Travel columnist on MSNBC discusses his SFA outing.

Monday, July 30, 2007 1:32 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

rollergator said:
Expectations keep dropping so fast, I'm pretty much impressed to get self-service these days - at least I know *I* will treat myself decently.

Nothing worse than having to service yourself, huh? ;)


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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:10 PM
Self-gratification aside...


kRaXLeRidAh said:
If Shapiro were to visit his parks as a regular guest (dressed down without corporate escort) without the general managers on alert, he'd really see how bad things still are.

Excellent point.

Years ago I worked in a retail store and it was downright comical when the corporate suits paid us a visit for a regular "check on things". First, notice of this would get handed down weeks ahead of time. Second, the store managers kicked into high gear about three days before the planned visit, doing everything from cleaning shelves, waxing floors, organizing stock areas, making sure all corporate propaganda was hung on the breakroom walls and any long-overdue repairs (like cracked floor tiles and broken doors) were made. Third, store employees from other stores in the region would call and update our store on the whereabouts of the corporate people so final adjustments could be made. All of this would result in our woefully mediocre store getting high marks for "doing things the right way."

My point? That you're absolutely correct. Those stories of Shapiro walking through the parks with his entourage and barking out orders were certainly entertaining but they seemed to have no effect. If he wants honesty, he'll have to buck up and pay the admission charge and experience the park in a baseball cap and sunglasses, like like the average guest does.

"Please don't get me wrong, we did have a good time and we will likely go back."

I dunno... doesn't sound like anything close to an overly positive experience. Seems to me that the journalist is just doing his best to offer a truthful report while glossing it over so as not to piss off a current/potential advertiser.

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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:14 PM
Wow you just pretty much summed up what goes into the day before someone from corporate arrives at SFA. The day before is usualy at least a 15 hour day as none of the full time will let the seasonals go untill they feel the park looks good enough to save there jobs.
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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:16 PM
Gonch, good try with the Dunkin' Donuts and Sweet Treats or whatever it's called VIP thing. But that wasn't part of his article now, was it? I was considering the six points he raised in his article-- cost vs. value, food service (I'd include customer service in general), cleanliness, rides, attitude and security.

Don't worry, I made sure I told him not to overlook the smaller independent parks (Knoebels and Holiday World for example) as places to head for a fun, enjoyable experience.

I wonder about the idea of crap becoming the norm-- in some ways I'll admit it's quite true. In this case, I honestly don't get it. The upscale family crowd Shapiro is going after is quite demanding. They'll research the hell out of anything before they purchase it. They have no problem b****ing about something they don't like-- and quite loudly too.

In my e-mail I asked the guy point blank, why with all the problems and issues you had would you just shrug your shoulders and say I guess we'll be back? How many parks does this guy have within a tankful of gas from where he lives? Maybe for some people traveling isn't an option and this park is all they can get to. Is it just a question of laziness or not realizing there are other choices out there?

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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:16 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar Re; Rob's post a couple up the page

I dunno. Seems like another case of people thinking these CEO's are non-humans who live in a protected bubble.

We all know how it goes. Krax knows it, Rob knows it, I know it, we all know it. Trust me, Shapiro and the suits know it too.

And say they did make the 'undercover' visit - then what?

Are we under the impression that employees aren't being told to be nice to guests, make crucial repairs, offer fast and friendly service and so on? Of course they're told that and I'd even bet their training incorporates that as well...why wouldn't it?

I guess my point is one that I say now and again - you can't make people work. You can tell someone all day how to do thing, you can repeat it over and over, but if someone isn't going to do their job, they're just not going to do their job. Showing up unannounced and seeing it first hand, then saying it yet again isn't going to change anything.

I think the problems (and haven't we pretty much agreed that crap is the norm) are with the workforce.

*** Edited 7/30/2007 6:22:26 PM UTC by Lord Gonchar***


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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:23 PM
Definitely.

The single largest reason for a decline in quality is a decline in the quality of the American worker. I'm not trying to sound anti-American or whatever, just pointing out something that anyone who has ever worked in some kind of management position can tell you. Sometimes it's a matter of kids being so spoiled by their parents with cars and credit cards that they really don't have to worry about what happens if they get fired. Sometimes it's unions rewarding employees for mediocrity and therefore shunning employees that feel the urge to go above and beyond. Sometimes it's just a matter of quality standards decreasing a little more with each generation.

You're right that "surprise" visits aren't going to result in better employees, but they may reveal the truth. When Shapiro walks through a park, I'm sure all managers are out in full force, making sure that no part-time employee is left unsupervised. Part-time employees are pretty good at acting friendly and competent when someone's watching over their shoulders but quickly revert back to their normal ways when supervision disappears.

