Category Archives: Operations

Revenue Throttles

One of the keys to long term success and sustainability is the use of Revenue Throttles. Revenue Throttles put pricing control in the field to maximize revenues while managing your communities’ expectations. There are three main areas I look at for developing revenue throttles, they include:

  • Use Resident and Non-resident pricing
  • Discounts
  • Wait Lists

Resident and Non-Resident Pricing

The use of various pricing points can help balance facility capacity levels and customer satisfaction. Many communities will charge a higher rate for non-residents users as opposed to resident users. There are a couple reasons for this. The main reason communities consider this structure is due to the fact that the local resident tax dollars paid to build the facility. The throttling opportunity comes with how much more you charge for the non-residents. When a community is growing, they will likely need to build a larger facility to meet future needs. But without the population required to fill the facility to capacity, non-resident users are needed to increase operational sustainability. In this scenario, non-resident pricing may only be slightly higher than the resident rate. As the local resident population grows, managers can increase the non-resident rate to deter them from coming and increase the resident satisfaction.

 

Discounts

Everyone loves a discount. While most communities try to keep the facility price affordable, I prefer pricing the facility at its appropriate value and providing discounts to make sure everyone has a chance to use the facility. The also gives throttling opportunities by discontinuing discounts as higher revenues are needed. This way a facility doesn’t actually have to raise pricing each year, but can increase revenues.

 

Wait Lists

Keeping programs full is always a challenge. The use of a wait list will provide a “backlog” of users. I’ve seen this be very useful with swim lesson programs. One benefit of using a wait list is to give preferential treatment to residents. Some facilities will allow residents to sign up immediately, but non-residents must join the wait list. This allows them to give residents preferential treatment, but still fill all classes to achieve revenue goals.

 

In summary, creating an economic engine to support your vision will provide a fiscally sustainable enterprise including water, features, and programs in concert with the community for many years to come. Using Revenue Throttles in your business model will help create a sustainable facility that meets the customers’ expectations and provides a tremendous value to your community.

 

All Stories

Questionnaires that truly inform

The summer is rolling along, guests are flocking to your facility and you see the light at the end of a successful summer up ahead. You begin the process of evaluating your seasonal numbers, staff performance, and your personal feelings on your operational successes, but a critical stakeholder is missing: your customers. The age-old mantra of, “we wouldn’t have jobs if there were no customers,” still holds true today. Customer opinions are important to the overall success of your facility or program, more now than ever with the increasing use of social media for evaluating and discussing guest experiences through Yelp, Facebook Reviews, etc. The way we gather customer feedback on experience is an often overlooked component to our evaluation process. Below are a few ways to begin the process of developing informative questionnaires to truly evaluate the guest experience.

Do you really want to know?

Before you begin the quest for feedback from customers, you must ask yourself: Do I really want to know? If you have no process or plan to integrate the feedback into your operations, you are really just opening yourself up to the liability of being informed on issues without taking action. Depending on the feedback, this can result in legal issues if safety concerns are not addressed and continual customer complaints if service concerns are left unaddressed.

Length and Format

One factor to consider when developing your customer questionnaire is to keep it brief and to the point. Ask just the questions you really desire feedback on and give ample opportunity for customers to provide their own details with a comments section. How many times have you filled out an online survey and wondered if you would reach retirement before completing it? If it’s a paper survey, keep it to no more than one side of an 8.5” x 11” piece of paper, including the comment lines. If it’s an online survey, it should take less than 4 minutes to complete with a warning up front on the typical time necessary to complete. Questions should be worded as objectively as possible and always with an option for “not applicable” to ensure accuracy. Grouping the questions in sections like the example below allows you to ask more questions without making the customer feel bombarded.Questionair

I like asking specific questions that require the customer to name an employee tied to their answer. This encourages staff to develop and maintain relationships with the customers and allows you the opportunity to identify patterns with specific personnel and correct those issues. The customer can always skip that part if they do not know the employee’s name, but I have found that to be one of the most beneficial tools on a questionnaire.

