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Interview
Jane Cooper


Tom Anstey speaks to Herschend Family Entertainment president and COO, Jane Cooper, about the storied history of the company and its plans going forward

From Attractions Management 2017 issue 4 . . BY Tom Anstey, Leisure Media

The billion-dollar Herschend empire traces its roots back to a family holiday in 1950, when Hugo and Mary Herschend – along with their sons, Jack and Pete – took a story millions of years in the making and made it their own.

On a trip to Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, the Herschends fell in love with the area and the natural setting it offered its visitors – so much so that Hugo bought an attraction near the city of Branson, with the aim of making a new life there.

A 16th-century discovery by the Osage Indians, Marvel Cave was the family’s first acquisition when Hugo took a 99-year lease on the site in 1951. In 1955, Hugo suffered a heart attack and later died. Mary, along with Jack and Pete, continued to make improvements to the cave, installing electric lighting and cement walkways to improve the visitor experience. In 1958, a cable train was installed to return guests from the depths of the cave on the tour’s conclusion. From there, Silver Dollar City was born. (The operation gave silver dollars as change, with the idea that guests would spend the rare coins, telling other people where they’d procured them.)

This marketing idea turned out to be a success, so much so that the site soon metamorphosed into a fully-fledged theme park attraction, with the family building a frontier town on the land surrounding the site of the cave. Through the years, the park has expanded its entertainment offering, adding attractions such as a stage coach ride, a steam engine train, interactive activities and various thrill rides.

Fast-forward to today, Herschend Family Entertainment – which, if you ask Jack or Pete, is in “the business of creating memories” – represents the largest privately held theme park company in the US, with 26 properties across six states. Its portfolio – which includes theme parks, waterparks, aquariums, camping grounds, a showboat, and even the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team – turns over some $400m (£305m, €344m) annually, with profits of around $150m.

In the present
Today, Jane Cooper is responsible for heading up the Herschend portfolio, with Jack and Pete, now 85 and 82 respectively, enjoying a well-earned semi-retirement. Age is just a number for the brothers, however, who maintain a hand in the business.

“They created the company and built the culture, so I’d classify them as inspirational leaders,” says Cooper. “They both visit the properties often, connecting with employees from the front-line level all the way to the top. They communicate with management on how they see things and we seek their guidance as we move forward.”

Cooper is a veteran of the attractions sector. She started out in the industry in 1972 when she took a summer job at a Paramount theme park. She ending up spending more than 25 years with the company, climbing the corporate ladder to eventually become president and CEO of Paramount Parks (now part of Cedar Fair), a position she held for eight years.

Cooper moved to Herschend Family Entertainment in 2006 and was named president and COO in 2008, joining then-CEO Joel Manby. But despite her excellent track record, the attractions sector was never where Cooper envisaged herself spending her entire career.

“I never intended to stay in this industry that long,” she says. “I started working in a theme park when I was in college, just like everybody else does. To this day, I consider myself a business person. I didn’t consider myself a theme park executive, or attracted to what a theme park was. I was attracted to the concept of the business.”

Family first
Throughout the company’s history, the Herschends have always had a desire to keep the business within the family, but outsiders have been brought in to oversee the professional operation of the portfolio. The right person for the job had to be not only business-savvy, but they also had to hold similar values to the Christian family.

“What we say about our values set is it’s not about what somebody’s belief is, it’s about how we treat each other,” says Cooper. “We teach the leaders within our company how to ‘lead with love’ and what that really means is we treat each other with respect. We use an eight-word mantra that we classify as part of that: Patient, Kind, Humble, Respectful, Trusting, Unselfish, Forgiving, Truthful and Dedicated. That’s our expectation of how our leaders are going to behave.”

While no member of the family is currently involved in the business from a management perspective, a group of more than 50 shareholders – all related to the Herschends – owns the operation. The Herschend Board of Directors reports directly to the family about ongoing ventures. “All of the shareholders are family members. We’re also managed by a family office and they’re very engaged as well,” says Cooper, who adds that the mantra of the Herschends is for the company to be “family-held forever”.

The Dollywood effect
In 1976, the Herschends purchased Goldrush Junction theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The acquisition became a sister park to their Branson attraction, known as Silver Dollar City Tennessee. However, in 1986, the family partnered with country music star Dolly Parton and, from there, Dollywood was born.

