I grew up loving theme parks.
When I was a kid the highlight of my year was our annual family trip to Indiana Beach. I recall saving up all year long for those 4 days we spent in Monticello, Indiana. We stayed in a motel right on property and you could walk along the boardwalk long after the last rides had closed.
I remember going with my dad to the funnel cake stand where, I kid you not, the guy who ran the joint used an actual funnel to pour the batter into the oil. I remember buying popcorn with my mom and sister to feed carp in Lake Shafer that were so big you could have ridden them.
Finally, I remember that the last day of our stay every year we went to the Skyroom Restaurant - and that was the very first place I ever had a made-to-order omelet.
Indiana Beach closed a few weeks ago. One day the recently-troubled amusement park placed a notice on their web page that they would not be opening this spring or any other spring in the future.
They were done.
A part of my childhood had died.
I had hoped that one of the plucky regional players such as Fun Spot America might ride in and save the day; however, they announced in a very kind post on social media that they would not be the white knight in this story. So the park sits, for the first time in my lifetime, unopened.
For the last few weeks I've been thinking a lot about those childhood trips to Indiana beach and it reminded me of a few key points around emotional connectivity and service. Although this brand may be gone forever, their 8-decade run teaches us a few lessons about service and experience.
CONNECTIONS BEGIN ON THE EMOTIONAL LEVEL I remember the great service we received during our visits to Indiana Beach. It was a charming, folksy park that understood where it fit in the lexicon of amusement enterprises. It didn't purport to be as flashy as Disney or as exciting as King's Island. What it did provide was a clean, safe park that families could afford. I remember it was the first place where I was allowed to roam freely without my parents being too worried about my well-being. I can remember me and a group of cousins exploring the arcades, rides, and water shows for hours before having to check in. I can remember the popcorn stand giving us free popcorn to feed to the fish and the Dippin' Dots stand being patient as we sampled the "Ice Cream of the Future." These memories all hit on a visceral level that kept me excited each year to return.
What Indiana Beach did best was create memories that I carry with me to this day. In fact, just a week ago we took our nieces to the Tampa Zoo and when they asked for Dippin' Dots I was suddenly 10 years old again in Northern Indiana.
VALUE AND QUALITY ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE I was always so thankful for my annual visits to Indiana Beach. I probably was never as grateful as I should have been for the summer vacations my parents gave us, but I look back on them through the lens of experience and realize just how precious they were to me. The park was a much more economical experience than many other options, but to my mind they still did a great job of providing quality. I remember the park being very clean, the rides in good repair, and the availability of the Pay-One-Price (or P.O.P.) wrist bands. I remember a colored stamp, a band, and an alligator clip that held the band in place as the ticket to a full day of rides. Nothing was off limits from the Flying Bobs to the Scrambler to Superstition Mountain and my sister, cousins, and I maximized every moment of the day to pack in every ride possible.
I also remember the relaxed, personalized, and friendly service at the parks. It wasn't forced and it wasn't fake.
It had a genuine flavor of Hoosier hospitality that I believe inspired me so many decades later to write, speak, and train on the topics of customer and guest experiences.
EVEN THE GREATEST BRANDS MUST WORK TO REMAIN RELEVANT
I just finished reading Bob Iger's recent book The Ride of a Lifetime and it was a masterclass on remaining relevant. He talked a lot about respecting the past while trying to stay competitive - which seemingly fueled his passion to acquire Marvel, Pixar, and LucasFilm. I didn't discover Disney until later in life, so my frame of reference for entertainment topped out at Indiana Beach well through my early adult life. I realized as I visited over the years that the park had started to slip a bit, but it has been 20 years since I've actually visited Lake Shafer.
It takes effort, enthusiasm, and diligence to keep a brand relevant. There is nothing sexy about it, but rather a daily dedication to the nitty-gritty basics that build trust with customers and consumers. It's the crispness of the signage, the cleanliness of the property, and the consistency of the products that keep guests coming back. But it is also the regular infusion of occasional innovation and surprise that combats boredom and brand fatigue.
The string that ties all of this together is a genuine spirit of hospitality, helpfulness, and anticipation that always makes customers feel welcome.
I hope that a buyer does come forward and that Indiana Beach will open again soon. There is a clock on these things - public sentiment has a half life and the longer a park stays closed the harder it is to reopen.
I make this commitment - If anyone comes forward to purchase and reopen the park as Indiana Beach I'll be there to train your teams and inspire your leaders for a full day session at no charge. Just email me and we will work it into my schedule so long as we can work out timing and logistics.
Indiana Beach - Thanks for putting me at the center of your service for so many summers.
Tony Tony Johnson, CCXP Customer Experience (CX) Leader | Author | Speaker | Consultant Check out Tony’s FREE Resources and Training Tools: Web: http://igniteyourservice.com/YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/RecipeforserviceNetTwitter: https://twitter.com/ServiceRecipe Check out Tony’s book:TOGETHER WE SERVE Buy it now on Amazon
Tony Johnson is an international speaker and author on the topics of customer service, leadership, and performance. Tony speaks to thousands annually and has also been featured on ABC News. He is available for custom keynotes, leadership workshops, and employee service training.
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