Published January 30, 2018

How Yogi Bear’s Laser-Focus on Brand Differentiation Made It a Top Franchise

An Interview with Jim Westover, VP of Operations

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts was named one of Franchise Business Review’s top 200 franchises of 2018. We recently sat down to chat with Jim Westover, VP of Operations, to talk about the franchise’s growth over the past 50 years and how their focus on brand differentiation and franchisee education has been a critical factor in becoming a top choice for franchise buyers.

(Following is a condensed version of the interview. You can listen to the full conversation here.)

FBR: Would you mind giving us a little background on how the company started and how it’s grown over the years?

Jim Westover, Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park franchiseJim: We were thought of back in 1969 by Douglas Haag, and he came up with the idea via his kids. He’d seen the cartoon with Yogi Bear, and he’d seen the “pic-a-nic basket,” phrase, and that resonated in his mind. He struck a deal with Screen Gems for the character rights to Yogi Bear campground. From there, we opened up the first campground in 1969 in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

The company has grown tremendously over the years. It’s changed ownership a few times, but since 1994 Park River Corporation has owned it. What they’ve done is establish a great family camping brand that has now grown to over 80 units, particularly in the last couple of years.

Starting with familiarity with the movie that came out in 2010, that spurred more folks to look at us. Of course, we pop up in a lot of searches when you type Yogi Bear, and that’s facilitated the growth. From there, it’s just been family camp, and we’ve capitalized on that, and we provide premium services for our campers and guests.

FBR: The Jellystone Park brand talks a lot about being very family oriented. Could provide a little more detail on what that means to you, and what you think makes it a differentiator for the brand?

Jim: What we say is, “You camp with friends.” That’s our slogan, but we’ve morphed into “Camp your way,” because there are several different ways to do it.

Some folks like the glamping style, some folks like to use their tents, and of course, some folks still like to pull up their campers.

We’ve specialized with activities on entertainment and, of course, Yogi comes into play there, too. He’s out at the campground a couple of times during the day. He does campfires, he does check-ins….It’s a very safe and entertaining environment for families.

When we convert different campgrounds, we change the clientele. We have, typically, our average consumers – four plus in their party – because it is larger families, and they’re looking to have fun and relax, and we’re there to provide that avenue for them.

FBR: What other differentiators would you say that the Jellystone Park brand has in terms of making it a unique franchise opportunity for your owners?

Jim: One of the biggest advantages that we have is, when you invest in our brand, unlike quick service restaurants, you can do so much with it. There’s so much a la carte you can do and carry out your vision, and we have the flexibility to do that, so you’re always able to grow your investment.

Whatever your base starts out with, you can continue to add to it, whether it’s water slides, whether it’s more cabins, whether it’s a larger pool. There are so many more revenue streams that you can add versus a typical quick service restaurant.

You can also expand your merchandise. We provide our own merchandise from Yogi Bear’s products, which we have here. We actually have our own warehouse at the corporate office that houses a lot of the plush items that the kids love to purchase. So, there are a lot of different options when you get involved with our brand.

Folks continue to improve and are always looking to grow, and that is different from typical franchising, if you will.

Folks continue to improve and are always looking to grow, and that is different from typical franchising, if you will.


FBR: Are the water slides and any kind of water park type features all internal components of the franchise, or are those partner provided?

Jim: We do have partners that we work with, but it very much has become a part of our business model. When I think of our business model, it’s the cabins, it’s the kids, and it’s these playgrounds that we have. They have options, too, and of course Yogi.

The Yogi and the merchandise all comes with it as well, so it’s a different concept, and there’s a lot of different partners we have that we work very closely with to ensure there’s quality products in place, and we work with them to carry out the vision of the franchisee.

FBR: In the scenario where you have a new franchise, not a conversion, what goes on with the training and the grand opening process? What are you providing them ahead of time, before the opening, and then what do you provide once they are open and operating?

Jim: We have what we call Ironic Bootcamp, which is our main training session, which is hosted every January. We get all the new operators and all the new managers, and we have a whole week session where we’re teaching them, learning them, educating them.

We can get to certified pool operator, we can do a ton of different things on the education piece upfront, and then of course we have a spring meeting in which we offer more classes in March, because for most of the United States, the camping kick off is Memorial Day weekend, and is when we get revved up besides down the south.

From there, obviously, we send our operations team out. Kelly Jones is involved with that. She’ll go out and work hands-on with them for a week, and of course we’re going to keep following up and sending folks out there as needed, depending on how they’re grasping the concept.

We want to make sure that they understand our operations, they understand how to, as we call it, work the bear, so to speak, because you’ve got to have that character going out every so often and interacting with folks, and that takes a while, but we do have a whole system that can help.

A lot of folks want the transition easier just because there’s a background in retail or something. You’re constantly working with people, and it’s just a matter of working our system. We have our camp spots POS system that helps with the reservations.

We have a lot of different features that guide them through here at the corporate office where we have our support system for everybody. We continuously go on up to visit, then we do checks as far as the park and score it.

We do assessments each year to make sure they’re upholding the standards, so it’s never done, and the education piece is never done because we’ve just got to keep leading the industry.

Click here to listen to more insights from Jim Westover.

About the Author: Ali Forman

As the Marketing Director, Ali’s role is to educate franchise companies about and inspire them to participate in FBR’s research in order to grow and improve their brands. Ali's previous experience includes senior marketing communications roles in the employee benefits, data privacy, and publishing sectors. She lives in Maine with her husband and two sons.
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