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Ease the Labor Pains - March 2017

9 staffing strategies to save your facility money

by Mike Bederka

You’d certainly be in the minority if payroll and benefits don’t top your list of expenses. By and large, most facilities spend the most on their employees—and for good reason. Without a dedicated, hard-working crew, your venue couldn’t run efficiently and customer service would suffer; at the same time, mismanaging when (and where) employees punch in could cause labor costs to spiral out of control.

From reducing turnover, to scrutinizing attractions, to cross-training, check out these ways to ease the labor pains at your facility.

1. Piece the Puzzle Together

Just cutting and pasting the weekly schedule isn’t an option for Matt Freed, director of operations at the Funplex in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. He estimates he spends about five hours a week mapping out the schedule for his staff, which balloons to 300 people during the busy summer months.

“I have the basic template, but I don’t think there has been a week I’ve used it,” Freed says with a laugh. “You need to make adjustments.”

In the complex process full of variables, he analyzes hourly sales reports by department over the past two weeks, as well as reports from the same timeframe during the previous year. Beyond looking at short- and long-term trends, Freed reviews events and groups booked and any upcoming holidays and days off from school.

Armed with this data, he predicts when the family entertainment center (FEC) will see the most guests and, subsequently, adjusts the staffing needs. Even then, Freed calls it an “educated guessing game.”

2. Smart Scheduling

Many facilities have found online scheduling software to be one way to ease the potential scheduling headache, especially with today’s workforce. Metropolis Resort in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, posts its schedule online and through the software’s corresponding app where staff members have easy access to view it, explains resort general manager Benny Anderson.

Here, employees can put in time-off requests and swap shifts with management’s approval. In addition, Anderson can post needed shifts if they field a call for a last-minute event or a group grows unexpectedly. He usually never fails to fill in the gaps when using the scheduling software—a strong testament to how to reach the sometimes-maligned age group.

“I don’t think millennials are all that different,” he contends. “They just communicate differently, and most adults haven’t learned how to communicate with them yet.”

3. Call for Service

Rather than having all attractions manned during the slower times, Metropolis Resort installed help buttons on each one, Anderson says. Guests can walk up and tap the smiley face button that reads “please push for assistance.” An automated message comes over employees’ radios informing them a customer wants to go on that particular ride. Then, a staffer can call it and head over to help. “It works beautifully,” Anderson says.

4. Under the Weather

Colder weather often correlates with smaller crowds at Fun Fore All in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, which features both indoor and outdoor attractions. The family entertainment center won’t even open its mini-golf course and go-kart track if the temperature dips below 50 degrees in the late fall and early spring, says Dan Millar, human resources manager.

On those chillier days, staff will phone in around lunch to see whether they should come in for their afternoon shifts, he says. If the weather turns cold when already on site, employees may be sent home or moved inside if cross-trained in those job duties. Staff usually handle any abbreviated schedule changes in stride.

“They know the volatility of the industry with the weather,” Millar says. “They may miss some money, but they have the opportunities to make it up by swapping or adding shifts.”

If the elements bring inside operations to a near standstill, as well, staff won’t be left with idle hands, Millar says. Management keeps a general upkeep checklist with projects that focus on overall cleanliness, such as descaling the pizza warmer and dusting and sweeping under the video games.

As a general rule, Freed says, he won’t send employees home early: “It ruins morale. Just because they’re in high school doesn’t mean they don’t depend on their paycheck.” For those off-peak times, Freed says he’d rather plan to have fewer staff on the books and let management help in the case of an unexpected rush.

5. Automated Booking

To free staff from answering FAQs over the phone, guests can find all the details on parties and other group events—as well as book them—through Funplex’s website. (An employee will call back to confirm, Freed says.) For the future, Funplex wants to automate the process to buy regular passes and, ideally, reduce the number of cashiers needed, he says. The company hopes to allow customers to purchase passes online—at a reduced cost—and then redeem them at a self-serve kiosk.

6. The Jack of All Trades

New hires at Metropolis Resort usually start in silos working in its water park or as a housekeeper or bartender, but that quickly changes, Anderson says. The majority of its 275 staff members can work in most of the departments.

This cross-training makes staff more valuable, as they as can handle multiple jobs during slower times or assist in a pinch if an employee calls out sick. Plus, guests often ask the first person they see about a particular ride or attraction, so this knowledge allows them to give a well-informed answer.

Fun Fore All plans to put a stronger emphasis on cross-training in the future, even sweetening the pot for staff who want to learn different skills with a bump in pay, Millar says.

7. Attraction Selection

As minimum wage seems likely to increase in many places around the world, so will a facility’s labor costs. With that in mind, Freed says Funplex will focus more heavily on attractions that offer greater occupancy but also require the fewest people to run. For example, its mini-golf only needs one staffer at the front and a second during busier times to patrol the course.

Laser tag and bowling, too, fit this ideal throughput/employee equation—each holding 20-plus customers at a time, he says. On the other hand, mechanical rides necessitate specific (and tighter) staffing requirements, and the facility will be more selective with those in future purchases.

In addition to an emphasis on the attraction selection, their placement also plays an important role, Freed says. Many arcade attendants can work at least some of the rides, so the park was purposely laid out so staff can easily bounce between them.

8. Reduce Turnover

High employment turnover (often endemic in the attractions industry) and the resulting cost of frequently training new hires can blow up many a labor budget. To help mitigate the revolving door of staffing, many facilities incorporate small bonuses that can make a huge difference in the bottom line.

For instance, Shipwreck Island holds a monthly staff party and provides free park tickets for employees’ family and friends based on the number of hours worked each month, Wilkes says. The park also coordinates trades with local restaurants and giveaway coupons for free food for above-and-beyond service. “This doesn’t directly reflect with their pay, but it’s one more little thing that makes us a better place to work,” he says.

A close relationship with management often results in healthy retention, Freed adds: “We try to understand them and find out their education and career goals. Is it in mechanics, hospitality, food and beverage, or events? We have all of that, and we can give them experience that will help them to build their resumes.”