What should Matt Ouimet do with the Cedar Fair amusement parks?
Based on the way that the Disneyland Resort improved under Matt Ouimet's leadership in the mid-2000's, many Disney fans are hopeful that Cedar Fair's just hired itself a top-flight President and CEO.
Ouimet doesn't need our advice to run Cedar Fair's amusement parks. But here are six things I hope to see under Ouimet's watch - signs that Ouimet's turning the company around.
Don't try to be Disney. Or Universal. Or even Busch Gardens.
Cedar Fair's parks aren't theme parks, built as immersively themed environments like Disney's, Universal's or even Busch Gardens' are. They're amusement parks, where the focus is on ride experiences rather than storytelling. Changing the parks to challenge Disney et al on their own themed turf would be financial suicide for a company that's still sagging under the expense of buying the Paramount Parks chain.
Under Mark Shapiro, Six Flags lusted after Disney's family market. But the company lacked the capital to build those types of rides, and the licensing deals the company inked during Shapiro's time are now gone, leaving the chain with awkwardly now-unthemed Thomas the Tank Engine kiddie rides and such.
Cedar Fair lost Paramount's licensing deals, including Nickelodeon. And it's main license, Peanuts, is losing appeal as newspaper die, taking comic strips with them, and fewer and fewer young people develop any connection with Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
But a park doesn't need licensing deals and story themes to attract a family audience. Don't try to be Disney, but do try to learn something from parks such as Holiday World, or the Herschend chain, which have shown how you can build a loyal, cross-generational audience of fans that drive attendance even in lean years for the rest of the industry.
Do offer unique ride experiences
Just because an amusement ride is not themed to a specific story doesn't mean that it has to be a mass-produced, off-the-shelf carnival attraction. Cedar Fair parks offer some great rides. Going back to Holiday World as an example, that park has plenty of standard carnival rides. But it's best known for its trio of unique, world-class wooden roller coasters. Cedar Fair parks should strive for unique identifies with a few individual rides that define those identities.
Clean, paint, mend and repair
Always. From this point forward, select the more expensive building and finishing materials that will hold up to years of use without constant refinishing, too. This is one area where you should try to be like Disney.
Focus on ride uptime and capacity
Nothing drives fans nuts more than looking at closed rides, or waiting for coasters that are running a single train. Don't save money at the expense of your guests. Keep the trains running and the lines as short as possible, and you'll be rewarded with great word of mouth advertising that will keep the turnstiles spinning.
If they're not friendly, they're gone
Every Cedar Fair employee must greet the day with a smile, and keep that smiling attitude throughout their shift. Don't waste time and positions on the surly. There are too many eager, enthusiastic people out there looking for a job, who'd be happy to work at your parks.
And when you find them, reward them. Don't be cheap on pay and benefits. Experienced employees are your best asset in keeping capacity up and costly snafus down.
Win on food
This can be Cedar Fair's unique selling point. Once upon a time, Knott's Berry Farm offered the best food of any theme park in the country. Today? I recently tried the famous Mrs. Knott's Fried Chicken in the park's Ghost Town Grill, and it was inedible. (To be fair, when I walked past the original chicken restaurant out front, it smelled delicious, so I'm blaming the fry oil at the Ghost Town Grill.)
Find a great executive chef for the chain, then individual chefs for each park, then turn that team lose with the charge of making Cedar Fair food the best in the industry, on quality, uniqueness, fun and price. Ensure that Mrs. Knott's fried chicken is consistently excellent, then make it the signature dish for the entire chain. Every park should have a Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, serving up fried chicken, fritters and Boysenberry pie.
What would you like to see Matt Ouimet do with Cedar Fair?
Robert you hit the nail right on the head for the food situation at Knott's. When they get it right, they are easily the best in the business, even dare I say on par with Epcot. That being said, when its bad, its reaalllly bad. Make the menu your strong suit, maybe even consider a food festival like Epcot. The "farm" was built on the quality of its fried chicken so ride that horse and push it forward.
Robert, I agree with your suggestions just about 100%. I can only speak for Cedar Point, but I think that a long-term plan to attract the family market and not just the thrill-loving teen crowd would increase atttendence numbers and repeat visitors. Maintenance problems has been obvious at Cedar Point, which by the end of the season is covered with burned-out light bulbs and lots of spider webs- and not spider-webs from Halloweekends. I fondly remember the spotless CP of my youth, with great food and some really fun dark rides (San Francisco Earthquake and Pirate Ride (before POTC!) and hope that I can see that park again.
I disagree with your point on characters and licensing deals. They should be used judiciously. I have a toddler at home. It is quickly apparent that the licensing of Peanuts holds the park cohesively and it is a major draw for young kids at Knott's. Peanuts in the newspapers are a poor example. Who read newspapers? Not the kids especially young ones. They moved on to other media, but the Peanuts characters live on in television where they are still popular. They should use Peanuts in their other theme parks so each park has something to tie them together. I would add that Mickey Mouse is hardly the most popular character around. I remember in my youth that they were barely used in Disney movies or television shows. Today, Pixar rules with new and different characters. Mickey is almost a backdrop and there are hardly any Mickey attractions (Philharmonic?).
I do agree with Anon about the attractions of the Peanuts characters. My kids are 16 and 12, and they still love to meet and interact with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, etc. They might not read the strips in the newspaper, but they know that they live at Cedar Point at Camp Snoopy and Planet Snoopy. It would be a mistake for Cedar Fair to turn its back on them without something very strong and long-lasting to fall back on.
