Kids Night Out

By Susan Laglois and Steven Covey

“Economy of scale?” Owners of smaller camps often ask that question when they look at the rising costs in their business plan for the next season. How can they compete when larger camps rely on the economy of scale to reduce operating costs and stay financially sound?

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The saying, “the best things in life are free,” can be true, especially when campers develop friendships that last long after they head home. But camp directors do need to meet the payroll.

Camp owners who entertain the thought of increasing the number of campers for the next summer might not have the option if the existing facilities are landlocked. Another limitation on potential expansion is the belief that a camp experience at its best is where “everyone knows your name.”

So what can smaller-camp owners do to break the cycle of worrying about the bills, the equipment that might break next, or the decision to sell that might be near? The solution can be as basic as investing that energy into exploring the “Marketing Mix” of product, price, place, and promotion.

Product
Many smaller-camp owners have already looked at modifying their product by shortening the camp week or moving to a day-camp format.

Price
Even though many parents perceive price as an indication of quality, part of the smaller-camp mission may be to keep camp affordable for every child. There may also be other competitor camps in the area that have already found the ceiling that campers are willing to pay, and your camp may be about at that price point.

Place
With the bottom line at risk of turning red, investing in facility upgrades might not be the best place to improve the marketing mix.

Promotion
What’s left? Isn’t promotion already a cost that has only grown for most camps? Even if promotion costs are being contained by successful word-of-mouth, camper legacies, third-marketing with local businesses, and a Facebook presence, promotion doesn’t appear to have the financial potential to change the outlook of the core business. And how can promotion produce more revenue for the camp that wants to maintain a smaller size to provide a more personalized experience?

Keep in mind that promotion can take many forms, and it can provide a revenue boost without increasing camper enrollment. A powerful example of the promotion’s potential is Kids Night Out.

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Kids Night Out
The program is an off-season activity that can accomplish the following:

  1. Promote the camp

  2. Meet a community need

  3. Serve as a tryout for camp staff members

  4. Increase camp revenue without increasing the cost of camp.

Even if your camp facility isn’t available for this program, there are many potential community facilities in public schools, churches, recreation centers, and movie theatres, to name just a few!

Students who are on a week-long school vacation may be looking for a chance to get out of the house and re-connect with their friends who don’t live close by. Also, by the end of the week, parents may also be looking for their own vacation break.

The development of human capital through Kids Night Out will pay great dividends, both in the short- and long-term. Then there is the added revenue. Kids Night Out can be a financial boost for a camp business. The investment costs needed for a three-hour evening that is primarily activity-based can be minimal.

Many of the most popular activities are competitions organized as an Olympic pentathlon, a robotics challenge, and a forensic investigation. Also popular are “learn and create” activities in photography, music, website construction, and the production of a short film—that can be produced on a cell phone. Whatever the children’s interests are in a community, they can be produced in Kids Night Out.

Parents Night Out
The format can springboard into other ventures to promote and generate revenue for a camp business. Parents Night Out can run concurrently. Whether it is on the Kids Night Out site or an in-town dinner and movie, parents enjoy the opportunity to get out of the house—especially if there is no expense for childcare because the kids are already engaged in their own activity.

The on-site enrichment activities for Parents Night Out are virtually endless, too. Consider sponsoring a chess night. It can be as easy as providing a lesson in partnership with a novice and a veteran chess player. After a few introductory moves are understood, the adults can compete in a chess tournament. Other activities can be an introduction to watercolor painting or the basics of woodworking.

The revenue can be substantial for these on-site, low-budget activities. The in-town dinner and a movie can be negotiated so that a percentage of what the parents spend on their night out is paid to the camp that helped generate the new business.

One ambitious and altruistic group of parents took the opportunity to turn a Parents Night Out into a clothing drive. The parents joined the camp owner to promote the activity to their own community. One of the sponsors that received the earned media was the camp that hosted it. The public-relations value for all involved in the clothing drive, including the homeless shelter, continued to grow when it was picked up by the local news. Talk about community development!

Steven Covey, a best-selling author in business leadership, points to successful business owners who are opportunity-minded. “They feed opportunities and starve problems.” The opportunities are always there—if we look for them.

Dr. Susan Langlois has over 30 years’ experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director, and sports-facilities consultant. She is now the Dean of Arts & Sciences at Rivier University in Nashua, N.H. Reach her at slanglois@rivier.edu.