Some of the most successful acts in pop music history were driven by internal conflict. When two strong yet disparate people find a way to harness their creative tension and move in one direction … well, therein lies the path to greatness.
Think of Will and Jack Morey, then, as the McCartney and Lennon of seaside amusement parks. In that light, Morey’s Piers is their “Sgt. Pepper’s”—a unique and wonderful concoction of rides and attractions spanning three piers along the New Jersey shore whose success is tied directly to the way the brothers’ distinct personalities comingle—and, yes, sometimes clash.
“A lot of patience on my part; that’s how this relationship works. It feels like nuclear fission sometimes,” says Will, perhaps only half in jest.
“He has no idea the kind of patience it requires to be associated with his persistence,” Jack retorts, just as inscrutably.
Will, the elder brother by four years, is president and CEO of The Morey Organization, the parent company that owns and operates Morey’s Piers and the family’s hotels and other businesses along the shore. He is set to become the 2013 IAAPA Chairman of the Board this November during IAAPA Attractions Expo 2012 in Orlando, but here again, where there is one Morey brother, there stands the other. While Will takes on this leadership role that will see him travel across the United States and around the world as an ambassador for the association, he is quick to point out he never would’ve been granted this honor if his brother hadn’t been right there alongside him all these years.
“I’ve come to respect, value, and really appreciate the unique perspective Jack provides,” Will says. “We certainly don’t have an exact formula. It’s not like one of us says, ‘Here’s where we’re going.’ We kinda figure it out together along the way.”
It basically breaks down like this: Will is responsible for administration, operations, and finance; Jack is in charge of programming and marketing the Piers. Beyond that, the brothers couldn’t be more different from each other in about every perceptible way. Will is politically conservative, soft-spoken, chooses his words carefully, and doesn’t seek out the limelight. Jack is politically liberal, gregarious, speaks off the cuff, and is known to bust out a handstand from time to time.
Funworld spent some time with the Moreys this summer, and as we tromped all over (and occasionally under) the family’s piers in Wildwood, New Jersey, they shared their thoughts on the state of family-owned attractions and the industry as a whole, pondered the keys to their success, and Will outlined the goals for his year leading IAAPA. In and around all that conversation, it became clear what makes the relationship between Will and Jack so special—and successful.
Morey’s Piers lives in the center of an ever-shrinking Venn diagram in our industry: It is both a family-owned business and a seaside park. As to the latter, tourists don’t think of the Piers as a day-trip destination the way they do typical regional theme parks, Will says. Instead, the Piers are part of the fabric of the Wildwood boardwalk experience, and the company has to work closely with the community to ensure all the businesses along the shoreline succeed and complement one another).
“The boardwalk/pier relationship is a funny one, and you can’t try and control it too much,” Will says. “Without the boardwalk, the pier doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
“I’ve always liked public spaces,” Jack says, and that’s how he programs the Piers; in a throwback to a bygone era, they operate under pay-as-you-go pricing to encourage and play off the breezy, come-as-you-please mentality of the beach. Though this is contrary to what most parks in the industry do today, Jack believes in the current on-demand culture in which we live perhaps we’ll see pay-as-you-go make a comeback as guests want to take more control over every entertainment experience they have. Jack’s goal is to provide “a safe, but minimally controlled environment.”
“The culture of the shore is to be out at night on the boardwalk,” Will adds. “The key is to make that three nights out of the typical four-night stay, and have folks immersed in the experience.”
Morey’s Piers has other challenges, too, namely weather and space. “This is an unbelievably harsh environment for equipment, with the salt and the sand,” Will says, and that’s not to mention the occasional fire, flood, or hurricane. And with their limited footprint, the Piers don’t have any significant “back of house”—much of their equipment and warehouses are out there for everyone to see, and it’s up to the Moreys to hide or theme all that as best they can. Hence, the next roller coaster they build will be housed primarily on their maintenance pier to disguise the drab buildings that stick out among the glitz of the boardwalk.
Family Business Requires
Good Ideas in Small Spaces
As a family-owned business, Will says the Morey Organization is often squeezed from two sides: There is pressure to compete with larger, capital-intensive corporate parks, while at the same time his small business doesn’t have the economics or the access to that level of capital. But the Moreys aren’t ones to complain; instead, they take it as a challenge. “Generally, new ideas don’t come from corporations; they come from small start-ups and individuals,” Jack says.
