The campsites were ready, so Nathan Self took a conference call Monday afternoon in what’s become his second office. He jumped in a hammock, plugged in his bluetooth headphones and went to work under the pines and oaks and maples at Shady Grove Campground.
Nathan’s wife, Rebeka, walked from site to site checking their customers’ accommodations. One had rented a bell tent and retro RV for a child’s birthday party. A nature activity kit waited on a small bed inside the tent, and a small lightbox read, ‘Happy Birthday Ava!’ Another tent was rented for Sparkles, a social media celebrity dog from Alpharetta.
It was the Monday of the last week of the first year for the Self’s new business, the Georgia Glamping Company, and it was both familiarly and encouragingly busy. The Selfs are finding that people have caught on to glamping, a modern version of camping that doesn’t sacrifice comfort in the great outdoors.
“We can’t open them up fast enough right now,” Nathan said.
The concept is attractive to those turned off by the traditional camping experience. The Selfs set up one of their signature bell tents and pack them with amenities: Memory foam beds, Keurig coffee machines, heating or air conditioning units, luxury linens, artisanal decorations. For an additional cost, campers can get kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, grills, s’mores kits and more. Like a hotel stay, campers just have to show up.
The idea came out of a bad vacation experience last February. Rebeka and Nathan took their two children to a Florida beach, but the kids found the sand less appealing than the iPad and TV. Plus, the hotel was noisy.
Frustrated by the weekend, the two spent the road trip back home to Forsyth County brainstorming ways to help their family connect while also avoid the trappings of technology and hotels.
“That’s what sparked our conversation,” Rebeka said. “Where would people go where it’s acceptable to unplug?”
They settled on camping. Nathan was, admittedly, more accustomed to luxury accommodations after years traveling for work, while Rebeka grew up camping in Oregon. Glamping was the natural compromise. Nathan was familiar with the concept from his travels; it’s prevalent in Australia and the United Kingdom. Rebeka had seen glamping companies on social media.
In the car, Rebeka opened up Nathan’s laptop and they spent the trip formulating a business plan.
“By the time we got back we were ready to roll,” Rebeka said.
Indeed, by March, the business was up and running with two campsites.
And it was a hit from the start.
“We ended up booking everything we opened up,” Rebeka said.
Georgia Glamping has been growing ever since. They bought more bell tents after just two months in business. They entered a contract with Shady Grove Campground to have permanent sites. Last month, they purchased Roxy, a retro-style recreation vehicle, complete with a full bathroom, kitchenette, twin-size bunk beds and a queen master bedroom area. They’ve already received interest from real estate investment firms.
Rebeka and Nathan are content with their current trajectory, taking manageable steps of growth. “We just kind of want to grow naturally,” Rebeka said. Their season at Shady Grove ends this week, but they’ve already booked more permanent campsites when next season opens in mid-March. A new amenity for campers in 2019 will be a partnership with Dream Dinners, a Forsyth County company that will pre-make meals for campers to toss on the grill.
Those real estate investment firms pitched the couple on buying 150 acres of land miles away, but Rebeka and Nathan plan to stay close to place they’ve called home since moving to Forsyth County in 2015.
Why leave when they’re getting everything they hoped for right in their backyard.
“It’s kind of hard to be stressed out here,” Rebeka said. “It’s really peaceful.”