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Wearables Business

Read this now, sell to waterparks later

Read this now, sell to waterparks later

jennifer I. Zebel

Dog-ear this page and save this article in a safe place until October. Why? Because, from Spring until Fall, the waterparks of America, our Target Market for this month, are jam-packed with visitors, and managers don’t have time to think, much less time to listen to a sales pitch.

Edward Gulbenkian, president of Gulbenkian Swim, Inc., (Pleasantville, N.Y) a promotional swimwear and leisurewear supplier, says timeliness is of utmost importance when calling on a waterpark manager, and anytime during the swim season is the wrong time. “It’s like calling on Santa Claus on Dec. 24th and asking him to talk about toy productions,” he says.

According to the World Waterpark Association (WWA), based in Lenexa, Kan., attendance at United States waterparks topped 61 million in 1998. The 19-year-old association, which has more than 1,400 park and supplier members worldwide, will hold its annual Waterpark Symposium & Trade Show in October in Santa Clara, Calif.

That’s the time to approach waterparks for sales. Anyone and everyone in the waterpark business attends, including people looking for promotional apparel to sell in pro shops or to outfit employees.

Becoming a Pro shop

At the right time of year, sales opportunities abound. According to Gulbenkian, some of the larger waterpark chains probably do close to $4 million in pro shop sales per year.

Ruth Davis, operations manager at Indiana Beach, located near Lake Shafer in Monticello, Ind., says name-brand goods are a part of her park’s pro shop offerings. The resort nature of Indiana Beach attracts visitors from various income levels, and contains, in addition to a waterpark, a “steel” park with rides, restaurants, motels, camping facilities, and more. For the pro shops, Davis says “We order a wide range of items in a range of prices. I sell name-brand goods, shirts and shorts and logoed T-shirts. Basically I look for something that is going to give me good quality at a average price and a popular design.”

As far as pro shops go, Edward Gulbenkian believes that most waterparks just aren’t doing it right. “The mistake that a lot of waterparks make is they are trying to be a little Bloomingdales,” he says.

He explains that the pro shops are carrying impractical apparel, like skimpy or trendy two-piece suits for women. “The average age of a person at a waterpark is between 6 and 22 years old, and they need functional suits, because they need to hold up while going down a slide or tube,” he says.

Dive into a staff uniforms

Pro shops do exist in some waterparks, but the deep end of the market is every park’s need to outfit its employees in uniforms. Those employees include everyone from the park managers to the cabana boys, but, according to Gulbenkian, lifeguards are the most visable employees. Life-guard suits should stand out from the crowd, and Gulbenkian recommends orange, not traditional red, because “go to any pool, and you’ll see a lot of people in red, but no one in orange.”

The 26-30 lifeguards at Indiana Beach are supplied one logoed suit that they are allowed to select from a catalog or product line, within limits, says Davis. “For example, it has to be a one-piece for the girls,” she says.

Davis takes the quality of the swimsuits into consideration as well. “I think that you have to be careful in the fabric,” she says. “Definitely if it is Lycra or Spandex, you want good quality stitching. That’s where the brand names like Speedo and Nike come in.”

Fading is another issue, Davis notes. “You don’t want a lifeguard to get in the water and red dye starts coming off into the water,” she explains.

Another concern waterpark employees have is sun protection. Indiana Beach provides its employees with a uniform top and sun visor, because skin cancer risks from too much sun have to be taken into consideration, as well as dehydration, Davis says. “Sometimes they (lifeguards) don’t realize how fast dehydration can happen,” she adds.

The variety of specialized promotional apparel products that can be used in waterparks is surprising, and reaches far beyond traditional swimsuits for male and female lifeguards. One example is the popular cargo shorts for men, which are just like retail-style cargo shorts but they have a swimsuit liner.

Philadelphia-based supplier Frank Sussman Co. offers swim trunks and “board shorts” for juvenile sizes up to men’s s size 3XL made from slight sateen, a popular and cost-effective fabric, and microfiber, which has been in extremely high demand, according to marketing and advertising manager Randi Schwartz.

