Becoming a summer camp vendor is a sure way to bring in a hefty influx of seasonal income to a small business. As the economy fluctuates, camp enrollment stays steady. After all, when school is out, working parents still need activities for their kids. Therefore, camps are a steady source of income for small business owners who are willing to rise to the challenge. Camps have a hard time finding vendors. If they like you, they’ll tell their industry peers about you.
Summer camps are high-maintenance customers. They need supplies for huge numbers of campers, the staff is short on spare time, their funds are limited, and the last-minute problems that can arise at camp are often unique.
But if you’re prepared to meet their needs, the rewards are well worth the work.
Supply Vendors: Make it easy and affordable to buy in bulk.
Summer camps require supplies in the bulkiest amount of bulk. They organize and clean up after several activities per day, and overnight camps feed the masses three times a day.
Hundreds of kids cycle through their several sessions, so they need supplies in the thousands, with extras. Because of this, it can be hard for small businesses to sell to them. Before you offer anything to a camp, make sure you can get it to them in the amounts they need, and give it the smallest possible markup. If you earn their loyalty, the amounts they’ll order from you will make you a steady profit.
Food Vendors: It’s more than hot dogs and burgers.
Just ask Edward Ricker in “Ramblings of a Grumpy, Old Camp Cook”: “So many things have changed over time. The first camp where I worked as a cook for six years only had one person on a special diet. He couldn’t have salt. That same camp today has a dedicated cook who prepares many foods for numerous, different dietary needs. Peanut butter was never a problem in the old days.” Now, kids have more food restrictions and allergies than ever. If you can sell a camp gluten-free cookies in affordable bulk, you’re golden.
Also keep in mind the needs of the cook. Foods should be as easy as possible to prepare and serve.
Equipment Vendors: Track down used parts.
Whether it’s a sailboat built in the 1980s, a spring mattress, a rope course, or an ancient bunk bed, the amount of wear and tear summer camp equipment takes in a short amount of time means that, frankly, stuff breaks. A lot. Most camps have maintenance staff to handle the everyday mishaps, but not many vendors can find the parts for “vintage” items that have stood the test of time.
Camp directors would rather fix the equipment they have than buy new equipment, so it’s worth your time to call up a summer camp and ask them what parts and repairs they have the hardest time fulfilling, and then become their hero.
Specialty Vendors: Make it easy for camps to appeal to the PARENTS.
The kids don’t choose the camp–the parents do. So if you sell chemical-free sunscreen, organic produce, etc., and can supply the amounts they need, use the idea of the trendy parent to pitch your product to the camp. Being able to offer this makes the camp more attractive to ITS customer base.
Take advantage of camp trends.
According to the American Camp Association, 19% of camps added gardening activities in 2015. More and more schools are starting their own gardens, too. In 2022, specialty camps are trending, instead of more traditional all-around camps. STEM activities are also being incorporated in some way at camps of all kinds.
Half of summer camps include some kind of community service or “good deeds” program. How can you service this demand?
Summer camps are long-term opportunities for small businesses.
Camp managers and counselors don’t have time or energy to trifle with products that are hard to use, need to be assembled, or break easily. If you’re going to service a summer camp, you have to step up and offer your best.
If catering to camps is more than your business can handle right now, think about these items as possible offerings you can market to parents sending their kids to camp. Add to the mix personalized packing supplies that keep things organized and dry.