In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Dominic Wray, Parks Director at Vectis Ventures.
“Celebrate personal wins for the team and then let them be stars in that moment. I think when someone in the team does something really well and they’ve achieved something, it’s really important to broadcast that to everyone, let everyone know about that and let them shine in that moment.”
After 7 years of running Blackgang Chine as the Park Manager, he stepped into his role as Parks Director to play a vital position in the planning and execution of the longer term business strategy. Having been in this role for around 15 months, he has led on some big changes and transformations within the business, as well as navigating what has been a challenging year for the leisure industry as a whole.
Dominic attributes much of his success, and enjoyment of his career to the people in it. Sitting on the Management Committee for BALPPA, he is a huge advocate for industry networking and enabling peer to peer learning opportunities. He then uses this platform as a way to the develop the team that he is so passionate about, allowing them to flourish into the industry known experts of their fields.
What will you learn from this podcast?
- Blackgang Chine, the 180 year old attraction
- Developing superstar people
- Top tips on transforming processes
- The importance of sector focused organisations
- Whether Mark (Oops, I mean Dom) will ever return to TOWIE 😉
You can also read the full transcript below.
Your host, Kelly Molson
Our guest, Dominic Wray
Kelly Molson: Welcome to the podcast, Dominic. It’s great to have you on today.
Dominic Wray: Thanks for having me. Looking forward to it.
Kelly Molson: Everyone says that at the start, and then I give them icebreaker questions, and they hate me. But this is how the podcast always starts, so you have to do them. Right. If you could enter the Olympics for anything, what would you be Olympic level at? And we’re not talking it doesn’t have to be sports here. It could be like baking or Olympic level complainer. Anything goes. What’s your Olympic level at?
Dominic Wray: I think I would actually answer the sports based question answered that. I always, when I was growing up, wanted to play in the NBA. Basketball was a big passion of mine. So I’d say I’d want to enter the Olympics as a basketball player.
Kelly Molson: Okay. And do you play now? Is this something that you are actually good at?
Dominic Wray: Not so much now, no. I don’t want to use the old adage if I got injured, but I did.
Kelly Molson: Oh, no.
Dominic Wray: We’ll never know if I could have made it or not.
Kelly Molson: Good one. Have you ever been mistaken for someone famous?
Dominic Wray: Yeah, actually, yes, twice. Someone once said to me I look like Joel Dormot. I think he’s a comedian. And some of the team seemed to think I look like Mark Wright.
Kelly Molson: I know this one. So I saw the picture that Laura Baxter posted of your LinkedIn. I have to say, I did a second look, Mark.
Dominic Wray: Yeah. I mean, I’ll take it. I think Mark Wright’s the right looking chap, so could be worse, I suppose.
Kelly Molson: Okay. All right. A final one. What one thing would you make a law that isn’t already? I’ve got a good one for this. So if I could be in charge of laws, I would make it a law that nobody could just stop in the middle of the pavement and look at their mobile phone, or walk upstairs with their mobile staring at their mobile phone, not actually looking where they’re going, because it just makes me want to swipe people’s legs away. Because they just stop in front of you or they walk really slowly up the stairs. That would be one of mine.
Dominic Wray: I’d go with, everyone needs to learn how to go through security at an airport. There’s nothing more frustrating when you get there and the person in front of you isn’t aware of how to go through and then there’s a bit that delays the queues.
Kelly Molson: Good one. That’s a really good one. They get quite shouty, the security people now, don’t they? When you’re queuing up like, they’re shouting at you about your liquids and your jackets and you take your belts off, and I’m like, “If I take my belt off, my trousers are going to fall down. I’m not even halfway there yet.” I like that one. Okay, what’s your unpopular opinion?
Dominic Wray: My unpopular opinion is that motorists ruined the road for cyclists. Which I’m sure will be incredibly controversial. Yeah, that’s my unpopular opinion.
Kelly Molson: This is going to be a controversial one and I really want to know what you think about this one, listeners. Yeah, I don’t agree with you, but you are a hardcore cyclist. I’m going op guess.
Dominic Wray: I do pay my road tax, drive a car myself, but yeah, someone that very much enjoys road cycling. Yeah, that is definitely my viewpoint on other motorists.
Kelly Molson: I think there needs to be made room for both on the roads. There’s not sufficient cycle lanes in areas where there should be sufficient cycle lanes. Although I live just outside Cambridge and Cambridge is pretty good for cyclists. If this was me, I would ban cyclists from cycling through the city centre of Cambridge, because the amount of times I’ve nearly been run over by cyclists in the city centre is quite a lot.
Dominic Wray: I will say. Not every cyclist is respectful of most receivers. It is a two way street, quite literally. Do you understand that?
