The Right Site

Whether you’re looking at your current site to make some improvements, or evaluating a piece of property for use as a new camp, or maybe more likely visiting someone else’s camp to get some new ideas, few people can visualize the cause and effect facilities can have on outcomes.

Related Article: Fresh Eyes

Our camp sites and facilities are integral to our marketing and our program. Good facilities facilitate good programs, and communicate the values of the organization.

Here’s the question we should be asking: “Is this place effective at doing what parents send their kids to camps for? And if it is, what are the components that make it successful?”

Of course it has to be safe. That’s number one. But you already know that, so we’ll save that one for later.

Let’s tackle some less obvious ones first…

First Things First

First impressions are almost impossible to shake if you start out wrong. That’s always been true, but we have a new twist: Moms, who sign 95 percent of camp registration forms, are much, much more risk-averse than they use to be.

As a result, you’re more likely to have parents want to tour your camp before making a decision, and more interested in meeting their camper’s counselor than ever before. That makes it much tougher for camps that are more than a three-hour drive from home to include that personal contact. You could have a successful camp anywhere, but closer to market now has a decided edge.

How difficult is it to find the camp? Are the directions easy to describe; are there directional signs that let you know you’re getting close?

From studies that the American Camp Association has conducted, the number one predictor of whether a youngster will go to camp is having a parent that went to camp as a child. That means that most parents have a pre-conceived idea of what the think a camp will be like, and it’s usually a romantic Disney-esque version of trees and water and fields and a flag and a rustic dining hall and cozy cabins.

Whenever we contradict that image, we’re setting ourselves up for scrutiny. So the quicker we can display those “camp” components to parents and campers as they arrive, the more satisfied they will be when they arrive.

Architects call this “the arrival sequence,” and it’s one of the most critical parts of creating a positive first impression.

Your ideal camp would have an entry gate like a national park or a ranch to drive through, wouldn’t it? Because it gives such a sense of arrival, and permanence, and ownership… “You’re entering a special place.”

Now it doesn’t have to be an actual gate. A series of substantial signs that build anticipation will do the trick, as you wind back and forth catching teasing glimpses — maybe a few horses in a pasture; a sailboat with a colorful sail reflecting in the water; maybe a climbing tower; definitely not the camp maintenance yard and the dumpsters!

Next, you’ll want to know where you’re going, and although signs are good, an expected view is even better. If you see the camp’s flagpole and an obvious dining hall, you know you’ve arrived.

If you see the welcoming opening of the A-shape of a roof gable over a wide porch you’ll guess it’s the camp office. Hallelujah, we made it! Then you ask, “Where do we park?” Most camps have an “all cars park here” sign long before you see any building. Like anyone is going to get out of their car before they know where they’re going!

That porch we saw, either on the office (our first stop) or the dining hall (and hopefully both) is an important part of the sequence.

Watch what happens when people step up on the porch. The first thing they do is turn around and look at the view, because porches not only protect you from the rain and the sun, but they create a wonderful frame that actually improves any view. That’s why they didn’t say, “Look at that view” until they were up on the porch!

The porch becomes a safe place to gather their group together, decide if they’re in the right place, arrange how they look, and then they’re ready to go inside.

Architects call it a transition space, and it’s works easiest when the ceiling heights are low enough that you feel the difference from outside, to a safer confined space, and then inside. Yes, porch roofs can sometimes be too high to be effective.

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