August 10, 2015

Latest attraction continues Lake Compounce’s market-share push

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed

VIEW: Watch Lake Compounce's Phobia Phear promo video

PHOTO | Pablo Robles
Rendering | Contributed
An artistís rendering of the Phobia coaster, which boasts three launches as it sends riders around a loop.
PHOTO | Contributed
This yearís new ride Frantic has quickly become the second-most popular attraction at Quassy Amusement Park.

When Jerry Brick started working for Bristol amusement park Lake Compounce in 1996, a busy day attracted 10,000 guests. This year, daily peak attendance will top 15,000.

That 50-percent growth over Brick's 19 years at the park has largely come on the back of Lake Compounce's aggressive capital investments underscoring the amusement park's strategy to woo patrons from a wider geographic footprint by adding new rides, experiences and amenities.

"Any business, you want to add more revenue every year," said Brick, who took over as Lake Compounce general manager in 2004. "For us, attendance means more spending … so every year, we add more and more and more attractions."

Lake Compounce's latest effort is the roller coaster Phobia, which will launch riders three times before sending them around a twisting loop when it opens in 2016. The ride, announced in July, will be Lake Compounce's fourth roller coaster and its first since 2000. Phobia is the first triple-launch coaster in the Northeast and the fourth worldwide.

"In the regional park business where nearly all guests come from a 200-mile radius, having that new ride like Phobia really drives the business," said David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).

To stay ahead of the competition, Lake Compounce seeks to add a new major attraction or amenity every year or every other year, Brick said. The Phobia coaster is the third major addition in five years that seeks to expand the types of visitors that come to the park and how much they spend.

Last year, the park added a campground that includes cabins and sites for tents and RVs, which represented the first overnight accommodations at Lake Compounce. In 2011, the park completed realignment of the main road outside its sprawling Bristol/Southington footprint, enabling the expansion of its waterpark, Crocodile Cove.

Those three major investments came after Lake Compounce invested more than $40 million in new facilities in the 12 years leading up to the waterpark expansion, according to the park's parent company, California-based Palace Entertainment, which purchased the theme park in 2008.

The addition of the new campground — called Beer Creek Campground — was particularly important to the park's bottom line because it enabled visitors to have multi-day stays, Brick said. Visitors that stay more than one day spend more per capita.

"The campground was an entirely new business created from scratch," Brick said. "[Campground visitors], for the most part, are out-of-staters that are coming here."

Overnight accommodations have become increasingly important in the regional theme park business, said Mandt, because they allow parks to keep visitors on site longer.

"It allows the guests to extend their time at the park, which increases their spending," Mandt said.

Industry health

The North American theme park industry suffered some losses during the Great Recession but still grew its revenue 4.8 percent annually from 2008 to 2013 as attendance and spending per capita increased, according to IAAPA. Over the next five years, revenue is expected to grow another 7.6 percent.

Regional theme parks like Lake Compounce didn't do quite as well; most of the industry's growth was driven by destination parks like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. Still, regional parks had 2.9 percent annual revenue growth from 2008-2013 and are expected to have 5.7 percent annual growth through 2018.

Lake Compounce doesn't disclose its revenue or annual attendance figures, but Brick said the biggest portion of a visitor's spending is the price of admission, which is $40.99 for adults and $30.99 for children.

So, on a busy day during its 130-day season, Lake Compounce generates about $540,000 in revenue before visitors spend anything on concessions or merchandise.

The park isn't without its challenges, though, Brick said. The cost of labor, energy and ride maintenance can all cause expenses to jump, and the company always operates under the threat of bad weather, which can slow attendance.

Connecticut's plans to raise its minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by January 2017 will increase the park's cost of labor, since the 1,300-1,400 seasonal employees work part-time hours at or near minimum wage.

Assessing competition

Competing for Lake Compounce's business are regional parks Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury and Six Flags New England in Agawam, Mass., which draw from the same Northeast and Canadian markets.

Quassy set a record last year for revenue and could top that figure this year, depending on the weather, said Ron Gustafson, spokesman for Quassy, who declined to give specific figures.

Quassy seeks to differentiate itself from Lake Compounce and Six Flags by being more family-friendly, doing so by not charging a general admission so parents and grandparents don't have to pay to come along with their children. Quassy also seeks to add new attractions every other year to keep up with the market — including a popular new thrill ride this year called Frantic — but that depends on finances, Gustafson said.

"We fill a niche market," Gustafson said. "It is an interesting business, and we are pretty happy with the way things are going."

Six Flags declined to comment for this article.

"This is a good area for parks," said Brick, noting the size of the Northeast population and the expendable cash people have for attractions. "We all know each other, but at the end of the day, we try to do something different to stand out."

That was the main impetus for the expansion of Lake Compounce's waterpark. Although Crocodile Cove was created in 1998, it was limited in size because Lake Avenue bisected Lake Compounce's property. With the realignment of Lake Avenue, Crocodile Cove had significantly more room for waterslides, a wave pool and other aquatic amenities.

"The waterpark has been a pretty good investment," Brick said. "For a couple of years, we added something new every year to the waterpark because it was so small."

Lake Compounce, Brick said, is broken down into four different areas: the waterpark, campground, thrill rides and kids' rides. With the waterpark now caught up to the rest of the attractions, Lake Compounce is going to rotate new amenities to each area of the park each year, he said.

While new amenities mean more attendance, they also create the need for ancillary growth at the park, Brick said. When Crocodile Cove expanded, the park had to add more lockers. As attendance has increased, so has the need for more bathrooms and concessions.

"For the last few years, we have done a lot around the park," Brick said. "Every year, we try to expand our market."

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