We here at CampLeadership.org are not a fan of early bird discounts. Dave and I have talked a length about this topic, and have written about it in the past. We understand why camps do them, but we just don’t like them.
But then again, millions of people woke up at 4 am on the Friday after Thanksgiving to get one-time special deals on thousands of sales — everything from $180 computers to $1 DVDs. Personally, I think those people are crazy. I don’t think they are crazy because they are willing to stay up so late, or wake up so early. I think they are crazy because they believe they are getting a good deal on something. Why are you willing to pay $180 for a computer that is normally sold for $800? Don’t you realize that the computer is only worth $180 and the company is taking advantage of this ignorance? More importantly, who will now pay $800 with the knowledge that someone now owns it for $180?
I accidentally ran into this situation this past Black Friday. My niece was being baptized the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I was asked to be the Godfather. I wanted to get her something special, and I finally settled on buying a nice necklace with a gold cross. Something she could wear on special occasions when she was still a young girl, but something she might wear all the time when she was older. I went looking for this necklace on Wednesday night, the day before Thanksgiving.
After looking in a dozen jewelry stores, I found a really nice necklace at a Belk Department store — the Macy’s of the South. The salesperson took the necklace out of the case and told me the price. Perfect! I found it. I got my wallet out and then she said this, “If you come back on Friday morning, this necklace is 60-percent off. But, the sale is only from 4 am until 1 pm on Friday.”
I had my credit card ready, but then she told me I could get it cheaper if I waited two days. I looked at my schedule, and I had something at 10 am on Friday, but I could head back to Belk beforehand and save a lot of money. I told her I’d be back on Friday.
Friday morning came, and I woke up early to head to Belk. I then remembered there was a closer location to where my 10 am appointment was. Since they are all the same, I went to that location instead. To my surprise, this Belk did not have the necklace I wanted. They actually didn’t have any cross necklaces. Apparently I was looking at the Belk Signature Collection, which is only in a handful of stores. The salesperson failed to tell me that.
I headed to my appointment, which ended at about 1 pm. I was too late to get to the sale. Now that the necklace was back to full price, I no longer wanted it. I couldn’t imagine paying full price for it now that I knew how cheap I almost had it for. Two days before I had my credit card in my hand, but now I no longer am willing to pay full price. The salesperson made a huge mistake. Not only did they not get 100-percent of my money on Wednesday, they didn’t get 40-percent of my money on Friday morning, and they now get 0-percent of my money on Friday afternoon. Big mistake Belk.
I wonder how many times this has happened to camps with early bird discounts? I wonder how many times someone has planned to sign his or her child up for camp in December in order to save some money, and then forgot to actually sign the child up for camp in December? I wonder if anyone had ever decided to sign up for a different camp in January because they were too late getting a deal on the camp they actually wanted to sign up for, but were too proud to now pay full price? There’s really no way to tell.
I understand why we do early bird discounts, I truly do. But, if we stop to think about all those people not willing to stand in line at 4 am to get a great deal, we may be losing out on those who are willing to pay 100-percent because they got to sleep in.
This past week I was in Louisville, KY visiting with my wife’s family for Thanksgiving. We stayed at Uncle Bob’s house and as I was getting leftovers out of the refrigerator I noticed a document held onto the door by a magnet. It was a vacation report to Bob about his dog Daisy from the kennel they use. The letter home covered all the important things about Daisy’s stay away from home. When she got there, when she left, what she ate, what she brought with her, what she did, how she acted, how she pooped, and how she got along with everyone else there.
After reading this I started thinking about how we communicate with parents of our campers about their stay with us. I know many camps do “letters home” or send out a progress report on the activities that the child did while at camp, but I think the St. Matthews Animal Clinic did a better job of communicating about Daisy’s stay than many of our summer camps do about a child’s stay.
Here are some things that our camps can learn about communication from our local kennel:
1. Identify what the camper came with and get them home with it. Lost and found is a universal problem. What if we wrote down what every child brought with them and then made sure they went home with it at the end of the day.
2. Did they eat their lunch? How many lunches get thrown away, traded away or wasted? Do we know if our campers are eating while at camp? Are we communicating this to our parents?
