There may be snow on the ground right now where you live like there sure is outside my window here in New York but it’s that time of year again. YES, it’s time to talk about summer camps.
And you may be thinking, “GEEZ Michele, it’s way too early for that, I’m still recovering from the holidays”-- but if that’s you, you’d unfortunately be incorrect. I can pop into any moms group in my local area right now and there are at least 12 posts from the last day asking about summer childcare options and many, including myself, are already making decisions and putting down deposits to secure the options that best fit our needs and our kids’ interests.
Now I have talked about summer camps several times before on this podcast, including how to book out your summer camps back in episode 158 of the Profitable Play Podcast, how to actually execute summer camps for the best possible customer and staff experience back in episode 159, and I even spent an entire episode answering your questions about hosting summer camps in episode 160.
So if you’re looking for more information about how you can legally operate drop off programs without a daycare license or if you’re looking for tried and true tips from someone who tried MANY different methods of hosting camps, some of which worked and some of which did NOT– go back and listen to those 3 episodes.
Because I share tips from not only my own experience but also those I’ve gathered from Play Maker Society, my membership for indoor playground owners, over the past 6 or so years.
In those episodes we talk about how to hire the best camp leaders, how to use social media to promote your camps, how to lean into your spaces unique strengths to differentiate YOUR camps from your competitors, how to choose your camp themes, how to figure out which ages you want to accommodate– ALL that.
But today I wanted to add a couple more marketing tips into the mix that expand a bit on what we’ve already discussed and what seems to be working best right now in 2024 to book summer camps at indoor playgrounds.
This first one can be especially helpful if you’ve never offered drop off camps before. It can help you figure out where and when is best to host drop offs in your facility, and what types of activities work well, since each space and business is unique.
In episode 159 of The Profitable Play Podcast I talked about how it took us several rounds of trial and error to figure out the best possible structure and timeline and location for our camps, so hosting 1-day camps can be really helpful to you prior to putting the final touches on your summer camp information if you’re planning on doing longer days or 5-day sessions.
Over the holiday break, many indoor playgrounds hosted 1, 2, or 3-day drop off camps to help parents out and while this break is over, there are several opportunities coming up for you to execute this strategy. There is Martin Luther King Jr day where kids will be off of school, there’s presidents day, there’s easter break, and more.
These can be great opportunities for you to dip your toe in the water of offering drop off care as well as take some pictures and get some testimonials for you to use in your summer camp marketing materials.
As a parent, I am always looking for reviews from real parents who have entrusted their children at a facility and had a great experience before I hit that register button.
So if you DO plan to offer these 1-day or 1-week spring break mini camps, ensure you’re getting photo releases and following up with the families who register and asking for feedback so you can successfully convert those bookings into re-bookings from those SAME customers over the summer as well as new bookings from people who see and read their testimonials.
Similar to preview days, hosting an open house can be a great way for families who aren’t yet customers familiar with your space and your staff to become more comfortable and get to know you, so they can decide whether or not you’d be a good fit for their child for camp.
And this is a great option if you KNOW you want to do summer camps but you’re not quite ready to do mini camps or day camps or if you just can’t quite fit them into your schedule. For example, I know for us, we were at capacity with a waitlist for winter and spring school holidays and because we didn’t have a private classroom, we’d have to have been crazy to try and add drop off camps into that chaos.
But summer, on the other hand, was extremely slow for open play, so that additional drop off income was needed. And if you’re in an area like New York that has TRUE seasons– so it’s cold in the winter and your customers get all cooped up and stir crazy and then you have pretty mild summers where everyone just HAS to get outside because their outdoor window is so limited– trust me, YOU too will need to make up for the seasonal drop off in open play and parties and summer camp is an amazing high ticket option for that.
And it’s a great way to serve your customers as well, because as we all know childcare options are far and few between for many families so they NEED more options. Even if you can’t offer full day camps or don’t want to– don’t let that stop you. There ARE families out there who’s needs will match your offerings.
A summer camp open house was a great way to introduce camps as an offering and gave us a chance to answer any questions in person and address any concerns, since many of the parents who’d be utilizing summer camps were working parents so they didn’t typically have much of a chance to visit during open play hours and ask their questions and tour our facility then.
We’d choose a weeknight and allow families to come for free, take a pamphlet or brochure, let their kids do some of the activities that were similar to the ones we’d be offering doing camps, and it worked really well for us.
If you want to convert as many open house attendees into bookings as possible, you can try offering a special discount or bonus for making a reservation then and there. I liked to tell people in advance that they’d be getting a special offer at the open house so that they weren’t surprised and so that they came with their schedules in tow and ready to make a decision if they felt we were a good fit.
Something I have seen owners do really well is reward their best customers and current followers by giving exclusive access or early access to camp registration.
This shows your current customer base that you value and care about them and it incentivizes others to follow you or to get on your email list or become a part of whatever community is getting that special treatment.
And this one’s extra effective if you have a very limited number of spots or if you know your camps tend to sell out. It will trigger that sense of urgency in your customers and move them to make a decision more quickly.
Alera Owens, the owner of Project Play in Texas has done this exclusive access really effectively, so follow her on instagram to see this in action.
Something we added onto all of our marketing materials for our camps (posters, brochures, etc) was a registration fee, which depending on the year was between $25 and $50.
The idea behind a once-per-year registration fee is that once a family pays it once, they are incentivized to book more and more weeks of camp because that fee is already paid.
However, between you and I, we never intended to collect any registration fees– and in reality, we rarely did.
That’s because we WAIVED registration fees for anyone who booked before April 1. So it was essentially an early bird discount. This helped us book our camp sessions early in the season because the fee was high enough to motivate people to make a decision regarding whether or not they wanted to book, and this worked very well.
Something we loved to do was to give people a discount if they booked multiple weeks of camps, or if they sent multiple siblings to one camp.
We treated each camp week as a unit, just to keep it simple. So whether someone was signing up 1 child for 3 weeks of camp or one parent was signing 3 siblings up for 1 week of camp, we treated both the same- as 3 units of camp.
SO consider offering 10% off the second, third, 4th, unit of camp– because it’s truly a win win. If someone is booking that many weeks of camp they likely fall into your “ideal customer” profile, and the kids will get comfortable and have a great time, and your staff will get to know them and form a bond.
Plus, the less total camp units you have to sell, the less money and energy you’ll have to spend advertising your camps. So again, win win, most of the time.
And I talked about referral programs in episode 158- so if you want to dive deeper into rewarding your camp customers when they get their cousins, friends or neighbors to sign up– go back and listen to that episode.
One thing that I did NOT offer but would if I was operating in 2024 is payment plans. I have definitely seen people do a deposit early on and then collect the balance closer to camp, but that’s still just splitting the cost into two.
The economy is rough right now and parents are struggling. So since we are still several months out from summer, consider offering the option to split payments up into 3,4, or 5 installments to make it more accessible to more families.
I recently signed my kiddos up for camp and while I didn’t necessarily NEED that option in order to sign up, I did really appreciate it because we just spent a lot over the holidays and any little bit helps.
I asked 7 Play Cafe Academy and Play Maker Society members what is working RIGHT NOW in their businesses to attract customers and grow sales. I want to send you their answers in my FREE newly updated 2023 "What's Working" Guide!