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Want Great Marketing? Start with Culture.

Written by James La Barrie

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Originally printed in issue #63 (March 2015) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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Management must treat employees the same way they expect employees to treat guests.

As mentioned in last month’s article [“Killing The Competition, La Barrie Style“], I’m spending my winter working remotely from Antigua. I’m six weeks in with six weeks to go, and so far it’s been great escaping the severe winter weather. Yes, I am fully aware of just how lucky I am.

This morning, I was scheduled to make an early hotel pickup for some guests who would be kayaking with Antigua Paddles (my parents’ business) on the morning tour. It was dusk when I walked to the car and was surprised to see my mother in the driveway with a bucket of soapy water, a scrub brush, a sponge and even a toothbrush washing the vehicle while still in her pajamas. I asked, “Mum, what are you doing up this early?” Her response: “You only have one chance to make a first impression.”

Now in its 13th year, Antigua Paddles is labeled as Antigua’s “Must-Do Tour” by every major cruise line that visits the country. The reputation my parents have built for their business is in large part due to this sort of meticulous attention to detail. However, the core of my parents’ success lies in the quality of the staff they have hired through the years. Each staff member shares my parents’ core values; they have all been trained to complete even the most mundane tasks with care and attention. My parents treat their staff with respect, and in turn the staff treats each guest with the same respect. As a result, my parents have succeeded in steadily growing their business without spending a dime on traditional advertising—their happy customers do the advertising for them, for free!

Which brings us to an important point: Great marketing is so much more than advertising. Great marketing establishes a connection that resonates with people; it makes them feel important, as if they are a part of something. Making people feel important means showing them the little details that improve their experience matter to you and your staff. The tipping point for most DZs, especially ones that start small and begin to grow, is the people they hire and place on the front lines to interact with guests. Every DZM and DZO recognizes the importance of hiring quality team members but many continue to suffer from a serious blind spot when it comes to company culture: Management must treat employees the same way they expect employees to treat guests.

The best companies are the ones that focus on developing the culture of their organization, and there’s no reason why the skydiving industry should be precluded from this rule. Our industry takes a toll on staff both emotionally and physically. While an instructor’s body takes a constant beating, his or her mind is also constantly fatigued from interacting with a melting pot of personalities, the stress of long hours and the instability of a paycheck dependent on weather conditions.

If a sufficient amount of energy isn’t focused on developing a positive company culture, the result will likely be high turnover, disgruntled, unfulfilled employees, and drama. Sound familiar?

Let’s look at one example of a company whose commitment to culture has ensured its success. Four Seasons Hotels has established itself as the standard for service excellence in an industry with massive, worldwide competition. The company has been a pillar because it regards its own people as its most important asset as opposed to its largest expense on the balance sheet. The aim of Four Seasons’ management is to empower and serve employees so they may serve guests with the utmost of care and attention to detail.

The founder of Four Seasons, Isadore Sharp, looked to hire managers who understood the difference between a leader and a boss, a communicator and a commander, a coach and a cop. With a management structure composed of “servant leaders,” the hotel chain extensively hires the best people, not in terms of skill, but rather personality. Anyone with a positive attitude and personality can be taught. When Four Seasons opened up their Chicago location, they screened more than 15,000 applicants for only 500 positions. Of the prospects picked, each individual was interviewed four to five times, and the final interview was conducted by the general manager himself. Though this is extreme, it’s why Four Seasons is the absolute best in a crowded industry.

What are the qualifications we seek when hiring front-line and instructional staff? Are we creating a culture that nurtures, empowers and allows for communication from the bottom up as well as the top down?

The argument that skydiving staff is limited does not hold water, and only serves as an excuse not to set the highest standards. A DZ that pushes service excellence for its staff and guests will not endure staffing problems for long because it will stand out for its uniqueness in an industry that too often puts ratings ahead of personality, and sees staff as a warm body that’s good at safely tossing drogues.

I’ve walked onto many DZs that immediately feel unwelcoming, and I don’t blame the staff for it. If management doesn’t identify the values that are important to them (if they have values at all) and subsequently fail to hire, train and communicate based on these values, then the full potential for great marketing and a great culture will not be realized. The result will be an overwhelmingly negative energy and atmosphere.

Owning a DZ is a high-stakes game that involves financial investment in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. Creating customer loyalty to an extent that people will recommend your facility is essential to your marketing plan if you desire steady growth. A DZ’s brand and how it will be viewed in the marketplace on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google Reviews will depend on the happiness of employees who project that happiness to guests.

Whenever our hangar doors slide open, we are being evaluated under the watchful eyes of our guests. We are literally putting on a show. We’re only as good as our last skydive and only as strong as our weakest link. The organizations that place culture first, allowing for great service and customer connection, will gain a competitive advantage resulting in more profit every time.

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