COEAccording to Lori Severson, preparations for the inaugural Campground Owners Expo (COE) — which is set to take place from Dec. 15-18 at the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel in Branson, Mo. — are coming along well.

“We are going to hit our mark of 100 vendors taking part in the show, for sure,” she mentioned to WOODALLSCM.com (WCM) in early September. “We already have that piece of the puzzle complete, so that is exciting.

“We have just started getting the word out about individual registrations for the conference, but we have already had a bunch of people asking about how they can register,” Severson added. “We anticipate having park owners from a number of different states and that is going to give attendees at the show even more of a chance to network with each other.”

Severson, owner of Severson & Associates and executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO), and Bud Styer, owner of Bud Styer & Associates, are both co-founders of the COE and developed the show as a way to engage with a smattering of Midwest states and help park owners that don’t have access to a state association or state associations that don’t have the ability to operate a large expo.

The Branson show will include daily educational seminars covering specific topics, such as marketing, social media and campground rental accommodations, with specifics on park model RVs, cabins, yurts, trailers and other sessions.

“We continue to work on the educational components and line up speakers,” noted Severson. “Bud is actually going to be hosting one that is entitled ‘Cornfield to Campground.’ He’s actually going to show a cornfield and the transformation it took to be a campground in just a few months. He will focus on the good, the bad and the ugly of putting the park together in such a short time.

“The goal with our educational sessions will be to have a number of different speakers with different viewpoints,” she added.

Another key component of the conference — and one of the reasons that the COE choose Branson at Christmastime — was to expose attendees to the entertainment business around the city and how it relates to operating a campground. December tradeshow attendees, in fact, will receive backstage access to several Branson shows, which will provide crossover learning opportunities involving marketing, price management and employee management, which park operators can apply to their own businesses.

Severson told WCM that the Presleys’ Country Jubilee is actually going to give attendees a backstage tour.

“They are an Ozark family that started working together and began performing in caves and campgrounds,” Severson highlighted. “I think it’s so critical to hear firsthand stories from other industries that share some of the same issues that we do. When you think about this year specifically, I can’t tell you the number of campground owners that I’ve heard from that have just said, ‘I cannot get any help. I’ve had to count on my family.’ The Presley’s have been doing this very thing for over a hundred years. I think it would be fun to ask them some questions like, How does the whole family thing work for you? What are some of the biggest stumbling blocks you have had to get over?

“Other topics we may cover with them include cash flow, How do they fill their seats? That could help park owners think about new ways to fill their campsites,” she continued. “There will be several of these types of activities that attendees can choose from and go behind the scenes and learn more about these different industries.”

Lori Severson

Lori Severson

During the expo, there will also be a unique beach space provided by Commercial Recreation Specialist, which Severson said should be a neat area for attendees to relax. Other major sponsors of the event, like Coverra Insurance and Blackhawk Bank are also going to be offering different things in their respective beach areas. Coverra is set to serve Bloody Mary’s, while Blackhawk will be providing lemonade and conducting trivia.

“The whole idea is to create this space where attendees can come and just have fun,” said Severson.

If for some reason the COE is canceled due to COVID-related issues, Severson said that there will be no virtual option.

“Worst case scenario we would have to figure out how to move forward,” she explained. “Branson was one of the country’s first large entertainment venues to come back out of COVID, so I think it has solid practices in place. We have done a couple of site visits already and they have some great contingency plans in place. I feel confident that things will go as planned.”

The current COVID crisis actually sparked the creation of the COE due to the numerous phone calls that Severson was fielding from park owners that didn’t have access to a state association.

“I had so many campground owners that didn’t have an association calling us and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, what can we do?’” she noted. “So, obviously, I can’t be the executive director for every state but if we can pull this together, they can see, ‘Oh wow, this is how it works. This is the world out there.’ It gives them a little direction of what it can be like when you have a great trade show like that.”

Both Severson and Styer told WCM that they conducted their homework to make sure they were holding it at a good time for vendors and attendees.

“Any campground owner will feel okay to come on in, experience it, and it will be, I think, a nice learning ground for them to get their feet wet and to learn the power of knowledge and sharing and being together,” noted Severson.

For more information about the COE and its December tradeshow, visit www.campgroundownersassociation.com or call 608-525-2323.