A love of the outdoors brought Jason King back to Bay City

Jason King is the CEO of Outdoor Adventures and the founder of Venture Out Resorts, both based in Bay City with locations throughout the state. King’s family moved from New York to Bay City when he was a just a kid for their family business. He graduated from John Glenn High School and studied management at Saginaw Valley State University. King later earned his MBA from the DeVos Graduate School at Northwood University before deciding to take over the family business. Today, he and his wife are first-time parents with their 4-month-old son. On top of his work duties, Jason is an avid outdoorsman and a student pilot.

Q. What brought you back to this community?

A. Our family business has brought and keeps me here today. We’ve been in the RV park business for a long time. In fact, I'm the third generation doing this. My grandfather started buying and developing RV parks on the West Coast in the 1970’s and owned RV parks across the country. My dad worked for his dad out in New York until he decided to come to Michigan and bring our family to start his own company. For me, I moved around when I first started college. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stay in the family business at that time, so I was exploring my path – but it didn't take me long to realize that I wanted to come back to Bay City.

Q. Tell me about your business. What do you do?

A. Camping at an Outdoor Adventures or Venture Out Resort is going to be a little different than what you might expect from a typical campground. Our staff has a full list of activities for guests to enjoy at each location with excellent facilities and amenities. We have more pools, better playgrounds, and an overall better camping experience. Of course, each of our parks have its own unique culture. One of our flagship resort properties might have a splash park, while our wilderness location might be out in the woods with more of a laid-back culture. We have something for everybody.

Q. What has changed for your business over the generations?

Q. Camping hasn't really changed a lot, except that there's more technology involved today. Once upon a time, selling memberships to a resort was as easy as putting an ad in the newspaper. People would come for tours and buy memberships. It’s much more involved now. We have relationships with RV dealers across the state and have a strong digital marketing presence. We spend quite a bit more money to acquire members in today's world than they did once upon a time.

Q. What does your average workday look like?

A. My day-to-day work is focused on the growth of our business. When I get into the office, I've got my list of to-dos and I try to knock off the highest priority on down the line. Today, we sat in on a cash flow meeting with my CFO and our accounting team. I'm always exploring for new parks and properties, as well.

Q. What does a great day look like for you?

A. Great days of work for me are usually surrounding new acquisitions. Anytime we can bring a new property into our business and put another dot on the map for our customers, those are the best days for me. When we put five or six months of work into a deal, and it finally materializes – I get excited about that.

Q. When COVID-19 first hit, how did it impact your business?

A. Like most businesses, it stopped everything for us. Especially in those early days, late in March of 2020. As crazy as that sounds today, even camping was not allowed. Our business is built on campground membership sales and when that stops, everything stops in our world. We employ just shy of 500 people here and I think we whittled that down to well under 100 staff members during that timeframe. Thankfully, we were able to get the payroll protection program funds and get people back on payroll quickly, but it was an abrasive time.

Q. Do you have most of your employees back now?

A. We’re understaffed at our locations right now and we're working on putting that puzzle back together. Obviously, we have the more technical business side of our company, but at the resort level, those are typically seasonal positions with a lot of younger folks working there. The idea of working outside at a campground and activities department is more enticing than flipping burgers, but even the jobs which are typically easy for us to fill are a struggle this year.

Q. How did your business adapt to continue during the pandemic?

A. Thankfully, we have a great HR team and an awesome communications team. We went into over-drive on safety protocols and safety measures in our business. It's a lot of work to try and manage the unknown, and there was so much unknown throughout COVID, but we did. A lot of the big brands, like Holiday Inn, they were able to get their processes and procedures documented pretty quickly and we were able to really look at that and see what makes sense for our business.

Q. How is your industry positioned to succeed in the post-COVID world?

A. So much of our customer acquisition strategy revolves around trade shows, fairs, festivals, concerts, and other events that are not going on right now. We re-allocated the money that was going to those events to digital marketing efforts, and we've been able to do pretty well going to customers directly. Now that things are coming back on, we’re positioned very well.

Q. Where do you hope to see yourself and your business in the coming years?

A. I think our business is positioned better than a lot of businesses to kind of capitalize on a strong RV market, which is very specific to what we do. There's opportunity for us to acquire portfolios of properties. Our growth strategy is to find a specific location that looks like a good fit for our business and negotiate a deal on that location. A couple of portfolios are going to be coming available that we might be able to capitalize on and bring four, six, or even seven spots in at a time. If we can do that, it would be exciting.
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