Not all facilities can rely on pulling in guests from across major metropolitan areas to boost their attendance and drive revenue.
For example, Hydro Adventures calls Poplar Bluff, Missouri, home—its population comes in just a shade over 17,000; and Thunder Road, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, shares a ZIP code with only about 28,000 people.
Both of these family entertainment centers (FECs)—and other spots located in smaller markets—sometimes must get creative with their marketing, promotions, and events to attract crowds and generate repeat business. Here’s how they do it.
Guests typically drive up to an hour for a visit to Hydro Adventures, says General Manager Barrett Byers. (The biggest city in the area sits about 80 miles away: Jonesboro, Arkansas, with a population of 75,000.) The FEC/water park hybrid on the south end of town jostles for customers with a few regional entertainment competitors, mainly city-run pools that only charge a few dollars to enter.
“Every penny really matters to our clientele,” he explains. “We set our food prices lower than the local fast-food restaurants, and we have to be concerned about the cost of our product constantly.”
Knowing the facility doesn’t have the budget to buy multimillion-dollar rides and slides, Byers needed to get creative, and Hydro Adventures turned to a string of special events to create value for its guests and expand its audience.
Hydro Adventures hosted a free Easter egg hunt and offered a bunny pancake breakfast for a nominal charge. The facility also ran a pass special on the day for unlimited go-karts, mini-golf, and laser tag. To help with the event, Hydro Adventures partnered with the area’s Boys & Girls Club. The nonprofit organization provided staff and marketing support and collected donations from guests in return.
Later in the spring, the facility held a children’s festival with field day activities, arts and crafts, a musical comedy act, and a frisbee dog show. This past July, Hydro Adventures presented its first country music concert. The show featured Texas singer-songwriter Kyle Park with a couple of other opening country acts from the region.
While Hydro Adventures’ typical demographics center on families, the concert attracted sizable groups of 18- to 30-year-olds. Byers hopes this becomes a trend, and these new guests make a return trip for the games and attractions, he says, noting the event drew between 1,500 and 2,000 people.
“That may not be big attendance for parks in major markets,” he says, “but it’s a big attendance day for us.”
A radio sponsorship helped with the show’s success, he says. The local station gave away meet-and-greet opportunities with the acts and tickets to the facility. The station also plugged the show with commercials and on-air DJ chatter and put Park’s music in heavy rotation. “They worked hand in hand with us,” Byers says.
Thunder Road in Aberdeen, South Dakota, doesn’t focus on special events; rather, much of the FEC’s publicity effort goes toward promotions, partnerships, and upselling guests, some of whom travel from up to 100 miles away, says David Novstrup, the general manager and co-owner.
For instance, when the FEC celebrated its 25th anniversary in July, the facility posted a daily ticket giveaway on Facebook for the first 25 days of the month. The contest generated buzz for the park and helped add names to its marketing database.
Other regular promos include buy five go-kart rides, get one free and two-hour wristbands—covering karts, mini-golf, bumper boats, and the Laser Maze—Monday through Thursday any time between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. With the former, staff members gently remind guests about the deal if they want more than a single spin on the track.
FECs in small markets should take advantage of as many upselling opportunities as possible, as well as look for synergy with like-minded facilities and organizations, Novstrup recommends.
Thunder Road resides in Wylie Park and shares the 210-acre area with a campsite, lake with a beach, and fairytale-themed playground. Novstrup doesn’t consider these spots competitors, but instead, he sees them as a way to bring in a wider audience.
With camping and swimming close by, they can make an effective pitch as a great weekend destination. While the playground features a carousel and a small roller coaster, Thunder Road aims for kids 5 and up. The two properties frequently cross-promote to expand their audiences, especially to families with children of various ages.
For Every Season
Located in a small market, Hydro Adventures relies heavily on season passes to keep everything humming along, says General Manager Barrett Byers. “That always has been our biggest advertising push.”
The facility charges about 2.5 times the daily ticket price for the upgradable season pass: The bronze level includes just the water park; the silver level for $10 extra (the most popular option) adds go-karts and mini-golf; and the gold level for another $10 features all that plus access to the games. Bronze and silver level only cover until the end of the water park season, but gold extends into Friday through Sunday during the offseason.
In fact, Byers has placed an emphasis on the shoulder months lately with marketing. During this time, management sees huge potential to strengthen its overall birthday party, group, corporate, and school business.
Contact Funworld Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at [email protected].
Looking for more winning FEC tips and tricks?
Plan to attend IAAPA FEC Summit 2020 in Stone Mountain, Georgia, (just outside of Atlanta) Jan. 26-28. For more information, turn to p. 36 and visit www.IAAPA.org/FECSummit.