The theme park was successful, expanding in 2001 with Dolly’s Splash Country waterpark. Nowadays, the theme park attracts around 3 million visitors a year. In 2013, Herschend Family Entertainment revealed plans for a 10-year, $300m expansion of Dollywood, which included the new Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. Now nearing the halfway point, Cooper says the masterplan was designed to turn the attraction from a theme park to a complete destination.

“We wanted Dollywood to become a regional destination, hence building our first hotel and developing a real hospitality strategy,” she says. “More than 10 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year. It’s the most visited national park in the US. We felt like this expansion and what we were going to do was going to help us attract more of those 10 million people that are already within this market.”

Beyond the 10-year plan, Herschend has further plans for Dollywood.

“We’re probably about 90 per cent through the planning process,” says Cooper. “It’s mostly under wraps at this point, but our directive is to make Dollywood a regional resort destination. If you think of it in that context, you can start putting all of the different pieces of the puzzle together.”

With the success of Dollywood, the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee, there have been rumours of plans to expand the brand and launch a second Dollywood property.

“We’re always on the lookout for new opportunities,” says Cooper. “We’ve entertained some thoughts around that. It depends on the opportunity on the table, and the timing of that opportunity.”

“And just as we have the growth plan for Dollywood, we are also in the process of doing a five or seven-year masterplan for every one of our properties.”

Continuous investment and growth will include projects like the new Christmas light festival at Silver Dollar City, or the Missouri park’s state of the art coaster, Time Traveler, which opens in 2018.

Globetrotting risk?
An acquisition that raised some eyebrows came in 2013, when Herschend bought the Harlem Globetrotters basketball franchise.

Founded in 1926, the exhibition basketball team combines athleticism, theatre and comedy. Since inception, the team has played more than 26,000 exhibition games in 122 countries and territories, and still prove to be a huge draw, with more than 450 live Globetrotters events worldwide each year.

“When we bought the Globetrotters, I think some people thought, ‘Hm, why did they do that?’” says Cooper.

“Was there a risk because it was a business we’d never done before? Certainly. But you’re buying the expertise of the management team, and you have to do the appropriate amount of due diligence to get comfortable with it.

Balance
The Herschend portfolio is vast and diverse, which according to Cooper is a positive thing for the company, ensuring revenue streams remain stable as different elements affect different businesses.

“If you think about our aquariums for example, when it rains they do really well,” says Cooper. “It’s not so great for our theme parks, but that kind of balance helps manage the risk of the portfolio.

“I think it also helps us look at things a little differently. We learn things from the aquariums that we’ve brought to Silver Dollar City and Dollywood. We’ve learned things from the theme park environment that helps us look at things a little differently in the aquariums. So, by and large, I think it’s a real positive to manage such a varied set of operations.”

Balance also comes through the different attractions’ ability to offer “something for everyone”. Following the Herschend Family Entertainment formula, each separate part of the portfolio is designed to appeal to everyone – “from aged two to aged 92”.

“Another big key to our success is that we really work with every demographic, and we’re very balanced in the products that we’re giving all of them,” says Cooper. “There’s always something for everyone, so our reach is very broad.”

“We’re seeing more multi-generational families in the mix. We welcome lots of family reunions at Dollywood, who stay at the hotel and partake in the experiences. We’re seeing, from a societal point of view, this need for families to find a place where they can connect in the right zone. That’s why we have something for everyone to do.”

Recipe for success
With Cooper achieving so much during her career, she says it boils down to just two pieces of advice, which if approached correctly, can offer anyone in the attractions sector the recipe for success.

“First off, you need to know your market, know your market and know your market. Or, better said, you really, really need to know who your customer is,” she says.

“The second thing you need is to have the right people on your team. You want the right kind of people on your bus. If you look at something that hasn’t worked, it usually goes back to one of those two things.

“When you’re dealing with millions of people, of course there are challenges. We all have peaks and valleys, times that were great and times that weren’t. But that’s the challenge when you have so many moving parts. I mean, I think this business, it’s not hard, but it’s very complex. You need to turn multiple knobs in multiple directions all at the same time to get to the sweet spot.”

