Category Archives: Operations

Job Placement/Recruiting

Do you find yourself understaffed and experiencing high turnover every summer?  Do you hire then fire consistently?  Evaluating your hiring practices can assist in reducing the amount of time, and ultimately, the impact of human resources on your bottom line.

Lifeguard Shortage?

There is a misconception in the industry that there are not enough qualified lifeguards to work in our facilities.  Are you simply posting your job openings on the internet and hoping for the best?  100_7344For the current generation of lifeguards and aquatic facility staff, applying for a summer job does not occur to them until they are in finals week, which is far too late to get them hired and trained in time for your Memorial weekend opening.  Develop a relationship with your local high schools and community colleges. Schedule times to set up a table during the lunch hour where you can distribute information on how to apply, get certified, or attend your hiring events.  Bringing the information to the potential applicants can make the difference between picking from the best and hoping for the best.

Evaluate Your Application Process

Is your application online? If not, it should be.  This generation of seasonal staff are constantly connected, and asking them to print out and submit a paper application can drive them to apply at another business with a more millennial-friendly application process.  If possible, make the application as short as possible and refrain from asking applicants to submit a resume, as this can alienate applicants whDSCN1474 (480x640)o have no work history.

Skills Testing

Once you have a list of interested applicants, schedule a physical skills test to determine whether they are physically fit and skilled enough to work as a lifeguard.  This portion of the process should be pass or fail.  Many applicants are unwilling to enroll in the certification class until they have a better understanding of whether or not they will have the endurance and skills to pass.  The physical skills test should reflect, at a minimum, the pre-requisite requirements of your lifeguard certification agency.

Interview

There are several different interview formats that have proven successful at aquatic facilities.  One on one or panel interviews give the opportunity to showcase a single employee, however, they are very time consuming, especially when hiring 30+ employees each season. Group interviews, where 3-6 applicants sit with the panelists in a circle and ask several different questions are a great way to evaluate their social skills and initiative.  Be careful when conducting group interviews that the more introverted applicants are not overpowered by the livelier applicants and are given the opportunity to answer questions as well.  In addition, it is more difficult to be objective in scoring applicants since they are not all asked the same set of questions.

When selecting interview questions, make a concentrated effort to steer away from scenario-based questions that lead the applicant to give cookie cutter answers.  These types of questions do not give you insight into what the applicant has done or will do.  Rather, ask them to describe situations they have dealt with to better understand their thought process.

FOR EXAMPLE:

If a customer approached you and was upset about the pool being closed due to a fecal accident, what would you do?

A better question would be….

Describe a difficult customer service situation you have encountered and how you dealt with it.

For the second question, you will better understand their work experience, experience dealing with upset customers, their thought process, how they feel about customers, and their loyalty to the program.  You can gain so much more insight just by re-phrasing the question!

The Last, But Most Important Step

Many people would offer a position after the interview, but what do you really know about them at this point?  You know they can pass a skills test, they can socialize well with others, and can answer some questions.  Putting applicants through a “bootcamp” type event will give you even more insight into how they will truly thrive or fail when employed at your facility.  Whether they are a lifeguard, cashier, swim instructor, or concessions applicant, creating a real-life situation that tests their job skills, teamwork, and ability to be coached and trained is easier than you may think.  For example with lifeguard applicants, break them into teams and test their skills over the course of a day.  In between skills, complete team building activities to make the day more fun.  Applicants can only remain on their best behavior for about 30 minutes, and then their real personalities come out.  You can fully assess their skill level, whether they respond well to the culture of your facility, how they take direction, and who steps up as a leader.  There have been many times where using the “bootcamp” style hiring event has saved a hiring manager from hiring a great interviewer with no skills and a bad attitude.

Use some of these tools or all of them to recruit and hire the best employees for your facility.  Each facility will have different requirements and preferences and designing a hiring process to fully evaluate applicants will ensure that you spend your valuable time developing and building your staff instead of searching for more each year.