3. How do they act at camp? Does the camper take an active role in camp? Are they making friends? Are they ready to go home the minute they get there? Parents need and want to know these things.
4. Do they play? Is the camper running and playing? Do they tend to sit on the sidelines? Are they more interested in art activities? Do nature activities get them excited?
5. Did they poop? Okay, maybe you don’t have to put that on your parent communication, but for you resident camp people I know you have dealt with kids who will try to “hold it” all week (not good for anyone).
Let’s make parent communication a priority this year. Wouldn’t it be great to be known as the place where the parents actually know what is going on at camp and they know how their child is doing while at camp.
The summer after I graduated from college my dad thought it would be a good idea that I learn a skill. He was a welder his entire life and he knew the value of being able to work with your hands and having knowledge of an always marketable skill.
So I got a job working for a plumbing contractor doing new construction. Over the next couple of summers when I was home from college I learned how to do everything you needed to know about plumbing a house; from the first shovel of dirt we turned over in order to place the connection to the sewer system, to the last fixture we put in place in a finished kitchen.
During this time I also learned how to read blueprints, and I learned to visualize what was not shown on those blueprints. As I think about this time in my life, and the work I did, I realized now the most important part of any success I had in building projects was the blueprint. Yes, I probably could have figured out where things went as the rest of the construction went up around me, but the planning and design on the front-end made the process easier, set me up for future success, and cut down on having to redo things.
This process of building makes me think of summer camp. Where do you start when you beging to work on the next summer of camp? Do you have a blueprint in front of you that makes the process easier, sets you up for success and cuts down on having to redo your mistakes? Just because you collect a bunch of pipes, sinks and bathtubs doesn’t mean you will have a finished house.
The same is true for camp: just because you collect some campers, staff and equipment doesn’t mean you will have a camp. I wouldn’t want to live in a house if I knew there was no blueprint or planning done on the front end. What would your customers think if they knew that you didn’t do any planning for camp?
Take the time this season to draw up a blueprint for every aspect of your camp program. From the registration process, to the check out process, and every moment in between. If this is something that seems a little overwhelming its okay, the team at CampLeadership.org is available to help set you and your camp up for success because we know that an excellent process can lead to an excellent product.
From YouTube user tehinfidel: “A brief, interesting clip from National Geographic’s “Ape Genius” documentary, demonstrating problem solving skills in chimpanzees, by requesting cooperation.
Also shows chimpanzees providing assistance to humans, by noticing assistance is needed, and retrieving out of reach objects for their human companions.
As time goes on, it becomes more and more obvious that the great apes are our evolutionary cousins. I would hope everyone viewing this would be able to share in my astonishment and awe at the brilliance displayed by these amazing creatures.”
Of all the things we leave up to chance, finding the next great summer camp staff member should not be one of them.
Every year there are several year-round camps that post job openings on various Web sites looking for an executive director, program director, camp director etc. The thing that amazes me is how we leave such an important part of our camp success to chance. I know that by searching nationally, it gives us a larger pool of applicants to choose from. I understand this. But, what I am saying is that we need to be more strategic about future job openings at our camps, and since we know staff will eventually leave, why not start the interview process now?
That’s not to say that we should never post a job opening nationally, and that you won’t find great candidates doing it this way, but here are some tips for how to best plan for succession at your camp.
Define the skill set. What type of person are you looking for to fill this position? Do a personality and professional profile of the type of person you want in this position so you actually know what you are looking for. It’s hard to get what you want when you don’t know what you are looking for. It can make you easily swayed into an impulse buying situation instead of waiting for exactly what you want.
My wife and I recently thought about buying a mini-van. Our family is growing and we thought we might need a larger vehicle and she wanted something safer than the SUV we currently own. Before we began looking we set up some guidelines of what we were looking for which included: brand of vehicle, price, gas mileage and what we could get for our vehicle in trade in or resale. As we shopped we never came across a situation where all of our criteria was met. Therefore, we decided to wait and shop again after we had saved more money toward the purchase of a newer vehicle.
When shopping for that next great staff member — let’s be honest, that’s what we are doing when searching for a candidate — what are the guidelines that need to be met? Experience, education-level, personality type, vision for camp, fundraising ability, board development, program development? Once you have these in place, do not waver from them even when you find that shiny new Camp Director that looks fun, but doesn’t meet your stated requirements. The last thing you want when buying a mini-van or hiring your next director is “buyer’s remorse”.
