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IAAPA Attractions Expo 2012: A Full Toolbox

Industry leaders, experts, and trend-setters shared their best tips and practices to 9,100 education program attendees across 115 sessions and events at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2012

Rookies and Newcomers, Merchandise Strategies Highlight FEC Seminars

At the annual Rookies and Newcomers program, speaker George Smith perfectly summed up a dominant theme of the entire family entertainment center (FEC) track and other FEC-related ­programming.

“Everybody shares,” said Smith, president of Family Entertainment Group, during the introductory talk on redemption and game room layout. “Figure out who does it best and follow them.”

Over the first day and a half of IAAPA Attractions Expo, approximately 75 attendees soaked in the basics of FEC sales and marketing, attractions mix, facility insurance, and more.

For example, Richard Sanfilippo, owner of Sam’s Fun City, offered this simple yet powerful mantra: Get organized.

FECs will have to comply with numerous government regulators, including, for him, the “grease police” in the kitchen. Therefore, managers and owners need to maintain a high level of record keeping, he said.

Suzanne Provenzano, owner of Elmwood Entertainment Center, also stressed this point in her talk on financial management, especially when it comes to daily reconciliation and “heavy theft.”

“It’s not the hand in the drawer that’s going to bring you down,” she said, ­referring to employees working the books rather than frontline staff.

Sunday night, two busloads of ­FECers headed to Fun Spot USA in nearby Kissimmee for dinner, networking, and a facility tour. CEO and owner John Arie Sr., who’s in the midst of a massive 10-acre expansion at his ­Orlando location, provided a dose of motivation in his remarks.

“We started with one go-kart track,” he said. “You never stop. You keep developing. Work your vision, and keep the faith.”

On Monday morning, the main ­sessions began with a pair of sessions to help FEC attendees tackle the various nuances of merchandising.

In “Plan It, Pick It, and Present It: The Keys to Successful Midway Games Merchandising,” Dan Bloemke, director of merchandise, Busch Gardens Tampa, shared seven tips to inspire game play. They are:

  • Keep it simple: Signs should only include the basic info of game name, price, and rules.
  • Catch the eye: Place contrasting ­colors next to each other.
  • Make it fun: Movement creates excitement, so look to things like three-point basketball shooting games and group races.
  • Appeal to all senses: Let young guests feel the soft plush prizes.
  • Tell a story: Brand the prizes to the particular game.
  • Feature top quality: Keep the items fresh and rotate frequently.
  • Provide interactive service: Well-trained staff leads to successful games.

In “Redemption Merchandising Strategies,” Michael Getlan urged managers and owners to get out of their offices and onto the floor to do research. Listen to what types of merchandise guests want to see, said Getlan, director of enthusiasm and opportunity for Amusement Consultants Ltd. That information will help to augment the data pulled from game and redemption reports. 

—Mike Bederka

Human Resources Sessions Draw Big Audiences, Focus on Developing and Rewarding Employees

Hiring, Training, Retaining

In “Employee Development—Not Just Another Hat,” Matt Heller of ­Performance Optimist Consulting (preformanceoptimist.com) gave the scoop on how to effectively hire, train, and retain a successful team of employees, offering a few tips during the hiring process:

Create a written code of standards and policies (e.g., expectations for how an employee should interact with guests) as a foundation, and hire according to those standards.

Create a culture that demonstrates these standards. “Employee behavior depends on the culture, which starts at the top,” said Heller.

Take cues from companies like Zappos, which encourages employees to have fun, stay open-minded, and even “be a little weird.” For example, if an employee isn’t working out, Heller said, Zappos will pay them to quit to keep them from “poisoning their culture and decreasing morale.”

Rewarding Employees

During the “Reasons 2 Reward and How To Do It!” session headed by Shaun ­McKeogh, director of human resources and training at Management Resources/ ProFun Management Group (www.profungroup.com), he shared no- or low-cost ways for recognizing and rewarding employees include:

Take and post a funny staff photo as a visual reminder of management’s appreciation of their employees’ teamwork.

Spruce up back-of-house areas.

Form a club or ambassador program that only employees who demonstrate exemplary customer service can join.

Write personal notes of praise to employees.

Have managers give a card to employees whenever their customer service goes above and beyond what’s expected.

Sheryl Bindelglass shared even more tips on this topic during “Go for the Gold! Find and Keep the Best Employees,” adding, “what separates you is your staff.”

  • VIP parking spot
  • Recognition in a company newsletter
  • Handwritten thank-yous
  • Employee of the week prizes
  • Boss for a day
  • Photo on a bulletin board
  • Tickets to the park/attraction
  • Traveling trophy
  • Car wash
  • Day off with pay 

—Mike Bederka/Jennifer N. Dienst

Internships, Online Training

Tim R. Mulligan, J.D., chief human resources officer of the San Diego Zoo, shared how the nonprofit has used unique management initiatives, online training, internship programs, and an internal-first approach to hiring to train and keep its talent.