All Stories

In-Park Spending

In-park spending is crucial to any outdoor waterpark or aquatic center’s financial success.  It’s also the biggest driver of revenue next to season pass sales and daily admission rates.  Operators typically use the word “per cap” to determine the total amount a guest pays on each visit to their park, which includes the combined amount of admission fees and any in-park spending, primarily food and beverage or retail/souvenir purchases.  We’ll take a quick look at each and give you some tips to help maximize your park’s revenue through these two categories.

Food and beverage sales make up the majority of in-park spending by your guests because, let’s face it, everyone gets eit34her hungry or thirsty while at your park!  Couple that with having a captured audience and the opportunity exists to generate revenue through a quality food and beverage operation.  You want to make sure you provide good food at a reasonable price or else your sales will start to dwindle.

A key indicator to your success in this area is your facility’s philosophy on allowing guests to bring in outside food and drink.  The more restrictions you have on outside food and drink, the more opportunity you have to sell food and beverages to your guests.  Don’t forget to include a wide variety of menu options including the top sellers of burgers, pizza, hot dogs, nachos, French Fries, fountain drinks shaved ice and funnel cakes.  But, you also need to offer a few healthier options such as a salad or grilled chicken.  Be sure to mix it up from time to time with specials, discounts and combo meals and track sales of all of your menu items so you know which ones sell the best and which items you can take off the menu because you aren’t selling enough of them to make it worth your time to carry the added inventory.

Retail sales at a municipal family aquatic center can be a bit trickier compared to a destination waterpark, as most guests don’t show much interest in purchasing souvenirs for the local swimming pool.  Items that they will buy include sunscreen, goggles and small snacks including novelty ice cream or frozen treats.  The key in this area is to not keep inventory of items that historically don’t sell.  As a former municipal operator myself, I used to carry 50 items in our retail shop at the waterpark I managed.  I found after my first summer that we only sold 100 or more of 6 of those items during the previous summer.  Meanwhile, we spent countless hours over the course of a summer tracking inventory of the other 44 items we weren’t even selling!  The next year we scaled down our retail operation to only sell those 6 items and it made inventory tracking a breeze.

Now, a few tips for success and we’ll send you on your way.

  1. Develop an attractive and easy-to-read menu board for your food and beverage operation. Nothing creates hunger better than having a picture of a burger, fries and cold soft drink staring at your guests when they’re in line.
  2. Train your food and beverage team to upsell your guests to a combo meal, a larger size drink, or an additional food item. Just a quick, “Would you like to make it a combo meal?” by your team members can pay huge dividends over the course of a season.
  3. Track food and beverage and retail sales over the course of each season to ensure you are maximizing your facility’s revenue.

 

Hazardous Materials

One of the major challenges with keeping pools safe and healthy is the need for hazardous materials to be on-site, manly chlorine and acid.  This creates two major concerns.  The first is the need to store these materials, the second is making sure operators handle them properly.

The amount of hazardous material that is allowed to be stored on site in unrated space is not enough to provide for the needs of most natatoriums.  For the most part, the Uniformed Building Code, International Building Code and the BOCA agree that most natatoriums are considered A-3 occupancy.  This distinction changes in institutional settings and health care facilities.  The adjacent mechanical spaces are required to have a 1 hour fire separation.  All three codes provide for the storage of “hazardous materials” within controlled areas. The problem is that many facilities have more than one body of water.  Therefore, the exempt amount does not provide for an adequate supply of chemicals.  An H-2 or H-3 occupancy rating does allow for larger quantities of chemical to be stored.  However an H-2 occupancy does not provide for the storage of calcium hypochlorite.  An H-3 rating becomes costly because it requires a 3 hour fire separation.   The codes to provide for this in the design of the storage rooms are classified as an M-type occupancy.  Not only does this occupancy provide for the storage of larger qualities of chemicals, the required fire separation is diminished from a 3 hour rating to a 2 hour rating.  The code goes so far as to eliminate the need for separation if the area is less than 1,000 square feet.  By classifying a storage area as an M-Class space, a whole series of mechanical issues that could arise in dealing with H-Class occupancies are eliminated.  Outside access for chemical storage rooms may minimize critical review concerns by the fire department and code officials.

