Traditionally, day camps have chosen to visit waterparks or aquatic facilities for their field trips.  After the initial work of creating the programs, procedures and initial marketing push, maintaining a successful day camp is well worth the extra revenue and positive community image it generates. What is Your Goal? And other details…

Depending on your organization, starting a day camp may have a different focus.  Do you work for a municipal or for-profit organization?  Many municipal organizations want to focus on providing low-cost child care for their residents, which will impact your ability to price for revenue generation.  Determining your goal for the program is of pivotal importance for all your other decisions. Once you determine your goal, outline the logistics of your camp based on your goal.  Will you truly be a childcare option?  Then you will need to provide camp hours accordingly, approximately 7:00am-6:00pm.  Will you take a week off for the July 4th holiday to account for low enrollment?  Advertising these things ahead of time will set expectations for parents about additional care they may need to arrange.

Use Your Unique Layout

Each facility has its own layout that can provide opportunities for unique activities and camp themes.  Waterpark layouts allow the campers to participate in fun activities in catch pools or rivers before the park opens to the public, provide lunch for the participants, and formulate the activities around the facility mascot.  Traditional aquatics programs have the opportunity to center the camp around water safety and swim lessons and typically have more access to inside classroom space (if it is attached to a community center). To begin, examine the eagle’s eye layout of your facility and find the perfect camp headquarters location for your program.

Find Your Niche

Day camp opportunities are abundant.  Parents need somewhere to send their children while they work during the summer.  Safety, convenience, and the child’s opinion are the biggest factors in selecting a day camp.  Spend some time researching the competition in your area and make note of the types of camps they are providing, the price, and what areas they are targeting.  Next, using your facilities unique attributes, develop a program that will set you apart from your competition.  While you may not be able to undercut them on price, demonstrating that your have a lower counselor to camper supervision ratio, offer flexible pickup times, or have a changing theme each week can help parents justify spending more of their hard earned dollars on your program.  Once you identify your niche, be sure to communicate your benefits in marketing materials and staff communication when describing your day camp program.

Make it Fun!

Aquatics facilities are fun on their own, but spending every single day of the summer in the same location can make the children antsy and bored. Centering the camp around a fun weekly theme keeps the campers engaged and excited to return each week.  When selecting themes, research what the children are excited about, which can be a result of a recent movie or television show.  Timeless themes such as pirates, dinosaurs, science exploration are always popular options.  Many parents select the weeks they register their children from camp based on the theme, so choose wisely!  Though it requires quite a bit of pre-planning, all activities, crafts and games should support the weekly theme.  Towards the end of the week, begin to drop hints about some of the next week’s activities, which will encourage the campers to ask their parents to register them for another week!

Make it Safe

Taking charge of children all day requires patience and a great deal of training.  Create policies and procedures that will protect the children and your staff from unsafe situations.  Start by identifying potential hazards at your facility, restroom and changing policies, and discipline procedures.  Clearly outline these policies for the parents in a handbook so they understand and agree to the policies before registering for the camp.  Look for ways to minimize risk, such as scheduling the swim lesson portion at the beginning of the day so the children come dressed for swimming are only changing in or out of their suits once during the day instead of twice.  Train your camp counselors to always follow pickup procedures, how to respond to basic medical emergencies (food allergies, bee stings, vomit), how to correct behavior, and how to facilitate activities.  The way your staff interact with the children is something the campers will always remember and what they share with their parents at the end of the day.

Increase Your Bottom Line

You will generate additional revenue through camp registrations, but the largest increase to your bottom line will be through add-on options for day camps.  Since convenience is one of the biggest selling point for parents, offering weekly lunch options, early drop-off/late pick-up, and other programming add-ons assist the parent in making your camp the easy choice.  Select add-on options that will require a low cost or staff commitment, but is valuable to the parent. For example, if your facility has a concessions area, offering daily lunch just means making a few extra hamburgers or chicken nuggets.  Now, mom no longer has to pack a lunch each morning, but can focus on getting out the door easily.  You have made yourself the stress-free option! To ultimately increase your bottom line, your goal should be to offer a safe, fun program that children will beg their parents to register them for at a competitive price.

Nicole Van Winkle is an account executive with Counsilman-Hunsaker, focusing on feasibility studies and facility training and management for aquatic facilities throughout the nation. Prior to her work with Counsilman Hunsaker, Van Winkle served as an operator of waterparks and aquatic facilities in Southern California.