Over the past several months my staff has been looking at all the parallels between our store and summer camp.
Summer camps are built around a theme (i..e. space and science camp) and a set of core values (i.e. YMCA camps). Our store is built around the theme of toys and baby products with core values of Fun, Helpful, Educational, and Nostalgic.
Summer camps have core activities that are the whole reason you are there (canoeing, horseback riding, writing, etc). We have products that are the whole reason you are here.
Summer camps have Rituals, time-honored traditions that are unique and special. They have rituals that only those who attend will know, making the campers feel like insiders. We have rituals, too, such as the birthday bell, Saturday flag raising ceremonies, story times, game nights, etc. that make our customers feel like insiders.
Summer camps have special events and activities like playing Capture the Flag, doing a swamp stomp, or star gazing on a moonless night. We have special events like play days and author book signings.
Summer camps have all kinds of kids in the cabin that require skilled counselors to work with them. There is the homesick kid, the bully, the know-it-all and the natural leader. We have all kinds of different customers who require skilled employees to work with them in different ways, too. Just knowing and acknowledging those differences makes the cabin and the store a whole lot better.
Summer camps know a few other things we should copy. When is the best time to get a kid signed up for next year's camp? On the last day of this year's camp, when the memories and emotions are at their strongest. When is the best time to create a happy customer? At the moment of checkout by praising her purchasing decisions, helping her complete the sale by making sure she has everything she needs, and giving her some tips for how to use her new items.
Summer camp is a powerful metaphor for how you should run your retail store. Watch how summer camps do everything from hiring and training their staff to planning their activities to marketing their programs to making sure the memories last. The best camps do things you should be doing, too.
Anyone who has been to summer camp has memories etched forever in their minds. Do what the summer camps do and you can etch similar memories in the minds of your customers.
PS There are other industries from which we can learn to be better retailers. Look at amusement parks. You can ride their coattails (pun fully intended) to lots of great lessons and ideas.