When it comes to the handling of chemicals, the first step to keeping things safe is to ensure all chemicals are properly labeled and all MSDS are readily available.  The other key factor is ensuring that anyone handling these chemicals is wearing the appropriate protective gear.  Basic protective gear would include chemical rated gloves, goggles, boots, and an apron.  Operators should also consider using ventilation masks or respirators when dealing with chemicals that put off hazardous vapors and fumes.  The National Swimming Pool Foundation recommends the following protective measures:

  • Keep personal protective equipment (PPE) clean
  • Use PPE whenever dealing with hazardous materials
  • Use respirator when airborne chemical dust or mist may be present
  • Develop work practices to minimize accidental contact with pool chemicals
  • Provide means of ready access to water (i.e. eye wash station)
  • Post the numbers for local emergency responders
  • Consider appropriate first aid and coordinate with local first responders
  • Keep safety equipment tin a separate location from the stored chemicals

We all love pools and want to make them safe for patrons and guest, but we also need to make sure we keep our operators safe.  Proper storing and handling of hazardous materials is just one basic step operators can take to keep themselves safe.

Guest Service

Maximizing the experience of your waterpark’s guests should be of primary importance to you and your team.  After all, waterpark operators exist to provide safe, clean, friendly and fun aquatic experiences for their guests of all ages.  Through the analysis of those three years’ worth of survey and reports, I found that waterpark guests typically complain about issues in one of five areas: facility, policies and procedures, experience, personnel and food and beverage. While these categories are not hard and fast, they do give great insight into the mind of the waterpark guest and the expectations they have when they get to your park.

Facility issues guest complain about include the appearance and cleanliness of the park, park signage, and the amount of information posted and how consistently staff convey it.  Of course, the cleanliness of restrooms tops the list at any waterpark.  Any operator knows the challenges that come with keeping restrooms clean when you have constant soaking wet traffic coming in and out of them all day long. Restrooms should be checked every 20 minutes throughout the day, as well as have a scheduled deep clean and supply stock a few times per day.

Guests also want general park Information to be clearly conveyed a readily available, both at your park, as well as on your park’s website.  Park information such as hours of operation, admissions prices, rules and frequently asked questions should be easily accessible and clearly presented in order to avoid confusion by guests. Placing this information on your website will help provide guests with as much information as possible before their visit which helps to keep their expectations in line when they arrive.

Park rules (or lack thereof), coupons and discounts and weather related issues DSC00884top the list of why guests complain about policies and procedures. “That’s not a fair severe weather policy,” The coupon doesn’t say that it’s not good today,” and “Why can’t I bring in my own floatation device” frequently top the list of complaints heard regarding these three areas.  Waterpark operators must strive to communicate policies and procedures in a clear and consistent manner, while also ensuring these policies seem fair and reasonable to the guest. Now, that’s easier said than done, but operators need to be diligent in the development of park policies and procedures.

Guests complain about their in-park experience because of the different water features a park has (or doesn’t have), the number of amenities and the overall atmosphere.  Whether the sprayground looked bigger on the website, or more shade and tables need to be added, complaints in this category will really help waterpark operators see what areas of their operation need the most improvement. All comments should be documented so that park management can plan for the future in the areas where guests see their park lacking, whether it’s a lack of a water feature, or shade umbrellas.

Food and beverage issues include the quality, timeliness and price of the food served, as well as the overall quality of service the F&B team members exhibit. Food and beverage can sometimes be the forgotten division within a waterpark operation while operators often get swamped with safety, risk management and “front of the park” admissions.  And, since most waterpark operators don’t have a strong F&B background, they need to ensure they bring on someone with intimate knowledge of food service and menu development to guarantee a successful operation. 2

Personnel issues tend to top the list when guests complain.  Through the surveys and shopper reports, complaints about park team members always came down to one of three areas, knowledge (what to do), efficiency (how to do it) and engagement (why it matters).  Whether a team member didn’t know the correct answer to a guest’s question, a guest had to stand in line too long to enter the park, or a guest did not receive a welcoming greeting from a park team member, these three areas will make or break your operation

By evaluating the five key areas in which waterpark guests complain, facility, policies and procedures, experience, personnel and food and beverage, you can hopefully begin the journey of minimizing and eliminating guests’ complaints.  While eliminating complaints altogether might be a “pie in the sky” vision, it will be well worth your time to aim high in order to maximize the waterpark experience for your guests.

