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Welcome to the Wisconsin Skydiving Center

Written by James La Barrie

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Originally printed in issue #64 (April 2015) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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Everyone wants to be excellent, but few are. Why?

In the small, quiet town of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin is a drop zone offering one of the best skydiving experiences in the world.

That’s not an exaggeration: I said world.

Operated by the husband-and-wife team of Bo Babovic and Alex Kolacio, the Wisconsin Skydiving Center does something few other drop zones or businesses are able to do: blow their customers away. Simply put, they create a connection that resonates. Students at WSC receive so much more than a service; they receive a life changing experience and as a result, they become loyal, repeat customers.

In full disclosure, Bo and Alex are clients of mine. I visited their DZ in the spring of 2014 to help them with their marketing efforts. After a two-day site visit I departed, amazed at the culture they had built.

Bo and Alex, Wisconsin Skydiving Center

Alex Kolacio and Bo Babovic, Wisconsin Skydiving Center owner/operators

This place was different; I recognized it from the moment I sat in on the first tandem-training class of the morning. I and the eight students in the room with me that morning quickly realized this was going to be an extraordinary day. Rather than the typical rote lecture, we were given a truly inspiring speech. These students weren’t just taught proper safety procedures, they were taught how to manage their fear—during their skydive and in everyday life. To take it even further, Bo asks the question, “WHY jump out of an airplane?” Why do we humans have a need to get out of our comfort zone and why crossing the line gives us such true joy for life.

Listening to Bo speak so passionately about skydiving gave me goose bumps. His passion for the sport was contagious. Within minutes he had developed a rapport of trust with everyone in the room and turned the act of jumping out of an airplane into a truly life-changing event. Everyone knew they were in for an experience of a lifetime.

Multi-million dollar corporations try to hone in on creating an experience their customers will remember—think Disney, Zappos, Apple or Enterprise. They know that in today’s market the key to business growth is customer loyalty. Adopt the Golden Rule by treating guests better than they expect to be treated (and better than the competition treats them) and your business will grow. Bo and Alex do this well.

From the outset they set a tone that tells the customer they’re in for a unique experience. On their website and in the hangar their core values are posted for the world to see. They read:

Our Core Values are at the heart of what we stand for as an organization and as people. The decisions we make are in line with what we believe. They are:

  1. Deliver an amazing experience.
  2. Treat each other with honesty and respect.
  3. Be passionate and determined.
  4. Continuously learn and grow.
  5. Enjoy the journey and have tons of fun.

Identifying and publishing core values has helped Bo and Alex in several ways. First, it holds them accountable; displaying these values for their guests to see challenges Bo and Alex to live up to them each day. Customers are able to evaluate in real time if their experience is in alignment with what is published. In addition, these values set a benchmark for what is expected of their staff each day. Finally, they are an indication to the customer that this organization is different.

Bo started skydiving in 1975 and has been teaching for more than 30 years. Before establishing AtmosphAir (the previous name of the Wisconsin Skydiving Center) in 1998, Bo had worked at DZs from Florida to Hawaii and many places in between. He’d seen it, done it and was fed up with it. The most valuable insight he gained during this time was a clear understanding of what he didn’t want his business to look like. Skydiving is the easiest part of running a drop zone. It’s the management of people and the ability to deliver a consistent service every day that’s the difficult part.

Nearly every DZ has seen a disgruntled instructor walk off vowing to start their own operation. It’s not long before they realize it’s not as easy as they thought. Where Bo and Alex have differed from so many others is in the way they safeguard their DZ’s culture. Having seen how one negative personality can destroy the happiness of an entire drop zone, Bo and Alex have been careful about whom they let into the operation. Understanding that the ultimate motivator is personal growth, Bo and Alex have encouraged and helped their staff members reach their skydiving goals, and as their employees have developed, so has their business. On top of all this, they incorporate their passion for skydiving and positive life philosophy into every interaction they have with WSC’s guests. In other words, these two people care … a lot.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that truly great marketing goes beyond slogans, logos, websites and social media campaigns. When used correctly, the marketing concepts discussed above deliver the message of who you are, which is different than what you sell. Knowing who you are as an organization and what’s important to you is different than knowing what you do. To put it simply, drop zones that focus on delivering an experience their guests will never forget are far different than operations that simply offer their customers a skydive.

When presenting, I often ask my audiences, “Do you want to be part of something excellent?” The response is always a resounding “YES.” Everyone wants to be excellent, but few are. Why? Because they’ve lost sight of the big picture. Please people. Affect people. Be positive. Resonate. Inspire. When these are the intentions that motivate your business, your guests win and you win.

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