Leadership Profile: Jacob Hagofsky
Jacob Hagofsky, OHE
Executive Assistant, Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association (PCOA)
Recipient of the Beverly Gruber Industry Spirit Award
When did you first get involved in the campground industry?
My family grew up camping. We were seasonals at the campground that I was formerly with (Buttercup Woodlands Campground in Renfrew, Pa.). My mom was a school bus driver, so when school let out for the summer we would go to camp. She was a lifeguard for the campground and eventually my sister was too. When it came time for me to start working, they asked me to do weed eating and grass mowing. That’s how I got into the industry. I actually went to school for criminal justice. I was almost done with graduation, still working at the campground and doing an internship and I thought, criminal justice isn't for me. So I finished my degree, knowing I wasn’t going to do anything with it because I wanted to stay in the campground industry. I worked at Buttercup Woodlands Campground until July of 2021 when I joined JVES/PCOA as the executive assistant.
How did you get involved with ARVC and the Young Professionals Group?
I was one of the first young professionals to receive a scholarship to attend the ARVC conference. It was in Fort Worth, Texas in 2016. They offered 50 scholarships that year for young professionals to attend the conference for the first time. A year later, the ARVC Young Professionals group started to become more formalized. In 2019, we officially were voted on and approved by the ARVC board, and we now hold a seat on the board.
What do you feel Young Professionals can bring to the industry and what changes have you seen in the group since you’ve become involved?
We're a group of 18- to 40-year-olds who can bring the young, the new and the change into the industry. I’ve seen our group of 50 grow to what I now believe is a group of 220. It's amazing to see all the different young professionals. The first time we were all together, we were all that awkward kid in the room—nobody wanted to talk. But now, every time get together, it’s a social event, which is awesome. Our group has done so much. We’ve formed a Facebook page and we put our members on there so that other young professionals can get familiar with them before they meet them. When they do finally meet, they instantly start talking about their parks and what they’re doing. We also do educational sessions just for the Young Professionals. We do Young Professional events at the ARVC conference, as well, and in Pennsylvania, we do them at our state convention. A lot of our states have formed their own Young Professional groups. You have to be a member of ARVC Young Professionals in order to be part of your state’s group. Our partnerships are growing.
What are some of the changes that you see happening in the industry and how do you see campgrounds adapting to these changes?
COVID brought out a lot of ways that parks need to adapt and develop so that they can continue to be in business. Speaking from experience, the park that I was at used to do everything face-to-face. When COVID happened, we jumped right on the bandwagon and did the whole digital check-in so you didn't have to come into an office. Check-in times got shorter and people adapted so that we could get them in and out or straight to their sites. It was still personable, because you still have to keep that level of service alive. And then so many parks switched to online booking, because they wanted to see how it was going to work. Now, I think probably 90 percent of the parks out there have online booking because of the ease and the functionality of it. You also have to have a person that's quick enough to learn the software and teach it to the other employees and I think a lot of young professionals were able to do that. We are the technology future, because this is what we know.
We all also have to learn how we can adapt our businesses because everybody wants something different. Some of the older crowd want the more relaxed parks, but millennials are looking for those memories and if you can't figure out ways for them to capture those memories, they're not going to be enticed to come back. It's just about finding out what the niches are that you can use to capture more business.
What are some of the initiatives you’re working on as part of your new role at PCOA?
What I'm bringing to the association is we're able to get more social media content out there not only to our member side, but also for our consumer side at Pacamping.com. I'm able to do daily posts and spotlights to feature our campgrounds and what's going on in our state. I also brought in what we call a bi-weekly bulletin. Every two weeks we send out an email to our members to give them the biggest industry highlights—what they should expect to see, as well as state highlights on issues affecting our campgrounds. We were also able to hold our convention in person in December. The turnout was excellent. We had 68 vendors and about 60 campgrounds attend. We also recently brought in a new health insurance benefit for our state members.
You were recently honored by PCOA with its first-ever Beverly Gruber industry Spirit Award. What did it mean to you to receive this award?
When I was on the PCOA board, we wanted to figure out a way to honor Beverly because she was retiring as our executive director and had done so much for our association and the industry. I never would have thought that I would have been the recipient of the award we created in her name. In my role as executive assistant for PCOA, I was announcing the awards at our convention in December, and then our president, Jed Wood, said he was going to do the last award. I respected that, because as our president I thought he should announce this new award. When he said my name, I just sat there. I was totally shocked to receive the award that honors Bev. She was so welcoming to me when I joined the board in 2017. It was just a true blessing to work with her.
How will receiving this award inspire you going forward?
I think it will inspire me to basically do the same thing Bev did—try to find people that are willing to continue their growth in the industry. It’s about finding those people that can really connect and thrive in the industry that you can relate to and help grow. We’re finding that many young professionals are kind of shy at first, but as soon as we learn something about them, we can turn that on and watch as they make a difference at their parks. I think that's what it comes down to. It's about finding those people to inspire to continue to grow.