Even though I didn’t work kamp this summer, Lee has given me permission to write about his experience and I will also be adding in some anecdotal information we have heard from many of our friends who have work kamped in a retail setting. I make the distinction because work kamping is not the same as having a regular job in a retail environment and I will get into some of those differences as I go along.
First and foremost the major difference in work kamping is generally you get your campsite either free or partially funded. In general the more desirable a region is the less likely you will get the RV site totally for free but in our case it was fully funded. Since Lee was a solo work kamper (I am working remote in a corporate job) his options were more limited. Not all retail employers will take solo workers because essentially that doubles the cost for them on RV spaces.
Unlike campgrounds who own the spots, retailers almost always have to pay someone else for their sites and although they get a discounted monthly rate it’s still not cheap. Our discounted rate is $1200 a month and when you multiply that by X number of employees that’s a hefty additional cost per month for the employer.
Those costs are offset somewhat by paying the work kamper much less than the going local rate. It’s above minimum wage but still very low for the experience and expertise of the employees they are getting. An example would be if the employee’s site is $1000 a month and they make $10 an hour assuming a 40 hour work week the person is getting roughly $16.25 an hour. It’s slightly better than that because no tax is paid on the RV site but you get the point.
The major problem is many work kampers don’t really count the site as the same value as the hourly rate. This is a source of frustration for the employers which I understand but I also get the work kamper problem with that. First we don’t get to pick where we stay, and in many cases the sites themselves are less than premiere. That is not the case for us at this location, but it has been in the past. Many people I know have walked away from work kamper jobs because the sites they arrive at are not as advertised and I think its fair to say in general that they are rarely sites we would pay for if given the choice. There are exceptions, of course, and we have been extremely lucky to have a very nice site this summer. The quality of the site and the campground go a long way towards increasing the value proposition and make it more likely we will want to return the following year.
Which leads me to what I think is one of the major drawbacks of the retail positions. Because they are seasonal many employers (not all) will only guarantee a range of hours (30-40 hours a week) and the schedules are extremely variable. Again, your mileage may vary on this, but most things we have seen and heard talk about wildly varying schedules that involve lots of changes. Some people don’t care, they will work whenever as long as their days off are together, but for us we like to plan things a little out in advance and the changing schedule makes us a little nuts. In all fairness its more complicated for us because I only have the weekends off (prime retail days in most cases, although again, not for this particular location) so it took some work for Lee to ensure he always has one of those two days off every week.
More importantly, the pay is variable and we have known many people whose season was cut short due to lower than expected sales or had to work more than they wanted to to account for being short staffed. So if you have to have the money to live this may not be the best choice for you, but if you are working for a free site and a little supplemental income it may be a good choice.
Which leads me to the working conditions. In a retail environment you are standing on your feet for most of your shift and since many of the buildings are older that means wood floors or thin carpet. I also found the environment during rush periods to be somewhat claustrophobic as there are way too many people in too small a space. That being said there is lots of downtime in the non peak periods and if you like talking to people this might be a great job for you.
In many tourist towns people are “just looking” and often are more interested in information than the products being sold. A good salesperson can turn the request for information into a sale and folks with those personality traits are highly valuable. If you aren’t that crazy about people and would rather work outdoors obviously this might not be a good fit, but for those who can multi task, who like people, and who enjoy a lot of variety in their day retail might be a good job for you.
Like any other work kamping job you have to be really honest with yourself going into it AND really clear upfront about what your expectations are. We have always had good luck with getting employers to honor commitments they made in advance, but not so much if we just show up and ask while we are there in person. Plus its just better for everyone if you can determine if its a good fit beforehand. Obviously they are going to stress the positives of the job and you need to ask the right question to make sure you don’t have any unpleasant surprises.
For more information on other work kamping jobs we have worked please check out our Work Kamping page.
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