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Enrollment crisis III: resolution.

This Marketing Matters column is the final in a three-part case study of Always Sunny National Camps' enrollment crisis. In the previous column, Abe Johnson, camp director, received a diagnosis of causes of his camps' enrollment crisis and recommendations to resolve it from Sara Trout, specialty camp consultant at a regional marketing firm.

Sara recommended that Abe:

* use professional sales people to contact 2400 self-qualified prospects; run target market campaigns in communities close to the camp locations

* buy lists and use professionally trained telemarketers to contact prospects

* add variable tuition rates to cover additional marketing expenses incurred to fill the camps

* sell benefits, not features

* offer variety in session length and age appropriate progressive programming

* develop a new motivator each year to spur repeat sales

Abe received Sara's recommendations with mixed feelings. A week later, they discussed his decisions.

Abe started enthusiastically, "Sara, you were certainly right about switching sales calls from last summer's counselors to well trained people. I talked the matter over with some people in our membership division, and they agreed to test your recommendation by making a few calls from their homes during the evening. Three of them took about 25 names of people who had called for information but never registered. They called during the dinner hour, which I didn't like. Nobody likes to be interrupted during dinner. But despite that, one person got three sales and another got one. Not bad, huh?"

"Well, it's certainly a start," Sara replied. "And the dinner hour until about nine o'clock is the ideal time to reach prospects. True, most people don't like to be disturbed, but your goal is to reach people. How are you going to build on this effort?"

Abe answered, "The director of the membership division agreed to let me use these three people in the evenings for the next three weeks, as long as I pay them overtime. That's cheaper than those telemarketers."

"If you get four sales for every 75 calls, and there's no guarantee you will, you can expect about 128 campers from your 2400 prospects," figured Sara. "That leaves you with about 275 more to go to full enrollment. What else will you do to increase enrollment?" Sara asked.

"The managers of the campsites we lease have given us the contacts for all newspapers and radio stations within 500 miles of the camps," Abe continued. "We are pitching our camp to their news and lifestyle editors. There is some interest and I'm sure we will get some support there. Then we'll follow up just like we did with our internal list."

"That's fairly uncertain territory," Sara observed. "What about buying those prospect lists matched to your existing customers? And what about using those telemarketers who can get you a predictable rate of return?"

"No way I'm going to do that Sara," exclaimed Abe. "We're not selling siding or storm windows here. Those telemarketers are not cheap. It would cost me a fortune. I can't afford that, and I don't like the idea of charging some people more than others. Why, it would be all over camp and the parents who paid more would be in an uproar. No thanks! I don't need that kind of aggravation!"

Abe went on. "We had a couple of good ideas that didn't occur to you. The sites we lease have their own customer base from other times of the year when we're not there. These lists go back several years. We cut a deal to send a mailing to their customers. They are already full, so it doesn't hurt them. We'll pay them a finder's fee for each camper we get; we'll use our membership solicitors to make these calls too. We are also going to call some of our own campers who registered for the summer and tell them there are just a few spots left in summer camp. We'll invite them to invite a special friend to apply to camp with them. What do you think of that?"

"You may have the beginnings of a strategically valuable referral relationship with your lessor camp," Sara said. "I like the idea of calling your registered campers. But I wouldn't give them the impression the camp is almost full. What happens if you don't sell out and have several hundred vacancies? Extend the invitation, but don't fabricate information. Anything else?" she asked.

"That's about all we have time for in the next four weeks," Abe said. "Besides, that will all but break the bank even if we fill the camp.

"In the off season we'll look at some of those other ideas you had about brochures, program improvements and the like.

"Some of your ideas were just great. But Sara, some of what you suggested just won't work for camping. It doesn't fit our style and philosophy. Our customers expect more personalized contact. We'll call again if we get stuck," Abe reassured her.

Abe accepted only those recommendations that fit his mental model. Sara was sure he would enjoy only temporary success.

In the summer following their work together, Abe enrolled just 240 of the 400 campers he was short. That brought him to 85 percent occupancy and just short of breaking even financially. In subsequent years Abe played around with his program content, but not his session length or camp locations, and certainly not with his recruitment methods. He had gone about as far as he could go keeping faith with his camp traditions.

Today, Abe Johnson's parent organization is considering getting out of the camp business.

Sara Trout established her own marketing agency, specializing in telemarketing sports clinics and camps for college coaches and professional athletes. Her customers make money. And more kids learn skills and enjoy themselves at those clinics and camps.

Are you willing to rethink your marketing strategy? What would you have done?

David A. Hilliard is president and CEO of the Wyman Center, which operates two resident camps and outdoor, experiential programming in 23 different locations in the region and throughout the U.S. national park and national forest systems. Send inquiries regarding camp marketing issues to: David A. Hilliard, Wyman Center, 600 Kiwanis Drive, Eureka, MO 63025.
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Author:Hilliard, David A.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1996
Words:1029
Previous Article:The economics of pricing and customer decision-making.
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