This article can be seen in its entirety in the February 2015 issue of World Waterpark Magazine at www.waterparks.org.

Food & Beverage

There is nothing worse than going to a theme park where the rule is “no outside food,” and then the food you purchase onsite is overpriced and tastes terrible.  While as operators, our expertise is not typically centered around restaurant operations, here are a few things to consider when developing your Food and Beverage program:

Menu Matters There is a common belief that food sold at theme parks will be drastically overpriced.  While you want a decent markup to ensure you are covering your costs and generating additional revenue, gouging the custome1rs for their last pennies will not further your customer relationship.  Research the types of customers visiting your park and center your menu to meet their expectations.  If you have a medium to large size park, be sure to offer full, fresh meal options such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and salads.  If you are operating a smaller park, maybe a snack bar type of menu is more appropriate with nachos, snow cones, and soft pretzels.  Schedule a tasting session with your food provider, who will be more than willing to give you samples of product to ensure the quality meets your standards.  No matter the type of menu offerings, quality ingredients at a reasonable price will keep your customers happy and returning throughout the summer.

Service Matters Even if your food is delicious and reasonable in price, if the service is subpar, the guests will not return.  Design your labor schedule around lunch and afternoon snack rush times.  These times will be unique to your park and depend on your operating hours and menu offerings.  Always be sure to have enough staff available to fully execute your menu.  For example, if you scheduled enough grillers and cashiers, but not enough runners, the food may be cold by the time it reaches the guest. Designate at least one person to supervise the operations and be aware of the line to order, the line waiting for food pickup, and the cleanliness of the concessions area.  If the trash is overflowing, ketchup smeared on the counter, and frozen yogurt toppings all over the floor, the guest’s perception is that the back kitchen it just as dirty.  Spending extra effort or labor time dedicated to maintaining a clean concessions area can make or break the customer experience. While we devote hours and budget to consistently training lifeguard staff, the same care should be taken with concessions staff.  Lifeguards hold people’s lives in their hands while on stand, so they must follow protocol at all times. Similarly, if proper food handling procedures are not followed in the kitchen, food bourne illnesses are equally as dangerous. Focus training on food portions, presentation quality, and safe preparation practices.  Inevitably, there will be mistakes on orders.  Correcting the mistake, adding complimentary food, and/or giving them their food on the house are all reasonable ways to fix the issue.  34 Upsell Once you have a quality product and outstanding service, build in ways to upsell the customer to spend more in your food and beverage areas. For example, most guests come with between 3-5 family members or friends.  Offering a family 4 pack of cheeseburgers, chips, and drinks make ordering and execution easy, and also provides the opportunity to upsell the customers to french fries for an additional fee.  Offering a logo souvenir cup for your park with free refills on the day of purchase and $1.00 refills the rest of the season is an excellent way to increase your daily per cap and also satisfy the customer with a big discount.  Filling up the cup may only cost you $0.30, which leaves you a profit of approximately $0.70 per refill.  Other ways to upsell can include additional sauces, bacon, patties, or “add a dessert” options.  Including add-on options for party packages services by your food and beverage department can be the most lucrative upsell opportunity in your park.  These can include cupcakes, ice cream, churros, popcorn baskets, salads, etc. While the food and beverage options are not the primary reason to visit your park, offering great tasting food at a reasonable price, served with a smile can be the reason they return, the reason they book their birthday party at your facility, or the reason they decide to stay all day instead of eating their picnic lunch on the bed of their truck in your parking lot.