Riding Out The Winter

By Silvana Clark

While campers are busy with school in the winter, you probably look at an under-used campground and say, “How can I bring in more business?” or “How can I use my facilities in the off-season?”

Try looking at community neighbors as a source for additional revenue … and as an opportunity for positive word-of mouth-marketing. The next time you have a few minutes, take a closer look at local businesses and civic organizations that would be delighted to use the facilities. Here are a few “neighbors” to contact:

Cozy Cabins
Does the camp have winterized cabins? Contact the community-services office at the local hospital. Let the staff know you have facilities available for family members who need to be near loved ones in the hospital. When I stayed in a cozy cabin at Camp Brookwoods in New Hampshire while doing staff training, I couldn’t help but think how perfect the cabins were for people looking for temporary housing close to a hospital. Rather than staying in a sterile hotel, families also could enjoy the warmth of camp staff. You probably have more time to say a few comforting words to a stressed spouse than a hotel clerk would.

Church Gatherings
Local churches are a great source of “neighborly” business. Do you have a large meeting room or dining room? Let churches know the facilities are available for staff retreats or meetings. Staff members enjoy getting out of their offices and working in a different location. Often, church groups are looking for nearby places to hold one-day retreats or conferences. Your meeting area serves their purpose if they don’t need overnight accommodations for hundreds of people. Almost all churches have Vacation Bible School programs. If the facility is slow weekdays during the early summer, let churches hold their VBS program at the campground; they usually meet from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. Since winter is the time VBS organizing committees start planning for the next year, let them know what you have to offer.

Waxing Political
Are there any hotly contested political races taking place in the area? Contact campaign offices and offer the campground as a neutral area to hold a debate or political forum. All you do is provide the facility since campaign organizers handle all the logistical details. Once again, the campground receives free local publicity as the candidates invite the public to attend the event.

Special Events
Small private schools often lack gym facilities. Do you have a large meeting room? Call the private schools in the area and offer to rent the building for their school carnival or special event. They’ll love knowing there’s a place to hold their sock hop or book fair. Once again, you benefit as citizens visit the camp and says, “What a great place to send my kids next summer!”

Home-schoolers Hunting For Options
Home-schooling groups look for buildings and activities throughout the school year. Do you have a nature trail or ropes course? How about a winterized building for physical education classes? Simply Google “home schooling” and the name of your state, and you’ll find listings for a variety of home-school groups in the area. If you or the staff can actually lead the nature hike or ropes-course activities, so much the better! Parents and home-school leaders look for skilled people to share their knowledge with students.

Hiking Without A Purpose
Many camps are located in rural areas with suitable walking trails nearby. Contact the local Volksmarch association in the area, and offer to be the starting point for a winter Volksmarch. Never heard of Volksmarching? It is a non-competitive 3.1-mile (5 kilometer) or 6.2-mile (10 kilometer) walk. It's not a pledge walk or a race but a fun activity you do with a club, your family, your pet or all by yourself. Volksmarching began in Europe. Today there are thousands of Volkssport clubs around the world, with over 315 Volkssport clubs throughout the United States. Local clubs host the walking events. Club members select a trail for safety, scenic interest, historic areas, natural beauty and walkability. They then invite everyone to come and enjoy it on a weekend or a weekday, year-round. Best of all, there’s no work for you! The Volksmarch organizers do all the work, which means bringing in hundreds of people to start th walk at your facility. They’ll probably even let you put camp brochures on their check-in table. Check out www.AVA.org for details on clubs in the area.

Serve Civic Groups
Invite the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club or other service groups to hold their meetings at the camp. Naturally you’ll have display boards showing all the fun camp activities in strategic locations. You’ll be surprised how many people say, “I’ve lived in this community for over 15 years and I never knew you were here. I bet my son would enjoy coming here next summer.” Ask to open a meeting with a quick game of Candy Bar Bingo or a raffle for a camp T-shirt.

A bonus tip on working with Rotary, Kiwanis and other service clubs: Camp directors often tell me, “I keep asking Rotary Club memberes if I can be a speaker and talk about my camp. They never seem interested.” There’s no denying it is great exposure to be able to speak about the camp to the movers and shakers in the community. Yet the program chairpersons of these groups are interested in booking quality speakers with informative programs. They worry that a camp director might simply use the opportunity as blatant (or not so blatant!) advertising for the camp. Instead of contacting the program chairpersons and asking to talk strictly about the camp, try this approach. Ask them, “I’m director of Camp Goodtimes, which is a teen adventure camp. I’ve put together a panel of three groups that offer programs for teens in our community. Would you be interested in having each of us give a short description of what we do? I’ll bring in a representative from the Boy Scouts as well as a staff member from the Ultimate Frisbee Club that has over 100 active teen members.” By putting together a “panel,” you are presenting a high-quality program that service members will appreciate. You are seen as a leader because you organized the panel. Since you probably know the people running youth programs in the community, simply call and let them know they have an opportunity to present their program to a service club.  Plus, you get a free lunch!

As you begin marketing for next summer, consider the above ways to encourage “new” people to visit the camp facilities. That Volksmarch leader or Lions Club member just might have kids who end up enjoying time at your camp next summer!                                       

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at silvanac@msn.com.

Christine SchaffranComment