Building a Business on Backyard Camping
Entrepreneurs: Chris and Kella MacPhee, founders of Suburban Camping, based in Brick, N.J.
"Aha" moment: "I woke up from a dream that I outfitted these cool, elaborate, unique backyard campouts for birthday parties and summer activities," Chris says of the inspiration that struck in late 2010. He and wife Kella, both camping enthusiasts, decided it was a dream worth following. With Kella's eye for design (she's a wedding photographer) and Chris' experience in outdoor retail, they founded Suburban Camping in 2011, putting in about $15,000 from their savings that year and keeping costs low by sourcing camp décor from thrift shops. This season the MacPhees are investing another $25,000 to $30,000; they have had a line of tents made for the business and hope to expand operations beyond the tri-state area.
Set up camp: Offerings include a couple's tent for a romantic evening; the vintage-inspired "classic camper"; a Harry Potter-themed campsite complete with wands, cloaks, glasses and wizard décor; anda girls' night outdoors. Suburban Camping also markets a movie night, which features a projector, screen, speakers and seating; optional add-ons include lemonade and s'mores stands.
Musical tents: "We're music lovers; we've traveled the country with different bands, and the love of camping and music goes together," Chris says. Suburban Camping is branching out to music festivals with prepared campsites that concert-goers can purchase along with their tickets. Other forms of marketing have included local advertising in newspapers and on diner placemats. Social media has been helpful in sharing photos and videos of the campsites.
Customers: Suburban Camping arranged 25 campouts in its first season; customers run the gamut from engaged couples to Girl and Boy Scout troops to soccer teams. The MacPhees hope to reach an older demographic (adult birthday parties or Super Bowl events) as well.
Cost: Campsite packages range from $375 for the Tent for 2 to $450 for Abra Camp Dabra (which accommodates eight wizards) to $500 for two tents for girls' night. Movie night and a stocked s'mores bar can be added to packages for $150 each. Suburban Camping's canvas tents are also available for purchase for $650.
Up next: Expanding into beach camping and bringing on a business-development expert. The MacPhees have also begun selling entire prepitched campsites through the company's website, SuburbanCampsite.com, that can be shipped directly to homeowners or specialty shops.