Execution

Now that you have a great format and precisely worded questions, when should you make the “ask”? It’s best to get a diverse sample of your client base for the most accurate feedback. If you provide questionnaires to each swim lesson parent at the end of each session, you are missing out on the feedback of your waterpark guests, aqua aerobics participants, and fitness swimmers. Find a way to survey ALL types of users, throughout the year, at different times of the day. You may have a sparkling facility at 9:00am when the first swim lesson starts, but by the time rec swim ends and afternoon lessons begin, your restrooms can look atrocious, providing a much different experience for your afternoon customers. Sometimes, customers do not want to physically fill out the form. Sending staff members around to gather their results can mean an increase in survey results. Creating surveys specific to your special events can provide the opportunity to ask event specific questions. Aim to gather completed questionnaires from 5-7% of your customers to get a good sample of opinions.

If you leave it up to the customer to ask for a survey, then you will likely end up with a negatively skewed sample. The squeaky wheel gets the oil and people do not typically ask to fill out a questionnaire when they are moderately pleased with their experience. Encourage customers to give feedback in exchange for a coupon, free food and beverage item, chance to win a season pass, etc.

Compilation of Results

Once you have gathered all of your surveys, create a method for compiling the results. I have used a free online form builder to input all the results, which also allows me to run a report with the statistics for each question. This way, I can compare the results year over year. Any way you choose to compile the results, just make sure it is consistently followed and doesn’t become an end of season task. Most of the time, you will have lost many surveys and the opportunity to make quick easy fixes throughout the season.

Evaluation and Implementation

After the questionnaire feedback has been compiled, divide the results into categories. Assemble your management team to discuss the overarching categories. Evaluate whether policies can be adjusted, programs can be implemented, and do your best to address each “issue” listed. Once decisions have been made, introduce the results to staff. Sharing feedback with non-management staff can be eye opening, as they often do not understand the implications of their personal actions on the image of your park. Don’t forget to celebrate the areas where you are succeeding. Generating buy-in and psychological ownership over the great and troubling areas of your operations throughout your entire staff will pave the way for change and build a culture of success that will be unrivaled!

 

Point-of-Sale Systems- Where Do I Begin?

Running a safe, customer-focused program is at the center of an Aquatic Operator’s job description, but what about the business-side of our jobs? Having the tools in place to retrieve financial information, analyze your return on investment for your killer marketing plan, and compare to previous summers’ results can be a game changer for your facility. 100_7384There are many point-of-sale (POS) providers on the market, each with their individual benefits and d ownfalls. There are several features that may or may not be a dealbreaker for successful implementation in your facility. Sometimes, one of the first interactions customers have with your facility is to register for a class or purchase their tickets through your POS system, which can set the tone for their experience and set their expectations, so choose wisely!

Web-Based

By far, one of the most critical decisions to make when deciding on a POS system is whether or not it will be web-based or server-based. A web-based system allows for the flexibility of access anywhere there is an internet connection. This can be particularly helpful at the beginning of your season when new cashiers are still learning the system, new managers are struggling to close-out and balance the cash drawers, and things can be “off”. A quick phone call, log-in on your computer, and a few minutes later, an issue can be resolved. With a server-based system, you typically need to be located onsite to access the program, which means a late night trip back to work (been there, done that at 10:00pm) or leaving the “mess” until the morning, which is problematic in its own way.

User-Friendly

In our seasonal facilities, staff turnover for entry-level positions such as cashiers or concessions is typically pretty high. Most entry-level aquatics employees are technologically savvy and can pick up POS system operations fairly quickly as long as it is intuitive and user-friendly. When selecting and researching a system, evaluate whether someone would be able to walk right up to the system and bumble their way through a transaction with little or no training. Teaching an employee the special terms, codes, and processes for a POS system that is not user-friendly can be a drain on the budget and a source of frustration for both staff and the customer. In addition to being user-friendly for staff, ask the POS provider to walk you through a transaction in the online portal customers will use to make purchases directly. If it’s too complicated, ask if modifications can be made. If not, move on. It’s not worth it to lose a customer before they enter the gates because they become frustrated while trying to give you their hard earned money.

Meets All Your Needs

Think about every avenue of your business- season passes, daily admissions, parties, cabana rentals, food and beverage, lockers, retail, swim lessons, etc. Does your current provider or potential provider meet those needs or do you have a lot of work-arounds in place? An efficient POS system will be a support and asset to your business rather than a financial drain and constant headache. For example, we spend a lot of time developing and implementing our marketing plans. Does this provider have a system for tracking your return on investment? Does your POS system have a mechanism for capturing emails and a medium for sending out targeted email blasts to groups of customers interested in specific programs or products? Determine what your important needs are and that your POS system can truly fulfill those demands.

