Feature Article - January 2004
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Pool Profitability

Revenue-generating ideas to help keep your budget afloat

By Stacy St. Clair


Waterpark Trifecta
If managed properly, there are three sure financial bets in every waterpark:
THE CONCESSION STAND, THE PARTY AREA AND THE GIFT SHOP.
Here are some tips on finding success in these three areas.
THE CONCESSION STAND

If Rick Lowderman has any advice about running a concession stand, it's finding a full-time professional manager.

As director of the Raytown (Mo.) Parks & Recreation Department, he made it a priority this past summer at the municipality's SuperSplash USA. He never regretted it. The decision gave him peace of mind because the snack bar was left in the hands of an experienced food-service expert, not just a bunch of teens looking for summer work.

Under professional management, the concession stand made a killing between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The manager was paid $12,000 this summer and improved revenues by $60,000.

"It was definitely worth the investment," Lowderman says. "We had a professional, not teenagers who didn't know anything about running a business." Lowderman also credits the snack bar's reasonable prices for its success. A customer can purchase a hamburger and soda for less than $5. He believes the low cost allows families to have fun without feeling gouged. Yet, at the same time, the reasonable prices encourage them to spend their dollars on snow cones, Dipping Dots and French fries.

"They don't feel like the prices are unreasonable," Lowderman says, "but we're trying to get as much as we can out of them."

Some experts, however, contend a low-priced meal isn't the only thing that helps keep customers coming back. Old-school concession philosophy suggested never charging more than $1 for a cup of coffee. But we're a Starbuck's world now. People gladly shell out $4 for coffee, if it has a fancy name and a shot of hazelnut. But as the willingness to pay for gourmet foods has increased, so has the expectation of quality. Concession-stand customers want more than just hot dogs. They want chili dogs; cheese dogs; and Chicago dogs with cucumbers, pickles and hot peppers. They also prefer condiment bars with a variety of toppings, including salsas, vegetables and hot sauces.

Recreation officials in Golden, Colo., for example, added a little spice to their concession operations when they opened a family aquatic center in the summer of 2002. They invested $30,000 in equipment, including an outdoor grill that proved to be integral to the stand's success. Consultants urged managers to buck many of the traditional ways of doing things, including the age-old tradition of keeping the cook out of sight. Rather than hiding the cooks in the back of the concession stand to flip hamburgers, they positioned the grill outside. It brought the employees -and the smell of a backyard barbecue-closer to the patrons. As swimmers and sunbathers enjoy their afternoons, they can look to the concession stand and see the food being made. The mouth-watering smells of hot dogs, chicken breasts and hamburgers waft through the park. The grill gave a sense of freshness—of summer, really—to the stand's menu. On the first day of operations, the snack bar made $4,000 in just six hours.

THE PARTY PLACE

Nearly all waterparks and pools have party packages that encourage large groups. The deals don't vary much from park to park. For a set price, partygoers receive admission to the park, pizza and drinks. Some facilities include party favors and a cake in the deal. The most successful parks, however, have a place to hold the celebration.

Cypress Cove Family Aquatic Center in Woodridge, Ill., for example, built its mechanical room on an island and attached a huge porch to the structure. The porch is home to all parties at the park, as well as the Woodridge Park District's "Dive and Jive" concert series. Architects designed the porch to be large enough to fit two groups at one time—thereby doubling the revenue opportunities for the district.

"It has become a very popular place for birthdays," says Pam Sanhamel, the district's public relations and marketing coordinator.

GIFT SHOPS

A good waterpark, in many cases, can be the highlight of a child's summer. Why not give the kids a chance to remember it with something tangible? An increasing number of waterparks—even smaller ones operated by local taxing bodies—have found financial success in the gift shop arena. Splash Station in Joliet, Ill., for example, operates a small souvenir stand at the park that offers hats, T-shirts, water bottles and various keepsake items. Other gift shops have become more like convenient stores by selling sunscreen, disposable cameras and anti-chlorine shampoos. Several facilities also carry swim diapers, which the management requires all non-potty trained children to wear. Parents who forget the diapers can purchase them for a few dollars at the gift shop.