TENNESSEE WILDFIRES

In November last year, the state of Tennessee was ravaged by a series of wildfires, which spread across the Gatlinburg area and forced an evacuation of Dollywood. Following the fires, the Dollywood Foundation, the charitable arm of Dolly Parton’s business empire, pledged $1,000 a month for six months to 900 families who had lost their homes. The My People Fund proved so successful that on the final month each family was given $5,000, totalling $10,000 per family over the six-month period. In total, the fund raised more than $11m, with $9m distributed directly through the fund. Funds left over were donated to Mountain Tough, which is another wildfire relief organisation.
WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY

Alongside her career at Herschend Family Entertainment, Jane Cooper has played a very active role in the industry. She has been involved in IAAPA throughout the years, where she currently chairs the IAAPA Foundation, the international attractions body’s charity enterprise. Cooper is one of only two women who has chaired the organisation in its 100-year history, holding the position in 2005.

“This industry is very time intensive,” she says. “I was lucky that my husband stayed at home when my children were young, which allowed me to travel and make the commitments required to do this job. The millennial generation is very focused on balance and quality of life, much more so than we were in the 1970s, so I do think the industry needs to figure out how to create a work environment that’s flexible and works for the individual as well as the company.
“When we talk about consumers, we always say that mom is the decision maker. How do we appeal to mom? When you look at some of these boardroom tables and there aren’t many moms there, that’s a little concerning. You want the people making the decisions to mirror who your guests are. We could always use more. But, I think we’re making a little progress.”

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AM2.jobs - Attractions Jobs & News
Attractions Management Magazine


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Interview
Jane Cooper


Tom Anstey speaks to Herschend Family Entertainment president and COO, Jane Cooper, about the storied history of the company and its plans going forward

From Attractions Management 2017 issue 4 . . BY Tom Anstey, Leisure Media

The billion-dollar Herschend empire traces its roots back to a family holiday in 1950, when Hugo and Mary Herschend – along with their sons, Jack and Pete – took a story millions of years in the making and made it their own.

On a trip to Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, the Herschends fell in love with the area and the natural setting it offered its visitors – so much so that Hugo bought an attraction near the city of Branson, with the aim of making a new life there.

A 16th-century discovery by the Osage Indians, Marvel Cave was the family’s first acquisition when Hugo took a 99-year lease on the site in 1951. In 1955, Hugo suffered a heart attack and later died. Mary, along with Jack and Pete, continued to make improvements to the cave, installing electric lighting and cement walkways to improve the visitor experience. In 1958, a cable train was installed to return guests from the depths of the cave on the tour’s conclusion. From there, Silver Dollar City was born. (The operation gave silver dollars as change, with the idea that guests would spend the rare coins, telling other people where they’d procured them.)

This marketing idea turned out to be a success, so much so that the site soon metamorphosed into a fully-fledged theme park attraction, with the family building a frontier town on the land surrounding the site of the cave. Through the years, the park has expanded its entertainment offering, adding attractions such as a stage coach ride, a steam engine train, interactive activities and various thrill rides.

Fast-forward to today, Herschend Family Entertainment – which, if you ask Jack or Pete, is in “the business of creating memories” – represents the largest privately held theme park company in the US, with 26 properties across six states. Its portfolio – which includes theme parks, waterparks, aquariums, camping grounds, a showboat, and even the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team – turns over some $400m (£305m, €344m) annually, with profits of around $150m.

In the present
Today, Jane Cooper is responsible for heading up the Herschend portfolio, with Jack and Pete, now 85 and 82 respectively, enjoying a well-earned semi-retirement. Age is just a number for the brothers, however, who maintain a hand in the business.

“They created the company and built the culture, so I’d classify them as inspirational leaders,” says Cooper. “They both visit the properties often, connecting with employees from the front-line level all the way to the top. They communicate with management on how they see things and we seek their guidance as we move forward.”

Cooper is a veteran of the attractions sector. She started out in the industry in 1972 when she took a summer job at a Paramount theme park. She ending up spending more than 25 years with the company, climbing the corporate ladder to eventually become president and CEO of Paramount Parks (now part of Cedar Fair), a position she held for eight years.

Cooper moved to Herschend Family Entertainment in 2006 and was named president and COO in 2008, joining then-CEO Joel Manby. But despite her excellent track record, the attractions sector was never where Cooper envisaged herself spending her entire career.

