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Nicole ~ Entrepreneur

COVID, factory shutdowns, wildfire delays, bank fears, zoning meeting delays, and everything else but the kitchen sink has been thrown at this new startup.

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COVID, factory shutdowns, wildfire delays, bank fears, zoning meeting delays, and everything else but the kitchen sink has been thrown at this new startup. But they are not deterred. Read their story….

Business Model: “‘We are a startup business with an unfamiliar concept in the region we’ll be operating. Our business is glamping. Our region is Kentucky. Camp Bespoke is a high-end campground with upscale container conversion cabins and luxury tipis. My business partners and I, all of us healthcare professionals, came up with this idea in November 2019 and started running full-steam ahead. Then came COVID.”

Bank Loans: “Our business is in hospitality and the bottom is falling out of hospitality right now. The banks don't want to lend us money because it's a startup and it's hospitality and understandably everybody's scared of COVID. The banks say ‘Once you all have a couple of quarters under your belt.’ How do you get a couple of quarters under your belt if you can't get a small business loan? Campgrounds are the one industry that’s had 150% growth. Everybody is looking for things to do outside and now going camping. Even the national parks that have old outdated, antiquated accommodations are sold out.”

Demand: “We got 50 -100 phone calls/messages a day. Before Labor Day, I would say, we thought we had a manageable call volume, you know, 10 to 20 people a day, emails and phone calls. We came back from Labor Day weekend with 100 voicemails from people wanting to book and trying to get reservations and saying your website is sold out and congratulation, you know, it’s humbling so for us it's been, oh my gosh exciting.”

Demand (Redux): “The demand is really not surprising, though, because Camp Bespoke is located in Williamstown, Kentucky, which pre-COVID saw 70,000 visitors a month from all over the world. 70,000 a month. To see a replica of Noah’s Ark, built to the specifications in the Bible. Even if you're not a religious person, it is a sight to see. You walk up to it, and it's breathtaking. In fall 2021, they are doing a 40 days 40 nights of concert series. The problem is that Williamstown has only two motels and about 60 Airbnb units. So there is a lot of unmet demand for overnight accommodations. Our goal was to open up fully by June 2020 which pushed us back to October 2020, but then came COVID, shutdowns, and wildfires.”

Planning Board Delays: “We were on track to go to the board of adjustments to get the approvals and then zoning and planning in March, then COVID happened and it was tabled. And so you can imagine that no bank is going to lend you money on land that you don't even have yet and that you don't have permission to do your project on. So that was an immediate delay, but we finally got the zoning and planning approvals in June.”

Banks (Redux): “Once we got the approvals, we went to the banks. Their response was “Oh no, it's COVID, we can't lend any money. You're a new startup business and it's COVID, you know, and the bottom has fallen out of hospitality.’”

Pivoting: “So we had to be creative to come up with a solution to push forward. Our solution was a lease purchase agreement. That allowed us to start building and developing on the land. Once either our revenues start, or the banks, you know, begin lending again, then we can purchase it.”

Factory Shutdowns: “But we had more issues. We have to have custom sofas made for the dimensions of the tiny footprint units and tipis. The problem is that the factories were shut down because of COVID and fear having to shutdown again. So now there’s a backlog and delay.”

Wildfire Delays: “And then the wildfires on the West Coast threw a wrench into our plans. That's where our tipis are coming from, Oregon.”

Pivoting (Redux): “So we made the decision to open with a smaller footprint. We were slated to have 36 units. This year, we're going to open initially with ten units and then add an additional 12 units. So in 2020 we will have 20 units barring, you know, that we don't have the locusts show up and a sinkhole open up in the back of the campground. At this point, not much would surprise me. But we're still here. We're still standing.”

Positive Surprises: “The things that everybody thought would be a problem, like getting all the site work done and the utilities done and in seven weeks, are ahead of schedule because we've had good weather in Kentucky.”

Takeaway: “So when I say we are living Jumanji, yes, we are living Jumanji. It's been a year. We are survivors.”

Camp Bespoke (Background): "The whole idea started last October. My friends and I were looking to build a retreat. We're all hard working health care professionals and we thought, ‘We’ll build a retreat so we can have a weekend getaway that’s close enough for us to drive to on the weekends.’ The goal was to relax and spend time with our families and our girlfriends. We started looking at land in Kentucky, where we’re from. Most of it is zoned A-1 'Agricultural Use.' A retreat does not meet the conditional use requirements for A1 zoning, but a campground does. So we decided to make the retreat into a 'modern' campground.

We are excited about having Camp Bespoke in Kentucky. It will give us an opportunity to show off some of the best of Kentucky. When I travel, people always say the same things to me, ‘Oh wow, you don't look like you're from Kentucky, you don't sound like you're from Kentucky.’ And so I thought, Well, okay, we can show people Kentucky and we can show them what we do in Kentucky and, you know, Kentucky is so much more than the Derby. And so, I think, for us, it was, it was just a perfect situation because we would help the local economy and Williamstown, whose mayor and city administrator have been incredible to work with and show the beauty of Kentucky.

Pivoting to a campground actually worked out very well. We made the decision before COVID, before people started working from home and from vacation spots. We designed the campground so it will provide accommodations all year round. That's where we came up with the idea of converting 40-foot shipping containers into modernized cabins, tiny houses. We are working with partners in Louisville to convert the containers into cabins with us. Using these containers, set on pier supports, will create a minimal environmental footprint, which is important to us.

Because of COVID, and the stresses that everyone has been feeling this year, it has been even more important for our team to create this campground, so people have that respite place where they can go and disconnect and be with their families." -- Nicole, Camp Bespoke #Kentucky


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