  • Quarterly rotational management programs for training emerging managers
  • College internship program brings in new talent
  • No more job fairs; “It’s a no-brainer to have a great college program.”
  • Form relationships with local universities to find potential applicants for internships
  • New internal academy offering employees more than 200 online courses

—Jennifer N. Dienst

Water Park Leaders Provide ‘State of the Industry’

Several executives from park companies around the globe commented on the condition of the industry during “Water Parks: State of the Industry.” 

Curt Caffey, senior vice president and managing director of CNL Lifestyle Properties, said the diversity of U.S. parks is changing, with wider varieties of entertainment being offered. In the near future, he believes there will be numerous cities around the country with multiple water parks. 

David Escudero, COO of Parques Reunidos, said 2012 water park numbers in Europe were a mixed bag, with northern Europe having very bad weather and weak results, but very good weather and strong results in southern Europe.

Growth of water parks in Asia dwarfs growth in all other global markets, according to Alan Mahony, COO of Ramayana Water Park. He observed that unlike the United States, Asian parks don’t look at the water park experience as just being about big slides, but rather a broader entertainment experience—music, shows, games, sports, and competitions.

MAHC Needs Constructive Input; Rules Changing for J-1 Visa Program
The Model Aquatic Health Code, or MAHC, is a code of parameters designed with the ultimate goal of creating healthier swimming environments; it is not a list of laws intended to regulate the swimming industry.

That was one of the central messages of the “Water Park Joint Topics in Government Regulations and Water Park Maintenance” session. Chuck Neuman, CEO of Water Technology Inc., and Nick Neuman, who heads project development at Water Technology, spoke on how the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has taken a reasonable and measured approach to the model’s development, and they asked members of the water park industry to contribute to making the MAHC better instead of opposing it.

The current goal is to have all MAHC modules posted by the end of 2012 and to have the final draft completed by the swim season of 2013. The hope is to have the first edition of the MAHC in place by the end of 2013.

Stephanie See, IAAPA’s director of safety and advocacy, addressed the J-1 visa program. She said it’s a student cultural exchange program, not a labor program. Some new restrictions placed on visa sponsors include stipulations that J-1 students can’t replace jobs of U.S. citizens, can’t be kept from contact with the public, and can’t work for employers who had layoffs in the past 120 days. 

—Keith Miller

Retail Trends

When approaching retail trends, know who you are and be comfortable with what you sell, stressed Jen Steinhorst, senior corporate product developer—apparel, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, during the Expo session “Retail Trends: What’s Hot, What’s Not.”

She and fellow panelists Joseph Leung, of Ocean Park Hong Kong, and Ginger Ryder, manager of buyers, Universal Orlando Resort, offered these tips:

  • Add the correct cut for a woman’s body and larger sizes for juniors.
  • Make sure someone tries on a sample. It may look good on a hanger, but a print could get lost under someone’s arm.
  • Understand the weather patterns and plan accordingly. For example, stock up on rain gear during the rainy season.
  • Know the resource material, because the guests certainly do. Visit fan websites, read the books, watch the movies, and attend fan events.
  • Continue the storytelling with the displays, matching the themes. 

—Mike Bederka

F&B Case Study: Goals and Results

Funopolis Family Fun Center recently opened its kitchen and allowed Ken Whiting, of Whiting’s Foods, and Lenny Freund, of Freund’s Family Food, to do a “home improvement” on their food and beverage operations.

The pair shared the results during “Constituency Lunch for FECs: Food and Beverage Case Study.”

The objectives were:

  • raise sales and profits by increasing the number of purchasing incidences and average transaction amount; they wanted to build café revenue to $125,000 annually, generating a 30 percent cash flow return.
  • establish menu items and/or categories to focus on that are functional for the operating calendar.
  • improve on use of the restaurant/kitchen; food cost; labor efficiency; and customer service/ speed of service.

Whiting and Freund made some recommendations based on their analysis: limit the slow-moving items on the menu; focus on “workhorse” foods like pizza and hot dogs; add cotton candy (which fit the FEC’s demo), funnel cake (a snack guests won’t likely find elsewhere in the area), and a beverage refill program (which shows value to customer); consider closing the café during slow periods or creating a “vending destination”; and make signage improvements, plastering images of food items all over the venue.

With Whiting’s and Freund’s help, the FEC saw food and beverage sales increase by 26.7 percent and product costs decrease by 17 percent from May 1-Sept. 30 this year vs. last year. 

