Promotional Products & Apparel

What's hot, what's not and what's working at the camp store.

Figuring out which items will sell best at the camp store/canteen is a lot like figuring out the age group you're often selling to… teenagers. Well, good luck on that one and let everyone know when you've got it nailed.

But first things first… Camper marketing and retention creates a successful camp store. And, according to the camps we spoke with, the number one way (okay, outside of referrals) is through the Web.

Set the Foundation

According to our sources, if you're not utilizing technology and taking advantage of the myriad of services being offered by a number of companies specifically for the camp market, you should. Even if your camp is regional or local, the benefits of being wired and being better in touch with your market are worth far more than the expense of doing it.

"You want an image of excellence. You need someone who knows how to work the Web to develop your site so that it's consistent.

And, you have to spend the extra time creating your brochure and Web site, which means doing detailed things like avoiding typos," says Joseph Freedman, an IT consultant who's worked with camps. "You have to offer multiple solutions where parents can receive it through snail-mail, download a PDF from your Web site or register on-line."

These steps offer convenience but also help with brand distinction. However, that distinction can get lost if the brand is not effectively conveyed through various media -- from the Web to print, and even videotape and CD packaging.

Freedman recommends that camps highlight and promote safety, as this will speak to the needs of many post-9/11 parents. Again, this may necessitate a change to the prioritization of the message through the various media, and should be consistent.

"Camps can forget the niche they serve as they add new programs. If you separate from what your niche is, you're delivering a product, rather than delivering what the parents want for their children, and you'll ultimately end up losing those numbers," adds Freedman.

Canteen Tie-Ins

This ties into the camp store as well. Though the camp may sell other brands without its logo stamped on it, it's always a good idea to provide something that speaks to the camp mission or atmosphere.

Case in point is the success Big Lake Youth Camp in Sisters, Ore., has had selling CamelBaks -- the personal hydration systems that you strap to your back.

Water bottles are always one of the camp's most popular items. This year, the water bottle of choice is Nalgene. Big Lake is selling those like hotcakes, but the CamelBaks are one of those select bigger-ticket items that are also moving fast. And, what a perfect fit… A hiking/biking/skiing water pack that should remind campers about the great times they had outdoors at Big Lake Youth Camp.

Darla Torkelsen, administration director for Big Lake Youth Camp, reports that the camp is on its third re-order, after an initial order of 80 units.

Big Lake also partners with Smith Sunglasses and Gary Fisher Bikes. Torkelsen says the camp is basically set up as a dealer for these brands, which brings the requisite price breaks. The bikes are used during the camp season, sold and another batch re-ordered for the next season.

The camp recently set up a dealership with Focus on the Family to sell their books and materials through the camp store. Since the camp runs year-round and offers family camp, many of the titles will be geared toward parents. It's a good fit because the ministry of Focus on the Family parallels the mission of this Christian camp.

Torkelsen says this season's most popular items included snap watches, stuffed animals, beanies, polished rocks, carabineer items (attached to watches, flashlights and pens), yo-yo blobs and sweat pants. Sweat pants came as a surprise to Torkelsen, who says the camp tried it on a whim and found it to be one of the hottest sellers.

There's often no telling what will be the season's fad or how long the fad will last. That's why Velvet Lang, business manager for Cohutta Springs Youth Camp, Crandall, Ga., typically orders for just one season.

Lang and Torkelsen both pay close attention to the apparel styles they see at The Gap and Old Navy. These outlets, among other hipster places, spend a lot of money gauging the tastes of their consumers (your customers), so you might as well take advantage of their research.

"Another thing we think about when we're purchasing is that you have kids at camp that range from 7-17, and a seven year old is not going to like the same things a 17 year old would," says Torkelsen.

Camp Packages

Kevin Mayne, executive director of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, Leakey, Texas, sends a crew to the Dallas market to research both apparel and promotional product trends. Laity Lodge has also taken a new step in its sale of camp store products.

"We had just developed a Web site through NuMedia, and decided we needed to give our parents more camp news, pictures, and the like. We also put our camp store on-line and developed one-day care package delivery, no shipping," explains Mayne. "We put all of our apparel and developed a line of products that we only sell on-line."

Mayne says the camp's goal was to sell 250 care packages. The final result was about 1,900 care packages.

"This year, we went to a fully-functional camp store that provides the full shopping cart options; it's an Amazon-type store. You can buy photos on CD, download hi-res photos, buy all the shirts and everything else we sell on-line, and look at photos and streaming video," says Mayne. "We're on track to sell 2,100 to 2,200 care packages. We're selling a lot more merchandise on-line than we ever did than when we were not on-line."

Mayne says the most popular items include sweat bands, head bands, glow sticks, blankets, pillowcases, laundry bags, stationary, cameras, Frisbees and some food items, like chocolate.

Since the majority of on-line product sales are sold as care packages, Mayne says parents will usually get a few smaller items -- like glow sticks and chocolate -- along with a bigger item, like a t-shirt.

The typical sale begins when the parent goes on-line, chooses the items they want to include in the care package, and hits the submit button. Laity Lodge processes and prints the orders out by 9 a.m. each day. Those orders go to the camp store, where the staff hand-decorates the containers and personalizes them.

The orders are filled before 1 p.m. and distributed through the camp. The camp store staff will either hand-deliver the packages to the cabins or place them in the mail distribution area for the counselors to pick up.

"What I've discovered is that you can more than pay for the Web technology through Web sales. Every year we continue to add layers, like an alumni site we added this year. We only have about 250 people registered on it, but that's 250 people from the past that I didn't know where they were that we can use to contact, fund raise and just keep in touch with," says Mayne.

Bryan BuchkoComment