How Miniature Golf and Go-Kart Centers Keep the Profit Machine Oiled

August 1, 2010 No Comments

A Spotlight on Safety and Maintenance

Keeping staff and patrons safe takes priority when operating activity parks where people are playing miniature golf courses with water hazards, driving go karts or trying out a zip cord. Maintenance is key to ensuring everyone has a good time without incident, even if they’re only playing a video game inside the gaming area.
“Safety is number one with us; it’s just key,” said Donald Jackley, co-owner of Blackbeards Family Entertainment Center in Fresno, Calif., explaining that daily, weekly, monthly and annual maintenance ensures safety.
“We train our managers to see accidents before they happen,” Jackley said. That means always cleaning items up and looking for possible trip or fall obstacles. That also means taking time for the routine maintenance of equipment, including go karts.
For Adventure Island in Cadillac, Mich., going over a checklist also requires that any items found during the check be given attention and repaired or receive proper maintenance. That requires ongoing training of staff and developing a team that understands the importance of maintenance, cleanliness and safety all play into the overall customer experience, said General Manager Jeremy Williams.
“The management philosophy is that the customer experience is key and all of this, especially safety, plays into that,” he said. “We have a lot of opportunities to leave a customer with a bad impression or a good impression, and everything we do plays into that.”
Gail Zisko, owner of 49’er Family Fun Park in Grass Valley, Calif., agreed, and said being a hands-on owner, overseeing mechanics that maintain equipment, is a requirement.
“Mechanics will take care of the issues that you tell them to, but if you really want the best-run facility, you have to be hands on and look over everything, because owners care more than the people they hire,” Zisko said.
Maintenance at her four-and-a-half acre facility includes going over every piece of equipment, and every inch of the grounds every day. Go karts probably get the majority of maintenance time in a day – on average probably four hours because they go down the fastest from wear and tear, Zisko explained.
“We do daily maintenance on all pieces of the park, but it probably breaks down to four hours a day on go karts, two hours on games and the miniature golf course and the rest spent just checking out other areas and overseeing the general areas of the park,” she said.
And it’s the daily routine that ensures everything continues operating as it should and safely, owners agreed.
“We have a checklist that we go over every morning before we open for the day,” Jackley explained. That’s been part of the maintenance program since opening the 16-acre facility in 1984. With a miniature golf course, bumper boats, go karts, an amusement ride area, batting cages, paint ball areas and a ropes course, as well as laser tag and an arcade, the maintenance list is long on a daily basis. But in addition to that is keeping track of the machines that people will operate, such as go-karts and bumper boats.
At Pirate’s Cove in Traverse City, Mich., a checklist for each attraction is followed each day, checking each piece of equipment. Then there is the walk through of the general area looking for possible safety issues.
Kart maintenance includes checking oil, tires, gas and walking the track to check it for issues and to check the rails, explained General Manager Tim Olson. Other areas, including the miniature golf course, the zip line and the new ropes course, are also checked daily.
In addition, a walk through the park is made to check for trip or fall hazards during daily maintenance and cleaning, before the facility opens to guests. “We do pretty good on safety and cleanliness; those are key to a nice environment,” he said.
A lot of that is due to finding solutions when problems arise. Some of that includes issues when the golf course greens may get mold or mildew on them due to the humid summers near the Grand Traverse Bay
Since opening its original Pirate’s Cove in Traverse City in 1983, the company has added numerous others around the country – and the different environments mean finding diverse solutions to some problems, Olson said. For example, the facility uses bricks and pavers for walkways and retaining walls that require adhesive to keep them in place. The adhesive sometimes needs to be replaced – part of the reason the walkways are checked daily to ensure there are no loose bricks. Finding the right adhesive took time for the original site. But it also meant trying other adhesives for some of the southern state environments, Olson explained.
“Even wood stains aren’t always the same,” Olson added.
Finding solutions for some of the maintenance problems that crop up many times means just trying different things.
“We’re in a business that may not be typical and it seems everything is unexpected,” said John Snyder who manages his family’s Putt Putt Golf Games-Go Carts in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Not too many people have volcanoes that shoot fire, but we installed one in our miniature golf course and when something goes wrong with an item like that, we fix it on our own in trial and error.”
Tweaking equipment also can mean easier maintenance in the future, according to Jackley of Blackbeards. “We know other people in the business, so we share information, but we also find things that work for our operation,” he said.
For example, when new motors were put into the bumper boats, the company made alterations to the motors to make them easier to change and take apart when they needed work or to be replaced.
Adventure Island found a solution to a couple of maintenance items that kept safety at the forefront and cut down on ongoing maintenance. Bricks are used for the rail in its miniature golf course, and that required daily checking and fixing loose bricks. By cementing the bricks to a backing to make them more secure, the amount of time fixing them has dropped to annually, Williams said. It also means the bricks are more secure on a daily basis.
Another area of change was on the go-kart track. Like many tracks, tires were used as the outside railing for many years. However, about 10 years ago, the tires were replaced with a rubber hose-like system that  takes the impact of a kart and protects the rider. The system uses iron plates, which makes it more secure and long-lasting and requires fewer repairs, Williams said.
But the little things are also a maintenance focus. Whether it is cleaning and blowing off the greens of miniature golf courses, re-gripping putters or offering customers safety glasses when they’re driving go karts, creating a safe facility requires time spent walking and looking through the facility and then following up with maintenance. Daily maintenance, preparation and cleaning make these businesses successful. It also keeps them from having down time or injuries in their parks.
“Every day we walk the (miniature golf) courses, check karts, pick weeds, check the sound system, we just keep checking things often,” Snyder said.
Richard Knudson, owner of Twain Harte Miniature Golf in Twain Harte, Calif., spends every day clearing debris from surrounding trees from the course and its walkways. “We have to keep it clean daily, and sometimes many times a day,” he said.
Much more goes on behind the scenes of these activity parks. Maintaining equipment and keeping facilities safe and inviting are key components to daily operations. -

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