December 16, 2008
For Businesses in Hard Times, Community Makes the Difference
Like most businesses in America, times are tough for Medomak Camp, a popular summer family vacation tradition (http://www.medomakcamp.com ). With consumer confidence low, household debt high and 401k accounts halved, discretionary spending is grinding to a halt and Medomak too is feeling the pain.
The timing of the economic mess and its halting effect on spending couldn’t have come at a worse time for a small business like Medomak Family Camp of Washington, Maine. Medomak, a summer camp for the entire family (see: Playtime for All Ages, Yankee Magazine, May/June 2007) began taking reservations for the 2009 summer months on October 1st. In a typical year, 20% of the camp’s capacity is reserved by Thanksgiving. Seven weeks into this year’s registration the fact that only 5% of the cabins are spoken for has Director, David Brunner, worried. According to Brunner, “If the camp continues to register families at this same anemic rate, Medomak may not be able to open its doors this coming summer”.
The reality of a shuttered camp means the loss of twenty five seasonal and four full-time jobs. It also means local farmers, restaurant, market, and hardware store owners will lose one of their largest and most steady customers. For these small town merchants this loss of summer revenue will have an unmistakable impact on their bottom line. Less consequential, but still meaningful, is the loss to many families of their favorite vacation spot, a cherished place of personal growth and family bonding., that won’t be easily matched in quality and affordability. It is with these sad eventualities in mind that Brunner, together with the owners of Medomak, looked for a creative way to make camp as affordable as possible. What they came around to quickly is that like many small businesses, Medomak has a niche: community.
Creating friendships with many of the 50% or so families that return to Medomak annually translates into a strong community. For the upcoming summer, Medomak has restructured its tuition model to provide an incentive for families in that vibrant community to go out and recruit more campers. Says Brunner, “We basically said to our campers that we can’t do this without you, so if you help us, if you get us closer to full capacity, we will make it much cheaper to come to camp.” The concept is really rather simple, based on economy of scale. Medomak has shared with prospective new and returning campers its breakeven point as part of its tuition schedule. If our campers are willing to help us get above our breakeven point of 75% occupancy, we will rebate the extra money back to them.
For families the savings can amount to about $800 in the total cost of tuition. Whereas last summer a family of four spent $4000 for the all-inclusive week at Medomak, at full occupancy under the new pricing tuition should be closer to $3200. Initial reactions from former campers are very positive. Bob and Loy Miller, returning campers form Downington, PA summed it up well, “Good idea. We already talked up Medomak to friends but will make an extra effort for 2009, for Medomak and for us.” As the camp community rallies, it will result in a welcome savings for families struggling with the decision to go on vacation next summer.
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Although I have visited Medomak many times, informally, it is wonderful to be at family camp this week. So many memories of so many people and experiences are rejuvenated on each visit. I am so grateful for what Medomak was and is becoming.