Cedar Fair Loses All Integrity

Thursday, August 4, 2011 9:10 PM

RideMan said:
...And the problem is that the nature of the business is such that a relatively small percentage of the people who visit in any given season are actually repeat customers in that season. But while the percentage of people who make more than one trip to the park in any given season is small, the nature of the seasonal amusement park is that the percentage of people who are repeat customers over the course of several seasons is quite high. I hope you understand that: a majority of the people who visit a park like Cedar Point visit once or twice per season, but they come year after year.

Not only do I UNDERSTAND that. I AM that. In 43 years on the planet, I have been to Cedar Point about 50 times. Two years with 4-5 times/year. Rest once per year (twice in 8th grade because of a class trip). From what I have seen, that puts me in the minority of posters who post here and on Pointbuzz (my guess is by a lot).

But the $64,000 question is whether there are significant numbers of folks who feel so bad and ripped off by Cedar Point food/drink prices/quality that they won't/don't return next year or two or three years after that (and really whether whatever changes could be made in terms of reducing prices/increasing quality would result in reduced profits for CP/CF both in the short term and the long run). Seems to me you clearly believe that is the case. I have not seen enough evidence to say thats true. And to be clear, I am not claiming to have the answers to teh 3 questions that I posted. I don't have enough info. I doubt anyone who posts here does either. I tend to defer to the folks who have the info and whose job it is to make the best decisions with that info over armchair folks.

In my experience, the one trip/year folks aren't typically very focussed on food or the resorts. They view food/drink as a necessity that allows them to do what they want to do: have fun riding rides. And at the end of the day, they are hopping back in their cars and driving home. The rides are the primary draw. Significant numbers of folks eat fast food multiple times a week. Every week. I doubt a dried out hamburger is going to make them feel bad or ripped off. And when you only do something once a year, you are much less sensitive to price. Its like folks I know who drive 5 miles round trip to work are a lot less concerned than folks who live 45 miles each way are about higher gas prices.

And if you look at the rides, CP is tough to beat. And the major rides that have been added in the last 10-15 years have had the added bonus of making a lot of other rides that were once long waits, walk ons or very short waits. Cedar Point bet the farm on being a premiere ride park. So far, I think that has served them well. Will it continue to do so, the future will tell.

From the limited amount I know about Kennywood (I have only been there once about 7-8 years ago coming back from a beach vacation), I think it has benefited at least in part from Cedar Point focus on rides. It has old ride, old restraints, less concrete, more trees, etc. Its appeals to senses of nostalgia which are big markets today for a lot of things. In addition, until 10 years ago, despite having lived my entire life in Ohi (and all but 9 of them in northeast Ohio) and even with my dad growing up in Youngstown and spending a fair of amount of time there, I had never heard of Kennywood. With their advertising campaigns, there are a lot more folks in the Cleveland area who have now heard of it and now go there. I don't think there are many folks within a day's driving distance of CP who have never heard of it.

I can't tell you anything about the quality of the food at Kennywood or the price of it either. Only one visit and nothing stood out at all in terms of price or quality.

I do think that there is an 800-llb gorilla that sat on your canary though: the overall economy and population growth (or lack thereof) in the region that CP depends on for the vast majority of its guests. Had the region had the same economic and population growth of Phoenix or the gulf coast and everything else stayed the same at CP, do you think we would be having discussions about increased caps and decreased attendance? And transport Disney's food service to CP (scatter several of their best restaurants across the park and put their counter service everywhere (and we can assume by magic that you are able to get the same work ethic/attitude from part time folks who will there this year and maybe the next for 3-4 months of the year as you do with full time time who have long term jobs)), is there a significant attendance increase? With the increase costs, does your increased volume result in increased profits? If you pass costs onto customers, do you lose any of the folks who come there now but who just view the better quality food as increasing the costs of the rides? And if you decrease the price, does your increased volume make up for the loss of profits from folks who were buying at the higher prices?

Admittedly, this is just limited to my experiences. Others have different experiences. But in the end, what matters is what is the case for the broad spectrum of CP customers and potential customers. No one here (at least to my knowledge) has that info. If I am betting, I go with the folks who actually have that info. Can they be wrong? Sure. But its just playing the odds.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011 10:34 PM

jive2 said:
I used to feel the same way about CF food quality but it seems like the quality has been on the upswing the last couple of years.

I do believe that the pricing is a bit high for what you get.

Where exactly has the quality of the food gotten better? Besides at any of the chain restaurants where we pay two arms and a leg for semi-sort of good tasting food.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011 11:14 PM

I don't disagree with you. And I am less convinced than you are that Cedar Fair actually *has* some of the data you would expect them to collect. The only evidence I have that they are chasing people away is anecdotal, and we all know what anecdotal evidence is good for.

But then I also can't ignore another anecdote, that of Holiday World. In the middle of the economic meltdown, they actually came out and said that their picnic business all but disappeared...and yet without the picnic business, they didn't merely make it up in individual visits, they actually set attendance records. My conclusion? All those people who came for company picnics had such a great time that they wanted to come back even when their organizations didn't.

