Chris MacPhee – Founder of Suburban Camping Company

[quote style=”boxed”]We love old things done in new ways. We recently read about a milk company in NYC that is bringing back the classic milk bottle delivery service to customers in urban areas. Love the idea of cultivating a modern way of doing something based on something classic. Nostalgia is a huge trend right now and whether it is in the form of milk delivery or camping – it is something we think people want.[/quote]

Founders of Suburban Camping Company, husband and wife Chris & Kella MacPhee, had a big idea, something that would change the world … or at least the neighborhood. The plan was to offer an experience. An experience that tasted like burnt marshmallows, sounded like story telling, felt like wet grass and ended with a “good night Johnboy” (to people who had maybe never heard of Johnboy).

Thirtysomething Chris MacPhee lost his job as a regional manager for a retail fixturing company when it closed 2 years ago. The economy had created big changes in an industry Chris had worked in for 10 years and he didn’t see his job coming back. Losing it became the push Chris needed to focus on something else and his dream to outfit suburbia with glamorous canvas tents and create backyard camp outs complete with cots, lanterns, sleeping bags and s’mores began to take shape. One year later Suburban Camping Company was launched at the Jersey Shore.

Chris’s love of the outdoors started as a kid who camped out as often as he could and later went to Johnson State College in Vermont to study outdoor education. Working at various outdoor shops Chris gained valuable knowledge in the industry. Chris is married to head camp counselor (and wedding photojournalist) Kella. They live in a small cottage by the beach with their dog Ruby.

What are you working on right now?

We are always looking for new ways to get families and friends together, unplugged and outdoors, however our business is seasonal {we live in jersey remember.. very cold winters!} and so exploring creative ways to bring our company to new people and create experiences for them during the off months is a priority and challenge. We are working on adding indoor camping experiences during the cold months and also for rained out camp outs (although we always offer rain dates). We are super excited to be able to expand the business and still keep our underlying mission and goals the same!

What does your typical day look like?

A typical day includes rousing Ruby {our mascot and much loved dog!} before noon {she sleeps all day}, coffee and oatmeal {oat revolution- best ever!}, turning on the macbook and checking emails {love getting emails from prospective clients and just nice people}, editing photos {thousands of them – Kella is a wedding photojournalist}, maintaining the nearby vicinity with the proper amount of potato chips {Chris’s other job}, windexing the Ruby slobber off the front glass door, Harry Potter might be on TV {Kella’s fave}, various trips to the post office, staples and sometimes the neighborhood peruvian chicken place {best empanadas ever!}, organizing and charging camping equipment and camera equipment, lots of idea hunting on the web, a bike ride to the beach followed by a fajita dinner and episode of American Pickers. Then we do it all over again, but not always with the empanadas.. ha!

3 trends that excite you?

Pinterest is a current fave; it’s a site where favorites things online are tagged and re-tagged, a perfect way to get the word out and see what’s trending.

We love vintage and use vintage props with our campouts to create an old-school camping experience. We are inspired by the DIY and handmade movement which represents the skills and craftsmanship absent in the world of large-scale manufacturing. Etsy is our favorite ecommerce site for vintage and handmade – we have worked with their artists on everything from our logo, to our tent banners to our pillow covers.

We are also loving the trend of urban farming and farm to table eating. Getting people back to the earth and appreciating where food comes from and using local growers and products. We have tossed around the idea of getting some chickens, ha, not sure Ruby would like it though!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Word of mouth and social media is a major component in marketing our business – by connecting with friends and potential campers through Facebook and Twitter we can get instant feedback on what we are doing. We also need a lot of face to face time in our local community since we are a local service-based company. Our decision making is based on a sink or swim philosophy, if we have an idea we try it and then we improve it as we go along or we nix it all together. The great thing about being small is that we have the flexibility to be able to change on a dime.

What inspires you?

We love old things done in new ways. We recently read about a milk company in NYC that is bringing back the classic milk bottle delivery service to customers in urban areas. Love the idea of cultivating a modern way of doing something based on something classic. Nostalgia is a huge trend right now and whether it is in the form of milk delivery or camping – it is something we think people want.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

This business was literally founded on a dream {a real one, the one you have while sleeping} and we immediately told people about it (and got great feedback, of course, the people we told were family and friends who mostly like us). The timing felt right and we went with our instinct and acted quickly. It skipped a certain phase where you give the idea room to breathe and let it tell you what it needs to become successful (which is maybe more common than not since things move fast). Suburban Camping Company is very different from what it was when we first told family and friends about that dream and is evolving into more than camping and into a movement to bring people together in a real way. So the one thing I would have done differently was allow the idea to evolve for us before we told people, before we labeled ourselves.

What do you read every day, and why?

Every morning we turn on our computers and read the cover of AOL. It is not always the most important news or the most interesting, you can find more valuable info on CNN but the value is in the connection with other people. Of course you have to search out the obscure stuff, too- but knowing what other people are reading and where their heads are at can be helpful when growing relationships with other people.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

2 words = Grateful Dead! Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead written by David Meerman Scott & Brian Halligan. Great lessons in empowering your consumer, standing out from the crowd and the importance of developing a following. The book explores how the iconic band allowed taping shows when no one else would, sold concert tickets directly to the fans and in turn cultivated the biggest following in history! An important read that teaches us as businesses to take chances, not follow the flock and inspire new ideas through a sense of community.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

Springpad is an amazing app that can organize a busy life. Post notes to various categories, look up places & products and make checklists. A very clever all in one app everyone should have.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Cat Ivins from Olive Bites Studio – has 2 of the most successful shops on Etsy!

Who should we follow on Twitter?

Design Sponge – a blog for all things handmade and DIY.

TED – their motto says it all.. ideas worth spreading.

Steve Carrell as Michael Scott – always super funny and only person I would ever want to work for.

When is the last time you laughed out loud?

Just now, reading Michael Scott’s last tweet!

Where do you see Suburban Camping Co. in 5 years?

More in-tents, more themed campouts, an expansion in the areas that we outfit, franchising opportunities, branching out to businesses and concert goers, we will see where the wind blows our canvas!

What do you spend your spare time doing when not lugging around camping equipment?!

We love to ride our bikes to the beach, fishing on our boat, spend way too much time on design blogs, spend way too much time pondering what needs to be done around the house {instead of doing it}, shopping at flea markets for vintage camping decor and making youtube videos {Chris is sort of famous on there!}


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