—Mike Bederka

Operators Show How a Dose of Creativity Can Go a Long Way

Attracting media attention and bringing in new customers doesn’t require buckets of money, just a little creativity, experts proved in “Do It Yourself (DIY) Promotions: Does the Food Truck Stop at Your Place?” at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2012.

With the Go-kart Texting Challenge, Wahooz Family Fun Zone helped to show the dangers of texting while driving, explained Tiffany Quilici, marketing director. The FEC partnered with local police and AAA to give the event credibility and reached out to an area school for participants.

The teens underwent a series of tests in the go-kart. First, they drove normally; then, they texted the “Happy Birthday to You” song to the person riding shotgun, who served as a judge; next, the students drove through cones; and they finished up by texting and driving through the same cones.

After the event, all participants got together to discuss how texting impaired their abilities and lessons learned from the experience.

The event showed that the FEC cares about the community and teen safety, said Quilici, who heavily promoted the challenge. “It was the best media event we ever did.”

Other DIY promotions discussed at the session were:

  • Also at Wahooz, guests receive free passes on their birthday. Quick tips: Guests must collect on their actual birthday, no exceptions; and second, make it a generous deal, worth $15-$20.

  • Fiesta Village Family Fun Park held a “Hot August Nights” concert series, said Patti Swift, group events coordinator. By bringing in bands with large followings, they could attract up to 500 guests for the shows (many of whom had never visited the facility before). Customers bought discounted wristbands, and the FEC saw a 10-12 percent increase in incremental sales. Sponsors helped to offset the cost of the bands.

  • A Middle School Night promotion proved to be a success at Fiesta Village as well, Swift said. The middle schoolers only, lockin event, held on Friday night, gave kids unlimited access to the park for a $12 ticket; food and drinks cost extra. They attracted up to 600 kids per event.

—Mike Bederka

Museum/Science Center Professionals Talk Trends

Museum, science center, and other industry experts convened at the start of Museum and Science Center Day Monday to share what’s new and coming up in the museums, science centers, zoos and aquariums, and amusement parks and attractions.

During the opening remarks, American Alliance of Museums (AAM) President Ford Bell discussed changes and developments within AAM and extolled the success of the overall museum world, providing some eye-opening facts about the industry, such as 41 percent of museums are free, and two-thirds of museums have increased attendance since the economic downturn.

However, Bell sees a communication disconnect between what museums do for local economies and communities with what the public and elected officials understand about museums; he said museums need to do a better job helping these officials understand what an impact these facilities make in local communities. “We need to close that gap,” he said. 

Trend Watchers

Industry designers took the baton and discussed the prevailing trends across multiple industries. Michael Mercadante of Main Street Design highlighted the following trends in zoos and aquariums:

  • Addition of rides (60 percent of zoos and aquariums have them now)
  • Addition of ziplines and ropes courses (such as Florida Eco­Safari’s zipline coaster “The Rattl­esnake”)
  • High-end animal encounters (such as Walt Disney World’s Wild Africa Trek)
  • Water-based attractions (Discovery Cove; Resorts World Sentosa)
  • Engaging exhibits (Louisville Zoo’s “Glacier Run”)
  • On-site theaters
  • Full-service restaurants

Julie Moskalyk of Science North in Canada zeroed in on the key trends in museum operations, highlighting the California Science Center’s En­deavor exhibit, the Peoria Riverfront Museum’s art collection, and the The Maritime Experiential Museum’s heavy theming and interactivity—among many others—as examples of facilities taking big steps to bring in attendees and enhance the guest experience. She added that app development and expansion of social media efforts are taking off in the museum world.

—Amanda Charney

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Gives Hands-on Improv Seminar

During the Expo, a team from the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (www.msichicago.org) helped attendees experience the benefits of incorporating improvisation into the work environment—from daily morning games that boost motivation and energy to exercises that help build employee relationships and problem-solving skills.

“By playing these games, we can see each other in different environments,” explained Heather Barnes, the museum’s director of guest experiences, who said improv exercises can also be highly effective during the hiring process to gauge how applicants interacts with others as well as their ability to think on their feet.

During the session, the audience split into small groups with a member of the museum staff leading participants in a number of improv exercises. For example, “Name and Gestures,” an exercise to help facilitate introductions and name recall, asks participants to say their name and pick a gesture or physical action that represents their interests in some way, like swinging a tennis racquet or running in place. In the next round, every member of the group must repeat every member’s name and gesture.

Not only do word association games like these “warm up the skill set,” they can be used to gauge how well a participant handles stress, i.e., forgetting a name or gesture, said Barnes. Visit www.IAAPA.org/handouts and see more tips from this session. 

—Jennifer N. Dienst