Always be interviewing. I am a constant interviewer. I ask a lot of questions to everyone I meet. The reason is two-fold: 1) I am generally interested in people and what they do and 2) I am always thinking about if I would want to work for, work with, or recommend this person to someone else.
When I was a Camp Director I had a short list of people that I would be interested in interviewing for all of my full-time positions at camp. I didn’t want my staff members to leave, but I didn’t expect them to stay around forever either. If one of my staff members would have left I would have posted the job, but I would already have a top three list of the people I wanted to fill their role. My recommendation to you is to be a great networker. When you meet people, ask questions about them and this will help you identify your next great staff member. One of the best hires of my career so far happened by chance at a Bojangles one Sunday morning. I caught up with someone I knew who told me he was looking for a job and he had already been on my radar screen to hire if the opportunity ever came up. We didn’t have the position I wanted him for open yet, but I knew that it would be opening in the next year. I hired him in an hourly position with the potential for a Operations Director role in the future. He accepted and he grew into the job. He eventually did an amazing job of transforming the facility and the team at camp.
Stay in contact with camp professionals. Is there a better way to find your next great staff member than by finding them from a professional colleague or friend? I have met some great camp professionals from across the country by attending conferences and by using social media. If you are not networking with other camp professionals you could be missing a great opportunity to find your next Camp Director, program staff member or the next person you would like to work with. You never know when you will be looking to fill a position or be looking for a job so connect, network, and be a friend to other camp professionals. When you are attending conferences this year — hopefully you will attend conferences — set some goals for yourself to meet people and then stay connected with them after the conference. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are great tools to stay connected with people when you are not geographically close to them. Social media can be an important tool in our professional development if we use it effectively.
Let me close by giving another personal story. I am not the most organized person in the world. I usually think big picture, but struggle with details of getting things done. Because I know this when I am looking to fill a position that works closely with me, the last thing I need is another person just like me. If I am hiring an assistant director I am going to be looking for someone who is more detailed oriented and task driven than me. We don’t need another dreamer in this type of position. I have a lot of fun with dreamers, but at some point the dreamers need someone to help lay out the task and get us on the path to getting the work done. Because I know my strengths and weaknesses, it makes it easier to find people who will work well with me. As you are looking to fill roles at your camp make sure you understand yourself, know what you are looking for, always be interviewing, and stay connected to other camp professionals. This will help you find your next great camp staff member.
While watching television a Pizza Hut commercial came on promoting its new pricing model for pizzas. It was pretty simple: small $8, medium $10, large $12. There was nothing to add, no reason to wait for coupons to come in the mail, or the Sunday paper. It was; simple.
The amazing thing about this new pricing structure is how simple it is and how cheap it seems. I have no idea how much a small pizza actually costs to make, but I’m guessing it is less than $8. I can pay $10 for a medium pizza, and I don’t have to worry about the price of additional toppings. I don’t have to wait until the second Thursday of the month when it is “Super Duper Medium Pizza Night” and it only costs $6.99. I don’t know what prompted the change in pricing for Pizza Hut, but I have a feeling they started listening to their customers and started thinking about their customers.
Why does ordering a pizza have to be so difficult? Pizza Hut knows what it needs to charge for a pizza to make their business model work. Why not charge that amount?
Now, what can your summer camp learn from this? When the customer comes to your Web site is the pricing structure more suited to an excel spread sheet? Do your prices change three times between now and June depending on when your customers sign up? What purpose does that serve? Just tell them how much camp costs. Don’t try to trick or gimmick your customers into buying camp with an early bird discount or punish them for waiting to sign up for camp with a late registration fee.
Here are two simple things you can do when pricing camp:
1. Decide how much camp needs to cost to effectively deliver camp and support your business model.
2. Charge that much.
If your customers cannot afford your camp you have a couple of options: streamline your processes to save money at your camp (you can contact CampLeadership.org to help with that) or you can raise annual support from donors to offset the cost of camp.
The key here is to make your pricing structure as uncomplicated as possible. If we thought about our customers first we might change the way we do things.