Best of the Small Business Web: Pitching Camp
Company: US Sports Camps Inc.
Revenues: $14 million
Web address: www.ecamps.com
Site launch cost: $55,000
Current technology profile: Microsoft Windows NT NetServer, Windows NT Option Pack, Microsoft Windows NT, Microsoft SQL Server
Why we love it: This profitable and elegantly designed sports-camp site turns a summer program into a year-round sale
Categories of success: Design & ROI
US Sports Camps has close ties to Nike, which may explain the company's "Just Do It" approach to the Web. In 1998 this operator of 350 sports camps spent $55,000 building an elegant, information-packed commerce site; this year it's shelled out an additional $25,000 improving and advertising it.
The site -- in conjunction with an existing robust database -- is producing superstar results: US Sports Camps, in Kentfield, Calif., has done $1.4 million in on-line sales over the past year.
The company specializes in one- and two-week sleep-away camps at which its participants receive intensive training in one of a dozen sports, including tennis, swimming, golf, and basketball. The camps are generally staged on college campuses and run by college coaches; the coaches hire their own staffs and teach the kids, while US Sports Camps manages marketing and administration. (A sponsorship arrangement allows the company to brand its programs Nike Sports Camps and clothe campers and staff in Nike products.)
Since it became a full-fledged business, in 1986, US Sports Camps has relied on heavy-duty direct-mail campaigns to attract young athletes, as well as advertisements in publications like Tennis Magazine and Golf Digest. "This is mostly a mom-and-pop industry where people will send out a black-and-white fax sheet saying, 'Here's when it's running, and here's what it costs," says founder and CEO Charlie Hoeveler. "We've always been much more professional. We have great-looking brochures with lots of photos to show people what a wonderful product we have."
It is also, Hoeveler says, "a perfect product for the Web." For one thing, the company's marketing is information intense: US Sports Camps fields hundreds of camps every summer, each of which requires a detailed description. Dates and programs change constantly. Campers have to register, and that registration information must move smoothly into the corporate database and from there to coaches on far-flung college campuses. Customers pay by credit card. And of course there's no physical fulfillment. The Web couldn't make more sense if it were programmed in Astroturf.
US Sports Camps' first noninteractive effort was a putter of a site, but the company went almost immediately to the wood. By adding on-line registration and payment features, last year it enticed 500 people -- almost all of them new customers -- to sign up and enter their credit-card numbers. By September, thanks largely to a $20,000 banner-ad campaign on Yahoo and the site's laudable ease of use, that number had climbed to 2,870. International business alone is up threefold. "I would love to see 40% or 50% of sales come through the site," says Hoeveler. "Our unofficial target this year is 20%."