Building a Million-Dollar Summer Camp

by Jason Clement and Evan Eleff

Your facility is unique. Nowhere in the country is there an identical building with identical programs serving an identical customer base, and there never will be. But in an industry where operations are as unique as fingerprints, one thing is consistent: the summer months have the potential to make or break the year.

At most facilities, camp is considered an isolated program that devours the marketing budget but keeps the lights on during the lean summer months. It is a cash flow management tool until the busy programming season begins again. Consider the differences between standard programs and summer camp: Your 6-week sales cycle becomes a 6-month sales cycle; your 90-minute average visit becomes an 8-hour visit, and your 8 to 12 game season turns into a sprint through 10 week-long sessions.

In our job as Facility Management Advisors, we coach clients to shift their view of camp; summer is not a time to eke out a living, it is a time to thrive and fuel operations for the entire year! If executed correctly, summer camp can generate one-third of your annual revenue in just 10 weeks. Take these three steps to transform your camp from a flotation device into a million-dollar business.

Step 1: Evaluate Your Camp

You cannot shape where you are going until you know where you have been. Take the time to complete a full autopsy of your camp by dissecting these five areas:

Look behind you, then plan ahead. Track your three-year growth in number of participants and total revenue, then plot your targets for the next three years.

Measure against the top line. Calculate the four biggest influences of the bottom line as a percent of gross revenue for each camp, and compare them to benchmarks:

  • Registration discounts: 8-10% for all camps
  • Part-time salaries: 21-29% for traditional camps, 30-40% for specialty camps
  • Supply costs: 4-8% for traditional camps, 6-10% for specialty camps
  • Advertising costs: 4-6% of total camp revenue

Know your competition. Analyze competing service providers to find their market share, whom they serve, how they advertise, and what unique offerings they feature.

Find the low-hanging fruit. Identify underserved customer bases and pinpoint offerings that are either underdeveloped or missing in your market.

Keep what sells, drop what does not. Perform an in-depth analysis of your critical camp categories: communication, organization, schedule, and staff. Make plans to improve on your best areas and replace your worst.

Step 2: Attract More Campers

Marketing, promotions, and special events are a time-sensitive science. To generate more business, follow these rules:

Start early and stay ahead. Next year’s camp schedule, themes and big ideas should be finalized by mid-December; registration should be open in mid-February; your marketing schedule should make you the most visible camp in town during March and April.

Print is promise. Your marketing materials should be finalized by February 1, and once they are in print the information should never change.

The deal never gets better. Your promotion schedule should reward people for registering early and steadily decrease the discount as summer draws nearer.

Keep what you catch. Set a meaningful deposit amount that ensures commitment to attend without being a barrier to register (15-20% of the full price is standard).

Reward your best customers. Make your camp more affordable for your most frequent customers. Offer discounts for second children and campers who register for multiple weeks.

Step 3: Become The Best Camp In Town

Your long-term growth strategy should be measured by one thing: word-of-mouth marketing. To retain your campers and get their friends in the door, focus on these ideas:

Cast a large net. Camp should offer something for every child. Make sure that each week features age-specific offerings and a mix of options that makes your facility the “one-stop shop” for summer.

Define your camps. Maximize revenue and interest by offering both camps and clinics, but be clear on differentiating: A camp has childcare elements and should provide an all-around experience, and a clinic has an intense, sport-specific focus and should be driven by skill advancement.

Perception is reality. Sign-in and sign-out are the only elements of camp that a parent sees on a typical day; if those times are organized and exciting, the parent will know the rest of their child’s day is as well.

Make it special. Build excitement around weekly competitions and rewards, and put an exclamation point on the end of each week by hosting special events and inviting the parents.

Give them something to remember. Everyone has t-shirts, but pictures, medals, and trophies help your campers remember what they did and always make guest appearances at show and tell.

And most importantly, have fun! Summer camp is a high-energy, high-impact program. It should be entertaining, and it should be loud. Hire for attitude and enjoy the experience!

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