The Campfire Experience is a Columbus-based start-up that rents out vintage inspired teardrop campers and furnished bell tents for events and getaways. But The Campfire Experience goes beyond rentals-- their driving mission is to empower people to connect with nature, with themselves, and with others. Find out from founder and CEO, Amy Gillespie, how The Campfire Experience is inspiring exploration and cultivating local community in the digital age.
Tell us something that most people don't know about The Campfire Experience.
One of the early stories of the the origin of the business that not everyone knows is that early in 2013 I had started telling some people about my idea only to be told by many that perhaps I should stick to my day job. Newly pregnant, I did just that and at the same time was struggling with an identity crisis. Who was I? What else would I have to give up as I got older and became a mother? At about 6 months into my pregnancy, our favorite music festival, Nelsonville Music Festival (NMF), was coming up and we had decided to skip it. I was too uncomfortable and the thought of camping and laying on the ground was enough to keep me away. But on a Friday afternoon, I was scrolling through Facebook looking at all the the pictures friends were posting and couldn't take it. NMF was a tradition that I loved. So I messaged my husband who was suffering from FOMO as well and we agreed to hightail it out of work and meet each other at home. By the time I got home, I saw him in the street stuffing our guest bedroom mattress into the back of his SUV. That man was on a mission. And I was in love!
Then we grabbed a bag of clothes, jumped in the car and took off! It was a perfect weekend. I slept comfortably had an incredible time at NMF and bonded with my friends around the campfire at night. It was then that I knew I had to create options for people like me. I wasn't going to change who I was. I was going to create the life I wanted to live.
For me, the hurdle to going on our adventure that weekend was pregnancy. After that it was caring for a young child. In the future, my challenge may be an aging body and back issues (which is already happening!). So I wanted to create something that could help me feel more comfortable and yet not miss out on the experiences I loved.
What role has Instagram played in The Campfire Experience journey?
I have been telling people that LinkedIn is networking for corporate people while Instagram is networking for creative people. Not only have we received incredible support and gotten to know our followers, we have also personally met many of them! I meet photographers, adventurers, business owners, fans of what we are doing all the time and it is amazing! Sometimes you take for granted what a "follower" is-- it has been the best thing to meet our community and know that each and everyone in our community actually cares about what we are doing. It keeps us vigilant to provide a glimpse into what is really going on and to keep our content interesting.
When we first started, telling people what we did just didn't capture the magic we create. Instagram allowed us to visually capture what we were doing and allow people to join us.
And because we are a start-up, we simply don't have the budget for marketing and advertising. We have to use what is available to us and get creative. I credit Instagram for spreading our awareness. We have an amazing supportive community who truly helped us to get to where we are in only one year. These are real people who are cheering us on with every like and regram.
How do you collaborate with other small business?
As a local business ourselves, it's important to us to partner locally. We worked with Clintonville Outfitters early on as our partner for our teardrop camper pick-up location. We wanted to be sure to share this amazing store with our campers who may not have had the chance to visit it yet. They always keep the highest quality items in stock and have their finger on the pulse with incredible innovations in outdoor gear. Additionally, we have had custom furniture pieces made for events by both Re:Work and A Carpenter's Son. Most recently we collaborated with Yokel, a women-owned start-up focused on connecting the curious with the heart and soul of Columbus, on their bloggers brunch. They partnered with @Alicia.Wanders and @for_the_love_of_cbus to host a bloggers brunch to meet local women business owners and experience each one of their crafts. The businesses featured were @natterdoodles, @daristacafe, @santobrigadeiro, @planthropy, @balancedyoga, and of course @the_campfire_experience. 25 bloggers and influencers came, most of whom I had previously only interacted with on Instagram. It was such an energizing day and incredible to meet and feel the support of fellow female entrepreneurs and highly influential bloggers.
You’re amongst a growing number of brands that seek to empower and enable people to unplug from technology, reconnect with nature, and be fully present-- but at the same time it’s vital for businesses like yours to be extremely active on social media. How do you think we can achieve a good balance between unplugging and having our phones glued to our hands?
This is such a great and important question. And it is tough. At the beginning of the year, when I was camping or at Campfire events, people told me I needed to pay more attention. At the same time, we all know content is king and I felt I needed to capture it as much as possible. I was completely off balance. For myself, I had to come to the realization that making time to truly unplug was meaningful and important and I had to learn to do it. However, I had to allow myself to work some of those times rather then enjoy them. Because for me, that's what it is-- work. Now, I mindfully allow myself a couple of hours at any event to capture as much as I can and be shamelessly attached to my phone. Then, I tell myself, that's enough and just enjoy where you are right now. Letting myself just be fully immersed in technology and then completely shut off from it works best for me. It allowed me to stop feeling guilty.
I felt guilty if I wasn't enjoying the moment and guilty when I was (and not working). Now, I create rules for my technology and practice acceptance.
Additionally, we have a house rule to put away all forms of our technology by 10PM. They have to be out of our rooms so that we don't feel compelled to "just check one thing real quick". That alone has been pretty incredible. It sounds crazy to say that - but I forgot what it was like to fall asleep to the hum of my own thoughts.
For the casual user of technology, I would say the same thing. Let yourself capture some moments you think are beautiful or that you'd like to look back on. Then put it away - out of reach. Be wary of judging yourself. Practice acceptance.
The great thing about camping and sitting around a campfire is that typically you have no service anyway, and if you did at some point it's likely that your phone is dead and you have no other choice but to connect with those around you! At least I find that's what ends up happening!
What’s the purpose of the Campfire Sessions?
So the Campfire Sessions were born out of my love for the combination of good music, good beer, and great people around a fire. At the time, I was obsessed with watching La Blogotheque online which captures incredible musicians in single-take, natural shots typically in Paris and usually in random places (alleys, elevators, buses). I thought how cool it would be to capture an intimate performance in unique locations here in Columbus. So I teamed up with Kevin McIntyre and his team at FWD Creative Content to turn this idea into a reality. It's awesome because people get a taste of what we at The Campfire Experience can do and they can be part of a really unique experience much more affordably than if they hired us for a private party. It has been a great way to capture what we do and share it with a wider audience. Plus it has given us a chance to meet a lot of our Instagram followers face to face which is a treat!
What has been your favorite or the most rewarding thing about running The Campfire Experience and hosting the Campfire Sessions?
There are so MANY rewarding things about running The Campfire Experience and the Campfire Sessions. When I think about the Campfire Sessions, the collaboration and sense of community with the FWD team, the bands, and Rockmill Brewery (who has hosted most of the sessions) is humbling and inspiring. It keeps reaffirming this belief I have in the supportive nature of our local community.
And with both The Campfire Sessions and The Campfire Experience as a whole, the team and I get such a sense of purpose from seeing people's faces light up with joy when they explore what we have created for them. We work REALLY hard and there is a lot of heavy lifting, spiders, and bruises but it is ALL worth it when we see our guests and campers having an incredible time. We see it on their faces and we have been lucky enough to hear directly from them how amazed they are. We work hard with a serious goal of helping people experience a childlike enthusiasm when they immerse themselves in the spaces we create. And witnessing that transformation from discerning adult to gleeful child-at-heart is the very best thing in the world.
Big thanks to Amy and The Campfire Experience for this interview! If you're in the Columbus area and you're interested in their rentals or events, find more information at thecampfireexperience.com.
Creative Community Developer at Snapfluence.
I'm the Oxford comma's biggest fan.