The Power of Networking
Whether you work for a mom-and-pop family entertainment center (FEC) or a large theme park, networking is important.
Getting together with others from the attractions sphere allows you to make valuable connections and learn from peers in the industry. Additionally, socializing with other businesses and organizations in your local area can help with increasing your sales and developing mutual support systems.
Connect with Industry Professionals
Bryan Maxwell, president of Jake's Brands, which owns Jake's Unlimited in Mesa, Arizona, believes strongly in the power of networking with other attractions professionals.
"I really think you're flying blind if you don't network with the other FECs and other attractions, especially in your area," Maxwell says. "I know that other businesses that I've been involved with, it's kind of been everything was a secret, we keep to ourselves. But in this market, it really helps to reach out and say what are you guys seeing with this and with that. They want to know, too, so we openly share. I think that this is one industry that is a little different where when the water rises, all boats rise."
Amy Mearkle, director of marketing and events for DelGrosso's Park & Laguna Splash in Tipton, Pennsylvania, agrees and says she benefits from networking at events her statewide attractions organization offers. For example, at one of the events, industry professionals have the chance to learn from each other during a roundtable session.
"We set topics ahead of time and we talk about topics that we would like to address while we're there," Mearkle explains. "The topic comes up and the discussion point about the topic is given. And you go and you hear from folks who are either living the item that we're talking about right now, or they're getting ready, or they have the words of wisdom if you're getting ready to branch out into something. It's just a great way to educate and ask questions from people who are doing it."
Collaborate with Local Businesses
Just as important as networking with other industry professionals is connecting with other businesses and tourist organizations in your local area.
Mearkle says DelGrosso's Park & Laguna Splash works with their local tourism agencies for not only professional networking opportunities, but also helping to promote the other businesses in the area—like hotels and other attractions—to benefit everyone.
"We try to tell folks there's so much more here to do, make it an overnight, make it a weekend trip," she continues. "We like to promote all the other options that you have as well hoping to get those overnight guests."
David Detling, owner of The Attractions Group, says networking with other businesses is crucial because people are going to buy from or do business with people that they know. "And the only way you're going to get to know somebody is through organic networking," he adds.
Maxwell says the socializing they do with local businesses is vital for their birthday party and corporate event
sales. Additionally, Jake's Brands supports these local organizations by providing scholarships and sponsorships.
"It not only keeps your name in front of them, but it's also a feeling of goodwill," Maxwell says. "It subconsciously ties your name to a good feeling. So, when they're looking for a place to hold their birthday party or just a place to visit for the day, when your name comes up, they already have that base foundation of goodwill and a good feeling about who you are as a company."
Top Networking Tips
It can be daunting to attend a networking event where you don't know anyone. Detling says not to be afraid of making the first move.
"Ninety percent of people in those networking events have the same thoughts," he says. "Usually, the conversations you're not looking for are the most important ones and they will just happen by chance. And you don't get those chances without sticking yourself out there. You have to actively be at the game to be in the game."
Mearkle advises not to be afraid to ask the questions you need answers to. "I always say that just like being in school, there's no dumb questions," she says. "Somebody somewhere has asked the question before and if they've lived through it, if they've experienced it."
Maxwell says to go into a networking event assuming you have valuable information others would want to hear. "And they would love to also share their information with you," he adds. "Just be friendly, just talk, and you'll be surprised."