Category Archives: Work camping

Joining the Amazon CamperForce

When we decided to retire, become fulltime RVers and travel North America, we knew we would want to supplement our retirement savings on occasion.  That would be accomplished through ‘work camping’, which involves some sort of work being done in exchange for a campsite. Our jobs the past two summers at Wild Cherry provided us a free place to stay in a fabulous location for two easy days of work each week.  Many of these campgrounds offer fulltimers additional compensation after a certain number of hours to entice us rolling retirees to come and work for them.  Recognizing the work ethic this segment of society has to offer, several companies that have nothing to do with camping are jumping on this bandwagon.  One of the biggest examples of this is the online retailer, Amazon.com.

To pass along a little history, Amazon.com was founded as Cadabra, Inc in 1994 by Jeff Bezos in his garage in Bellevue, Washington.  

One of his lawyers misunderstood the name to be cadaver, so Bezos changed it to Amazon, as the Amazon River was “exotic and different.”  It’s also the biggest river in the world, just as he hoped his company would be.  Furthermore, he noted that it was at the top of the alphabet, thereby appearing at the top of an alphabetized list.  The company went online in 1995 as a book retailer (I remember that!) and eventually began selling everything from A to Z with a smile, as indicated in their logo.    

I wonder where he got that idea?

Amazon survived the dot com bubble burst and turned a profit in the fourth quarter of 2001.  The company went public with an initial public offering of stock at a price of $18 a share in 1997 (actually equal to $1.50 after three stock splits early on) and is now trading at $822 a share.  It is mind boggling to think that a person who would have invested a mere $2000 in the company in 1995 would be a millionaire today from just that one transaction!  In 22 short years, the company has over 100 billion in annual revenue (2015) and over 250,000 employees in 16 countries….and it all started in a garage.

With that kind of explosive growth, logistics come into play.  Fulfillment centers (known from here out as FC) need to be placed near airports that are serviced by shipping companies, and also near a stable workforce.  Campbellsville, Kentucky was a perfect choice, as a 1998 closing of a Fruit of the Loom textile plant left a fairly new building vacant and over 800 workers unemployed.  It was also very close to the Louisville airport (airport code SDF), also known as Worldport, United Parcel Services main hub.  The new FC in Campbellsville opened in May of 1999 and was named SDF-1…or the first FC to ship out of that airport.  Being centrally located in the United States, SDF-1 played an important role in Amazon’s success.

Amazon started offering items other than books in November of 1999.  It wasn’t long before consumer buying habits started shifting from brick-and-mortar stores to buying goods online.  In 2005, the term Cyber Monday came into existence, referring to the first workday after Black Friday, when many people sit at their desks and do their holiday shopping instead of their jobs.  The Amazon FCs started feeling the pinch, and armies of temporary employees were brought in to help with the increased workload.  In Campbellsville’s case, many were bussed in from Louisville and housed in local hotels.  As is often the case with temps, quality and attendance issues arose…and sleepy little Campbellsville was having to deal with a segment of society that tend to cause problems.  

In 2008, the FC in Coffeysville, Kansas began a pilot program to hire work campers to help with the holiday rush, known in Amazon circles as peak season. That program has since been expanded to several other FCs…including Campbellsville…and has been given the name Amazon CamperForce. The upside for the company is that the majority of these workers are retired and have a great work ethic and attendance.  The only drawback is that they tend to want to change the Amazon way of doing things, as they come from careers in which they did things differently.  That fact is stressed at orientation, saying “it’s a job, not a career”.  The company sends recruiters to RV shows around the country to recruit new workers each year.  We put our names on the list at the Tampa RV Show in January, after reading the accounts of several friends and family members who had done it in the past.  We already had ties with the company as advertisers through our Associates account (located at the bottom of each post), so we thought it would be fun to see what makes the place tick.

We arrived on October 8 to find a newly remodeled facility.  Our friends Peg and Michele who worked last year pointed out that the building is vastly improved, and is much cleaner.  The regular workers (known as Amazonians) seem genuinely happy that we are there, probably because the CamperForce can be counted on to get the job done without too much drama.  Our first morning was orientation, led by a very entertaining and informative gentleman named Kelly Calmes.  That was followed by safety school in the afternoon.  The remainder of the first week was 5 hour work days in our departments, meant to harden us for the 10 hour days that were to follow.  We were assigned to packing, which I will talk more about in a future post.  


Looking pretty good at 6:15 AM for Breast Cancer Awareness Week!

For now, I will leave it at this:  our first week went really well. We found the work, the environment and people enjoyable.  We are amazed at the process, and I kept finding myself looking back to my career in manufacturing and thinking ‘THIS is how we should have done things’.  Granted, their system is not perfect…but when you consider that almost every package they deliver is on time and correct, it’s pretty darned slick.

And it all started in a garage just a mere 22 years ago…
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