The Relationship of Relationships

21st Century marketing: growing your camp business is all about building relationships.

By Susan Langlois

Successful camp business owners understand the value of building a strong and loyal base of customers. Building positive relationships with campers, parents, vendors, and even the businesses in your local community is at the heart of 21st Century marketing.


The evidence to support this approach has compelled the American Marketing Association to actually redefine their official definition of marketing. Here is what the marketing experts believe:

"Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders."

The most obvious way to build strong relationships is to anticipate and offer what campers and their parents need, and when possible, exceed their expectations.

But traditionally, 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 marketing gap that really doesn't need to exist -- just after the camp season has ended and until the camp enrollment period begins. Filling this 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.

The More You Know
Customers like to be "in the know" and they will feel more connected to your camp business, if you make even modest investments in feeding them information.

Here are four strategies that a camp business owner can use to keep them connected:

Strategy #1: Make sure that your camp business can be Googled and Yahooed. If someone enters your camp's name on an Internet search engine or searches for a camp in your metropolitan area, you want to be found.

If you have a camp business Web site, your home page should be linked in the results of the search. Also, if you have a camp store, there should be a link that the search engine produces when a search for items in your camp store merchandise is entered.

Try these searches and if your camp business isn't listed, e-mail the search engines that your customers and prospective customers typically use to find what they need. Your camp business is usually added in two or three days.

Strategy #2: Develop or revisit your camp newsletter. In the age of desktop publishing and bulk mailing, the investment can be small and the return can be large.

Let campers know who is stepping up. As soon as you have hired campers who will join the camp staff, let everyone know who they are by including their biographies and include how many years that they were campers. The earlier you can do this the better. You also 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. You can also create the perception of strong demand by including the dates for the next camp season and let them know that you don't want them to be on the waiting list.

Strategy #3: Say "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 but I also convinced eight players on my team to go with me.

Strategy #4: Host a "Kids Night Out" and parents can enjoy themselves, too! Send a postcard that 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 marketing 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, etc., 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 been probably inside for a lot of the week and parents are looking for some "end-of the-vacation" relief.

To make it really 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 that staff members better, too. 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 marketing strategies that can help the camp business owner to build and strengthen relationships with your customers 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 these relationships can yield great dividends for many years to come.

Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 25 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.