Some personal insights from our CEO, Joe Hession on this year’s NSAA National Tradeshow and Convention…
I would like to congratulate the NSAA on the highest attended national show since 2008! We are lucky to have such an awesome industry association full of great people with strong leadership from President Kelly Pawlak. I know I personally learned so much from the panels, my peers, suppliers and the opening keynote from Daniel Burrus. Each year I leave NSAA National inspired and fired up for the season to come.
I am also honored to have had the opportunity to share the stage on the CEO Panel moderated by Win Smith (Sugarbush President/CEO and NSAA Chairman) with some of our industry’s most accomplished leaders: Pat Campbell (Vail Resorts), Rusty Gregory (Alterra) and Wade Martin (Powdr Resorts). It truly was an honor to be part of this conversation. I wanted to follow up on a few points if you weren’t in attendance – here are some key takeaways.
Q: Why am I excited to be back on the east coast with the addition of Mountain Creek and Big SNOW (North America’s first Indoor center) to SNOW Operating’s portfolio?
SNOW Operating has always been focused on growing the sport – it’s literally the reason we are in business. In 2012, we introduced the SNOW Conversion and Growth program (TBL) and we currently work with over 50 of the industry’s greatest brands on new, innovative ways of designing the guest experience. As an industry, we tend to focus on the 3% of the US population who ski or snowboard; being back in the NY/NJ area gives us an opportunity to go all in on the remaining 97%. One of our goals at SNOW Operating is to increase trial participation in the US by 20% in the coming 3 years – we feel Mountain Creek and Big SNOW are a big part of us reaching this goal.
Q: From an operating standpoint, where are you most focused and why?
We have two main areas of focus at SNOW Operating. First, creating a business culture that is ready for constant transformation and the ability to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing market. Second, we have gone all in on technology. Over the last season, we have made some hard decisions and have “let go of a few vines” and grabbed onto a new vine, SnowCloud™, to handle our eCommerce, POS, waivers, lift access and CRM. This hasn’t been an easy endeavor, but we have proven to have a massive impact on the guest experience by offering a near friction-free experience.
This season, even on the busiest days with nearly 10,000 visits, we didn’t have ticketing lines at Mountain Creek (SnowCloud testing site) being you can go direct to lift after buying tickets, rentals, lessons and coming next season your hotel room, all in advance using your phone.
We don’t consider SnowCloud a “software product” but rather a technology company as we are creating a system that is flexible and can adapt to the changing market.
It’s clear our industry has a technology deficiency, but as Daniel Burrus has taught us, this is a “Soft Trend.” This deficiency also gives us an opportunity to adapt and create new systems that put us far ahead of all other resort and experience businesses.
A word of caution though: more so than any other area in our business, resort operators should also proceed with caution when adapting new technology. Without well thought-out plans, it’s easy to wind up in regretful situations. I like this example: if you had a snowmaking or grooming deficiency, went to the tradeshow and spent $1M – you would be better off, and it would help fix your issues. However, if you went to the tradeshow and spent $1M on new technology, you might find yourself with bigger issues than where you started. Technology is a complex issue to tackle and if you don’t have a clear Tech Master Plan, you might find yourself painted in the corner with inflexible systems that will need to be replaced as soon as they are implemented.
I really liked Daniel Burrus point recommendation to “hire a kid” – we are lucky at SNOW Operating to have a good mix of seasoned pros and a solid mix of young professionals that keep us connected to our changing world. In fact, our average team age is lower than both Google (30) and Facebook (28). Listening to our younger team members and guests has truly helped us to understand our business. As mentioned during the panel, I have learned a few things as well. Just because someone has used technology their whole life doesn’t make them an expert on how to develop technology. I used the analogy: “If someone started skiing when there were 3 and rode a lift for 20 years, would you hire them to be a lift mechanic when they turned 23?” Hopefully you wouldn’t, unless they had some lift maintenance experience other than just riding the lift. The point being, make sure you hire the right kids. There are many amazing young entrepreneurs out there that will promise you the world and make everything sound easy – just be sure to check references and previous project history. And also remember – nothing about technology is ever easy. I have been burned in this area in the past, but it was a valuable learning experience and ultimately made us better for it.
Q: If you had one piece of advice for a new GM who wanted to eventually be part of the CEO panel, what would it be?
We spoke a lot on this panel about technology, but technology is only a way for humans to interact and connect better. I would give this advice: your peers, team members, resort guests and suppliers are connections that, if fostered correctly, will bring you success but more importantly, happiness. We are in the business of humans, and the better we are at making lasting connections, the more effective we will be at enhancing our lives – isn’t that the end game?
I would like to once again thank the NSAA for such a great end to this winter season and the inspiration to take it to the next level next year.
I look forward to seeing you soon,
CEO, SNOW Operating
Photo: Courtesy of Dave Gibson, Propeller Media