A Theme Park Insider's advice to Six Flags' new CEO
By Robert NilesHere's some unsolicited advice from a long-time theme park fan and industry observer, to new Six Flags CEO/President James Reid-Anderson:
Published: August 13, 2010 at 10:00 AM
1. The main focus of any business manager needs to be the "pain," the previously unmet need that the business is trying to meet for its customers. In Six Flags' case, your customers are theme park fans. Their "pain" is a need for a creative entertainment experience. Industry history has shown that the more creative that experience, the more customers will pay.
Six Flags, unlike its competitors Disney, Universal and SeaWorld, has no executive or division in charge of creative attraction design. Your predecessor didn't see this as a need for Six Flags, and the company failed to connect with the lucrative family travel market as a result.
Your first task, as President/CEO, should be to create a new division within the company, Six Flags Creative, and to hire a veteran attraction designer as corporate Chief Creative Officer [CCO] to oversee it. This individual should have experience with either Disney Imagineering or Universal Creative (or with both) and a proven record as a project manager.
Six Flags Creative should be charged with all attraction selection, design and installation at all Six Flags theme parks. It should oversee all entertainment development at the parks, as well as park site design and maintenance. The CCO also should have final say on all park advertising and promotional campaign. Six Flags' CCO and Six Flags Creative should be creating a strong brand identity for Six Flags, one that is expressed through advertising, marketing and the in-park entertainment and attraction experiences.
2. You are not yet Disney. Six Flags is not the market leader in theme parks, and as a result, cannot thrive at any price point higher than that offered by Disney. Simply, you can't charge more than Disney for admission, for parking, for souvenirs or for food and not drive away your customers. While Six Flags' previous management cut admission prices to win market share, it jacked up parking and food prices, charging more than either Disney or Universal in many cases. You can't keep doing this. Your customers hated you for that. Parking and food prices must come down to sub-Disney levels.
3. Six Flags must make up its lost revenue from lowering parking and food prices by increasing the number of high-spending guests visiting its parks. Long-term, the work of the CCO will increase attendance at Six Flags by making the parks a more attractive vacation destination. Short-term, Six Flags should market lower food prices in an attempt to increase sales volume. An "all-day dining" pass, which includes drinks, would help drive increased sales volume, as well.
4. Your predecessor did a great job in improving the in-park experience for your customers, with the exception of those food prices. The parks are cleaner, run by friendlier staff and attractions are operating full-time, instead of many remaining closed several days a week to save on maintenance costs. Don't cut back on cleaning or operations expenses, or you'll suffer further loss of customers. Study what Premier Parks did with Six Flags - then do the opposite.
5. If it's not yet clear, you've inherited a company that's cut costs to the bone. There's nothing to be saved here in operational expenses. With Chapter 11 behind you, most of your financial expenses have been written off as well. Six Flags' only hope is to increase investment in creative development in order to build a more attractive vacation destination for free-spending customers. If you're unwilling to do that - and choose instead to "create shareholder value" through "operational efficiencies" and spending cuts, I guarantee that within three years, we'll be writing here on Theme Park Insider about the end of your term running Six Flags.
Just as we've written about the demise of the many management teams which preceded you.
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