“I never intended to stay in this industry that long,” she says. “I started working in a theme park when I was in college, just like everybody else does. To this day, I consider myself a business person. I didn’t consider myself a theme park executive, or attracted to what a theme park was. I was attracted to the concept of the business.”

Family first
Throughout the company’s history, the Herschends have always had a desire to keep the business within the family, but outsiders have been brought in to oversee the professional operation of the portfolio. The right person for the job had to be not only business-savvy, but they also had to hold similar values to the Christian family.

“What we say about our values set is it’s not about what somebody’s belief is, it’s about how we treat each other,” says Cooper. “We teach the leaders within our company how to ‘lead with love’ and what that really means is we treat each other with respect. We use an eight-word mantra that we classify as part of that: Patient, Kind, Humble, Respectful, Trusting, Unselfish, Forgiving, Truthful and Dedicated. That’s our expectation of how our leaders are going to behave.”

While no member of the family is currently involved in the business from a management perspective, a group of more than 50 shareholders – all related to the Herschends – owns the operation. The Herschend Board of Directors reports directly to the family about ongoing ventures. “All of the shareholders are family members. We’re also managed by a family office and they’re very engaged as well,” says Cooper, who adds that the mantra of the Herschends is for the company to be “family-held forever”.

The Dollywood effect
In 1976, the Herschends purchased Goldrush Junction theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The acquisition became a sister park to their Branson attraction, known as Silver Dollar City Tennessee. However, in 1986, the family partnered with country music star Dolly Parton and, from there, Dollywood was born.

The theme park was successful, expanding in 2001 with Dolly’s Splash Country waterpark. Nowadays, the theme park attracts around 3 million visitors a year. In 2013, Herschend Family Entertainment revealed plans for a 10-year, $300m expansion of Dollywood, which included the new Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. Now nearing the halfway point, Cooper says the masterplan was designed to turn the attraction from a theme park to a complete destination.

“We wanted Dollywood to become a regional destination, hence building our first hotel and developing a real hospitality strategy,” she says. “More than 10 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year. It’s the most visited national park in the US. We felt like this expansion and what we were going to do was going to help us attract more of those 10 million people that are already within this market.”

Beyond the 10-year plan, Herschend has further plans for Dollywood.

“We’re probably about 90 per cent through the planning process,” says Cooper. “It’s mostly under wraps at this point, but our directive is to make Dollywood a regional resort destination. If you think of it in that context, you can start putting all of the different pieces of the puzzle together.”

With the success of Dollywood, the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee, there have been rumours of plans to expand the brand and launch a second Dollywood property.

“We’re always on the lookout for new opportunities,” says Cooper. “We’ve entertained some thoughts around that. It depends on the opportunity on the table, and the timing of that opportunity.”

“And just as we have the growth plan for Dollywood, we are also in the process of doing a five or seven-year masterplan for every one of our properties.”

Continuous investment and growth will include projects like the new Christmas light festival at Silver Dollar City, or the Missouri park’s state of the art coaster, Time Traveler, which opens in 2018.

Globetrotting risk?
An acquisition that raised some eyebrows came in 2013, when Herschend bought the Harlem Globetrotters basketball franchise.

Founded in 1926, the exhibition basketball team combines athleticism, theatre and comedy. Since inception, the team has played more than 26,000 exhibition games in 122 countries and territories, and still prove to be a huge draw, with more than 450 live Globetrotters events worldwide each year.

“When we bought the Globetrotters, I think some people thought, ‘Hm, why did they do that?’” says Cooper.

“Was there a risk because it was a business we’d never done before? Certainly. But you’re buying the expertise of the management team, and you have to do the appropriate amount of due diligence to get comfortable with it.

Balance
The Herschend portfolio is vast and diverse, which according to Cooper is a positive thing for the company, ensuring revenue streams remain stable as different elements affect different businesses.

“If you think about our aquariums for example, when it rains they do really well,” says Cooper. “It’s not so great for our theme parks, but that kind of balance helps manage the risk of the portfolio.

“I think it also helps us look at things a little differently. We learn things from the aquariums that we’ve brought to Silver Dollar City and Dollywood. We’ve learned things from the theme park environment that helps us look at things a little differently in the aquariums. So, by and large, I think it’s a real positive to manage such a varied set of operations.”