“The interesting aspect about board shorts is that they go from the street to the beach and from the beach to the street,” she explains. “The good thing for waterparks is people (wearing board shorts) go down for the day and they don’t have to change clothes.”

Other uniform apparel includes windbreakers, pants, T-shirts, gear bags, fanny packs, hats, polo shirts, and lanyards. Edward Gulbenkian notes that bucket hats are popular again this year, and breakaway lanyards are a must-have. The breakaway lanyards are one of the most important items recently introduced by Gulbenkian Swim. “If a victim is drowning and reaches for the lanyard, it breaks away and prevents the lifeguard from getting choked,” he describes.

Water polos

Karen Russell, human resources manager at Seven Peaks Water Park in Provo, Utah, a park with average attendance of around 3,000 per day, chooses the uniforms for her staff of about 165 employees.

The swim suits for this year are supplied by a Speedo distributor, but regular employees wear khaki shorts and supplied polo shirts. Seven Peaks requires its employees to purchase their own uniforms and does not use logoed apparel.

“We just go with a plain polo with no decoration because, as far as I know, there are rules about asking employees to purchase uniforms with company logos,” Russell explains. “We let them wear their own shirts if they have the right color.”

The employees do wear nametags, which are clipped onto the shirt placket, while lifeguards wear nametags on breakaway lanyards. Even without a logo, park employees can be easily identified by the colors of their shirts, which vary year to year, Russell says.

Smaller park, smaller order

Built in 1985, Water Works Park in Redding, Calif., is managed by Shawn Patterson. The nine-acre waterpark entertains a 50/50 mix of tourists and locals numbering around 1,000 on a good day.

Patterson says his employees are given two logoed T-shirts and are asked to provide their own swimwear. The T-shirts are ordered from a local decorator and the cost is defrayed in cooperation with a national advertising fund through Pepsi-Cola. The shirts have the Pepsi logo on the sleeve and the park logo in script on the front.

The T-shirts are from Hanes, “But we don’t really choose them,” Patterson says. “The ones we get usually end up being Hanes, but it’s because they are the cheapest. Cost is definitely the most important factor.”

Patterson remarks that the reason employees are asked to provide their own swim suits is the obvious — “It’s cheaper’ he says. The T-shirts are worn over swimsuits for men and women, while the men are asked to wear their own blue nylon shorts or swim trunks.

Durability is another issue, Patterson says. “We typically issue two shirts to an employee, and we never expect to get them back at the end of the season,” he admits. “We used to have blue shirts, but we were noticing that they were pretty faded by the end of the year due to sun and chlorine, so we had to go with white.”

Jon Zebel is Assistant Editor of Wearables Business.

‘The poo stays with you’

If there existed a list of the world’s catchiest product mottos, surely the original motto for the Amazing Swim Diaper — “The poo stays with you” — would be one of them. Here’s the story of the potty-proof swimwear by Edward Gulbenkian:

About seven years ago, I invented a product coiled the Amazing Swim Diaper. it was right around the time when the American Red Cross and a lot of other organizations found that the second leading cause of accidental death of children under five years old was drowning.

People started reaching babies to swim, but they soon learned that babies have special needs. First, their ears — they are more susceptible to ear infections. Second, their swimwear — you would put a miniature-sized pair of swim trunks on a baby, and once in the water the trunks weighed more than the baby. Finally, babies aren’t potty trained.

Everybody was missing the boat, so I invented this product that fits the babies and prevents accidents in the pool. Until the people in my marketing department put an end to it, my motto for the product was “The poo stays with you.” Then, last year the front page of one of the July editions of USA Today had an article about the E. coli bacteria. [*]

After that, the swim diapers became extremely popular. We even sell to one waterpark that gives them away, and now you can print across the bottom of the diaper. What we have done is made it logo merchandise with a purpose.

(*.) E. coli is a bacteria that is primarily spread through undercooked meat, and, once ingested, can be passed on to other people who come in contact with the infected person’s fecal matter. The bacteria can lead to severe illness or even death.

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