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Julian Krinsky (left) with Adrian Castelli on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Tennis ball bounced in his direction

Krinsky Camps adds elements of education, work experience

Adam Stone - Special to the Business Journal

KING OF PRUSSIA - It used to be all about campfires and canoes, swimming and singalongs. Now you're supposed to learn stuff.

Are you sure this is camp?

The idea of summer camp as an educational experience may strike some as, well, vaguely depressing. But as Julian Krinsky has shown, there is an eager audience of parents and young people out there looking for a camp experience that does more than just entertain.

"Our programs are more than an investment by the parents in fun and safety. I want them to come back and say that they learned something, even though it is summer," said Krinsky, the driving force behind Krinsky Camps & Programs, based here in Montgomery County.

Summer may be over, but Krinsky is as busy as ever these days. This is marketing season in the summer-camp industry, and he will put out some 70,000 pieces of mail this fall, while also meeting extensively with the 'camp-referral agents' who help parents choose a camp.

Born and raised in South Africa, Krinsky was competing in professional tennis by the age of 19. He earned a law degree, became an accountant, settled in Philadelphia ... and came full circle. He started giving tennis lessons part time.

Pretty soon his operation had grown to startling proportions. Dozens of students were sleeping over in bunk beds and backyard tents for weekend lessons. Soon Krinsky started leasing indoor courts and dormitories.

Today, Krinsky operates 12 summer programs in the Philadelphia area, covering such areas as tennis, golf, business, cooking and the performing arts. The company also runs a summer camp program for Orthodox Jews.

Krinsky is most excited, though, to talk about his latest summer program. It isn't a camp at all, but rather an internship experience. This summer about 100 young people, ages 16 and 17, went out into the working world thanks to job programs arranged by Krinsky among his many friends and acquaintances on the local business scene. The cost of the program is $1,200 per student.

Observers say such content-based summer programming is hard to come by, and they suggest that Krinsky has tapped into a promising market.

"When you look at the business camps, for example, there is just nothing else like what [Krinsky] does," said Chuck Block, developer of Mandeville Place in Philadelphia. A former tennis student, he has followed Krinsky's work closely over the years.

"For kids with those kinds of interests, it is a perfect match. He homes in directly on what the audience wants," Block said.

How big an audience? Figures from the National Camp Association suggest that demand for a summer experience of any kind remains strong, with nearly 10,000 camps in operation nationwide and 6 million kids camping. As an independent owner, Krinsky is in the mainstream, with more than 70 percent of camps privately owned. In all, it's an $11 billion industry.

Unlike many camp owners, Krinsky does not own much property. He does hold the deed to two racquet clubs and he leases a golf club, but there is no "camp" per se. Instead he leases space from Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, the University of Pennsylvania and others.

No stale-bunk smell. No flies in the dining hall. Once again: Are you sure this is camp?

"We deal with a reasonably sophisticated crowd, and they come for a more upscale stay," Krinsky said. "We use 15 golf courses, we have indoor tennis courts in case it rains, we have hundreds of computers on the Internet. I couldn't take kids up to the woods to do that."

From a business perspective, the model has its virtues. What with insurance, maintenance, utilities and the like, the National Camp Association says it costs $750,000 to $1 million to operate a traditional camp - and that's before the mortgage payment.

To keep the wheels turning, Krinsky and his wife, PR director Tina Krinsky, are forever adjusting their marketing tactics. A new program this fall will blanket the mailing list with promotional postcards. The Krinskys pay outside vendors some $15,000 a year to improve the Web site, and additional funds go toward ensuring high search-engine placement.

Most recently, these marketing efforts have been aimed abroad, where Krinsky sees significant market potential.

"We lament the weak dollar when we travel, but for us it has been an absolute boon," he said. In February and March, he and Tina met with camp-referral agents in Europe in an effort to expand on the 8 percent to 10 percent of their campers who already hail from overseas.

"I like the mix. I always tell people, it doesn't begin and end with the Main Line or even with America. I have overseas counselors, teachers, golf pros from Australia and South Africa," Krinsky said. More to the point, the international mix helps to support his overall vision of camp as a place to learn and grow.

"The Americans see that tennis and golf are played all over the world," he said. "It expands their ideas, it expands how they see themselves."

Source: Philadelphia Business Journal - November 11, 2005