“One problem that almost all entrepreneurs have is that they think they’re supposed to be able to do it all by themselves. Chief Outsiders walked me through it in a way that helped me learn and gave me confidence.”
Caroline Irving, CEO and Franchise Partner, Sky Zone
Caroline Irving, Sky Zone’s first franchisee in Toronto, Canada, operates four successful trampoline park locations. However, increasing competition and a market share battle have dampened revenue growth. To reverse the trend, Caroline brought in Chief Outsiders CMO, Deborah Fell for a six-month engagement. Deborah worked closely with Caroline to research, develop and execute detailed marketing strategies for each of the 4 Sky Zone Parks. Caroline’s commitment to invest in the Parks, combined with a sustainable marketing framework, have resulted in strong growth.
Sky Zone, the first wall-to-wall trampoline park franchise, has been bringing healthy, high-flying fun to people across the globe since 2004. The parks are all about fun; however, delivering that fun with excellence is a complex operation.
When Caroline Irving opened the first of her four Greater Toronto Area Sky Zone locations six years ago, her business experienced rapid growth.
“Once it took off, it was like trying to stop a freight train,” she related. “I really thought things were going to be perfect forever.” Since that time, several competitors have moved into the market.
In fact, at one of her parks, she went from no competition to having at least three significant competitors within a 20-minute drive.
Over a couple of years, Caroline experienced revenue challenges at one of her locations, and she was concerned as competition opened and began impacting other locations. The key was to figure out how to grow with stiff headwinds.
When a competitor planned to open literally next door to one of her parks, she resolved to make changes to ensure continued growth for her business.
The Sky Zone Park General Manager’s primary role is to manage the team and ensure experiences that create joy for their guests. Marketing activities took time away from running the parks.
The Parks did monthly email marketing blasts, but the managers didn't have time to plan or analyze results. To help, Caroline had previously hired a social media and marketing agency, but they failed to produce the desired results.
After explaining the situation to Chief Outsiders CMO, Deborah Fell, during an exploratory call, Deborah said to Caroline, "It sounds like you are doing a lot of random acts of marketing.” Caroline exclaimed, "That's EXACTLY what I've been doing. I need a plan."
Caroline first heard about Chief Outsiders at a CEO group in Toronto. “Someone at the table said, ‘I’ve used Chief Outsiders for my business and it was just a great experience. And, you get yourself a fractional CMO,’” she related.
After the meeting, Karen Hayward, Chief Outsiders Managing Partner, followed up with Caroline. Due to the nature and location of the business, Karen reached out to Deborah and they had a conversation with Caroline, who decided to move ahead.
On her first visit to Toronto, Deborah visited all four of the parks with Caroline, driving 410 km over the course of three days.
“She was appropriately cautious and skeptical,” related Deborah. “But, by the end of the trip, she had a good sense of who I was. Getting in there, rolling up sleeves and learning the business opened up the trust.”
Early on, Caroline said to Deborah, "Deborah, I don't really want one plan. I think you need to spend some time in these markets and understand how different they are."
Knowing that she’d be writing four plans, Deborah returned for on-site visits with the general managers and the business development team on property about once a month, making the 410 km drive each time.
“I wanted to make sure I was paying attention to what I should, both inside and outside Sky Zone, to see what was really going on, because each of the Parks were so unique.”
When she was not on-site, Deborah and Caroline would text or jump on a call for 15-20 minutes. They also engaged in hour-long weekly strategy and catch-up calls. Deborah praised Caroline’s contribution.
“Caroline was an outstanding CEO to work with. She was willing to commit the time for discussion, took advice, made decisions and acted on them along the way. She set a great tone and made the right investments.”
Working closely with Caroline, Deborah conducted a detailed analysis of four competing parks. After just three weeks, she had Sky Zone in an on-line market-testing phase.
“I had a great experience working with Deborah,” related Caroline. “She did a great job of learning my business before she made any recommendations.”
Deborah prepared a color-coded analysis of operations including everything from the website, to what it’s like to book, all the way to the visit and after. She carefully identified the most important factors driving visitation.
“There were a lot of greens, but there were some yellows and some reds,” Deborah explained. “She was doing a lot of the right things.” After a few weeks, Deborah’s research, park visits and discussions with managers yielded the following insight:
“Sky Zone has significant assets to drive visitation, including a customer database for each location, new programming, new and ongoing promotions, corporate marketing assets and the ability of the GMs and teams to enhance the guest experience and leverage their own social networks.”
Working together, Deborah and Caroline developed a differentiated approach to gain focus, break through competitive clutter and engage time-challenged guests. Deborah also enlisted her Chief Outsiders colleagues for a Peer Advisory group meeting, where she gained input from several other seasoned CMOs on ideas to grow the business.
Strategic Plan for 2017
creating a guest journey of proactive interactions that add value to their lives
With the strategy in place, Deborah prepared a detailed, month-by-month marketing road map designed to drive revenue, profitability and guest relationship. She defined tactics by segment and by park, including messaging and promotions.
This was not a one-and-done document. “It's a tool, something they can use forever,” explained Deborah. “They just change it out as needed.”
To build team focus and ensure revenue growth according to the plan, Caroline brought in the appropriate resources, executed the recommended tactics and measured results.
A new dashboard developed by Deborah helped Caroline and the marketing manager focus on the metrics that indicated Sky Zone was moving in the right direction.
“I love this!” Caroline exclaimed. “It's the first time anyone has taken the time to give me all the key metrics in one place, so I can understand what's working and what's not.’"
As the result of changes that Caroline implemented, sales challenges have turned into significant sales increases. And, she is pleased with the direction they are headed. Deborah gives much of the credit to Caroline.
“Caroline was a terrific CEO before I arrived,” stated Deborah. “Her initial skepticism turned into wonderful collaboration, listening, taking action and seeing the results of her decisions. We supported her, but she made the right investments.”
Chief Outsiders seeks to create strategies and tools that sustain a business after the engagement is completed.
“What Deborah did for me was to create a marketing plan for all four of my parks,” stated Caroline. “Having that roadmap has meant all the difference to us.”
“She has what she needs from a marketing perspective,” added Deborah. “I set up the roadmap and said, ‘This SHOULD change and adjust over time.’ Something that sustains is what she values most.”
Caroline now has a marketing manager who is highly capable and excited about her job description and executing the plan.
“She's able to take the load off the managers so that they can focus on delivering the experience,” related Deborah. “And, she can focus on getting people in the door and positioning the brand ahead of the competition.”
The primary goal of Chief Outsiders is to show results. “We get our hands dirty and focus on getting results,” concluded Deborah. “We're going to learn the business and look under every rock, identify what works and build a plan around that, and then leave them with sustaining strategies for growth.”