Training Costs

Training is handled very differently between POS providers. Most provide onsite training for a fee to train the supervisors and staff, and then the supervisors are expected to maintain the training for all other incoming staff for future years. A growing trend is to provide initial onsite training for a fee, and then all subsequent trainings can be webinar based and are free of charge. This ensures that as updates are made to the system (which should be happening fairly consistently with a good provider), staff are given the proper tools and information right away. With a seasonal operation and high entry-level position turnover each summer, not spending additional money or time training new staff can be one less thing you need to worry about!

Enhancements

There are many “one size fits all” POS offerings on the market, but each have their own niche and focus. Most likely, none will meet all of your facility/agency-specific needs. Discuss with potential providers the process for adding enhancements specific to your organization. What is the wait time? How much will it cost? If you have a unique operation, search for a POS provider that offers enhancements free-of-charge to ensure that you are not taken advantage of and funding their business growth. A savvy POS provider will recognize that adding an enhancement that may help several of their customers will open up new business opportunities for them as well, and offer it as a complimentary service.

Reporting

One of the most often overlooked components of a POS system is its reporting. Work with your finance team to determine what type of information they will need and ensure that there is a report to provide that information. There are some POS systems that have very straightforward reporting options, which can be sufficient if you just want basic information or they have the correct reports generated for you. If you would like more detailed or custom information on your reports, look for a system that allows you to select the terms for your reports. This will save you time with data collection and pulling out the unnecessary information. Be wary of companies that have hundreds of types of reports. Most POS system providers are unable to keep up with the maintenance of a large body of reports, which can lead to erroneous information and poor financial decision as a result.

Service Issues

While it is the hope that your POS system will never have any issues, this will be far from reality. Technology will always have glitches and require assistance to resolve. Discuss with any potential provider the process for notifying them and resolving issues. Do they have a 24 hour number? If you are in a different time zone than your provider, will you be left in a lurch at 4:00pm because their technicians are all off for the day? Confirming they have a seamless process for issue resolution and quick response time for their facilities will ensure that you are not standing face to face with a customer with a computer glitch, unable to process their transaction for 30 minutes.

100_7385

Though the process and programs can appear confusing, a POS system is merely a tool. Using the criteria above, selecting a system that you are comfortable with is not too difficult. If you become overwhelmed, pretend you are a staff member or customer using the system and select one that works with ease whether you are the manager (reporting/adding programs), staff (quick transaction process), or customers (intuitive and simple). Researching and evaluating several POS system providers according to YOUR needs will always result in a successful match.

Outsourcing

The decision to outsource your organization’s aquatic operation is not one to be taken lightly. And, in the new climate of break-even cost recovery and sustainability being the expected norm for aquatics operations, you should know the three primary reasons that parks and recreation departments are exploring the possibility of outsourcing.

Financial

For some departments, it all comes down to money. They see their bottom line isn’t getting close to break-even and so they hope that an outside management company will have the ability bridge the gap to sustainability. Whether they close the gap by exploring ways to reduce staffing levels, consolidate the management structure or save on chemical and maintenance costs, management firms can bring new eyes to an existing operation and implement new and creative ways to save on costs.

Efficiency

With that new set of eyes on an aquatic operation, management companies also bring with them layers of efficiencies that can end up saving time and money for your operation. Since some management companies have multiple operations in a geographic region, they can broker deals with chemical companies, equipment suppliers and other vendors to purchase supplies for all of their facilities through one order, thus getting the best deal possible. They can also save time by giving multiple facilities and operations to one management staff member which makes management more effective and efficient since multiple facilities are run the same way and can share facility staff and management.

Expertise

Finally, management companies bring expertise to aquatic operations because of the depth of knowledge and experience in the field of facility management. Some parks and recreation DSCN1464 (640x480)departments can be either new to aquatic operations because of a new facility, or they don’t have the in-house expertise to run an aquatic facility, thus making outsourcing a great alternative to running their own operation. While turning over your operation to a management firm can seem daunting, proper communication with your management company can ensure that your mission and vision for your facility is properly implemented and your guests have a great aquatic experience.

Next Step Marketing- Effectively Crafting and Communicating Your Message

News here, get it while it’s hot! We are constantly bombarded with sales pitches, marketing, and advertisements suggesting that we spend our disposable income on a particular product. What compels us to choose one product or service over another? Sometimes it is the quality or price, but what if the products are comparable? Subconsciously, we make decisions on products and services based on our personal connection with their message.

