Successful camp business owners understand the value of building a strong and loyal base of consumers. Most marketing experts will espouse that building relationships with consumers is the most effective and affordable way to ensure a healthy business, but trying to apply that advice to meet the unique needs of a camp business is a challenge.
The most obvious strategy that can build strong relationships is to anticipate and offer what campers and their parents need, and when possible, exceed their expectations. However, most of these relationship-building efforts take place during the camp enrollment period and the actual camp season.
In many camp businesses there is actually a promotional gap just after the camp season has ended and until the camp enrollment period begins that really doesn't need to exist.
Filling this promotional gap can go a long way toward building a thriving camp business that has parents who mark their calendars for the early camp registration deadline, a long waiting list of campers, campers who can't wait until they are old enough to join the camp staff, and camp staff who want to return summer after summer to build on their experience and spend time with the people that make their camp experiences so enjoyable.
So, how do you fill this promotional gap that is both effective and affordable? It can be as simple as tapping the power of a postcard.
Here are five strategies that a camp business owner can use:
Strategy 1 -- Here's the Scoop… Send home a press release on a postcard that announces a new program or addition of a new camp facility.
Whether you are adding a day trip to a new water park that has just been built, adding an overnight, kayaking trip, or building a new cyberspace for campers so that easier for them to use e-mail, give campers and parents the word as soon as it is official.
Strategy 2 -- Let campers know about who's stepping up… As soon as you have hired former campers to join the camp staff, let everyone know who they are via postcard. The earlier you can do this the better.
You may find this will generate even more interest in other campers who may not have considered this as an employment option. This announcement may also attract more interest in campers who enjoy the new staff members to register earlier so that they can be sure that they won't miss out.
Strategy 3 -- Save the date! Speaking of not missing out, create the perception of strong demand by sending out a New Year's postcard with the dates for the next camp season.
A lot of people have just received or purchased a calendar for the new year and if you can afford a red sticker that has the starting date for camp registrations, the sticker can be placed on a parent's calendar and prompt them to get the registration in and avoid the waiting list.
Strategy 4 -- Congratulations! This is a great way to extend a personal touch and it only requires the investment of sending a postcard and a little time perusing the newspaper.
If you read about one of your campers making highest honors, winning the state championship in lacrosse, or making the newspaper for giving community service, send them your congratulations.
One summer, I traveled a great distance to attend a basketball camp. My family invested a lot to get me there but when I received a postcard from the camp director congratulating me on breaking the all-time scoring record at my high school, I not only sent in my registration for the next summer, I also convinced eight players on my team to go with me.
Strategy 5 -- Kids Night Out (and parents can enjoy themselves, too)! The postcard promotion in this example announces that the camp will host a "Kids Night Out" that is open to everyone in the community.
The event itself is also a very effective promotion tool in that "Kids Night Out" could attract both veteran campers and prospective campers to connect with the camp and look forward to attending next camp season.
"Kids Night Out" can be structured so that they can choose to take part in three or four events. Organizing a "Kids Olympics" with their favorite sport events, trivia contests, project adventure challenges, and so on, can be a lot of fun and it can also generate excitement about attending the camp, making new friends, and provide a free night out for their parents.
If you decide to offer an extensive program of prizes, refreshments, and have a lot of camp staff to run the activities, you could charge a nominal fee to cover costs.
Also, offering this event during a Thursday night of school vacation week is a great idea. It could be especially good timing during February vacation, where kids have probably been inside for a lot of the week and parents are looking for some end-of-vacation relief. To make it real easy, you could also offer parents a chance to go to the movies at a "quiet" camp location.
Having parents and campers come back to camp for a night of fun positions your camp product in their minds as their place to return to.
If your summer camp staff can take part in the event, they can renew their relationship with you, the kids, and other staff members that they became friends with last summer. This event can also give parents a chance to get to know the staff members better. It really can be a night to showcase the value you offer to the parents and kids who are veterans and to attract new campers.
These are just five promotion strategies that can help the camp business owner connect with people during the off-season. The idea of connecting with parents, campers, staff members, and people who have never experienced what you have to offer, sends a powerful message that you are invested in them. The ripple effect from this message can yield great dividends for many years to come.
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.