Business owner talks about Arizona's roller-coaster economy.
Name: Bebe Brown May
Business: Friendly Pines Camp
Location: Prescott, Az.
As a young woman, Bebe Brown May wasn’t remotely interested in taking over her parents’ business, Friendly Pines Camp. But when her parents retired in the ’60s and neither of her siblings wanted to buy the business, Brown and her husband, Jack, moved back from England and bought the camp, continuing the tradition of its celebrated riding program.
How did Friendly Pines Camp begin?
One of my dad’s friends was going to be a camp counselor and talked my dad into applying as well. He did, and apart from deciding right then and there as a 20-year-old that someday he would have a camp, he saw lots of ideas for how he would run the camp of his future life quite differently.
He married my mother, a ranch girl from Arizona. They used my mother’s family ranch for about a dozen boys, and it grew from there. In the late ’40s they acquired an operating camp. They took it over, and it never missed a beat. It’s been going straight through since then. In 1965, my husband, Jack, and I took over, and we ran it together until three years ago, when he died. We have really good help and have been blessed beyond measure.
What is Arizona’s business climate like? Is it as friendly as Friendly Pines?
I wish it were better. We felt the same dings that everybody else did, probably a little bit more, because Arizona kind of rides a bit of a roller coaster. Frequently people come out here on vacation, and the first thing they think they want to do is move here. Then the economy is booming, and the labor force can hardly keep up with the new development. But when the bottom falls out as it did, and homes are being foreclosed on and there is very little construction, it’s difficult. We really went through a lot.
We’ve noticed it in our enrollment patterns. We used to have a waitlist sometimes by the first of January, and in the last several years we have had a difficult time filling until sometimes April or May. It kind of scares you to death, because we hire optimistically, with the hopes the enrollment will be full.
We also have an awful situation affecting camps here in Arizona. Camps can no longer be considered exempt from minimum wages. Part of what we pay our counselors is room and board, etc., and that is considered part of their package, with a flat salary for the summer.
We now have to pay minimum wage per hour if there is as much as one child in their care and company, including during the nights, and this is without question the most challenging thing that has come along.
I don’t know how long we’ll be able to make it if they raise the minimum wage any more. We don’t mind paying the counselors in their waking hours, but to pay them in their sleeping hours, that’s another 8 or 9 hours a day. We don’t charge enough—if we did, we would price ourselves out of existence.
What advice would you give other small business owners?
Don’t be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you are. Sometimes they’re the saving of the business.