A Theme Park Insider's advice to Six Flags' new CEO

August 13, 2010, 10:00 AM · Here's some unsolicited advice from a long-time theme park fan and industry observer, to new Six Flags CEO/President James Reid-Anderson:

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.

Replies (12)

August 13, 2010 at 10:09 AM · This article is very well put. I wish Six Flags and the new CEO well as everyone on TPI wants them not only to suceed but to thrive.
August 13, 2010 at 10:40 AM · Nice. This piece is demanding, yet has a lot of heart. Well done.

A few more points to add:

1) More steel does not equate to long term attendance gains. I love roller coasters too, but if building a new one every year led to long term attendance gains, Magic Mountain would be one of the top parks in the nation, instead of languishing at the bottom of the heap. Build immersive, narrative, unique, whole-family experiences in well-maintained, customer-friendly parks and the money will come rolling in.

2) Always remember Six Flags parks are THEME parks. Adhere to your themes at all times, whether you are adding a new ride, a new show, a new restaurant, or a new shop. There is nothing worse than plopping down a Tony Hawk (born in San Diego, CA) coaster in the middle of Britannia.

3) For once, just once, please try adding some unique restaurants to your parks. Maybe bring in the creme-de-la-creme of a region's local chefs and have them set up shop in your parks, making food part of the event, rather than an expensive, tasteless afterthought.

4) Finally, please, please, please, please do something about Six Flags Saint Louis. It is only 3.5 hours from my house, and I would love for it to be a real vacation destination rather than a park I visit once every few years whenever they add a major new attraction (for details on the park check out the notes from my recent visit).

Good luck, Mr. Reid-Anderson, no one wants you to succeed more than us Theme Park Insiders!

August 13, 2010 at 11:25 AM · I agree,

I would also add that they should have better communication with the guests and not "sell out" the parks to corporations so they can put commericals in the park TV and on rides. Yes, I know that its a way to make money, but I was extremely disappointed in the last Coasters after Dark in which they allowed anybody with a Discover Card access to this season passholder perk.

August 13, 2010 at 3:23 PM · Another suggestion -- related to perspective. Bob Wright (the Chairman of NBC Universal)once compared operating a theme park to operating an airline. Ya gotta turn the "machine on every day. And when you turn it on ... it starts to COST money.
August 13, 2010 at 7:42 PM · Can I get an AMEN up in here!!!!!??
August 14, 2010 at 8:21 AM · Robert what you say is so true. Ive see 6flags take some great "Themed Park" and turn them inot Iron parks ..And one big commerial Ad for sponsers. And turning many of them into tie-ins for Batman and Superman. Most have nothing that sets them apart for each other. Same rides same names, same sponsers. Same ol same ol. Over time they all have lost there individuality. Six Flags is in desperate need some serious Brand essence for each park. Going back to the time when they were individual parks and retain or rebulit that flavor. Make each its own. Sponcership is great but it could be more undertoned aka disney-like. and billoed as preseted by..Rather then all the signage and banners . But I digress..Thaks for listening.
August 14, 2010 at 12:48 PM · Thanks you for realizing that six flags is NOT disney land! Please get rid of the lockers!
August 14, 2010 at 6:55 PM · My advice to the new CEO...If you choose to be a suit and not an entertainer, you do so at your own peril. Don't be stupid with money, but don't keep both eyes on the bottom line. Increase the quality of the product instead of looking for ways to cut or overcharge. People will pay several times for a quality experience. They'll only pay once for a mediocre one.
August 14, 2010 at 6:56 PM · I'd agree with what Robert and everyone else has said.

The new CEO needs to realise that in order to attract new, higher spending, customers the parks need to diversify what they offer.

Whilst thrill seekers will love seeing new coasters being added every year the family market will be put off visiting by a lack of attractions which can entertain all ages.

That's not to say Six Flags should stop building coasters at their parks, rather they should, as Robert said, have someone in charge of selecting appropriate attractions who has experience in the industry.

Walt Disney once said that you can't just build a theme park to cater to kids and the same can be said for any demographic. Six Flags have to offer something for everyone if they want to be successful in the coming years.

August 14, 2010 at 10:41 PM · Great points all. Six Flags really needs to reconnect with the guests. Just like any professional sports team, they are NOTHING without the fans...money-spending FANS!

Guests need value and a quality experience. Closing the park (SF over Georgia) nightly at 9:00PM at the height of summer is only taking that value away. One of my favorite theme park experiences is riding coasters at night, when they are all lit up. For the past several years, this has only been doable on Saturdays and during Fright Fest. Give us our nights back! Also, give us August back - our Georgia park has been closed for weekdays since Aug. 9th (and there is still a month and a half of summer left). Truth be told, I would rather pay more for a season pass and have a fuller operating schedule.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the flagship park (IMHO) in Arlington, Texas. That park has done a pretty good job maintaining theming true to each section. Even the Tony Hawk coaster there does not seem out of place - it's in the USA section. That park has a lot of history and it actually shows.

One last thing - spend a few extra bucks on Fright Fest this year. This is real opportunity - haunted house attractions are big draws from coast to coast. I know Six Flags can do better....I have seen it before.

August 14, 2010 at 11:49 PM · I love the idea of developing a creative division. Right now, Disney and Universal are neck-and-neck. To some degree, they don't even acknowledge the competition from other parks because it doesn't exist. If Six Flags raised the creative bar as Busch has begun to do recently, we'd have four theme park giants in opposition, which would drive creative development even further.
August 15, 2010 at 11:04 PM · Excellent points, Robert. In particular, "shareholder value" is driven by quality products, not by cost cutting.

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