8 Business Lessons from Story Land
Now that fall is really underway with cool evenings, apple cider, and pumpkin everything feeling nostalgic about summer feels allowed. As I shuffle photos for end of year family gifts I come across this cute shot from a trip to New Hampshire's Story Land. Have you been? A lovely, right-sized family friendly amusement park that works for children from "2-102" as they say on little signs throughout the park. What might be easy to overlook is that this "little park" pulls in over $20 million a year in revenue and employ hundreds of workers each season. Workers come from nearby Conway but they also come from Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, Tokyo and New York (hey, it's northern New Hampshire, it's all pretty exotic up here!). How can a seasonal place be so successful in cultivating a workplace culture where staff are friendly and engaged with customers, in all weather, even when the tasks they engage with are monotonous and routine? I noticed 8 things that Story Land does right.
1) Start Small and be Authentic
When you line up to ride the "old fashioned cars" (which you will, don't try to be too cool!) you will notice the large maps hung on the wall which depict the park from various eras. It's a great trick to keep you from noticing your wait in line, and a lovely way at the end of the day to reminisce with grandpa about the first trip he made to the park. But there is a lesson here about growth: the park did not start with 5 major rides, 5 central themes, and 6 dining areas. Instead, it started with a small playground type area with only a few rides. Over time attractions were added and the crowds returned. And what was added was always with the goal to appeal to family fun, not single rider fun. This commitment to authentic fun pays off.
2) Add value
In a day and age when income generated from family amusements comes largely from concessions, upgrades, and add ons Story Land's approach is refreshing: charge a reasonable entry fee and allow families to bring items they prefer. The result: families willing to make multiple trips, indulging in treats and extras, and lots of little painted faces which adds to the fun. By keeping their full costs upfront for families they gain loyalty and increase revenue AND goodwill.
As you pass through gates onto rides you notice name tags on worker shirts which say their names and where they are from along with information about how long they have worked at Story Land. Countries, cities, little towns. Men, women, age and ethnic diversity is on display. The result is a wonderful combination of youthful enthusiasm, careful attentiveness, helpful graciousness. Add in conversations in line about trips and places visited and the atmosphere is one that feels inclusive and benefits from the cross section of people and talents they have hired.
4)Brand is your culture
Story Land means family and fun, natural beauty, clean environment, and valuing leisure time. This culture results returning workers, happy customers, and an atmosphere of trust and fun. These are not accidental elements, each are attended to in order to promote the experience that keeps families returning.
5) Pipeline is local, recruitment is global.
As diverse as the staff are within Story Land, it might be easy to think there is an externally focused strategy in place. While this is likely true, it is also obvious that there is attention to cultivating local relationships as well; workers from the surrounding region return again and again because the opportunities are there and structured to encourage return. And they don't think of pipeline as only about converting non-worker into new worker; they have techniques that convert new worker to returning worker and returning worker to recruiter. Attention to the reputation they have in the region as an employer pays off with a significant percentage of staff that are returning or legacy hires. And the blend of this with new international workers lends itself to responsiveness.
6) Train and Crosstrain in Advance
Workers and tasks are efficiently aligned, but a sick day or malfunctioning ride can require a shuffle that can disrupt operations. Solution; introduce skills as modules, rotate trainees through, and give everyone ownership over the customer experience even if they don't touch all parts. In your organization you can benefit from creating or encouraging cross functional teams, job share days, and rotating leadership opportunities.
7) Turn a disadvantage into an advantage
How does a family amusement center attract and retain a talented set of regional and international workers year after year? They are located over an hour from international airports, over an hour from any major metropolitan city, and their hours of operation are 9:30-5pm so youthful workers have plenty of downtime and few urban-style outlets. Rather than this being a challenge, Story Land has turned this into an advantage, highlighting the natural beauty of the area and offering a lifestyle that translates as active and an escape from the chaos of urban life. What can you reframe to attract talent?
8) Be part of an ecosystem
A stop at the gift shop shows a variety of souvenirs, which you have enough money to buy since you packed a picnic. Grabbing the iconic Humpty Dumpty doll and reading the tag reveals that he was created right there in New Hampshire, at a manufacturer in Hudson in the southern region of the state. This may seem inconsequential, but for an item easily outsourced and able to be brought into the shop for pennies this is a big statement. Story Land makes a commitment to being a part of a statewide ecosystem even while making national and international purchases. But what customers leave with, and that lives on with them, is a cute little guy that reminds them of a NH connection. Your role in an ecosystem has many advantages and can boost a brand and culture greatly. Think about the various touchpoints you have with staff or customers and consider a local partner that can enhance that point.
Story Land is open for one more weekend before closing for the season but these lessons will help them ramp up for next year and help your company enjoy multigenerational success.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014