By Michael Sadowski
Your guests may not think about the seating, trash cans or other furnishings at your miniature golf course or go-kart racing facility. But these elements can be the most important aspects of making sure the visitor experience remains the best you can possibly provide. And when it comes to making sure facilities have the best furnishings possible, managers seem to agree on one thing: Don’t cheap out. The extra money you spend now will come back to you many times over.
Ken Ciancio, the general manager at Hyland Hills Adventure Golf in Westminster, Colo., said his facility once bought trash cans on a budget. About two years later, they had to buy new trash cans because the old ones couldn’t stand up to the rigors of what the facility demanded. “If there is something you like, even though it costs more, buy it,” Ciancio said, adding that he buys most of the furnishings for his facility at trade shows because that’s where the best deals are. “It pays you back in the time you have them. You’ll get a much longer life out of them.”
Matt Chubb, the general manager at Rogue Valley Family Fun Center in Central Point, Ore., said his facility doesn’t draw from a very large metropolitan area, so its earnings are limited and he is always looking for ways to save money. However, he agreed that making the extra investment in your facility will pay off in the long run. His center’s seating has been in place for 18 years. “It’s a really a case of ‘Save a penny, and it will cost you a dime,’ ” he said. “Spend the money, and then you can save money by taking care of them yourself.”
Once you have those furnishings, taking care of them is a key to making sure they have a long life at your facility, according to Sean Odell, operations manager at Zone Action Park in Dallas.
He said there is a daily checklist for employees that includes all trash cans and seating when the park closes, and he checks them to start every day.
That system means he puts faith in the employees to accurately check and report any problems. Hiring caring employees is key to the system, which isn’t always easy when much of your staff is working there as a summer job while school is out. “It’s all about making sure your employees know enough to step up and do the simple thing of picking up a piece of trash, or reporting a possible safety hazard they see,” Odell said. “Hiring employees that we know will care is really important for us.”
Ciancio said once a week all of the outdoor seating and trash cans get a power wash to keep them looking clean and to keep them from deteriorating. “When you’ve got these things, they’ll get pretty beat up over 10 years,” he said, adding Hyland Hills saw about 160,000 visitors this summer, a record for the business because of a change in marketing strategy and consistently picture-perfect weather. “[The power washing] gets out all the stains – mustard, ketchup, ice cream, whatever. And when you get the stains off of them, that keeps them smelling fresh and it keeps the bees out of them.”
Luke Pergosky, a manager at Bear Rock Junction in New Tripoli, Pa., said he does a daily visual inspection of the facility to make sure the benches and furnishings are being kept up and that they don’t need to be replaced or fixed. He also said the seating and trash cans play a large part in repeat business.
“Trash, especially, does [have] a huge effect,” he said. “It’s one of the things we hear people talking about when they’re leaving, about how clean our place is. It’s definitely something that brings people back to us. If you don’t have good trash cans, you can’t keep anything clean.”
There is also a balance in how much seating a facility should have. On one hand, you want guests to be comfortable in case they need a rest. On the other hand, you can’t spend money when you’re sitting down and relaxing.
“You don’t want too much sitting around,” he said, because especially on the miniature golf course, it could lead to back-ups in play, which leads to customer frustration. “We want them up and doing things. When people see a chair, they’ll sit in it. The balance is key.”
Managers also agreed that it saves money to have an in-house maintenance person that will take care of the furnishings when there are problems. That gets problem areas immediate attention that will prolong their life.
Chubb said they have people who do take care of those types of things, and that the maintenance procedures have changed over the last few years.
“We used to just sand and stain our wooden benches at the start of each year, but now we also add a lacquer to them,” he said. “It makes them easier to clean, and they look better. That’s been the ticket for us.”