What should Matt Ouimet do with the Cedar Fair amusement parks?
Published: June 23, 2011 at 6:50 AM
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?