Balance also comes through the different attractions’ ability to offer “something for everyone”. Following the Herschend Family Entertainment formula, each separate part of the portfolio is designed to appeal to everyone – “from aged two to aged 92”.

“Another big key to our success is that we really work with every demographic, and we’re very balanced in the products that we’re giving all of them,” says Cooper. “There’s always something for everyone, so our reach is very broad.”

“We’re seeing more multi-generational families in the mix. We welcome lots of family reunions at Dollywood, who stay at the hotel and partake in the experiences. We’re seeing, from a societal point of view, this need for families to find a place where they can connect in the right zone. That’s why we have something for everyone to do.”

Recipe for success
With Cooper achieving so much during her career, she says it boils down to just two pieces of advice, which if approached correctly, can offer anyone in the attractions sector the recipe for success.

“First off, you need to know your market, know your market and know your market. Or, better said, you really, really need to know who your customer is,” she says.

“The second thing you need is to have the right people on your team. You want the right kind of people on your bus. If you look at something that hasn’t worked, it usually goes back to one of those two things.

“When you’re dealing with millions of people, of course there are challenges. We all have peaks and valleys, times that were great and times that weren’t. But that’s the challenge when you have so many moving parts. I mean, I think this business, it’s not hard, but it’s very complex. You need to turn multiple knobs in multiple directions all at the same time to get to the sweet spot.”

TENNESSEE WILDFIRES

In November last year, the state of Tennessee was ravaged by a series of wildfires, which spread across the Gatlinburg area and forced an evacuation of Dollywood. Following the fires, the Dollywood Foundation, the charitable arm of Dolly Parton’s business empire, pledged $1,000 a month for six months to 900 families who had lost their homes. The My People Fund proved so successful that on the final month each family was given $5,000, totalling $10,000 per family over the six-month period. In total, the fund raised more than $11m, with $9m distributed directly through the fund. Funds left over were donated to Mountain Tough, which is another wildfire relief organisation.
WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY

Alongside her career at Herschend Family Entertainment, Jane Cooper has played a very active role in the industry. She has been involved in IAAPA throughout the years, where she currently chairs the IAAPA Foundation, the international attractions body’s charity enterprise. Cooper is one of only two women who has chaired the organisation in its 100-year history, holding the position in 2005.

“This industry is very time intensive,” she says. “I was lucky that my husband stayed at home when my children were young, which allowed me to travel and make the commitments required to do this job. The millennial generation is very focused on balance and quality of life, much more so than we were in the 1970s, so I do think the industry needs to figure out how to create a work environment that’s flexible and works for the individual as well as the company.
“When we talk about consumers, we always say that mom is the decision maker. How do we appeal to mom? When you look at some of these boardroom tables and there aren’t many moms there, that’s a little concerning. You want the people making the decisions to mirror who your guests are. We could always use more. But, I think we’re making a little progress.”

 
 
ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media, Portmill House, Portmill Lane,
Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 1DJ Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2017

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
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Interview
Jane Cooper


Tom Anstey speaks to Herschend Family Entertainment president and COO, Jane Cooper, about the storied history of the company and its plans going forward

From Attractions Management 2017 issue 4 . . BY Tom Anstey, Leisure Media

The billion-dollar Herschend empire traces its roots back to a family holiday in 1950, when Hugo and Mary Herschend – along with their sons, Jack and Pete – took a story millions of years in the making and made it their own.

On a trip to Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, the Herschends fell in love with the area and the natural setting it offered its visitors – so much so that Hugo bought an attraction near the city of Branson, with the aim of making a new life there.

A 16th-century discovery by the Osage Indians, Marvel Cave was the family’s first acquisition when Hugo took a 99-year lease on the site in 1951. In 1955, Hugo suffered a heart attack and later died. Mary, along with Jack and Pete, continued to make improvements to the cave, installing electric lighting and cement walkways to improve the visitor experience. In 1958, a cable train was installed to return guests from the depths of the cave on the tour’s conclusion. From there, Silver Dollar City was born. (The operation gave silver dollars as change, with the idea that guests would spend the rare coins, telling other people where they’d procured them.)

This marketing idea turned out to be a success, so much so that the site soon metamorphosed into a fully-fledged theme park attraction, with the family building a frontier town on the land surrounding the site of the cave. Through the years, the park has expanded its entertainment offering, adding attractions such as a stage coach ride, a steam engine train, interactive activities and various thrill rides.

