Meet Michael Erickson, founder, and CEO of SummerCampAZ. After 28 years of serving as the CEO of America’s Best Karate, Mike decided to close down his business due to Covid, and start a new venture, a spin-off of the most profitable part of his business, summer camps.
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Welcome to your ValiantCEO exclusive interview! Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell us about yourself.
Michael Erickson: After 28 years of being the CEO for America’s Best Karate, Covid wiped out 80% of our active business. I sold my home to infuse capital in my business, but in August 2020 I was forced to close my business.
When you have spent the better part of your life in one industry, you become emotionally and physically tied to that industry – contacts, family, relationships. So with a new marriage and a baby on the way, I had to deeply self-reflect on how I was going to take care of my family. I decided to spin off the most profitable part of my business – camps – especially summer camps.
As the new CEO of SummerCampAZ, we had our first Spring Camp in March of 2021. So far this year we have grossed $350,000.00 in camp tuition alone. We are already scaling to open 9 additional camps in Arizona in 2022; 100 in 2023; and 500 in 2024.
I have managed to take the disastrous Covid epidemic that closed my business and spin it to doubling my income, and more importantly, working three months out of the year, gaining time to spend with my family. You can view our current website at SummerCampAZ.com. Our new site will be available at the end of January 2022.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get to where you are today? Give us some lessons you learned along the way.
Michael Erickson: I was working as a bartender at a Bennigans in Colorado where many customers were coming in to drink during their lunch break because they were unhappy with their work. When I asked them why they didn’t quit, they responded with, “I am getting paid too much and now my expenses, house, lifestyle, etc match what I am making”. It made me think a lot about choosing the right career. Then I came upon a saying that summed it up perfectly:
- “Work at something that you love and you will never work a day in your life.”
I loved the martial arts and I decided to open my own business and see how successful I could be. In two years we were already grossing 1.3 million dollars a year and were rated #3 in the world. This business lasted 28 years until Covid wiped it out, but once you work for yourself, it is difficult to ever consider working for someone else again.
Tell us about your business, what does the company do? What is unique about the company?
Michael Erickson: Traditionally, many summer camps take children on a variety of adventures and field trips to help entertain them. Covid not only closed many of these camps, but many others chose to cancel field trips instead of packing kids in buses and vans. We created a new model partnering with businesses that needed additional revenue and tended to be slower over the summer. We then import the horses, petting zoos, Firetrucks, foam parties, laser tag…etc. We also have a unique funnel to bring in clients and customer friendly software that enhances their experience and ultimately the retention for our camps.
How to become a CEO? Some will focus on qualities, others on degrees, how would you answer that question?
Michael Erickson: If you want to become a CEO of something, the first thing you have to ask is what will make the experience unique for my future clients. How will I set my business apart from others? Secondly, you should work for someone that is successful in your field. The experience you can earn is priceless. Lastly, you have to self-reflect to see if your personality matches that of an entrepreneur. Some people like the security of a paycheck every two weeks, benefits. Entrepreneurs ride the highs and the lows and have to have nerves of steel.
What are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, who are your role models and why? Illustrate your choices.
Michael Erickson: My inspiration starts with my parents. My father taught me the value of hard work and my mother inspired creativity. Both are essential elements of becoming a successful CEO. Next, I traveled the country and spent time with many successful CEOs in my chosen field and the insight I learned was critical to my success. Lastly, I developed a great team around me that not only helped our company rise, but became lifetime friends and family in the process.
Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs? Explain.
Michael Erickson: First and foremost have a rock-solid business plan. Secondly, build a fantastic team around you. My early mistakes were from doing too much thinking that “living to work” was the motto for success. In time I learned that “working to live” creates true life fulfillment and that can only happen if you trust your team and you have time to spend with your family and friends outside of work.
The Covid-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test, what were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO/Leader in the past year? Please list and explain in detail.
Michael Erickson: After 28 years we found ourselves losing 80% of our business overnight. We sold our main business and spun off the most profitable part of our business which resulted in doubling my paycheck and freeing a great deal of my time. Covid-19 was instrumental in forcing me to reevaluate my plan.
What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
Michael Erickson: Continuing to do the same things you have always done. Great change forces you to change with it, adjust, or be left behind.
In your opinion, what changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
Michael Erickson: We designed our new business around Covid-19. Most camps closed or stopped doing the fun field trips that make camp exciting for kids. We also stopped traveling for field trips but still did the same things…just now brought the field trips to us.
What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Michael Erickson: We were extremely successful in 2021. Now, we are rapidly expanding and trying to maintain the same level of success at each new location.
You already shared a lot of insights with our readers and we thank you for your generosity. Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned, at school or during your career?
Michael Erickson: I think our education system needs to be greatly overhauled. When children start to show interest, school should be shaped to feed that interest and support the tools needed to learn to be successful at it. I’ve never used mathematics besides basic math my entire life. And the only time when I had to go back and review advanced math is when I was trying to help my daughter with her homework.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition. The best answers will be selected to challenge the award.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Michael Erickson: After 28 years in business, the Covid-19 pandemic sent panic through our clients. We lost 80% of them virtually overnight. We had to make the decision to close our doors or rally in a new direction. We sold off the non-profitable part of our business and created a new platform around the most successful element – Summer Camps. We then modified our model to bring field trips to our campers instead of canceling them as our competitors did.
We knew children had been working from home and needed to exercise their bodies and their minds. For the first 6 months In 2021, so far, our camps have grossed $350,000.00 in one location. I was able to double my salary and work only 3 months out of the year, gaining quality time to spend with my family. It was difficult to make such a radical change after doing things the same way for almost 3 decades. But in the process of dealing with the pandemic, we found the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that launched our business in the first place and we have never been more successful.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Michael Erickson for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Michael Erickson or his company, you can do it through his – Facebook
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