Feature Article - January 2004
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Pool Profitability

Revenue-generating ideas to help keep your budget afloat

By Stacy St. Clair

In 1986, recreation officials in Raytown, Mo., found themselves at a crossroads.

They had just purchased a city pool. It was a boring, rectangular box with no bells or whistles. The safest bet would have been to leave the facility unchanged. Invest no energy and even less money.

But recreation officials in the middle-class Missouri community had a vision. They wanted a grand aquatic center, a waterpark that would engage the community and encourage repeat customers.

At the time, few shared their vision. Waterparks still were several years away from joining the mainstream. But Raytown recreation officials always knew their facility could do more, be more. So in 1990, they conducted a feasibility study.

Indeed, residents wanted more than just a rectangular pool. They just didn't want to pay too much for it—not through their taxes nor through steep admission fees.

"It had to be self-sustaining," says Rick Lowderman, director of the Raytown Parks and Recreation Department.

The result was SuperSplash USA, which has become one of North America's best-run waterparks. Like all financially successful aquatic centers, the facility has thrived on a mixture of creativity, customer-service and sound business practices.

Lowderman's primary concern with the facility is creating an environment to which patrons can—and want to—return. It factors into all the decisions he makes, from the design to the attractions to admission.

He set the entrance fee at $8, a fourth of what the mammoth private waterpark in town charges. The concessions are also reasonably priced, which leaves patrons with enough change in their pockets for repeat visits.

"Our prices don't even come close to what the private parks charge," Lowderman says.

The department also has made several positive changes to the facility. SuperSplash USA now has three bodies of water: a big pool with two slides and a lily pad, a children's pool, and a family pool.

The family pool—a revamped version of the original rectangular pool—has been jazzed up significantly since 1986. Officials installed a zero-depth entry and added pumps, a rock-enclosed waterfall and water bucket games.

Popular features also include the park's large wooden decks. The decks make the facility inviting to sunbathers and parents who aren't interested in thrill rides. The decks give patrons a roomy, comfortable place to lounge while others splash in the water. They're so successful, in fact, Lowderman considers them the No. 1 must-have for any waterpark.

"We see having deck space as just as profitable as the pools," he says. "It's perfect for people who just want to jump in the water and then go running back to the deck."

The facility's approach has resulted in a financially successful operation that pays for itself.

Last year, for example, revenues totaled $725,000, while expenses came in at $410,000. The profits are being used to pay off old projects and begin planning news ones.

Raytown officials also have taken great pains to keep the water features fresh and exciting. They add new rides every few years, though the private facilities have the money to unveil new attractions each summer.

"You have to do it every other year," Lowderman says. "The big boys are going to do it every year, so you need to do it every couple years to keep people interested in coming back."