So while they have certainly invested in major attractions—notably the Vekoma inverted coaster “The Great Nor’Easter” in 1995 and “The Great White” woodie in 1996—it’s often the little touches they feel set the Piers apart. Take, for instance, the Beach Club at the Ocean Oasis Waterpark.
For years Jack pushed Will to serve alcohol somewhere on the Piers as a way to cater to adult guests; Will resisted, concerned it would damage the family atmosphere that is their bread and butter. So when it came time to overhaul the water park on Surfside Pier in 2006, they reached a compromise with Jack’s concept for the Beach Club. The small area is tucked underneath the “Nor’Easter” at the end of Surfside (once again, utilizing every square inch of space available). Here families can rent private cabanas, and adults can relax in a hot tub grotto complete with swim-up bar.
Will’s fears were mollified almost immediately, as Jack transformed that section of the water park into a “cozy, laid back, relaxing area that took us from a pipes-and-slides environment into a beach club. That was a giant change, and the things we’ve done at the other water park have been influenced by what we learned through the evolution at Ocean Oasis.
“I’m a firm believer that the right answer is frequently hiding behind what you think is the obvious one,” Will continues. “What many thought was obvious—that alcohol and water don’t mix and parents would be drinking at the club instead of spending time with their kids—is not what happened at all. In fact, more parents and adult family members are now coming to the park. And while they’re enjoying the ambiance of the club, they’re actually spending more time with their kids and staying in the park longer. Now Ocean Oasis is a place where parents want to come, rather than coming only because they want (or need) to take the kids there.”
“I held my breath on that one, that’s for sure,” Jack says. “I had no idea it was going to work until it opened.”
“He didn’t tell me that on the front end,” Will adds.
The Power of Empowered Employees
Will and Jack also cite the strength of their family name as a key to their success. Will Morey Sr. died in 1998, just shy of 30 years after he and his brother Bill opened “The Wipe Out” giant dry slide, founding what we now know as Morey’s Piers. Though Will Sr. was supposedly semi-retired by that point, you’d never have known it. “He was a ‘serial entrepreneur,’” Jack says. “It’s about being able to accomplish something meaningful and impactful, even more than the money.”
Will describes his father as a “traditional patriarch” with beneficence that extended beyond his biological family to all of his employees; that’s a legacy Will and Jack carry on today. Will believes this is key to fostering a group of people that is “unbelievably committed to the mission. Thankfully, for many of our great staff members, this is far more than just a job.”
“You feel like part of the family,” confirms Brand Manager and Art Director Tim Samson. “Everyone is out there to help each other, whether it’s during work or outside of work. This is a job where you don’t have to worry about trying to sell something to someone that they don’t want. The reason we’re here is because there are smiles out there [on the piers].”
Will and Jack foster an ownership society within their world on the shore. While Will freely admits they’ll do deep dives on certain issues, they try to let their employees do their jobs without fear of their bosses breathing down their necks.
“People have a tremendous amount of authority and latitude,” Will says. “I think that’s best and folks thrive in that environment. People want to be compensated fairly, but the work has to be worthwhile—you have to feel and know you’re contributing to something special. In my view, most successful organizaitons put really good and dedicated people in place and give them a lot of room to do their own thing.”
A Chance to Give Back
When Will is asked to describe IAAPA, he thinks of the classic 1980s movie “Top Gun”—it’s where “the best of the best” are. So one of the ways the Moreys demonstrate this commitment to their employees is by bringing about 25 of them each year to IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando. “We’re not doing that just to be nice,” Will says, but instead he sees it as an opportunity for his employees to grow, learn, and mature and see new things that will, in turn, make them better at their jobs and ultimately enhance the guest experience at the Piers.
“If you like reinventing the wheel, then don’t be a part of IAAPA,” Will says with a sardonic chuckle. “But if you’re interested in learning and collaboration, there’s no other alternative.”
Over his years of volunteering within the association, Will has come to cherish the relationships he’s built throughout the industry—people he deems not just colleagues, but dear friends. So as he takes over as chairman of the board, he’s looking at 2013 as a way to ensure the organization continues to grow stronger in the coming years so it can do for others what it’s done for him.
