Leisure Systems Vice President of Operations Jim Westover speaks during his annual report to Jellystone Park franchise owners.

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort operators from across the U.S. and Canada came together last week (Nov. 6-9) as they celebrated another year of record growth, as well as increased franchise industry and consumer recognition during the annual Leisure System’s Symposium.

“We have a lot of good indicators going for us,” Jim Westover, vice president of operations for Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI) told Jellystone Park operators during their annual Symposium at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington, Ky.

LSI currently franchises 79 Jellystone Park campgrounds with more than 17,000 campsites and vacation rentals across North America, but at least four new locations will be added for 2018.

Speaking on day three of their Symposium, Westover said overall revenues for 79 parks, including new parks in the Jellystone Park system, were up 11.4% through September, while same park revenues were up 11.2%.

Campsite revenues were up 11.2%, while rental accommodation revenues were up 8.6%. Store revenues were up 10.6%, while ancillary revenues, such as revenues from special activities and rental equipment, were up 9.5%.

Jellystone Parks also saw significant gains in occupancies, especially during the week.

Overall camper nights were up 10.3%, while weekday nights were up 20.3%. Weekend nights were actually down 5.2%, but that had more to do with the timing of certain holidays this year than anything else, Westover said.

Jellystone Park owners discuss merchandise for their stores during Leisure Systems’ annual Symposium.

Jellystone Parks’ market growth earned LSI a rank of 472 on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500 listing in January of this year, based on its audited financial reports, media presence and brand awareness, and Westover told symposium attendees he expects LSI to move even higher on the rankings next year.

At the same time, Westover said, Jellystone Parks are winning accolades from franchise operators, as well as veterans. LSI received a 2017 Franchise Satisfaction Award from the Franchise Business Review and was also included in the magazine’s 2018 listing of the top 50 franchises for veterans.

“We have a heck of a brand business model,” Westover said, adding that when Franchise Business Review asked Jellystone Park owners if they would join the franchise again if they had the opportunity to do it all over, they said they would.

LSI’s growth and the positive franchisee experiences with the Jellystone Park brand are also prompting more independent park operators to join the Jellystone Park network, with campgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Branson, Mo., and Bostic, N.C., joining the McCrearys as the latest Jellystone Parks.

The Branson location had been a Jellystone Park before, but left the network in 2016. The park has recently been purchased by new owners who are bringing it back into the franchise.

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Northgate Resorts, which already owns eight Jellystone Parks, also recently acquired a former girl scout camp in Bostic, N.C., which it is converting to its ninth Jellystone Park.

LSI is also continuing to recruit more campground conversions as part of its goal to eventually have more than 100 parks in the Jellystone Park system. With this goal in mind, LSI held a two-day prospective owners workshop in September that netted four new potential Jellystone Park owners. Additional prospective owner workshops are being planned for 2018.

LSI is also fueling its franchisees’ continued growth with increased investments in marketing and public relations, as well as new strategic marketing partnerships with other companies.

Last summer, LSI and Stone Canyon Cabins partnered with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to promote the 13th Annual Great American Campout and to help the organization achieve its goal of 100,000 pledges by the public to give camping a try.

LSI and Stone Canyon Cabins launched a “Glam-Cabin” tour through six cities that generated significant television publicity for both Jellystone Parks and Stone Canyon Cabins, and helped the NWF nearly triple its goal, receiving over 280,000 camping pledges.

Tom Borton, a teacher at Bowling Green State University’s Tourism, Leisure and Event Planning Program (rear behind group) gives instructions to Jellystone Park operators as he teaches them a funny coordination game for adults.

The five cities on the tour included Birmingham, Ala.; Nashville, Tenn.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Atlanta, Ga.; and Chicago, Ill., and generated more than 2 1/2 million impressions. LSI also secured additional television coverage for Jellystone Parks in Hagerstown, Md.; Kerrville, Texas; New Orleans, La.; and St. Louis, Mo., in addition to numerous print media placements, including U.S. News & World Report.

LSI also expanded its social media marketing with increased Facebook advertising and Facebook posts, including Facebook Live video tours at four Jellystone Park locations.

LSI has also launched a strategic partnership with RVShare.com to make it faster and easier to rent RVs and plan camping trips. Through the partnership, LSI is positioning campjellystone.com as a “one-stop shop” for camping where consumers can book rental RVs and Jellystone Park sites. Rentals can be picked up by the consumer and driven to the park. Some owners will even set up the RV for the guest.

LSI is also promoting increased use of the Club Yogi Rewards program, which grew by 9% this year, or 23,803 members, which boosted overall program participation to 155,295 members.

LSI is also making greater use of technology by making Tatango’s targeted text messaging program available to Jellystone Park franchisees. The program is used to alert guests to Yogi Bear sightings and signup opportunities for different activities, and to promote sales of certain merchandise and food items.

Meanwhile, Westover said, Jellystone Park franchisees are increasing their training and professional development. He said 385 park operators and employees completed 3,178 online courses this year. Last year, 86 people participated in online learning.

The four-day symposium included additional educational seminars focusing on ways to improve workplace performance and productivity; workplace safety; emergency and disaster planning; yield management; as well as new ideas for activities for children and adults.

LSI also motivated its franchisees with a keynote address by Eric Chester, author of the book, On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out. LSI provided autographed copies of the book to symposium attendees.

But while the keynote address and educational seminars were helpful, Jellystone Park operators said what they value most from the symposium gathering is the opportunity to meet and network with other Jellystone Park franchisees.

“It helps us create a support network of people we can call for support during the year,” Shelly Skildum told Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM), who manages the 569-site Jellystone Park in Fort Atkinson, Wis. She added that other park operators can provide advice and perspectives on everything from employment law to activities to seasonal rates to the types of products to sell in the camp store.

Jellystone Park owners examine merchandise to stock their stores during Leisure Systems’ annual Symposium.

Steve Stafford, who has managed the North Texas Jellystone Park in Burleson, Texas for the past 8.5 years, said he looks forward to the symposium because of “the camaraderie and exchange of ideas.”

“You can get feedback (from other Jellystone Park owners) on everything from golf carts to jumping pillows,” he said. “You can also ask vendors for referrals (about their products) on the spot, and then go talk to them.”

Symposium attendees can also develop consulting arrangements with other Jellystone Parks. Stafford, for instance, said he plans to start offering homemade ice cream with advice from the Jellystone Park in Tabor City, N.C., which has developed a strong sales niche selling homemade ice cream.

“That kind of support you just can’t get anywhere,” Stafford said.

LSI’s annual symposium featured 75 vendors, including Heidi Doyle of Kingston, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group, who said she had steady business as park operators sought replacement parts as well as new equipment to provide 50-amp electrical service to their campsites.

Braden Walker of Crowley, Texas-based AGS said he had inquiries on new websites as well as AGS guest guides.

First-time vendors at the symposium included Rick Davis, president of Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream, based in Shelby Township, Mich.

“We have leads,” he said, adding, “We’ll be back next year.”

Andy Eaton, co-owner of Jellystone Park in Nashville, Tenn., said he was particularly proud to purchase a new glamping cabin from Stone Canyon Lodges, which was on display along with units from Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco, whose sales rep, Ronnie Sanford, said his business at the show was “really good.”