Running a Beach Fitness Camp

Make money during the personal training off-season.

By Tom Holland, MS
Apr 22, 2016

Most people look forward to summer. For personal trainers, however, and especially those just starting out, the months of June through August often bring a dramatic decrease in income. Many clients go away on vacation, some of them for weeks and even months— and if they’re not training, then they’re not paying.

Almost two decades ago, I was starting out as a personal trainer in New York City. I had committed to making fitness my full-time career, and personal training was my sole source of income. I had finally made my passion my vocation, and I couldn’t have been happier (even though I was often working 15-hour days and barely scraping by).

I soon found myself experiencing summer slowdown, as many of my clients took time off from training while they traveled. I went on vacation for a few weeks myself, which only added to my financial woes. I had been going to Nantucket, Massachusetts, since I was a kid, yet suddenly that vacation became something I stressed over rather than something I looked forward to.

I wanted to enjoy my summer and my vacation, so I asked myself: How can I make money during this time? That’s when the Nantucket Beach Fitness Camp was born. This 2-week camp is going stronger than ever 17 years later, and it’s a huge moneymaker that has been featured on television and in magazines.

Do you want to run your own beach fitness camp? Here’s why I do it, along with advice on how you can start a camp of your own.

Business Benefits

Creating and running the beach camp has brought multiple benefits to my business, including

  • increasing my income during a traditionally slow time;
  • generating great publicity;
  • increasing recognition of my name
    and brand, which has led to income
    outside of my beach camp;
  • creating something wonderful for
    Nantucket, a community I love and
    have strong ties to; and
  • increasing my enjoyment of the
    summer.

Location

Location is key. I knew that offering workouts on a picturesque beach at sunrise would set my camp apart from other boot camps. The better the location, the more likely people were to attend—and, ultimately, the more money I could charge.

I selected my beach for several reasons: It is big and wide and can accommodate a large group; it is close to town, so people staying at nearby hotels can walk to it; and, most of all, it is absolutely beautiful.

Handling the Details

Once you find the right beach for your camp, you’ll need to apply for approval and then pay a fee to use the space. Usually, a quick Google search will tell you what rules and regulations you need to know and who you need to contact (most likely, the local town parks and recreation department).

Use is not free. You may be charged a flat fee, or you may be required to pay a percentage of your gross profits after your camp is over—or both. This fee generally ranges from 10% to 20%.

Strongly suggested: Donate a percentage of your proceeds to a local charity. This will increase the odds that your camp gets approved, and it’s a great way to enhance your image in the community. The amount doesn’t have to be huge. I donated 10% of my summer camp proceeds to Nantucket Ice, to help build an ice rink on the island.

Town representatives will likely want to see the following before they give their approval:

  • proof of fitness insurance
  • a camp description: Provide a one-page
    write-up about your camp, including
  • days and times, expected number of attendees, a general description of the workout, and your credentials and fitness expertise. If you are preparing a flier or an ad for your camp, submit that as well.
  • a waiver: You will want participants to sign a waiver beforehand that mentions you, your company, any people who will be helping you and the town as well.

Equipment

The beach is a beautiful blank canvas. To take advantage of this, keep equipment to a minimum. This will also help make daily setup and breakdown quick and easy, while keeping your investment costs down. Of course, the less equipment you use, the more creative your programming will have to be.

I have run my camp for 17 years using only four red flags, 10 colored cones and one long rope—for a total cost of $100. I have had to replace these items only a few times. The key is to clean everything regularly and store it well.

I also purchased a custom tent with my company name, website and motto on it. People gather under it before the camp starts each day, it makes shade for the cold drinks I provide, and it makes a great signboard for advertising. (I have used it for many other events as well.) A custom tent costs roughly $600. You can buy a plain one for around $80.

Your goal should be to run your camp for many years, so these items will soon pay for themselves. To maximize your return on investment, be creative and make your beach equipment multitask in other aspects of your business.

Advertising

Get the word out to as many people as possible for as little money as possible. The trick is to use a combination of these methods:

Paid advertising. Running print ads in the local newspapers is a simple way to start promoting your camp. It can be expensive in the beginning, but it’s a necessary investment. After a few years, as your camp becomes established and people start showing up through word of mouth, the advertising costs will go down. Advertising will also increase your visibility to new private clients. I started with a small one-time newspaper ad
for $150, and I now run two half-page color ads that cost $1,000 total.

Free press. You can get exposure for free if you are organized and creative. Write a one-page press release, and email it to newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations. You will be amazed at the response you receive.

Guerilla marketing. I spent the first few years creating awareness of my camp by pounding the pavement. I posted fliers everywhere I could: at local businesses, on community bulletin boards and in supermarkets. Plus I left a stack of fliers at the visitors bureau. Just be sure to promote your camp only where it is legal to do so; violating local laws is a guaranteed way to get shut down permanently.

Mobile advertising. One other inexpensive promotion idea is to have magnetic signs made and put them on the doors on both sides of your vehicle. You can create and order the signs online for roughly $20 each, and they’ll help get the word out as you drive around town.

Pricing: A Long-Term View

For the first few years, I charged $10 per person per day. I was losing money, but I was planning for the long term and I wanted my camp to exceed expectations. What you charge should be based on a variety of factors, including your clientele, local competition, the expected number of participants and your experience.

Return on Investment

I went from having 6–10 people paying $10 per session in the early years to having 40–80 people paying $40 per session in 2015.

Sand and Water

Because working out in the summer on the sand can be strenuous and hot, lead a long, gradual dynamic warm-up, and stress to people that they need to work within their own fitness abilities. Also, provide water; it’s an inexpensive and easy way to increase the value of your camp. You may also be able to get companies to donate water, sports drinks or nutrition products.

Additional Revenue Streams

The revenue your camp can generate is not limited to the session fee. You can buy branded products that will add to your bottom line, advertise your camp and build your following. Here are a few items that I have sold over the years:

T-shirts and hats. People love them. T-shirts range in cost from $9 to $13, and I sell them for $20. Hats cost $10 and sell for $20.

Towels. Clients can use these during floor exercises on the sand. My cost is $10, and I sell them for $25.

Bumper stickers. This is an amazing way to get people to advertise your camp year round. Cost is a dollar or two per sticker, and you can sell them for $5.

You can also use these products to entice people to sign up for longer sessions. My camp runs for 2 weeks total. The cost is $40 a day, but people who sign up for 1 week ($175 for 5 days) or 2 weeks ($350 for 10 days) receive a “free” T-shirt and towel.

The Payoff

What started as a way to generate money during the tough summer months has turned into one of my greatest professional accomplishments. Families book their vacations around my camp, and the people who participate are inspired to make positive life changes. My camp now provides a significant source of revenue, but for me it is much more than that. I created something out of nothing. More than 1,000 people have attended my camp over the years—including my two sons, who weren’t even alive when I started it.

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Tom Holland, MS

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