The Allure of Owning a Summer Camp

Summer Camp

Do you dream of owning a summer camp? If not, why not? They sound like a great business to be in.

A well-run camp can have profit margins in the 25 percent to 40 percent range and sell for 2 to 2 1/2 times’ annual revenue, says Daniel Zenkel, a camp consultant and broker in White Plains, N.Y. Camps can cost from $200,000 to $500,000 to set up and maintain, depending on the size and program, excluding buying or renting property. Existing camps start at around $1.2 million, Zenkel says. “We get calls all the time from people thinking about starting a camp. Either they’ve inherited property or they’ve inherited money and want to buy property for a camp.”

But it’s not all lazy summer afternoons in the hammock for the camp owner.

Camp directors are on the job pretty much 24/7, ensuring campers get fed, have fun, and stay out of trouble. Long-term concerns include state and local regulatory compliance, the ever-rising cost of business, property, and health insurance, and the hiring and management of seasonal employees who have to meet strict background checks.

And, unfortunately there’s almost no possibility of finding a profitable camp for sale:

Second-, third- and even fourth-generation ownership is not unusual for the privately owned, for-profit operations that make up 21 percent of the membership of the American Camp Association, says Peg Smith, chief executive officer. The remainder of the association’s 2,300 members are owned and operated by churches, schools, and other nonprofit entities; Smith estimates there are a total of 12,000 to 15,000 camps in the U.S. “So many camps have had a long tradition of family ownership,” she says. “So you see a lot of succession planning taking place” to keep camps in the family.

You can find a list of summer camps for sale here and here.

Photo by Condor 36/ShutterStock.

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