The Inaugural Issue of DEAR KURTZ (that's me!)

Dear Kurtz,

Hi Sarah! I’m looking to add items to the camp store.  I’m curious what other camps see as their “best sellers.”


Merchandising in Michigan

Dear Merchandising,

Wow, I hate to break it to you, but when I started this advice column thing I was looking for some really juicy inquiries.  You know, things like “I have to fire my girlfriend” or “everyone at my camp smokes by the river at night, what do I do?”.  I guess I’ll just have to wait until June until the real camp drama starts to happen.  Sadness.  For now, I’ll respectfully respond to your inquiry, but I do have a question for you: if this is only about the camp store as you suggest, why didn’t you share your real name?


1.     Don’t ask me, ask your college-age staff.  Basically see what the local sororities and student orgs are ordering for their swag.  This tactic for several years led me to the golden decisions of spirit jerseys, custom socks and tank tops (TTs).  Campers want to wear what the counselors are wearing.

2.     Ask for suggestions from your campers on Instagram or Twitter (or whatever it is that they are using in your communities!)—in fact, my old camp, Camp Al-Gon-Quian, did that just this morning and got some great advice.  Looks like sweatpants and crewneck sweatshirts are in-demand!  And perhaps bucket hats...more on 90s trends later.

3.     Always order water bottles, and always order the regular-size Nalgenes (32 ounce wide-mouth).  Don’t get the fancy tops (they break) or the Camel-back style nozzles (they get gross without regular washing).  Just use different printed designs every year.  The “sparkle pink” was always a popular color in our camp store.


4.     Avoid too many smaller items.  Bandannas are great, but you are only going to make about $2-$3 off of them, and some campers will buy just a bandanna and be satisfied with it as their one souvenir instead of a larger-ticket item like a sweatshirt or a t-shirt.

5.     At co-ed camps, make sure all of your items gender-neutral to appeal to a wide variety of campers, expanding the number of potential customers you have to buy said items.

6.     Never put the year on items unless you’re specifically celebrating something like your camp’s 100th anniversary.

7.     Stock your store with items that apply to the forecast for the upcoming summer and your region.  At a recent conference in Texas, everyone commented that all of my photos of camp showed people wearing sweatshirts and jackets.  Yup, I said, it’s because I’m in Northern Michigan!  In cold summers, our store would sell out of sweatshirts and sweatpants almost immediately.  Those would languish on the shelves forever in Texas!

8.     Just go ahead and order a ton of sunglasses. I like the Malibu Sunglasses from Logo Outfitters.

9.     I’m noticing those somewhat oversize t-shirts with front pockets are popular lately, especially when the pocket is a different color or even a different design than the shirt.

10.  Trends go in cycles. Many of the things that were cool when I was in middle school/early high school in the late 90s/early 00s are now coming back into style (Doc Martens, vests, etc.).  So, my last comment will be that I dare you to take a risk on two things that were wildly popular camp store items when I was a camper: Umbro-style shorts and hospital scrub pants!

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