Looking Back

The linoleum in our kitchen creaked and groaned under the weight of my incessant pacing. So, too, did my wife, trying in vain to get some sleep in our first-floor bedroom.

It was late. Again. And, we were on deadline.

On the other end of the phone, Al Holappa, our creative director, listened patiently, noting my edits, complaints and ideas for this thing we had come to call Camp Business magazine.

He was an hour behind Ohio time in Minnesota, but after midnight and a full day of work at another job, that hour wasn’t much consolation. At some point, we hung up.

I went to bed, so I could toss and turn and worry.

Al sat back down at his computer and worked to fix that day’s problem.

Fixing Problems

Fixing problems, we rapidly learned, was just part of being in business. Take, for example, the Northstar Summer Camp Guide–our first product. Designed to be a “guiding light” for parents lost in the jungle of confusing summer camp information, the soft-cover book looked great and read well, but sold like, well you know what.

Heck, sometimes we had difficulty giving them away–as in the time my wife worked a booth at a local home and garden show (don’t ask). She spent several minutes talking a father into buying the guide. At the end of the conversation he said, “O.K., I’ll take one.”

My wife said, “Great. That will be ten dollars.”

The man yelled, “What? I thought they were free!”

It was not a good start to our little company.

Luckily, my former employer had given me what he called the true secret to running a business–“Never give up.”

I’m sure like all well-meaning advice, this can be taken to an extreme, but the motto has worked well for me.

Undaunted, we modified the business model to include this new thing called the Internet and tried again. The results were only marginally better, but a window opened.

In all those conversations with you and other camp directors, I kept hearing how it would be nice to have an independent magazine for the camp industry.

To test the concept, we created a spring edition of Camp Business (March 2000).

That one issue sold better than both issues of the Northstar Summer Camp Guide combined. We were off and running.

Camp Business – March 2000

Up to that point, Al and I were working two jobs–our regular gigs during the day and the Camp Business gig at night. The decision was made to try and make the business self-supporting—so I was out on my own. Officially.

Starting with nothing more than a desk on the cold, cement floor of my basement (I had to wear wool socks and boots in the winter), Camp Business grew slowly.

We quickly discovered we were pretty good at creating a quality publication, but that there were a lot of other things that went into running an actual company–like billing customers, tracking payments, paying bills, setting up a computer network, and so on. It seemed like we were always stumbling on mundane tasks.

But issue by issue, advertisers embraced the publication, which allowed us to increase our circulation as well as our reach.

Eventually, I was able to hire Al full-time (no more late-night phone calls) and then an editor; I moved the business out of my house and into an office, and then another, and then another. Payroll swelled to 15 people and then back down to six.

It was a bit of a roller coaster and more than a bit stressful, but it was (and is) always fun.

Through the years, columns came and went, publishing cycles changed (at one point we published 10 issues a year), Web sites were introduced, improved and redesigned and new magazines were launched (PRB – Parks & Rec Business).

Moving Forward

And the fact is we’re just beginning.

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  1. Looking Forward And Back
  2. Back to Nature
  3. Back to Basics
  4. A Present From The Past
  5. Building Confidence
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