IAAPA is rather uncommon as trade associations go. Usually nonprofits follow a member-service model or a trade show model; IAAPA does both. Those that follow the trade show model typically offer just one per year; IAAPA hosts three different shows on three different continents. On average, these organizations—no matter how large—are dedicated to one country or region; IAAPA spans the entire globe, with regional offices in Brussels, Mexico City, and Hong Kong, with the headquarters office in the United States.
As IAAPA expanded in the past five years to meet demand from a burgeoning worldwide industry, Will believes the association may have, by necessity, done a little running before it was ready to walk. So along with his chairmanship in 2013 Will is leading a Governance Task Force to restructure and refine how IAAPA is organized and operates around the globe.
“IAAPA has grown from a U.S. association with international members to an honest-to-goodness global organization,” Will says. “We’ve made the jump, and that requires a thorough examination of how the association will be run; it will be necessarily and appropriately different than it’s been in the past.”
Will owns and flies his own plane, currently named “Boardwalk One,” so he plans to playfully change its name to “IAAPA One” and spend quite a bit of time visiting attractions in the States and Canada. “There’s been less focus on the North American parks in the past few years than we’d like long-term,” he says. “It’s an understandable consequence of IAAPA’s global expansion, but we must now return appropriate focus to the North American parks.”
Will believes there is an element of collaboration in our industry that sets it apart from many others; much of it boils down to our commitment to safety. That is why his final goal for the year is to help establish a secure online forum for industry professionals where, via the IAAPA website (www.IAAPA.org), they can post advisories or seek out advice and best practices from their peers. “An appropriately controlled near real-time exchange” is how he envisions it.
Challenges in the Industry
This safety forum is just one of the ways Will hopes to help the industry prepare for the challenges we face now and into the future. The Morey Organization itself is a microcosm of the industry’s resilience, as this family has reinvented the Piers over and over again during the past four-plus decades.
The Moreys continue to have their eyes on the progress of safety harmonization around the world, and they of course monitor economic and political forces at play in the United States and abroad. They are watching with interest to see how facilities that are “fairly built out” approach new attractions and entertainment without following the all-about-steel model.
While they are always looking to remain current and relevant in the marketplace (i.e., adding a Halloween event and various VIP experiences), Jack remembers with a smirk how concerned the industry was a decade ago about the impact of “in-home entertainment,” fretting that people were going to spend all their leisure time at home. “You don’t hear too much about that anymore,” he says.
So as much as the Morey brothers may see the world from completely different angles, they are in lockstep on the fundamental principles that make Morey’s Piers work and are committed to never shying away from them. As Jack so succinctly puts it: “We’re an air-in-the-face kind of place.”
“Fortunately, survival is a hell of a motivator,” adds Will. “When your survival is threatened, that’s when creativity really comes out. We’ve seen the industry respond to that time and time again.”
Contact Senior Editor Jeremy Schoolfield at jschoolfield@IAAPA.org.
Will Morey: County Commissioner
As if he didn’t have enough going on in his life already, Will Morey is also one year into a three-year term as a county freeholder—or commissioner—in Cape May County, the Jersey municipality to which Wildwood belongs; he is responsible for the departments of planning, engineering, and economic development. This is the first public office he’s held (“I ran the only way I had a chance—unopposed,” he jokes); he did it because he was tired of waiting for others to take a proactive approach to growing commerce in the region.
For example, as drivers approach Wildwood from the west on Route 47 they have to cross the George Redding Bridge to get into town. Almost immediately after leaving the bridge they’re likely to get snarled in an intersection or two that simply can’t handle the amount of traffic pouring into this vacation hotspot during the busy summer season. As a freeholder, Morey is working on plans to alleviate all that congestion with redesigned roadways, bridges, and other infrastructure. This should have been accomplished years ago, he believes, but at least now the new project should move forward quickly.
“Trying to get the community externally focused is the challenge,” Morey says. “You have to stop looking internally and worrying over who has the biggest piece of the pie and step back to identify obstacles and problems.”
“What Will does best is building those relationships, spending good ol’ fashioned time with various folks, looking for common ground, and setting a clear vision people will work to achieve,” his brother, Jack Morey, says.