim Rogers,” says the affable CEO, describing his disguise that includes a dyed mustache, shirt buttoned at the top and white socks. Rogers shaved most of his hearty beard for the show.
Rogers spends part of each summer working at KOA campgrounds, so taking on the variety of tasks given him – ripping out a tree with a backhoe, paving and doing routine maintenance – came easily to him.
His biggest challenge was when he was asked to ride the zip line at one of the parks. “I’ve always been afraid of heights, so this was difficult,” he said. “I had to put it into my head that Jim is afraid of heights but Tim isn’t. At the end of the day, I am glad I did it. It was a surprise and a thrill. I have ridden many zip lines since.”
And despite his celebrity status among the Billings, Mont.-based franchise network’s personnel – KOA operates nearly 500 franchise and company-owned parks — no one ultimately recognized Rogers. In fact, when he reveals his true identity at the climax of the episode, his colleagues were “flabbergasted,” he reports.
“The CBS crew complimented me on my acting and said I was one of the few bosses who pulled off a character completely,” he said.
Though he had not yet seen the edited version, Rogers said the show provides good PR not just for KOA, but also for the campground and RV business, thanks in part to a Class C motorhome used liberally by the film crew throughout the taping.
“’Undercover Boss’ is great entertainment, but it also does a great service by taking the general public behind the scenes of popular companies,” Rogers said. “Every episode is a case study in business management.”
In particular, Rogers said he got a first-hand look at the cabin and lodging business at the four KOAs and came away with a better understanding of how to fine-tune the ever-growing “covered shelter” business at RV parks.
“One thing that is true for the entire campground sector, not just KOA, is housekeeping. We are moving as aggressively as we can into deluxe cabins but with that comes a housekeeping requirement,” he explained. “There are ways to do that well. We have spent a year finding the right suppliers, but we have work to be more consistent in the delivery of standards.
“I spent 18 years in the casino business,” Rogers added. “I know it can be done. There is a process that is required. We have to deliver on this new service, and I know many owners are saying, ‘We’re not going to do it.’ In our case, we have a certain standard we have to live up to. We have a ways to get there.”
“It’s a great opportunity, a great story, a great show. I hope it does really well for the sector and outdoor hospitality and for KOA,” he said.