Read my original post at the Washington Business Journal.
One of things my family loves about living where we do is that the Maryland Renaissance Festival is walking distance from us, so we usually go over there a couple times a season to catch a show, eat a turkey leg and see some interesting people! With the massive number of cars parked there on any nice weekend indicating the success of his operation, I decided to ask Jules Smith - the president and general manager – what he did to make the festival so popular.
Of the roughly 25 Renaissance Festivals nationwide that operate for
six or more weekends – and have a constructed village – the Maryland
Festival consistently places in the top three in attendance (Texas and
Minnesota round out the top three). Four times in the last seven seasons
the Maryland Festival finished first. Their best year ever was 2007 –
their 31st season – when they had 323,000 visitors. When I asked Jules
how he did it, he quickly laid out for me the simple ideas that
transformed his company’s financial and operational performance:
1. No “passing the hat” after performances. “Passing
the hat” is standard operating procedure for most renaissance
festivals, but Jules just didn’t like it. So, in 1987, Jules began
offering a contract to performers with a guaranteed payment that is much
higher than what other festivals offer performers. In return, the
performers agree not to solicit donations from the guests after their
show is over. Exit surveys indicated that customers LOVED the new
2. Family Friendly Admissions Fee. Also in 1987,
Jules modified the admissions fee to make it more family friendly: ages 6
and under are free, ages 7-15 pay a children’s rate, and 16 and over
pay the adult fee. This policy, combined with the elimination of
“passing the hat,” enabled attendance to skyrocket. Attendance was
consistently around 90,000 before the policy changes; afterwards,
attendance increased about 12 percent annually.
3. Partners in Profit program. Jules’ company runs
nine of the 20 food stands at the festival, and managing them
effectively was a struggle. Food quality and service was mediocre, which
kept sales low. At first he tried providing incentives to everyone who
worked at his food stands, but that didn’t work. So, in 1995, he decided
to provide entrepreneurial incentives to each stand manager. A manager
gets a labor budget and a food waste budget, and then it’s up to him or
her to drive sales, keep quality high, and control costs. At the end of
the season, he or she earns 8 percent of the net proceeds of the stand.
After this policy was implemented, quality and service improved
demonstrably, and sales responded by increasing a whopping 30 percent.
The record attendance numbers and food sales has allowed Jules to
keep his admission fees the lowest of all the Renaissance Festivals.
That’s even more remarkable given the fact that he pays his performers
much more than other festivals. So, by focusing on pleasing his
customers (food quality, better performance atmosphere, attractive
pricing), Jules has taken the Maryland Renaissance Festival to the top.
What are the takeaways for your business? How about sharing them
as comment below, and how about stopping by the Maryland Renaissance
Festival over the next two weekends and enjoy yourself!