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The Glamping Business: Moose Meadow Lodge
Interview by: Alexandria Autrey
We sat down with Moose Meadow Lodge to see how they got involved in Glamping and what it takes to run a small business with a large turnout. They not only answered our questions but gave us an insight into the world of buying, owning, designing and running such an amazing business that brings luxury to the outdoors.
How long have you been in the Glamping business?
We’ve been a bed and breakfast since 1998, but we didn’t have the tree house until 2013. That’s when we started using the term “glamping.” With that said, we joined the glamping movement in 2013.
How long did it take to start the business up?
Well, we bought the property in 1996, it was originally a private home. The first two years we were planning and renovating while also creating the business and what we wanted to do as well as getting all the permits. So I would say it took around two years. We didn’t even think about the treehouse until two years ago.
What made you guys think of building the treehouse?
We had a friend that had built himself a treehouse out of scrap lumber and when I saw it, he literally built a house in the tree. I was so impressed and I thought to myself, we have 86 acres we should be able to build a treehouse. We initially wanted to build it for Willie and me (the owners) but after we started the construction we thought this is very unique and we should continue building it with the thought of it being an additional guest room. With that in mind, there is a design school right next to us and one of the classes is specifically about designing a tree houses. When I found out they were looking for a location to teach the class we jumped on it and contacted the school because we wanted a treehouse. So the class came out and started the project. When the class was done, we then hired the instructor and his team to come out under a separate contract to finish the tree house according to our design. All the materials used are found locally and a lot of the art is from local artists. We tried to use as much local resources that we could.
Were there any hurdles you had to tackle?
Yes, definitely! The largest hurdle for us was adhering to all the different state and local codes. We had to redo some stuff in the tree house that would have been fine for a homeowner but because we are a business, our codes are a lot stricter. In addition to the codes, we had to pass state inspections. With that being said, these hurdles costs us a lot more than expected. Opening up a glamping business was a lot more paper work as well as expected rather than having it be a private property.
Where do people like to stay mostly?
We have a lot of different clientele. For example, we have people who like to take showers outdoors and who enjoy walking out into the woods as well as those who really like to be in touch with nature. The people who come are the people who are used to camping but are also used to luxury. The guests who stay at the bed and breakfast, love the convenience of having a kitchen and bathroom with a regular toilet, so basically a home away from home. It really depends on the clientele, no guests prefer one over the other, they’re just different clientele with different wants and needs. The word we hear from almost every guest who stays in our tree house is, magical. They never want to get out of the shower because they feel so in touch with nature.
How long did it take to install the treehouse?
It took about six months to build. Phase one took about six months and phase two took another three months which was the construction on the bathroom. When doing the bathroom, we also extended the deck around the side of the treehouse in order to put in the plumbing for the bathroom. With the deck, we also had to put in some new railings to comply with state codes. Also, the toilet in the treehouse is an incinerating toilet which means it burns everything liquid or solid it and burns it to ash. Its’ very sterile and easy to clean.
What activities do people do during the day when staying at Moose Meadow Lodge?
The treehouse over looks our trout pond and it is always stocked with rainbow trout, so it’s there if guests want to go fishing and they can swim in the pond. In addition, there is hiking and within five minutes of us, people can go canoeing as well as kayaking. Also, horseback riding and biking are also offered. And on our property we have a lot of mushrooms so guests can go mushrooming in the woods. Guests can also enjoy zip lining and swimming at local spots. There are also local markets and artisan studios so people can dive into the town. You can drive for 10-15 minutes and there will be so much to do you can’t scratch the surface. We also have people come from all over for the foods, including the Ben and Jerry’s factory that is located near us. But at the end of the day the people are here to decompress and we’ve had guests cry because they didn’t want to leave.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned so far being in this business?
The biggest lesson is to make sure the contractor you hire is familiar with state regulations so, that all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. Of course, it's our responsibility too since we’re the owners. So I guess, we would say it's crucial to make sure that the builder is aware of what those new codes are for a business versus a private home.
What is the profitability for glamping versus your bed and breakfast?
The treehouse is extra special and it allows us to charge a premium rate, almost double the rate of our main lodge rooms. People are willing to pay more because it’s so special. Because of the tree house’s appeal, we allow a one night minimum however, the main lodge is a 2 night minimum. We predicted that the tree house would pay for itself in about 7 years but I think that’s been shorted to about 4 years because it is so popular.
Do you have plans to expand?
No, we have no intention of building another treehouse or expanding. We are at our personal capacity so we don’t want to expand.
What is the biggest challenge operating the glamping? How did/do you solve this problem?
One of the biggest challenges we faced was building the treehouse. However, now that it is operating the biggest challenge is the distance from the lodge to the treehouse. I do the housekeeping so I have to clean the treehouse after each guest and get it ready for the next guest. Having to go back and forth with materials, supplies and linens is very time consuming. So, with that said, I have to be very organized and focused with the tree house bookings. Because the treehouse is not in the main lodge, it's about 200-300 feet away, that extra distance adds a little more time. Because of the distance, our golf cart comes in handy when it comes to catering to the guests in the treehouse. As we offer what we call “tree service,” which is like room service for the guests staying in the treehouse. This becomes a challenge because, I feed everyone at the same time in the main lodge. So, if someone wants tree service I have to schedule them a little bit after or before the regular service in order to ensure everyone gets fed in a timely manner. However, for the most part, the treehouse goers love coming to the main lodge to socialize.
What, if any is your Target demographic?
Our target demographic is people like us who love the outdoors and camping yet enjoy luxury. The people who stay here are anywhere in age from their 20s to 60s, they are mostly professional people but not always. Most of the guests that come to stay in the treehouse come here because it’s their honeymoon. Others come because it’s usually a special occasion, such as getting engaged, a surprise or even a birthday. In fact, I have even done a few weddings in the treehouse. We also do a lot of LGBT marketing and we are very tied in with the Vermont Gay Tourism Association, which I am president of. We also see a lot of that demographic, mainly couples but, the tree house sees more families than the main lodge does.
Why did you decide to offer glamping versus traditional accommodations?
The idea of glamping, came from one of our guests who said, “I read about these luxury tents and you should build some of these tents on your property. It’s called glamping!” This was maybe 7 years ago, and we kept that in mind when we built the treehouse. We thought well this is a perfect glamping site, it’s not a tent but ,it’s a tree house! So, with that said glamping has been on the radar for 7-10 years. However, we just didn’t know how to create the glamping experience here at the Moose Meadow Lodge. Although, the tent idea was good, it just wasn’t appealing to us. Something to keep in mind that I don’t think a lot of people realize, is that yes we are a bed and breakfast but, that’s not the business we're in. We see ourselves in the business of creating memories, of creating experiences. And the treehouse has just added to that and has raised the bar for our guests. We believe bigger isn’t always better and more isn’t always what makes a place great. It’s about creating something unique and something special that your guests are going to walk away from thinking about for years to come. I want their experiences to be playing over and over again in their minds.