CHULA VISTA, Calif., June 29, 2015 — When Ted Bell was a Chula Vista police officer in the 1960s, he dreamed of having a family business that would enable him work side by side with his wife and children.
He found that opportunity in 1968, when he and his wife, Carol, and a business partner purchased the San Diego KOA in Chula Vista.
Forty seven years later, Bell is not only still working with his wife and children, but his grandchildren, too, as they continue to develop one of San Diego County’s oldest and largest family run campgrounds.
“The Bell family is well known as one of the pioneering families in California’s campground business,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, the trade association for more than 300 privately owned and operated campgrounds across the Golden State.
But despite their success and longevity in the campground business, the Bell family’s second and third generation descendants never felt any real pressure to stay in the campground business.
“There has always been this tacit understanding that this business is available to us if we have a skillset and would like to be a part of it,” said Clint Bell, Ted Bell’s grandson, who now works as general manager of the San Diego KOA, along with his brother, Josh, and their sister, Molly.
While he grew up working at the campground, Clint Bell himself left the family business, studied at the University of Colorado and later worked there as an admissions counselor before deciding that his future was with the San Diego KOA. Molly also left the campground after college and worked in a loan office in New York before deciding to come back to work at the campground.
“We all came back not because we had to but because we wanted to,” Clint Bell said. “It’s certainly amazing to go to work with your dad and grandpa every day. And it’s a really unique and awesome and fun business to be a part of. Where else can you take your kids to work with you?”
And fun it is.
“Campgrounds are places where families build memories. And we love to work together to provide memories for families,” Bell said, citing the park’s activities program, which includes laser tag, arts and crafts, tie-dye t-shirt making, outdoor movies, pony races, flashlight lollipop hunts, rocket launches, ice cream socials, hayrides and campfires. Campground amenities include a swimming pool, a rock climbing wall and a 7,000-square foot dog park.
And those special camping memories aren’t only for people staying in tents and RVs. In recent years, the Bell family has made a concerted effort to invest in Cavco park model cabins. The rental units, which include full size kitchens and lofts, enable the San Diego KOA to accommodate people who don’t have RVs or tents, but want to enjoy and outdoor camping experience.
“We have 13 of them now and we will order another seven before the end of 2015,” Bell said, adding that he hopes to eventually have 100 park model rental cabins over the next several years.
“We see strong growth potential with park models in the San Diego market,” Bell said, noting that the San Diego KOA, with its combination of onsite amenities, activities and unique setting, offers visitors experiences they cannot find in a hotel room.
“The campground environment is a unique one,” Bell said. “Here, you say ‘Hello’ to your neighbors and interact with them. There’s interaction between adults asking for travel advice and sharing travel experiences and their kids always play with each other. With park models, we can give the hotel type guest a way to interact with people they normally wouldn’t interact with in a hotel.”
The Bell family’s success in San Diego has enabled them to expand their campground business to other states as well.
In 2007, they purchased the Grand Canyon KOA in Williams, Ariz. and this year they took over management of the Flagstaff KOA. They also took over management of the St. Louis West KOA in Missouri in 2013 and will eventually purchase that property as well.
For more information about the Bell family and their expanding network of family owned and campgrounds, visit www.sandiegokoa.com.