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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:28 PM
rollergator's avatar If Shapiro were to visit SFA on a "regular" day, unannounced and incognito, he'd be the one going out to his car for a weapon...

Reminds me WAY too much of the "random checks" that are done by our DOH folks. Centers have a month or so of notification, and the records to be inspected are known WELL in advance. They spend those four to six weeks getting the *requested* records up-to-date and cleaned up all sparkly. As a result, you'd be surprised at how well even the "shoddiest" of organizations look on paper...

Accountability requires an HONEST appraisal? Really? In America? Whose America? ;)

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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:29 PM
So, if it is the workforce, what do you do to fix it?

You can do what Cedar Point does, and do an end run around the local workforce. They do this two ways. First, they have dorms. They can hire kids from anywhere in the country, not just people who live nearby. This works pretty well; I had a kid from Florida sell me a picture at Mean Streak yesterday. When I asked him what brought him up here, he said, "Well, I live too far from Disney to work there."

Second, you don't just hire domestically, but you also hire foreign nationals who, generally, are happier to have the job than the local kids. I bought a couple of ICEEs from a certain Daniel from Singapore yesterday as well. He was busting his butt so hard to get my ICEEs poured quickly and change counted, that I handed the drinks to my kids and walked directly across the midway to Park Ops, where I filed a compliment card on his behalf. He was THAT GOOD.

So, that's Cedar Point's solution. And, it's only an adequate one. CP has adequate customer service, generally. Not great, not bad, but adequate. What else is there?

Let's assume for the moment that actually paying more is out of the question, because the costs just don't work out.

Let's also assume for the moment that you can't just pick up SFA and plop it down in southern Indiana or the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, where you arguably have a more pliable workforce to start with.
*** Edited 7/30/2007 6:33:20 PM UTC by Brian Noble***


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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:30 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

RatherGoodBear said:
Gonch, good try with the Dunkin' Donuts and Sweet Treats or whatever it's called VIP thing. But that wasn't part of his article now, was it?

No, but it's one of your long running complaints/nagging points on the 'new' SF. Just taking the chance to point out it's happening everywhere. :)


The upscale family crowd Shapiro is going after is quite demanding. They'll research the hell out of anything before they purchase it. They have no problem b****ing about something they don't like-- and quite loudly too.

Nah, seems like another stereotypical take on that group. I don't necessarily think the upscale thing is true in the first place - there's a difference between 'willing to spend' and 'upscale' and on top of that, that take on the 'upscale' type seems like a characture out of a movie or book. Real life doesn't work that way.

If the stories I've heard from my wife over the years about the hotel industry are any indication, it's just the opposite - the people who spend the least cry the loudest.


Maybe for some people traveling isn't an option and this park is all they can get to. Is it just a question of laziness or not realizing there are other choices out there?

I think it goes back to something else I've said well past the point of redundancy - people stay local. The vast majority of the GP probably never visits an amusement park beyond their local one (or two if you live in the right location). Nothing lazy or uninformed about it - most people aren't going to travel farther than they have to for something as meaningless in the big scheme of things as a throwaway day at the amusement park.


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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:32 PM
Not that I agree with you all theory that all of the part time seasonal emplyees are the problem, you do make a good point when the days the Park is being inspected you see all the members of management out in the park doing what they can to help the day along. ON a normal day they may walk around once and if they see anything wrong play the crap rools downhill game.

At the start of the year WO and Roar had the best coaster crews in the park, trains got out when they where supposed to and lines where short. But what do you get for doing your job the right way at SFA more work to do. So both crews just gace up and started doing what everybody else does, work just hard enough to get half capacity out of the ride and wait for the day to be over.

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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:35 PM
I don't know what they're supposed to do, Brian. If I had a definite answer, chances are I'd be working for them in some kind of a human resources capacity. My post wasn't to offer up some kind of answer, it was to point out one of the problems. Shouldn't they have hired people to figure this stuff out?

All I have to say is that there are plenty of companies that feature solid, pretty much all-American workforces and they do a good job without employer-provided housing and stuff like that. Some solutions I can think of are paying people more and tolerating less crap (by paying people more, you're more likely to have replacements lined up waiting for a job opening), creating some kind of employee recognition program that results in performance bonuses and the plain simple method of treating employees right so they're not so hostile and unhappy.

*** Edited 7/30/2007 6:36:39 PM UTC by Rob Ascough***

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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:35 PM

Rob Ascough said:


If he wants honesty, he'll have to buck up and pay the admission charge and experience the park in a baseball cap and sunglasses, like like the average guest does.


