The Plopsa Plan

CEO Steve Van den Kerkhof explains how his company reinvigorates struggling brands and properties

by Keith Miller

Over the past 10 years, Studio 100 (, the Belgian company that owns the six Plopsa theme parks ( in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, has taken struggling parks and made them successful. At the same time, the company transformed entertainment characters with regionally limited popularity into globally coveted brands. How this was accomplished was the subject of the keynote address by Steve Van den Kerkhof, CEO of Plopsa Group, at Wednesday’s GM and Owners’ Breakfast.

“It all starts with content,” said Van den Kerkhof.  “Content is always the first thing we talk about.” But he revealed his company learned through experience how difficult it is to transfer live entertainment content that is successful locally to other markets outside the Benelux region.

He gave the example of a three-member female vocal group that was enormously popular in Belgium and the Netherlands, and Studio 100 decided they were ready to become a global phenomenon. But even the effort to successfully translate them for nearby Germany did not produce successful results, and Studio 100 found itself losing money.

“Then we were approached with a catalog of characters that were once very popular, but were no longer,” recalled Van den Kerkhof. “We bought the catalog and invested 12 million euros into bringing them up to date.” Through the use of digital re-creation and 3-D, the characters, which included well-known characters like Maya the Bee and Heidi, were updated for today’s generation of kids. The result? Television episodes featuring these and other animated characters experienced a wave of newfound popularity and success in 175 countries and have led to profitable brand licensing and merchandising.

From these experiences such as the failure of the live vocal group and then the success of the animated characters, Studio 100 learned that it was much easier to transfer digital-based brands across cultures than live entertainment, Van den Kerkhof said. Following that lead, Plopsa has found similar success with several other animated characters over the past several years.

Studio 100’s six Plopsa theme parks will soon grow to 10 over the next three years. The next to open will be Mayaland in Poland, and Van den Kerkhof said the company presently has 40 offers for more locations. Regarding Plopsa’s creative approach, he said, “We want family theme parks with good quality. We don’t want to sell licenses to someone who will just put [branded] stickers on rides.”

He noted Plopsa wants to appeal to a wide range of family demographics. Families with young children are key, but Plopsa also targets tweens, teens, and grandparents with its rides and entertainment. With its parks, Studio 100 wants EBITDAs of 40 percent and net results of 25 percent, and he said the company’s properties are on target for both.

When asked why Studio 100 has focused on acquiring struggling park properties, Van den Kerkhof said the company doesn’t have the resources of a Parques Reunidos or Merlin Entertainment and thus cannot buy already-successful facilities. So, they choose to take over troubled parks and staff the operations with good and committed people, then introduce the company’s strongest character brands to make the properties successful. 


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