Feature Article - September 2014
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Riding the Wave of Success

Waterparks Find New & Creative Ways to Stay Afloat

By Kelli Ra Anderson

And the Survey Says…?

When Jody Kneupper, general manager of Wet n Wild Splash Town, looked for ways to increase revenue during a major renovation and rebranding project last year, her team knew they needed a fresh set of eyes. From drawing on the expertise of food consultants, local contractors and other waterpark directors' insights, to listening carefully to the wants of patrons, their park's new-and-improved success was so much more than just about the new rides.

"There is an increased level of expectation about value for money and so we had to raise our standards to match theirs," Kneupper said of survey results from the community. "So we looked at amount of shade, added nicer lounge chairs everywhere and more seating near the kid pools. It wasn't always that they wanted new rides; they wanted nicer restrooms so we upgraded our restrooms from floor tile to paint, partitions and faucets. We also added large family changing rooms and dressing rooms for men and women."

Keeping adults happier, whether it's increasing the comfort of their lounge chairs, the amount of shade or offering free Wi-Fi for their computers (while keeping kids entertained), is certainly one way to encourage longer hours at the park. But surveys also indicate another major area of desired improvement: food. There is no doubt about it. Today's parents and caregivers want healthier, fresher, made-on-the-spot foods with more choices than the traditional carnival fare of yesteryear.

Last summer when Rolling Hills Waterpark in Ann Arbor, Mich., constructed the third phase of its master plan, it included a strong focus on concessions improvement, along with the addition of a three-flume, three-story high slide tower, new bathhouses, parking lot and redesigned entrance. "They really focused on concessions," said Coy Vaughn, deputy director of the waterpark. "Initially, it was inside a building. We looked at different options and when we went to an outdoor grill, people could now smell the food and it boosted our sales at concessions."

Steve Wyatt, superintendent at Rolling Hills, agreed, saying that in trying to keep current, the park's foodservice now makes to-order meals along with summer fare and snacks. In response to the customer base, the park has introduced a lot of healthier choices including a very popular vegetarian menu and fresh fruits.

When Wet n Wild Splash Town brought in consultants to make sure they were up to date with trends and standards, they, too, concluded that people want healthy and fresh menu options. But, like Rolling Hills, which saw the marketing advantages of putting the grill outdoors, Splash Town realized that perception and packaging also was vitally important. "We wanted to fight that stigma about park food being bad and wanted to use freshness to enhance our sales. From the way we chose our product, to how we packaged it, we changed the perception of quality," Kneupper said.

As a result, the park made a commitment to quality salad ingredients and fruits, making items in full view of customers thanks to an open, bright, colorful kitchen design. As a result, they're seeing better reviews for quality and are getting higher sales.