Retreat With The SMERF Market

By Jaynie Schultz

Want to increase retreat business? Follow the SMERF acronym to identify the major players in this sector:

  • Social
  • Military
  • Educational
  • Religious
  • Fraternal

Combined, this market is an $87- to $94-billion industry. However, camps only pick up 11 percent of this business, even though they stand to gain so much by targeting and actively recruiting these organizations.

Key selling points for the SMERF market are the location of the camp in proximity to the organization, the value of the facility compared to the price, and the group’s mission aligning with the capabilities of the camp.

The first step in pursuing this market is to identify each of these segments in the area:

• What is the organization?
• What is the mission?
• Who is the decision maker?

The next step is to decide what message will be most effective, and how to convey it. It takes time and thoughtfulness to craft the best marketing plan; the key is to really understand the goals of each client.

Planning Tips For Retreats
Once you do land a customer, it is important to follow through with service. Although campers buy into the experience an individual camp provides, retreat clients plan on being able to customize their experience; this means camps have to learn how to adapt.

• The number-one tip when planning a retreat is outstanding communication. Respond quickly to client inquiries in order to gain and retain business.

• Have a separate staff-training session. Typically, groups bring in their own facilitators; however, they will still need to interact with some staff members throughout the retreat. It is imperative that staff members can switch from dealing with young campers to adults and non-camping children. Each group requires a different approach to solve problems.

• Prepare facilities to be meeting-ready. Even without a large budget for renovations, make sure adequate and ample meeting space is available by providing general-assembly rooms and smaller breakout rooms. Prepare some rooms--if not all--with audio-visual capabilities. Wi-Fi or internet access is also crucial for many groups. Pay special attention to sleeping accommodations and dining facilities--both should be adaptable to suit all needs.

• At the end of a retreat, send participants home with a keepsake. This can be a keychain, pen or any item by which you want people to remember. A great experience will result in repeat business and possibly even new business from participants.

No matter what, retreats are additional business. Provide guests with a terrific experience, and your facility will reap the benefits with more business.