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July 15, 2012

Shop Talk : KOA Unadilla

KOA Unadilla 242 Union Church Road, Franklin Kathleen and Michael McClure

Daily Star

---- — Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Kathleen McClure, who operates the KOA campground in Unadilla with her husband, Michael.

How long have you lived in the area?

Eight years. We live here during our campground season, which is May 1 through Oct. 25; the rest of the year, we live in Rochester.

Tell me about your business:

We are a KOA campground, which means we have to meet certain standards. We get inspected every year.

We have six one-room cabins and we have two 28-foot rental trailers. We have a large swimming pool with a slide, a basketball court, a tetherball court, volleyball net, horseshoe pits, fun-bike rentals, and a pond with paddleboat rentals and fishing.

We have a 14-acre field, and we keep the perimeter mowed for campers and joggers. There is a rec room with a pool table and arcade games.

We have had family reunions hosted here. The Sidney Fire Department had its annual picnic here. We have also had weddings. I provide a big canopy tent for those events

We do movie nights. We provide a glow-stick hayride, potluck dinners, ice cream socials, and a candy hunt. On Sunday mornings, we offer coffee and doughnuts. It's just a very kid-friendly, tucked-back-from-the-road place.

How did you get started in this line of work?

I am one of 10 kids. My husband is one of six. As children, we both camped with our families. We have five children of our own. We camped all our young adult lives.

My husband and I have worked for the same family-owned company in Massachusetts since high school. My husband is a district manager and I am an outside sales representative and packaging designer.

But we wanted our own business. When camping, we watched a campground owner escort some campers to their site, and my husband and I said, "That's going to be our business. We are going to own a campground."

We had just qualified to become KOA owners. We were visiting my brother in Tully, and (KOA) e-mailed us when we were visiting my brother. This campground was for sale, and we visited it on our way home. The place was beautiful _ well-kept and priced right.

Where do you see this business in five years?

In five years, we hope to expand up to the entire 14 acres with more cabins and maybe a small water park, and then have cabins with kitchens. That's our dream.

What have you learned from your work?

If you put your hard work and pride into your business, your guests truly appreciate it. They truly appreciate coming to a clean, quiet, safe environment.

What is the most challenging part of what you do?

Probably the upkeep, but not so much the day-to-day upkeep. For instance, last year we had to replace a hot water heater.

In 2006, during the flood, our entrance was destroyed, three cabins were under water, we lost about 10 feet of real estate and the entire campground was flooded. We lost the whole season, and we had to refund some campers' money.

And then there were (Hurricane) Irene and (Tropical Storm) Lee last year. But we've replaced everything. We're still kicking and in good shape.

The most enjoyable?

Giving people a good place to stay and talking with the different people.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

We are very affordable. We offer a wide range of amenities. Our seasonal rate is the lowest in the area. My staff's goal is to make the guests' experience the best stay they've ever had at a campground. On weekends, we look at who's coming in and we plan activities accordingly.

What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?

Two things: The most important thing is to use your resources and get as much help as you can. Utilize your resources as much as you can in your area.

Also, do not make any large monetary investments (in the business) for the first five years. Get a feel for what it is in your area that is needed first.

For more information about Shop Talk, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or email