Kelly Emilianowicz started The Pop-Up BNB Glamping Tent Rentals + Events after traveling the country for a couple of years with her husband in their motorhome and working at various workcamp positions, like doing hurricane relief work in the Florida Keys. With a background in Marketing and Merchandising from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, Kelly’s always been creative with a keen eye for entrepreneurship. This is precisely why starting a glamping tent business made so much sense. Now, although officially based out of Cincinnati, OH, Kelly, her husband and her dog travel full-time in their renovated class A motorhome, setting up glamping rentals across the US for regular stays or for events. We asked Kelly about her experience starting a glamping tent operation, things she’s learned along the way and advice she has for aspiring glamping business owners.
What’s The Pop-Up BNB all about?The Pop-Up BNB is a quickly growing operation. Today, they boast a variety of 35 tents, as well as tent canopies that they offer as part of their rentals. Other than Kelly and Andy, the team consists of just under ten people, who work tirelessly to create popup sites (i.e. traveling to locations to set up glamping experiences) and events (e.g. birthdays and weddings). The team also hosts their own popup tent hotels in a new location every weekend, as well as providing tents for private events.
1. Important considerations before getting started with your glamping tent operationKelly stressed time and space as two essential factors to consider before starting your own glamping business, especially if you have many luxury tents in your accommodation portfolio.
“One of the most important things to consider is your available time. We put in 90+ hours/ week and operate 9 months out of the year. We are extremely busy. I always say 50% of what we do is provide a fully furnished tent for guests to simply show up and enjoy, the other 50% is we completely plan and schedule your stay for you.”The reason for this is that there’s a ton of work that goes into the business behind the scenes, that guests never see. This could be anything from cleaning after a stay to planning the next one, to more seemingly mundane tasks like taking care of the paperwork, legalities, marketing or advertising. “Another thing to consider is space,” Kelly mentions. “Since we live in an RV, we don’t have land to store these tents/gear so we rent a warehouse and that has really helped us organize and keep everything clean.”When they were operating with just a couple of tents, space wasn’t as much of an issue but with an arsenal of over 30 tents, space is a major point of focus for the team at The Pop-Up BNB. Beyond just the storage of tents, space is also a consideration when thinking about where to dry tents that are wet from rains, or after cleaning.
2. Deciding on a location for glamping sitesWhen thinking about where to set up a glamping site to offer the canvas glamping tents for rentals, Kelly and the team have to think about convenience, space and cost, as well as locations customers are interested in staying in. This is especially true if they’re setting up for a private event. What’s unique to The Pop-Up BNB, though, is that Kelly and Andy have been living the nomadic life for over four years. This means they’re able to host many guests on their “tour schedule”.Kelly says, “in traveling the country with our RV, we found some killer campgrounds/private properties with amazing views and thought “we should bring our glamping guests here”.”Generally, you want to be cognizant of the various factors that go into picking a location and make sure that beyond the area itself (space, views, level of isolation), you have the necessary paperwork and it’s not too difficult to access for you.
3. Services and amenities on offer with the glamping tentsFor the Pop-Up BNB team, the services they offer with their luxury tent rentals tend to vary with the location they’re setting up in. These could include music nights, games nights, ATV rides, canoeing/kayaking or wine tasting. Kelly’s method, which can be used as advice for future glamping business owners, is to partner with local area excursions or catering companies. This is important because it means you don’t have to provide all services on your own; instead, you can leverage existing local businesses and create partnerships to provide memorable experiences to guests. “Each of our glamping pop-ups is so unique,” Kelly told us. “Some events are primitive and simple (your regular camping experience) and others are a full-scale operation with dinner, canoeing, live music, etc.”In a similar vein, due to the distinctive nature of each glamping setup, the amenities offered at each stay are pertinent to what the property has to offer. This could be showers and bathrooms, outdoor furniture, air conditioning, electricity or cooking basics. Some rentals will have most of these, whereas others will have just a few — it all depends on the location and property. In your case, it’s important to think about the property your glamping tents will be located on and how this will impact the facilities available to guests. You should also consider whether you want to be more on the “camping” side of glamping, or lean towards the more “glamping” side and offer as many amenities as possible.
4. What kind of accommodation should you offer at your glamp sites?The great thing about glamping is that it’s not limited to living in glamping tents, even though these are by and large the most popular option at glamping resorts and pop-ups. It isn’t uncommon to see glamping domes, cabins or even treehouses. When it comes to the kind of accommodation you offer, it’s a good idea to think about convenience and cost. Luxury tents are usually an excellent entry point into the world of glamping because they’re generally less expensive than something like a cabin and are relatively extremely straightforward to set up. Kelly and Andy fell into the world of canvas glamping tents because initially, pulling a small vintage camper behind their motorhome seemed like the way to go. With their wandering lifestyle, the choice of accommodation was also a matter of scale, and be it safari tents, bell tents or other glam tents, canvas tents are easier to travel with and set up in numbers, when compared with cabins or domes or other kinds of shelters. “Tents fit better with our camping lifestyle and we knew it would be much easier to scale logistically down the road,” Kelly mentioned.
5. Marketing your glamping tents to attract guestsOn the marketing side of your business, you’ll probably have to figure out where most of your guests come from and double down on those efforts. This, however, will require experimentation and perhaps spending your marketing dollars on a few different channels at first, before honing in on the most lucrative ones. These might be paid social ads, Google ads, SEO efforts or sponsored listings on booking platforms like Airbnb or GlampingHub. For Kelly and the team, social media and word-of-mouth are excellent avenues for generating bookings.
“Social Media and referrals are our biggest marketing channels. We love all of our guests and some of them have turned into really great friends of ours. We make it a point to provide outstanding customer service as that is something I really value in the businesses I aspire to.”Although the Pop-Up BNB doesn’t use any scheduling apps or booking platforms, these are great ways to get in front of prospective guests who are in the search and booking phase of their trip. Another way to stand out from the competition is to offer discounts on longer stays or on bookings of multiple tents. If you have standard offerings, it might be easier to price your stays but for a business like The Pop-Up BNB, “the pricing includes multiple factors so it’s always best to inquire for a custom quote.” Of course, for them, an immediate draw for potential guests is the fact that they aren’t a stationary glamping site. Since Kelly and Andy are always on the move, guests often get the chance to stay with them in multiple locations.
6. Final thoughts and takeawaysIf you’re considering starting your own glamping business, Kelly and the team might be the perfect people to speak with. Outside of running their own operation, they also offer consultation packages to assist people from start to finish on creating and growing their businesses. From her years of experience with The Pop-Up BNB Glamping Tent Rentals + Events, Kelly has learned that delegation is an important aspect of her job. While being an entrepreneur often means being fully invested in the business, it’s important to know when to hand off tasks to team members to allow the business to scale effectively. Kelly also stressed the importance of investing in gear for your business, especially the glamping tent, that’s going to last.
“It can be tempting to purchase a cheaper tent (especially when starting out to test the waters) but if you’re wanting to scale your business and really provide an ongoing service, you will want the heavy-duty, commercial-grade tents. The wear and tear on these items is massive, you will need good quality gear to hold up to the use.”