Fast-forward to today, Herschend Family Entertainment – which, if you ask Jack or Pete, is in “the business of creating memories” – represents the largest privately held theme park company in the US, with 26 properties across six states. Its portfolio – which includes theme parks, waterparks, aquariums, camping grounds, a showboat, and even the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team – turns over some $400m (£305m, €344m) annually, with profits of around $150m.

In the present
Today, Jane Cooper is responsible for heading up the Herschend portfolio, with Jack and Pete, now 85 and 82 respectively, enjoying a well-earned semi-retirement. Age is just a number for the brothers, however, who maintain a hand in the business.

“They created the company and built the culture, so I’d classify them as inspirational leaders,” says Cooper. “They both visit the properties often, connecting with employees from the front-line level all the way to the top. They communicate with management on how they see things and we seek their guidance as we move forward.”

Cooper is a veteran of the attractions sector. She started out in the industry in 1972 when she took a summer job at a Paramount theme park. She ending up spending more than 25 years with the company, climbing the corporate ladder to eventually become president and CEO of Paramount Parks (now part of Cedar Fair), a position she held for eight years.

Cooper moved to Herschend Family Entertainment in 2006 and was named president and COO in 2008, joining then-CEO Joel Manby. But despite her excellent track record, the attractions sector was never where Cooper envisaged herself spending her entire career.

“I never intended to stay in this industry that long,” she says. “I started working in a theme park when I was in college, just like everybody else does. To this day, I consider myself a business person. I didn’t consider myself a theme park executive, or attracted to what a theme park was. I was attracted to the concept of the business.”

Family first
Throughout the company’s history, the Herschends have always had a desire to keep the business within the family, but outsiders have been brought in to oversee the professional operation of the portfolio. The right person for the job had to be not only business-savvy, but they also had to hold similar values to the Christian family.

“What we say about our values set is it’s not about what somebody’s belief is, it’s about how we treat each other,” says Cooper. “We teach the leaders within our company how to ‘lead with love’ and what that really means is we treat each other with respect. We use an eight-word mantra that we classify as part of that: Patient, Kind, Humble, Respectful, Trusting, Unselfish, Forgiving, Truthful and Dedicated. That’s our expectation of how our leaders are going to behave.”

While no member of the family is currently involved in the business from a management perspective, a group of more than 50 shareholders – all related to the Herschends – owns the operation. The Herschend Board of Directors reports directly to the family about ongoing ventures. “All of the shareholders are family members. We’re also managed by a family office and they’re very engaged as well,” says Cooper, who adds that the mantra of the Herschends is for the company to be “family-held forever”.

The Dollywood effect
In 1976, the Herschends purchased Goldrush Junction theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The acquisition became a sister park to their Branson attraction, known as Silver Dollar City Tennessee. However, in 1986, the family partnered with country music star Dolly Parton and, from there, Dollywood was born.

The theme park was successful, expanding in 2001 with Dolly’s Splash Country waterpark. Nowadays, the theme park attracts around 3 million visitors a year. In 2013, Herschend Family Entertainment revealed plans for a 10-year, $300m expansion of Dollywood, which included the new Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. Now nearing the halfway point, Cooper says the masterplan was designed to turn the attraction from a theme park to a complete destination.

“We wanted Dollywood to become a regional destination, hence building our first hotel and developing a real hospitality strategy,” she says. “More than 10 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year. It’s the most visited national park in the US. We felt like this expansion and what we were going to do was going to help us attract more of those 10 million people that are already within this market.”

Beyond the 10-year plan, Herschend has further plans for Dollywood.

“We’re probably about 90 per cent through the planning process,” says Cooper. “It’s mostly under wraps at this point, but our directive is to make Dollywood a regional resort destination. If you think of it in that context, you can start putting all of the different pieces of the puzzle together.”

With the success of Dollywood, the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee, there have been rumours of plans to expand the brand and launch a second Dollywood property.

“We’re always on the lookout for new opportunities,” says Cooper. “We’ve entertained some thoughts around that. It depends on the opportunity on the table, and the timing of that opportunity.”

“And just as we have the growth plan for Dollywood, we are also in the process of doing a five or seven-year masterplan for every one of our properties.”

