Youth sea camp's a hit with families
Margo Chornlesky's business plan includes all the basics of a successful small business: innovative products, proven marketing strategies and business alliances. But it also includes some more unusual elements: dolphins, turtles and no naps. Those were added by her kids.
Chornlesky, a single mother of two, had been running her business -- Caribbean Adventures Dive Travel Inc., a Plantation-based travel agency and tour wholesaler specializing in dive vacations -- since she purchased it in 2000. As part of her job, she traveled frequently, and her daughter Jennifer, then 4, wondered why she and her brother, Robbie, couldn't help by running groups for kids.
"I looked at her, and this little light bulb came on," said Chornlesky, who lives in Davie.
Jennifer's idea ultimately led Chornlesky to create Kids Sea Camp Inc., which arranges dive vacations for families and provides snorkeling and scuba camps for kids.
In 2001, its first year of operation, Kids Sea Camp offered only a single one-week trip to Curacao, and it sold out quickly. This summer, Chornlesky will offer nine weeks of camp programming for kids ages 4 and up in Bonaire, Curacao, the Cayman Islands, Honduras and Fiji.
"It just took off in a huge way," Chornlesky said. "What makes Kids Sea Camp a success is that I'm a scuba mom, and I know how to meet the needs of many families that love to travel."
Last summer, Kids Sea Camp taught 56 kids to dive and 230 kids to snorkel. Jennifer and Robbie spend each summer on location with their mom, gaining not only an education in marine science, but in business as well.
Chornlesky grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from Bay Path College in Longmeadow, Mass., in 1986 with a degree in travel and hospitality. She has always loved the sea -- a gift she got from her father, an avid diver and fisherman -- and sought a career combining travel and diving. Because of her own personal experiences as a working mom, Chornlesky was able to spot a niche -- an opening in the travel market for families who wanted to vacation with their kids but enjoy a little guilt-free time alone as well.
"Before Margo started the camp, there were various types of programs available that mostly fell into the category of glorified hotel activities or babysitting," said Carolyn Pascal, publisher of Winter Park-based Sport Diver magazine. "There was a feeling among dive travelers that their kids were going to be sacrificed if they wanted to get out and do some diving."
Once a program was created that focused on the needs of children, with safe and educational programming, though, the demand became evident, Pascal said. "It's also a wonderful way to turn the next generation onto diving, which is very much a Baby Boomer sport," she added.
Although her business is successful -- Chornlesky has also created success in her home life. Last summer as she watched Jennifer and Robbie perform in her dolphin trainer program in the Caribbean, she had tears streaming down her cheeks. "I couldn't believe that as a single mother I have been able to give my children this gift," she said. "This is my ultimate dream come true -- the ability to spend summers with my children and produce a successful event to support my company."
Kids Sea Camp Inc.
Business: Family dive vacations and children's dive/snorkeling camps in the Caribbean and around the world
Where: 1507 S. University Drive, Plantation
Owner: Margo Chornlesky
Established: 2001 (incorporated in 2003)
Advice: "A lot of businesses want a one-time sale now and aren't interested in repeat business. For me, customer loyalty is important. I never do business just for today. Whatever I do is based on having that customer for today and tomorrow."