Being an entrepreneur in the summer camp industry
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
One of my camp counsellors, who studies at the University of Guelph, got in touch as she had to interview an entrepreneur for an assignment. Here I share my answers as they offer a glimpse into what it means to operate your own day camp. The exercise was very insightful for me as well, as it gave me the chance to pause and reflect on why I love so much what I do… Enjoy the read!
What does a typical week look like for you?
My business is seasonal so for two months of the year when the summer camp runs, my days are very busy at the camp locations. I visit all camp locations daily, connect with the location managers and ensure they have everything they need for the day. The location managers bring any problems or concerns to me and we discuss them and find solutions. I also check on the camp counsellors and campers to ensure everything runs smoothly and according to our schedule. I also try to meet as many parents as possible during the week to connect with them and see if they have any feedback for our camp programming. In the evenings and on weekends I work on planning for the following weeks, buy supplies, answer emails and make phone calls. During these two months, the workdays are long and the work is very hands-on.
The other ten months of the year look very different and this is when the planning of next year’s camp happens. My weeks are always busy, but the priority of the tasks depends on the time of the year. The planning starts in September with setting up the programming and locations for the following year. By end of December, the website has to be updated and marketing campaigns planned. Beginning of January registration for the camp opens and with that, the sales season starts to fill all camp spots. In March, recruitment of seasonal staff starts and goes until the summer when the staff training happens. Between April and June, a lot of time is spent on planning the details of the programming, getting everything ready and selling the last spots to fill the camp. In July the camp starts again and the full-year cycle is completed.
What are your main responsibilities?
As this is my own company and for now I’m the only year-round employee, I cover most of the responsibilities, except a few that I outsource. Main responsibilities are in the areas of Marketing (including the website), Sales and Operations. The latter includes all the planning of the camp programming, field trips, contracting rental locations, managing supplies, etc. Another big part is the recruitment of seasonal staff. I also do all the finances, budget planning and payroll for the company.
I have an accountant, HR specialist, lawyer and insurance expert to support me in the areas that don’t have enough knowledge and need the support of a subject matter expert.
What are your credentials to achieve this position? What is your highest education obtained?
I hold a Master's degree in Business Administration from a university in Switzerland and a certificate in Leadership from the University of Toronto.
What made you want to be an entrepreneur?
What are the most challenging parts of creating your own company and most rewarding?
I always liked to work for myself and make my own decisions without depending on others. I work more productive and am more decisive if I work for myself compared to working for someone else. I enjoy that I get to decide what the company’s next goals are and how to best grow the business. Besides, I like the independence of planning my workdays the way I want and having flexibility in my schedule.
The most challenging part of creating your own company is the financial aspect of it. You have to eventually be able to make a living with it. However, the positive aspect is, that all the efforts, energy and dedication you put into it, benefits you directly.
The most rewarding of owning your company is the possibility to make your own decisions and lead the company in the direction that you want to see it grow. Also, in my particular case, it’s rewarding to create high-quality summer programs in which I personally truly believe. And seeing how they benefit so many campers, families and staff members each summer.
What kind of decisions do you have to make?
As the owner of the company I basically have to make all decisions about the company’s affairs. Sometimes I want to try out an idea I have and see if it works. If it doesn’t, I am solely responsible to turn around the outcome. If the idea does work out, I can continue building on it and come up with new ones.
Whenever I’m unsure how to solve a problem, decide the next step for the company or similar, I like to discuss the matter at hand with a close relative or friend. I don’t want to always rely only on my point of view as I might be too deep in the topic to not see clearly or I might simply not see alternative solutions. So it’s very important to have a support system to rely on. Others, who are less involved in your company, can often bring a fresh perspective.
What personal skills and abilities are essential for a career in this field?
To work with children, one should be passionate about the area of child development and child education. As an adult interacting with children, we bear a great responsibility as we are given the opportunity to influence that child positively with each interaction. Furthermore, a great deal of flexibility and being open-minded is required. Things can often go differently than planned and one needs to approach these situations with patience and quick solution finding skills.
As an entrepreneur one isn’t accountable to anyone but oneself. A certain inner drive and self-motivation are helpful to be disciplined and productive. It’s also always helpful to have good people skills as one will always need to connect with others to build up a business. That can be clients, suppliers, other organizations in the same field, etc.
What kind of advice do you have for someone like me who is interested in entering this field in the future?
To create an own company in child education, it’s important to understand the current needs of parents and children in the geographical area you want to work. You need a solid understanding of the market before being able to define what type of service or product you want to offer. Start with trying to understand your future client and their behaviours and needs. Where do they shop? How do they make decisions? What is important to them? Etc.
Furthermore, there are regulations and guidelines to follow when working with children. Find out what they are and ensure that you create a system to stay on top of changes and updates to those regulations.
Why do people choose your company?
While we offer a service that has been offered for over a century, we do it at a very high level of quality and our clients notice that. When we talk about clients, we always distinguish between parents and campers. While the parents are often the decision-makers and the ones paying for our service, the campers are the ones experiencing the service and giving us feedback (sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly through their parents). So we need to acknowledge our two different types of clients. This is something that is also noticed by our camp families and distinguishes us from other camps.
Before I started the company, I looked at the current players and the current offering in the market and defined areas for improvement in a seemingly standard service. By enhancing the quality in those areas, I was able to reach parents who felt the same way. They see the added value of our service compared to our competition.
If you want to be successful in an already existing market (no matter which field), you have to either offer a much better service (or product) than your competitors or create something completely new that fulfills a conscious or sub-conscious need of the customer.