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The Glamping Business: The Ranch at Rock Creek
Written by: Alexandria Autrey
How long have you been in the glamping business?
Glamping in our Canvas Cabins has been a part of The Ranch experience since our opening in 2010.
When did you decide to call it glamping?
Jim Manley, Owner of Ranch at Rock Creek’s owner, adopted the term “glamping” when he bought the property in 2007.
How long did it take to start the business up?
Mr. Manley searched for more than 20 years to find the ideal location for his dream ranch, evaluating over 500 different properties in the process. In 2007, he found The Ranch at Rock Creek and knew it was perfect. From there, it took three years to get the business up and running in time for its 2010 debut.
Where did you get your glamping supplies?
Our glamping accommodations are uniquely constructed from canvas and lumber, earning them the title Canvas Cabins. Because we strive to source everything locally, we bought our canvas supplies from a Montana-based company called Reliable Tents, and the lumber came from all over the state. In addition, our interior designer, Jet Zarkadas, drew from local influences: cattle ranching, mining, logging, railroading, and the rich Plains Indian history. Our furnishing, photographs, textiles, artifacts, art, and many antiques tell the region’s story and invite guests to experience the spirit of the West.
Were there any hurdles you had when starting the business?
As with any hotel or resort opening, we experienced a few hurdles during initial construction from 2007-2010, but nothing we couldn’t overcome. The biggest challenge was getting the size, feel, and look of the tents just right. Our tents reflect careful attention to detail, and it took time to achieve that perfect balance. In fact, we actually took down the first few that we constructed and moved them since they did not meet our expectations.
The second biggest challenge with our Canvas Cabins was that we wanted to create something luxurious yet sturdy enough to last year round. A good example would be the tent ventilation. When we surveyed our friends in the travel industry, many travel advisors suggested screened-in porches. We liked that idea so much that we went with brass screens which maintain good air flow and resist rust.
Out of all your accommodations, where do people like to stay the most?
From spring through early fall, the Canvas Cabins are our most popular option. During winter, guests prefer the private log home or the lodge rooms. However, we also have two glamping tents open year round, allowing guests to enjoy glamping in the heart of winter – an incredible and unique experience. Among our glamping tents, our two most popular ones are Sweet Grass and Trapper. Sweet Grass is a two bedroom Canvas Cabin which features a soaking tub and outdoor living space. It’s an incredible place to unwind and listen to the sound of Rock Creek. Sweet Grass was born out of another travel advisor suggestion to Mr. Manley. Trapper is our most remote and private accommodation, a favorite among honeymooners and anniversary celebrations. All of our other accommodations are a two-minute bike ride or ten minute walk from the Granite Lodge; Trapper Cabin is about a five minute drive along Rock Creek and the pastures.
What activities do people like to do when they stay with you?
We offer a variety of different activities – both outdoor adventures and indoor entertainment and fun. In order of popularity, guests prefer horseback riding, fly fishing, and the five different types of shooting we offer. In addition, we have a brand-new, 40-feet-high ropes course featuring rock climbing walls, zip lines, and different obstacle courses. We also offer 3D archery, mountain biking, riding, hiking, geocaching, and outdoor swimming during the summer months. During the winter, we offer downhill skiing 25 minutes away at Discovery Ski Area. We also have on-property cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, horse drawn sleigh rides, and many other options. In the evenings, guests enjoy the Silver Dollar Saloon – it has 4 lanes of bowling, karaoke, billiards, shuffleboard and a private theatre. Our Little Grizzlies Kids Club is a wonderful way for children ages 4-12 to learn about Western activities and get outside and learn new sports and appreciate nature and wildlife.
How long did it take to install the tents?
It took about five months to build the tents due to the need for infrastructure, septic tanks, and power lines.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned while being in the business?
The biggest lesson we’ve learned so far was how difficult it would be to create a brand from scratch and market it on a global level.
Why did you decide to offer glamping?
Our goal was to offer our guests just the right variety of accommodations. With that in mind, Mr. Manley created a hotel-like experience with the rooms in the Granite Lodge for our more traditional guests, log homes for larger families, and the glamping tents for couples and families who wanted a more immersive experience. All guests who visit The Ranch during the warmer months get a taste of glamping. Everyone likes the casual fare at the Blue Canteen, an indoor-outdoor dining venue right in the heart of Camp Roosevelt, where the canvas cabins are located. It offers a truly unique glamping dining experience – it is wonderfully designed and the structure is made of logs and canvas. There is a wood stove inside and an open fire pit just outside.
What is the profitability from glamping versus your other accommodations?
Our glamping accommodations’ profitability is equivalent to our other accommodations.
Do you have plans to expand?
Next summer we plan to move our current activity center, The Rod & Gun Club, elsewhere on the property and to use that space to build four more suites. Mr. Manley would also like to add two more glamping tents some time down the road. Our goal, however, will always be to preserve the intimate feel of The Ranch, which is one of the foundations of our brand.
What is the biggest challenge?
One somewhat humorous challenge we have is reminding guests to open their windows at night and to shut them in the morning. Although it is basic camping knowledge, some of our guests are not used to how cool Montana can be at night in the summer.
What is your target demographic?
In the summer months, we see a lot of families and couples, as well as many individual travelers. During the spring, fall and winter months, couples and groups of friends love to get away to The Ranch to enjoy the change of seasons. Guests can fly fish on our Blue Ribbon trout stream, Rock Creek during the hatches in the spring or trail ride into the hills with the leaves turning. Of course, over the holidays and throughout the winter, guests love that The Ranch becomes a winter wonderland – especially around Trapper and Sweet Grass – and snow sports are just outside their door. We also accommodate larger groups comprised of corporate events and weddings. Big or small, we can handle it.