Peanuts is still very popular with kids as mine love Charlie Brown, Snoopy, etc. And parents and grandparents love Peanuts too. They're probably some of the most lucrative intellectual property around to set up a kiddie land that the whole family can enjoy with an emotional connection.
I only know Knott's, but my advice is to do the EXACT opposite of what they are doing now and you can't go wrong.
Knott's have a few major weaknesses and it has nothing to do with its rides or shows. It's infrastructure is a mess.
To get a surge of attendance to an amusement park, you need to have a fresh new ride or attraction.
I agree with all of your article (ESPECIALLY the part about repainting and making the parks look better overall) except for the part about the PEANUTS. Snoopy and the gang are a worldwide phenomenon, and they will always be the perfect characters for Cedar Fair's parks. But othere than that, I totally agree!
It's funny, I was just at King's Dominion (one of the Paramount Parks that Cedar Fair acquired) a few weeks ago. The park has improved somewhat from the dereliction that paramount left it in the last few years of their ownership, but some issues are still prevalent. Graffiti is one of those issues. When I was there a few weeks ago a person had written on one of the stanchions for a ride "KD is better than BG", which meant Kings Dominion is better than Busch Gardens in sharpie permanent marker. All I could think to myself was: "Actually that's the exact reason why it's not better."
Lots of great input and an excellent article. I agree on most points, especially on the food point. I absolutely will not eat at Cedar Fair or Six Flags parks. Their food is crap, absolute crap. I would argue that they should just get rid of food altogether and only serve things they can't mess up like popcorn, pretzels, nachos, sodas, etc. For whatever reason food is just not a priority at these two chains and it is doubtful even a stud like Ouimet can change the culture of food-crappiness that has been in place for the last couple of decades.
I second your comment about keeping lines short and it being frustrating having a single train on a coaster.
I have had a season pass several times to Carowinds.... but the park got old to me and these are two major things the new management could do to renew my interest in being a season pass holder.
I agree with the food. Make good theme park food and people will love you!
Let's clear something up. Cedar Fair didn't loose any Paramount licensing, including Nickelodeon. They chose to give it up because they didn't want to pay the licensing fees. The Peanuts characters were viewed as more valuable and are now in use in most of their parks.
You can get Knott's Fried Chicken inside the park. There's a counter service restaurant next to Ghostrider. You wouldn't know if you were not looking.
Just a few more comments other than my snarky earlier comment.
Anon Mouse, you don't get it. You can go to the counter service location near GhostRider or the one in GhostTown, but you'll get the same crappy fried chicken that Mr. Niles experienced, prepared and served by a 16-year-old. I will go to the original Mrs. Knott's restaurant and get the delicious chicken prepared and served by a real kitchen staff.
The chicken tasted the same to me, but if you think it didn't, then I can't fault you for that.
As a former employee at Carowinds, I remember well the multi-generational guests... grandparents, parents, teenagers and children. No more-- the place is for teenagers. I LOVED working at Carowinds and tried to make it a career. But I don't take my kids there because it simply is not a good value for them (there's so little they can ride/enjoy that it's not worth the cost). I certainly would not pay to for the grandparents to tag along.
I hate to say it, but the ADA laws and lawyers destroyed portions of Knott's.
I feel the parks need to once again be parks that any age group can enjoy. Have rides for all, shows for all that are quality, food that is good and for a price that is not well over its value. Kings Entertainment had some of the best parks out there in their day. Paramount turned them into parks that only teens would really enjoy. At Kings Dominion most of the theaters were removed and those that stayed now run very poor shows when they do. Most rides that the whole family could enjoy have been removed and replaced with coasters or games. KD's other area parks such as Hersheypark and Busch Gardens both see the value in providing entertainment for the whole family and year after year they top KD's numbers. Before Paramount, most years KD topped them. This should tell Cedar Fair much about what they need to do. By the way, Thank you Theme Park Insider for all you do!!!
To the poster who is a former employee of Carowinds....
I was just at Kings Island and Kings Dominion a few weeks ago - having visited both parks right after Cedar Fair acquired them a few years back. I must say - I felt the effects of Cedar Point at Kings Island - the employees were great, the park was clean and the rides stayed operational - with multiple cars on the track even with low capacity crowds! (3 on Diamondback with no line!) They've done a good job re-theming the rides to the Peanuts, etc. or the Scooby Doo stripped "Boo Blasters."
Knotts was originally a theme park. It'd be nice to see that park get back to its roots. There's no reason why it shouldn't be able to pull more attendance from those coming to see disneyland. Another good focus would be entertainment. Nothing else kills the day or eats up crowds like a quality show.
@Scottland - really, Six Flags Saint Louis? How could you tell you were getting good service through all the weeds, dilapidated ride structures, and overflowing trashcans? =) In all fairness, I have not been to SFSTL this season, but in the past I have never been overly impressed with that park - although the last time I went the employees were pretty cool. Now, my visits to SF Over Texas and SF New England earlier this summer very much surpassed my expectations. So maybe something is up at the SF parks this year? A bold new beginning? One can only hope!
Actually, I think Busch Gardens Williamsburg would be a great model for Knott's to follow. BGW has big thrill rides along with some family rides, and there's a strong emphasis on entertainment, food, and seasonal events--all at a reasonable price. A park like that in SoCal would probably draw 5+ mil visitors annually.
I was just at King's Island myself. It's really changed for the better. It's clean, the kid's section looks good again, the employees are pleasant again. It's back the way it used to be when I first went- (Back when the Brady's were filming.)
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