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Chico State

Business Student Brainstorms to Build Bigger Market for Tribal Equestrian Park

John Vigil stands on a hill with the Camelot Equestrian Park in the background

John Vigil begins his day with a serene and purposeful routine. At his residence in Camelot Equestrian Park, he grabs a cup of coffee before trekking to a high spot on the sprawling 1,600-acre property. From that vantage point, the business administration major can watch the sunrise to the east, or set his sights southwest to the Sutter Buttes in the distance or the nearly completed Mechoopda Casino less than a mile away. Due north, Butte College graces the horizon. While he descends the hill, roughly 20 horses eagerly await their breakfast. 

As a member of the Mechoopda Tribe, overseeing Camelot brings both immense gratitude and a hint of pressure. Recently acquired by Mechoopda Cultural Resource Preservation Enterprise (MCRPE), a Tribe subsidiary, Camelot’s success now rests partially on Vigil’s shoulders. To prepare for a new career after 12 years as a firefighter, he enrolled at Chico State to build the skills to run the small business.

What he ended up getting out of his first semester on campus was so much more than that. 

Collaborating with peers from Professor Katie Mercurio’s “Intro to Marketing” class, Vigil’s team recently completed a comprehensive marketing audit and research endeavor for Camelot. Their final project included practical and aspirational recommendations to transform the business. But before delving into it, the students—Gil Klein-Cohen, Andrew Ediger, and Jackson Rados—had to immerse themselves in Camelot’s atmosphere. 

“There was some anxiety, as it was their first time being around horses, but by the time they left it was like all this weight had been lifted,” said Vigil. “They realized what I realized when I first started working here—that equine therapy is a real and powerful thing, and it happens often for first-time visitors.” 

While many patrons bring their horses via trailers, Camelot also hosts approximately 20 boarded horses. In addition to catering to beginners with riding lessons, the facility boasts trail riding, dressage, and jumping arenas. The marketing team’s frequent visits to observe operations and engage with customers yielded valuable market insights and practical improvements. 

Their initiatives span from building a website from scratch to kick-starting a social media marketing campaign to plans to upgrade the covered arena for inclement weather riding. Vigil also eyes the imminent launch of paid advertising on Google to strengthen brand awareness. The distinctiveness of Camelot’s offerings resonates with Vigil— the facility accommodates all, fostering a diverse equine community in a unparalleled space. 

“What we’ve discovered is that our facility is one of a kind because of the variety of ways you can work with your horse out here. There’s no other place like it in Northern California,” said Vigil. “Just the other day, I saw this young lady, probably about 7 years old on one of her first lessons. We have senior citizens out here and people who ride and jump semi-professionally. The business is built to serve the entire horse community.” 

This was the first semesterMercurio decided to alter the course from asking students to complete marketing audits of publicly traded companies in favor of local businesses. Embracing the University’s ethos of extending connections beyond campus, the class honed in on this and other local gems.  

“The student group has created a positioning strategy to target Butte County residents as customers. They have highlighted everything about Camelot being safe and family-friendly with well-trained and experienced staff. They also really leaned into Camelot being an affordable, community-oriented, business,” said Mercurio. “Then they created additional positioning statements for the Mechoopda Casino tourists. They were very specific about going after those two separate markets, one for locals and then one for people who were going through the casino.” 

Vigil envisions a future where casino patrons seamlessly transition from gaming to Camelot via a direct mile-long path. His journey—from Butte College to firefighting with Firestorm and now at Camelot—reflects a quest for new opportunities. Joining the Tribe’s expansion into multiple local businesses surrounding the forthcoming 2024 casino, Vigil feels fortunate to have this post-graduation path aligned. 

“Most of my classmates don’t know what they want to do after graduation; I’m lucky that I have this lined up,” said Vigil, who is scheduled to graduate in spring 2025. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from the horse community, my Tribe, and from my board of directors. Everything that I learned from my classes I’ve been able to implement.”