Category Archives: Operations

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.

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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.

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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!

Maintenance

Fort LuptonA regular program of preventive maintenance will curb depreciation and improve both the appearance and performance of the various components in every facility.

Preventive maintenance consists of three elements:

  1. Inspection of the items. This can help detect or give indications of substandard performance that can be corrected before costly repairs are needed.
  2. Scheduled maintenance and lubrication, as needed, can minimize wear, improve operation and reduce costs.
  3. Housekeeping or cleaning of the various components of each building including the equipment can help prevent the build-up of dirt, dust and grime. These impeded the operation of the various components including the mechanical elements.

The following is a list of typical pool items that should be checked on a regular basis.

 

Pool pumps and Circulation Motors

All motors and pumps will be check by the Maintenance Technician, the first week of every three months. The following should be checked:

  1. Amps on the Circulation Motors.
    1. Running amps
    2. Starting amps
  2. Grease the following fittings:
    1. Motor
    2. Pump
  3. Listen for any whining of motors or any metal rubbing together in pumps.
  4. Check all contacts on the following:
    1. Starter
    2. Disconnects
  5. Check all Vacuum and Pressure gauges for each motor.
  6. Check for any loose wiring or the arcing in wires.

Pool Chemical Pumps and Supply Lines

The chemical pumps will be check weekly to make sure there are no leaks in the feeding tube. The chemicals should be feeding through the clear tubing.

  1. Inspect the chemical supply lines to make sure chemicals are flowing through
  2. the clear tubing. (Watch as the air bubbles move along the tubing.)
  3. Inspect the chemical tubing in the chemical feeder and make sure that it is not leaking or moisture in the housing.   Make sure the brass ends are not broken off in the feeder tube in the pump. If need, put a new feeder tube in.
  4. Replace the feeder tube in all chemical pumps the first week of the June and December, or if needed before hand.
  5. If supply lines are hard and brittle, or full of chemical deposits, they should be replaced.

Chemical Controllers

The chemical controllers must be properly maintained in order for the controller to function properly. The following procedure should be followed one a week to clean the probes.

  1. Shut valves to flow cell.
  2. Remove probes.
  3. Clean probes with mild detergent.
  4. Rinse with clean water (not pool water).
  5. Rinse probes in an acid dilution (1 part acid to 10 parts water).
  6. Rinse with clean water (not pool water).
  7. Replace probes back in flow cell.
  8. Open flow cell valves.

Pool Boilers

The pool boilers should be checked to make sure they have power to them at all times. The pool boilers should have a constant supply of water running through them at all times. Please check the following:

  1. Make sure the power light is on. The switch should be on for the heater pump and the heater itself.
  2. Make sure water is flowing through the heater at all times. This means making sure all valves are open.
  3. Check water temperature through the day to make sure the heater is working.

Pool Filters

The filters should be checked regularly to ensure proper filtration of the pool water. The following should be checked:

  1. Check filters for air by opening the air relief valve
  2. Check influent and effluent pressure readings
  3. Backwash filters when pressure differential is between 10-15 psi.
  4. By following a preventative maintenance schedule, facilities will find repair items before they become inoperable and save money over the life of the facility.

Lifeguarding

Teach your lifeguards where to look.

Lifeguards need to know their zone of protection for each stand they cover like the back of their hand. They need to know where their zone begins and ends; where any blind spots may be; how the glare on the surface changes from stand to stand depending on the time of day; and which parts of the zone pose the most risk to their guests. For example, at the wave pool that I managed in the100_7344 past, 90 percent of our rescues occur where the depth quickly goes from 3 feet to 5 feet. Once the waves come on, those who could stand in that area are caught off-guard and have little time to recover. It’s vitally important to teach lifeguards the location of these areas. I’ve also noticed the sun position changes drastically toward the end of July and beginning of August compared to its location on Memorial Day. Examine your zones again and adjust stands accordingly. Most importantly, inform your lifeguards of the changing position of the sun and how it affects their zone of coverage.

Teach your lifeguards how to look

Scanning a zone for 20-30 minutes without a break definitely has some drawbacks to it. Operators need to make certain their lifeguards are following some basic protocol in regards to scanning. Teach your lifeguards the importance of continuous head movement ensuring they are scanning 100 percent of their zone. Lifeguards need to realize that certain scanning patterns do not provide 100 percent coverage. Scanning techniques need to be practiced and reinforced weekly. Don’t forget to do some type of vigilance training, be it mannequin drops or another form of guest recognition awareness.

Most importantly, always teach lifeguards to scan from the bottom up since a guest already on the bottom needs immediate care.

Teach your lifeguards what to look for

It’s great if lifeguards know where and how to look, but operators need to teach them the signs of distress they need to recognize. Lifeguards should look for the distressed swimmer who has their head back in the water struggling to keep their mouth and nose out of the water. Some guests will look surprised and then full of fear. And, of course, lifeguards should always keep an eye out for motionless guests; they obviously need help right away. Lifeguards also should be taught to be proactive in the scanning. When they see a 3 year old slowly wandering away from a parent whose back is turned, they need to act. When an 8 year old starts closing in on deeper water, they need to act. And when they think they see a guest struggling, they need to act. Teach your lifeguards to jump in early and jump in often! As Jim Wheeler says, “If you think it’s a rescue, then it’s a rescue!”

Teach your lifeguards why it’s so important

After the where, how and what, operators should teach their lifeguards why they should be so vigilant in their scanning.

Lifeguards need to know that a drowning can happen at their facility. Statistics show that close to DSCN1474 (480x640)500 drownings occur every year in lifeguarded pools. Lifeguards need to know that anyone can go into distress at any time. At the wave pool I managed, we rescued guests whose ages ranged from 3 to 53. We had rescues when we had 20 guests in the pool and 2,000 guests in the pool. Rescues can and will happen at any time. Lifeguards should view themselves as protectors and take pride in the fact they prevent the loss of life every day. This gives them added incentive to perform well on the job and remain vigilant while on the stand.

 

*Originally published in July/August 2011 World Waterpark Magazine