And yes, there are important mitigating factors. Seventeen of them at Cedar Point. The system is complicated. But I still think any warning signs from a drop in attendance to changes in consumer behavior to complaints from vocal fans really ought to be taken seriously.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.


    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
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/XXXXX\ /XXX\ /XXXX\_ /X\ /XXXXX\ /X\ /X\ /XXXXX
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Thursday, August 4, 2011 11:34 PM

I always thought the increased per cap, decreased attendance was a chain wide issue, not just restricted to the North Shore of Ohio. So when you toss in places like Richmond, Charlotte, Buena Park, Toronto, and even Allentown (which was one area in PA which has seen significant growth in the past 20 years), I think the 800-lb gorilla shrinks a bit.

Most people can accept that there's going to be a pricing premium for food and other items in any entertainment venue. But as many others have said, for that increased price, they expect a value somewhat comparable to what they can get elsewhere. For me, Kinzel's "people gotta eat" statement meant sure, you could leave our parks and go somewhere else to eat to save money, but you'll lose valuable time here. We'll offer you the convenience of staying in the park, but you're gonna pay for it and you'll take whatever crap we shove in front of you.

As far as people worrying about better quality food increasing the cost of their riding, I don't think anyone is saying CF should totally change their offerings. There will always be people satisfied with a hockey puck on a bun. Let them continue to have them. There's nothing wrong with trying some better quality offerings at certain select locations in the parks, at higher prices, to see if guests will indeed "bite." We may have only anecdotal evidence about food service popularity and profitability at Kennywood, Holiday World, and Knoebels. But you can bet that there are financial statements verifying that at those parks.

I don't think the reasoning that CF is not one of those smaller parks is justified. I don't know that increasing quality is going to increase expenses by a huge amount. There's a huge amount of restaurants across the country that all serve dinners in the $10-15 range. Some are loved by almost everyone, some are hated by almost everyone. Most have their fans and detractors. Yet the better ones are able to provide a higher quality experience-- better food, better service, better atmosphere-- for nearly the same price as the worse ones.

Why should CF be so worried about losing profit by increasing price/quality in food service, when they never were concerned about it when it came time to raising admission prices?

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Friday, August 5, 2011 1:32 AM

I don't know what data they actually have. Its more than what I have. But it certainly may be the case that they have less data than they could/should have.

I don't know much about Holiday World. Hope to make it down there some day. Thought I could work it with the trip to Kings Island a couple of weeks ago but it didn't happen.

I think they do look at attendance numbers and trends, changes in consumer behavior and complaints from vocal fans. Issue is what to do about them.

I thought we were talking about Cedar Point attendance and caps. But even if they are CF numbers, I don't think that changes the size of the gorilla for Cedar Point. The other parks do help mitigate those though. And that is the main goal I saw of the Parmount Parks acquisition. It brought exposure to growing markets lessening the importance of the core region. From what I recall, recent growth has come mostly from the southern and western parks. And going forward looking long term, I would expect to see more capital investments in those parks in growing areas. From a return on investment point of view, that makes the most sense. And with its petty garbage issues, assuming Q Funding is in it for the long haul, I would expect to see questions/objections to high levels of investments in areas where there is little growth possibilities.

I think most people actually expect both a higher price and reduced quality at amusement parks, sporting venues, etc. I don't see the quality of most food at area sporting venues as being as good as mediocre franchise type restaurants but the price is higher.

And I am guilty as charged with respect to Kiznels let them eat cake comment. I go to CP once a year (though this year it has been twice so far). I really don't care what I eat while I am there. Its not worth losing the time leaving the park and coming back on my only visit. Or the hassle of packing a picnic lunch. I have eaten some god awful lunches at work and had to go back to work rather than go on rides. So eating a hockey puck on a bun will be fine for one day a year. And I have seen folks here say that there is nothing at CP that they would even consider eating. I don't see that as being the case. Its not great by any stretch. But maybe I just eat at too many totally mediocre restaurants to see that much of a drop down.

And I would see nothing wrong with trying out different food level options at different places in the park. See how it goes. I don't know what the increased costs would be. Or how many folks would be interested.

Who is to say they weren't worried about raising ticket prices? And you can mitigate that somewhat with discounts. Offer someone $5 off even with a higher price and they will think they are getting a deal.

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Friday, August 5, 2011 3:19 PM

Now, they could just as easily charge $5.50 for that burger and build the (alleged) cost of toppings into the price.

I think they've gone to this model within the last few years. I don't recall paying for a "topping cup" for a while now.

But while the percentage of people who make more than one trip to the park in any given season is small, the nature of the seasonal amusement park is that the percentage of people who are repeat customers over the course of several seasons is quite high.

As near as I can tell, Foods cratered years ago. The effect has already happened, to the extent it would.

Does anyone know the per-property attendance change? Chain-wide, both spending and attendance are up; a change from the past few years, IIRC.


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Friday, August 5, 2011 4:41 PM

While we are talking anecdotes - I will adit I am not usually one for rock shows, but last night I went to a big high profile stadium rock show. Everything I thought about how high prices can go has been shattered. Sure I expected the ticket price, which I mitigated by sitting in nosebleed heaven, but still had a great view of the stage wth the help of field glasses, and the sound was great.