Continuous investment and growth will include projects like the new Christmas light festival at Silver Dollar City, or the Missouri park’s state of the art coaster, Time Traveler, which opens in 2018.

Globetrotting risk?
An acquisition that raised some eyebrows came in 2013, when Herschend bought the Harlem Globetrotters basketball franchise.

Founded in 1926, the exhibition basketball team combines athleticism, theatre and comedy. Since inception, the team has played more than 26,000 exhibition games in 122 countries and territories, and still prove to be a huge draw, with more than 450 live Globetrotters events worldwide each year.

“When we bought the Globetrotters, I think some people thought, ‘Hm, why did they do that?’” says Cooper.

“Was there a risk because it was a business we’d never done before? Certainly. But you’re buying the expertise of the management team, and you have to do the appropriate amount of due diligence to get comfortable with it.

Balance
The Herschend portfolio is vast and diverse, which according to Cooper is a positive thing for the company, ensuring revenue streams remain stable as different elements affect different businesses.

“If you think about our aquariums for example, when it rains they do really well,” says Cooper. “It’s not so great for our theme parks, but that kind of balance helps manage the risk of the portfolio.

“I think it also helps us look at things a little differently. We learn things from the aquariums that we’ve brought to Silver Dollar City and Dollywood. We’ve learned things from the theme park environment that helps us look at things a little differently in the aquariums. So, by and large, I think it’s a real positive to manage such a varied set of operations.”

Balance also comes through the different attractions’ ability to offer “something for everyone”. Following the Herschend Family Entertainment formula, each separate part of the portfolio is designed to appeal to everyone – “from aged two to aged 92”.

“Another big key to our success is that we really work with every demographic, and we’re very balanced in the products that we’re giving all of them,” says Cooper. “There’s always something for everyone, so our reach is very broad.”

“We’re seeing more multi-generational families in the mix. We welcome lots of family reunions at Dollywood, who stay at the hotel and partake in the experiences. We’re seeing, from a societal point of view, this need for families to find a place where they can connect in the right zone. That’s why we have something for everyone to do.”

Recipe for success
With Cooper achieving so much during her career, she says it boils down to just two pieces of advice, which if approached correctly, can offer anyone in the attractions sector the recipe for success.

“First off, you need to know your market, know your market and know your market. Or, better said, you really, really need to know who your customer is,” she says.

“The second thing you need is to have the right people on your team. You want the right kind of people on your bus. If you look at something that hasn’t worked, it usually goes back to one of those two things.

“When you’re dealing with millions of people, of course there are challenges. We all have peaks and valleys, times that were great and times that weren’t. But that’s the challenge when you have so many moving parts. I mean, I think this business, it’s not hard, but it’s very complex. You need to turn multiple knobs in multiple directions all at the same time to get to the sweet spot.”

TENNESSEE WILDFIRES

In November last year, the state of Tennessee was ravaged by a series of wildfires, which spread across the Gatlinburg area and forced an evacuation of Dollywood. Following the fires, the Dollywood Foundation, the charitable arm of Dolly Parton’s business empire, pledged $1,000 a month for six months to 900 families who had lost their homes. The My People Fund proved so successful that on the final month each family was given $5,000, totalling $10,000 per family over the six-month period. In total, the fund raised more than $11m, with $9m distributed directly through the fund. Funds left over were donated to Mountain Tough, which is another wildfire relief organisation.
WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY

Alongside her career at Herschend Family Entertainment, Jane Cooper has played a very active role in the industry. She has been involved in IAAPA throughout the years, where she currently chairs the IAAPA Foundation, the international attractions body’s charity enterprise. Cooper is one of only two women who has chaired the organisation in its 100-year history, holding the position in 2005.

“This industry is very time intensive,” she says. “I was lucky that my husband stayed at home when my children were young, which allowed me to travel and make the commitments required to do this job. The millennial generation is very focused on balance and quality of life, much more so than we were in the 1970s, so I do think the industry needs to figure out how to create a work environment that’s flexible and works for the individual as well as the company.
“When we talk about consumers, we always say that mom is the decision maker. How do we appeal to mom? When you look at some of these boardroom tables and there aren’t many moms there, that’s a little concerning. You want the people making the decisions to mirror who your guests are. We could always use more. But, I think we’re making a little progress.”

 


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