Staying on the cutting edge of the camp business is more than just staying in touch with current trends in the industry.
Knowing your business also depends on what you know about your customers -- what they like and don't like and what they want and don't want from your camp.
Keeping camper satisfaction high and offering campers new activities before they even ask for them can go a long way to maintaining and even boosting your camp enrollment.
Evaluating what your campers like about their camp experiences and to find out what people are willing to pay for is critical to attract future business.
Many camp owners react to the "squeaky wheel" and act on the negative comments that they hear during camp. Sometimes, decisions to add new camp programs like hip-hop dancing or in-line skating are based only on a few phone calls asking if it's part of the camp programming.
While it is great to be responsive to unsolicited feedback, camp directors would be best served by having valid and reliable feedback from a wider range of customers than just people who make complaints or people who take the initiative to pick up the phone to ask for something new.
You could pay a marketing firm to solicit "what sells" from your campers and the people who pay the camp tuition. This can be expensive and many camp owners have found that the surveys that are used by these firms are too generic and the results are not relevant enough to their particular camp business. When a camp director receives the results from a cookie-cutter survey they are often hesitant to make changes.
So what about creating your own marketing survey that is designed specifically for your camp business? You may think that you need to be a marketing expert to design your own survey, but if you follow some basic marketing principles and be sure to make the survey user-friendly you can apply your first-hand knowledge of your camp business and get the information that will really help you to make the most profitable decisions.
Step 1: Decide who you want to survey, whether it's campers, parents of campers, staff members, or people who shop at the local mall. If you want to survey more than one group, you may want to tailor the survey for each type of group.
Step 2: Use fundamentals that the marketing professionals use --price, product, place and promotion. These fundamentals are known as the marketing mix and they can help you to identify the important variables that affect your business.
Identify the specific variables of your camp business in the marketing mix:
Price -- A dollar range of camp tuitions, costs for optional trips, and transportation that could be provided to the camp.
Product -- Specific camp activities, meals, camp store merchandise, health services, attributes of the camp staff and camper-to-staff ratios.
Place -- Preferences for living accommodations, camp safety and camper access to e-mail.
Promotion -- Where they heard about your camp, the sources that they have used to select a camp, what do they like about your Web site, and what new features would they like to see on your Web site.
Step 3: Make the survey items easy to answer, but also make sure that you can use the answers to make your important decisions. A great way to be able to get people to respond is to give them choices.
If you want to measure the strength of their choices, use a Likert Scale; it makes so easy to summarize your results. Let's say that you want to ask how they would rate the importance of offering outside trips to a theme park during their camp stay… You could ask them to circle the response that best describes their opinion, like so:
An outside trip to Six Flags would be a great part of my camp experience (circle one):
Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
Also, when you score this survey, you would assign a number to each response. If it is phrased in a positive way, you would want to assign strongly agree a value of 5, agree a value of 4, neutral a value of 3, disagree a value of 2, and strongly disagree a value of 1.
After you administer the survey, you can tally the number of people who responded to each of the values. You can also compute the average response value to each statement. If the average response was a 4.75 for this statement, you can be pretty confident that this trip will be a hit.
Step 4: Be sure to include demographic questions, but ask them last. After they have invested the time to answer your questions, they will be less apt to be turned off by being asked about their personal information.
Again, keep in mind who it is that you want to survey and then think about how the members of this group are different. The following demographic questions would be appropriate for surveying adults…
Please circle the most appropriate response:
(Lead off with an easy response)
Gender: Male Female
As the responses require more thought and insight, give them ranges to choose from, as this type of a response may be perceived as less intrusive, especially with the demographic variables of age and income. Also, the number of choices and range of choices would vary depending on your particular camp market…
Age: 18-21 22-25 26-29 30-33 34-37 38-41 42-45 46-49
Approximate Household Income:
The number of children in your household: __________.
How many of your children will attend a camp this summer? ______.
Step 5: Pilot your first solid draft of the survey. Ask several people who weren't involved in writing the survey and who are typical of your camp population to take the first draft of your survey.
You would be surprised how other people interpret what you have carefully written. This not to say that you cannot be objective, but it really does improve your chances of getting good feedback.
You also want to time how long it takes for your volunteer pilot subjects to complete the survey. Most people don't want to spend more than ten minutes on a survey. If you really think that you need to make it longer than ten minutes, you should probably offer an incentive. However, this will add to the cost of your survey.
Step 6: Be sure that you start off your survey with a message to the survey taker that expresses how important their opinions are to making future improvements to the camp and thank them for their time and willingness to contribute to the camp's success.
Lastly, you really don't need to mass mail everyone who attended last year's camp. You can use another tool that the pros use, random sampling.
Take your comprehensive mailing list, and randomly pick a starting point and pick every seventh name to mail. There are computers that can perform this task, too. If every seventh name makes the mailing too expensive randomly select every tenth or 14th.
Investing in a systematic method of collecting feedback can give you added confidence in decision making and can help to increase customer satisfaction. The results may surprise you!
Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 20 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College.