Marketing vs. Advertising

A common misconception is that marketing and advertising are one in the same. A simple way to distinguish the two is to think about marketing as a pie. Marketing is the way that we connect buyers and suppliers in a way that is mutually beneficial to both parties. Advertising is just one of the ways to accomplish that goal. Marketing is the spreading of your facility’s message, while advertising is the medium you use to facilitate that. For example, your message may be, “We offer super fantastic birthday party options for busy parents who love their children and want to celebrate, but who do not want the hassle of planning and cleaning up, so come spend your valuable dollars with us.” Your direct mail campaign or flyers may say, “We offer hassle-free, all-inclusive packages to celebrate your special occasion.” If you simply list your packages and do not gear your marketing and advertising towards really connecting with your customers, it is a missed opportunity.

Crafting Your Message

If you manage a smaller facility without an experienced marketing team, creating the most appropriate message for your facility will be the biggest hurdle. Use your customer surveys and analyze your revenue to determine what your customers desire, their favorite programs, and their concerns. Peruse your social media to see the common themes are in customer posts. You may be known for something extraordinary that you can really craft your message to. For example, if you work for a smaller waterpark or aquatic facility, you can tout the message that your facility is safe and family-friendly because it is geared towards families or Children Under 12. Perhaps you are famous in your area for Parent & Child classes? Figure out what your claim to fame is and craft a message to solidify your superiority in that niche.

Let it Out

Now that you have a focused message, how are you getting the message out? Social Media is a common tactic used in most facilities, but how are you maximizing time spent managing the page? Are you posting a few times per week or even every day and still not receiving the response you expected? Look at what you are “selling.” Mix up your post content to ensure customers stay engaged and do not unsubscribe. With typical aquatic facilities, we have a vast array of programming from recreational swim, water fitness, swim lessons, and special events. Use that diversity to create exciting posts. Maybe you focus on drowning prevention and the shock factor of DSC00884drowning statistics one day, then post an aquatics joke the next day. Increasing your visibility on social media is completely dependent upon the number of engaged users active on your posts. Facebook has changed its algorithm to weed out “sales” posts, so encouraging followers to “Like and Share” more than once every 6 months will actually decrease your visibility. Instead, opt for posts where followers “Comment” on the post. Each comment can bring it to the top of the feed as “new and relevant.” For example, post a close-up picture of something in your facility (drinking fountain, lifeguard tube, architectural detail, etc.) the same day each week. Ask for followers to comment on what they think it might be. Give a deadline and let them know that a correct guesser will be chosen at random to receive a fun prize. Switch the prizes up to engage all types of facility users. Many have been successful with this approach, most notably, one park with 7,000 Facebook followers was receiving over 100,000 views on each of their “What is it?” posts over the summer season.

One of the most effective social media campaigns was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge we all experienced last summer. The premise was that people would film themselves dumping a bucket of ice on themselves in lieu of donating to the cause, however, many people decided to do both. At the end of the challenge, the person would challenge several other people to complete the challenge. In a six week period from August- Mid-September 2014, the ALS Association received $115 million in donations related to the ice bucket challenge. This is in addition to the awareness that the internet buzz created with challengers sharing personal stories of how their loved ones were affected by the disease.

Use Surprise

Connect with your potential customers in unexpected ways outside of your facility. If your facility or City has a mascot costume, organize sponsor invasion days with those who you have community partnerships with. For example, send your mascot to the bank who is sponsoring one of your 3programs to greet children and distribute discount coupons for swim lessons or birthday parties. Schedule these outings for times when people will be depositing their paychecks, around the 1st and 15th of the month. In this example, you are connecting potential customers who have current disposable income and their excited children with your message of drowning prevention or hassle-free fun. These types of “invasions” are great PR opportunities for the sponsors as well.

In 2006, Adidas opened a store in Copenhagen and pulled a fun PR stunt that went viral. Blue ducks with the Adidas logo were deposited into local Copenhagen fountains. On the side was printed, “I’ve swum too far – help me get back home!” and the bottom said, “Return me to the Adidas store!” Once people returned the ducks, they were given a free t-shirt. Adidas was successful in communicating their message in a fun way, engaging potential customers to visit their store, where they left with a smile.

Hopefully these examples have sparked your interest and inspired a new way to think about marketing and advertising. Remember, marketing and advertising is about the customer, not the facility. Learn what your customer wants and figure out the best way to be the solution and connect with them!