What I didn't expect were all the 'dings' that went with it: Parking ($30), Program ($30), T-shirt ($50), Beer ($10) (or the $5.50 soft drink). I went looking for my beloved $8 gigantic BBQ sandwich, which was not available at any price as that stand, and most of the other 'almost reasonale' food items were not on the menu. Now, mind you, I voted with my feet on some of those dings.

Having seen that, the Cedar Fair prices that I thought were high now almost seem reasonable. Not saying they got better, but I am now looking at the topic of our current discussion through a different pair of lenses.


David Bowers
Mayor, Coasterville
My Blog -> http://coasterville.blogspot.com

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Friday, August 5, 2011 4:56 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Coasterville Dave said:
What I didn't expect were all the 'dings' that went with it: Parking ($30), Program ($30), T-shirt ($50), Beer ($10) (or the $5.50 soft drink). I went looking for my beloved $8 gigantic BBQ sandwich, which was not available at any price as that stand, and most of the other 'almost reasonale' food items were not on the menu.

And that's why you'll rarely find me bitching about in-park prices. We do a lot of stuff other than parks for entertainment. In comparison (to the things we choose to do, at least) park pricing isn't unreasonable. Is it stupid-high? Sure. But not out of line with what I'd expect by any stretch.

Quite frankly, $20 parking and $5 drinks don't faze me. I see it everywhere we go.


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Friday, August 5, 2011 5:08 PM
Jeff's avatar

I still think the context of a concert is a little different. You don't generally bring family to shows (at least, I don't), you don't go them annually, or perhaps several times a year, and it's a lot different from being at an amusement park for eight or more hours. Tolerance for getting ripped off definitely has a different threshold.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Friday, August 5, 2011 6:04 PM

My guess is that your tolerance for getting ripped off will change as your kid grows up. Your definition of what constitutes getting ripped off may change as well.

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Friday, August 5, 2011 7:05 PM
Jeff's avatar

Of course it will change, but I don't know if you're implying one way or the other. If anything, I'm less price sensitive as time passes because I also make more with every passing year.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Friday, August 5, 2011 8:52 PM

Brian Noble said:


Does anyone know the per-property attendance change? Chain-wide, both spending and attendance are up; a change from the past few years, IIRC.

I think the company "officially" only goes so far as to break attendance and per cap spending down by region, not by park.

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Friday, August 5, 2011 9:56 PM

Jeff said:
Of course it will change, but I don't know if you're implying one way or the other. If anything, I'm less price sensitive as time passes because I also make more with every passing year.

Its not one way or the other. Its both. You will find some things that your tolerance for getting ripped off is higher than it was when you were younger and some things that it is lower. Your pain in butt tolerance (often inversely related to your tolerance for getting ripped off) will likely change as well. Growing older does that independent of kids, but kids accelerate that a bit.

Salary increases are great. Though never underestimate the ability of kids spending to outpace salary increases. Particularly when college starts being dicussed.

Unrelated question: Can you take SLR cameras (in camera bag) with you on the big rides at Universal? I know at Disney I took my camera on pretty much every ride in all of the parks. But at places like Cedar Point, you can't take them on the big rides. Not sure where Universal falls on that issue.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011 1:15 AM
Jeff's avatar

They always direct me to the lockers.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Saturday, August 6, 2011 1:39 AM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Jeff said:
I still think the context of a concert is a little different. You don't generally bring family to shows (at least, I don't), you don't go them annually, or perhaps several times a year, and it's a lot different from being at an amusement park for eight or more hours. Tolerance for getting ripped off definitely has a different threshold.

I think a $5 drink is a $5 drink and $30 parking is $30 parking regardless of the context.

And yes, the whole family usually does do 'event' entertainment together anymore. Whether it be a Weird Al show, a baseball game, WWE Smackdown or LegoFest.

(We still reserve NFL games for ourselves :) )


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Saturday, August 6, 2011 3:42 AM
CoasterDemon's avatar

Weird Al... verrry interesting ;) Weird Al rocks, pretty much.

Cedar Fair loses all its Integrity? In one fell swoop!? It doesn't trickle out little by little? I still find CP a better value than most SF parks, for whatever it's worth.


Billy
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Saturday, August 6, 2011 8:59 AM

Jeff rightly called me out that I was being pretty overly dramatic with my post title. I was jokingly referring to the fact that both Kinzel and Ouimet discussed the Four Cornerstones without mentioning the fifth that was added by Kinzel in the late 90's...Integrity. Those of us on the inside at the time were somewhat befuddled about that move and I have been quick to point out his lack of Integrity with various decisions and comments over the years.

For the record...Cedar Fair has NOT lost all intergrity...it was just mysteriously missing from the last quarterly conference call.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011 11:46 AM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

CoasterDemon said:
I still find CP a better value than most SF parks, for whatever it's worth.

It's ok if you're wrong. ;)


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Saturday, August 6, 2011 12:16 PM
Tekwardo's avatar

Now Gonch. Hug it out.


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Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011 12:29 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

I go here for my hugs.


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