Posted Wednesday, November 15, 2000 7:45 PM | Contributed by Jeff
CoasterBuzz recently sat down with Dick Kinzel, CEO of Cedar Fair, LP, to talk about the business of running parks and the state of the amusement industry. Cedar Fair owns several amusement and water parks, including Cedar Point, Knott's Berry Farm and Dorney Park.
CB: A lot of people in the media think we’re entering a second golden age for roller coasters. Companies like B&M, CCI and Intamin are building crowd pleasers all over the world. Do you think it’s the technology driving new rides or is the marketplace driving the technology?
DK: I think it’s a combination of both. I think it’s more the market driving the technology because the demand is out there. The first 200-foot coaster opened in 1989 at Cedar Point with Magnum. When people saw the return on investment and saw what that did for the park, I think that sort of spurred other parks to put in roller coasters and to get creative. The more demand the more creative people like B&M and Dana Morgan got. Now Setpoint is coming out with some creative stuff. As long as the money’s there, the engineers will create new ways of entertaining people and try to sell those ideas to the parks.
CB: Tell me a little bit about building Millennium Force. At what point did you say, "Yeah, this is what we need to build."
DK: We learned our lesson back in 1989 when we put in Magnum, and that did really well for us. It’s still rated number one in some of the polls. We put in Mean Streak and Mantis. Raptor did a good job for us. But none of them were really record breakers, and no one had really cracked that 300-foot barrier. So we felt it was time to put in the tallest roller coaster in the world.
We sat down and put a pencil to it as to what the cost would be and how much attendance it would have to generate. Again, it was a business driven decision and not really an ego driven decision. It was really driven on the ROI. I hate to keep using that phrase but that’s really what we use a lot… how many people a 300-foot coaster would draw to the park, how much money they would spend and how long it would take to pay that coaster off.
The other thing that applies is you just can’t put a dollar figure on everything. It was time that Cedar Point needed another premier ride. It needed the best ride and really something to market off of, and we thought Millennium Force would do that for us.
CB: What has been different for your company in running a year-round park like Knott’s Berry Farm?
DK: The decision to buy Knott’s wasn’t based on whether it was a seasonal or year-round park, it was basically driven on what we felt was its operating profit. The basic difference between Knott’s and our other parks is the amount of land available. When we put a ride in there we have to take a ride out. It’s not like Cedar Point, Worlds of Fun or Valleyfair where we have a lot land surrounding the park and we can just add on. We’re sort of confined to about 57 acres out there in a residential park.
Regardless of whether it’s a seasonal or year-round operation, the same business fundamentals apply no matter where the geographical location or what the operating schedule is. We just apply the same fundamentals to our parks and let the operating schedule and weather dictate when we’re open or closed.
CB: With the acquisition of Knott’s, you got the rights to use the Peanuts characters. How has that changed the look and feel of the parks?
DK: It’s something for us to market off of, give us something new to talk about. We’re expanding that to Worlds of Fun this year. We’ve got it at Knott’s Cedar Point and Dorney Park. We think it’s a valuable marketing tool and it brings people in to the park.
CB: How would you describe your corporate culture and how do you maintain it?
DK: I have a saying that I tell everyone. We try to keep this as much of a "ma and pa" operation and still be a New York Stock Exchange company. Our philosophy is to operate as a "ma and pa" operation and stay close to our people. The most valuable asset we have is our people and we try to instill that in our people. Like all of the industry, especially if you’re seasonal, they put in tremendous amounts of hours during the season and we have to remember to thank them and remind them as to how valuable they are for our whole industry.
CB: What can we expect out of Cedar Fair in the future?
DK: The same business philosophy and business culture that you’ve seen for the last fifteen years. We try to make our guests have the best experience of their summers at our parks, and we try to instill in our employees that our guests are the most important things we have, and they’re to be treated as if this was the best day of their summer. They’re number one. If we don’t have our guests, we won’t have our business. That culture that we’ve been taught, and that we’ve taught to the future Cedar Fair management will continue. We have four cornerstones - that’s the easiest way to describe it – safety, courtesy, cleanliness and service. Those have been drilled in to us from all of us who started in the parks in the seventies and the people who started in the nineties. It will be taught to the people hired in the new millennium. It’s a pretty simple forumula.
CB: And I have to ask, what can we expect from Cedar Point?
DK: We consider Cedar Point to be the best amusement park in the world, and if anything new in the way of rides and technology is going to come out, we’ll certainly take a look at it. We’ll always try to maintain our position as the biggest and best amusement park in the world.