Just hope those sunglasses aren't TOO dark, or he might fall through that hole in the fence. :)

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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:36 PM

So, that's Cedar Point's solution. And, it's only an adequate one. CP has adequate customer service, generally. Not great, not bad, but adequate. What else is there?

I'm going to amend this slightly. This season, so far, seems better than the last few on the customer service front. There are still some systematic problems in foods, and still a few operational head-scratchers, but for the most part, things are going along swimmingly in Sandusky.
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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:39 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Rob A:
The single largest reason for a decline in quality is a decline in the quality of the American worker. I'm not trying to sound anti-American or whatever, just pointing out something that anyone who has ever worked in some kind of management position can tell you.

Agreed 100%


Brian N:
So, if it is the workforce, what do you do to fix it?

If I had that answer, I'd be running for President. :)


TSC 2007:
At the start of the year WO and Roar had the best coaster crews in the park, trains got out when they where supposed to and lines where short. But what do you get for doing your job the right way at SFA more work to do. So both crews just gace up and started doing what everybody else does, work just hard enough to get half capacity out of the ride and wait for the day to be over.

And here's first hand illustration of the problem at hand.

We did good and because we're good workers were given more responsibility (that used to be a source of pride for workers, believe it or not) and because we expect the world to be handed to us for simply doing our most basic of jobs, we'll show them and slack off.

The difference between people who 'make it' and those that don't is taking that responsibility ball and running with it..not dropping it and stepping out of the game.

That's a perfect example of what's wrong with today's workforce - the "I'm just here for a paycheck" mentality.

*** Edited 7/30/2007 6:41:20 PM UTC by Lord Gonchar***


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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:39 PM
Rob, but let's assume you can't just raise pay across the board. So, just pay more is out.

I like the recognition idea. I've noticed that CF parks have "Crew of Excellence" awards displayed in some stations. I notice it particularly because not all stations have them. I think that's interesting. Nylon pennants aren't very expensive at all.


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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:50 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

I like the recognition idea. I've noticed that CF parks have "Crew of Excellence" awards displayed in some stations. I notice it particularly because not all stations have them. I think that's interesting. Nylon pennants aren't very expensive at all.

I believe SFStL had something like this running (and if anyone who works there posts here, I'm sure we'll hear about it)

I was waiting for the mine train coaster and noticed the four kids operating the ride talking and getting excited about hitting some number of other - I assumed it was some sort of dispatch goal. There were whiteboards posted in the coaster stations with numbers/goals written on them.

No idea what the benefit of hitting such numbers was, but if my second-hand experience of trying to find ways to reward employees is an indication, they just generally don't care about that either. And quite honestly, it wouldn't surprise me that a teenager doesn't give a crap about getting a pennant hung that proclaims a good crew.


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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:50 PM
If you're ever looking for a good read , try "From Worst To First". written by former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune. It's about how he and a team of people used common sense solutions instead of complicated business plans to get the company out of bankrupcy and into the elite class of worldwide carriers. It's an easy read and some of it's pretty humorous.

Bethune explained how Continental was ranked last in terms of being on time and keeping track of customers' baggage. The plan was simple- set goals (like a certain number of flights departing on time) and if the goals were met, employees were given a performance bonus. It wasn't much- something like $100 back in the mid-90s- but the company reasoned that it'd be cheaper to pay the employees a bonus like that rather than lose more customers and have to spend ten times that amount to get them back. Needless to say, the plan worked.

I'm not saying that is THE solution, but that kind of thinking is a good way to start. Like you said, Gonch- people probably don't care about banners but they do care about money.

*** Edited 7/30/2007 6:52:24 PM UTC by Rob Ascough***

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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:51 PM
Perhaps. I do know that, every year, the Raptor and Magnum crews compete for total # of guests moved.
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Monday, July 30, 2007 2:57 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Rob Ascough said:
Like you said, Gonch- people probably don't care about banners but they do care about money.

That makes sense.

But isn't it a shame that you have to pay people a bonus for simply doing their job. (getting flights out on time)

If it were me, I'd use that perception thing to my advantage - pay less with potential bonuses for performance. If the workers don't hit the goals, I saved a chunk of change. If they do, I only paid them what I was going to in the first place. :)


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Monday, July 30, 2007 3:01 PM
rollergator's avatar If your employee does an "excellent" job, and gets ALOT more responsibility, with little or no additional pay....then you are more part of the problem than you are part of the solution.

Recognition is great....but remind people in their WALLETS that you recognized them on the loading platform.... ;)

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