Kelly Molson: I like this. Right, okay, listeners, what do you think about the unpopular opinion? I feel like I’ve just got myself in hot water with all my Cambridge cycling friends as well.
Dominic Wray: They’re all going to be kicking off.
Kelly Molson: We’re all in trouble. We’re in trouble together, Dom. It’s fine. Right, tell us a little bit about your background, because you have come into attractions not from an attractions background, and I always find this quite fascinating, how people end up within the sector. You’ve come from banking, right?
Dominic Wray: Yes, yes. I started off my career when I left school selling houses, and then I moved into banking after that. I used to work for Lloyds Bank and one of my clients was our current HR director here, lady called Paula, and I used to see her every year. She’d come in, talk about this great place that she worked and all these fun projects she was working on and how magical it was. And I remember sort of sat there thinking, “Gosh, your job sounds really interesting and you’re working on these varied projects and you’re getting to experience loads of cool things.” She was talking to me about fireworks events and dinosaurs and cowboys and pirates. I was thinking, “I’m saya, talking about savings accounts and loans and boring stuff that comes to banking.”
And then one day I saw an advert in our local paper on the island for a Park Manager role for Blackgang Chine. Which is the park that Paula worked at, and I read through it and I thought, “Okay, yeah, I can do this. It sounds like I’ve got the skill set to do this.” Not really knowing anything about running a visitor attraction at all. So off I went to the interview, got my job and I thought, “Oh, great, yeah, if I can sell houses and I can run a bank, the only I could run a visitor attraction.” It’s just taking those skills and applying them across into a different sector.
Eight or nine years later, still here now and lot of a big learning curve along the way, but yeah, not a traditional route into it, but Blackgang on the island is a very iconic visitor attraction. All the children on the island have been there, had very fond memories of coming here as a child and I just thought, “Wow, what an opportunity to wake up every day and go to work in a fun”, magical place that’s the complete opposite from the confines of a bank. So I thought, “Yeah, I’m going to back myself and go for it and do it.”
Kelly Molson: How weird is that? Knowing that you went there as a child as well and now you actually run the place. That’s massive, isn’t it?
Dominic Wray: Yeah, when I’m walking around, there’s lots of areas of the park that are still the same and happened for many years and they carry great sentiments or walking through certain areas and they hear certain sounds or certain smells in the park and it takes you back to being a kid every day. So it’s quite a magical place to work.
Kelly Molson: That’s really sweet. And so what was that transition like? Because I’ve just got this vision of you kind of like rocking up on the first day and going, “Where do I start?”.
Dominic Wray: Yeah. So on day one when I arrived, the gentleman who was doing the role beforehand had left. So I had a laptop set of keys and they sort, “Off you go.. And I was like, “OK, I’ve got to have to work this out”, which I did. I was lucky enough to go to IAAPA in Orlando and I went on a week long training course, management course there around Park Management of Visitor Attractions, which I think was really interesting, really useful, gave me a great insight into the attraction space. And then I’ve worked through that by learning about the various different departments and functionalities of the business along the way. But it was a big change for me to go from working for a large corporate company to moving to a family owned company.
Blackgang Chine has been owned by the same family for 180 years, which is the Dabell family. So it was a big shift for me from having multiple layers of people and it taking weeks to get a decision to just having to go and speak to one person as long as they say, “Yes”, you’re on your way. So it’s enjoyable working for a much more dynamic organization where you can pivot more quickly. And that was sort of one of the surprising things, having come from a bigger company, how quickly things can move and change. But I think that’s a real positive fallout.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, definitely. I love that you did like a crash course, you did like your crash course, your driver’s course, you didn’t do those week intensive course, you did your weeks intensive course of being a park manager and that was it into the job. So what does your role cover then? Because I know you operate across two parks at the moment, so you’ve got Blackgang Chine, you’ve got Robin Hill. What does that look like for you in terms of your role?
Dominic Wray: So my role sees me overseeing the parks and the strategic position. So I look after the business of the group as a whole. I was previously the park manager of Blackgang and then over the last twelve months transitioned to a new role, Parks Director, which sees me overseeing the group from more of a strategic position. So everything from opening calendars, pricing strategy, events that we’re running, health and safety, you name it, all falls under my room within the business.
Kelly Molson: I love that. I guess all of those things must have been the steep learning curve from banking where you clearly are very senior role, but probably not juggling quite so much in a day.
Dominic Wray: Yeah, I liken it to running lots of micro businesses. We’ve got a retail business, food and beverage business and events business, health and safety compliance element of the business. So yeah, lots of micro businesses within the big business as a whole really. But yeah, the regulation from banking around strict processes and procedures does translate quite nicely into business and also into health for safety as well.
Kelly Molson: Yeah. And there’s some of the things we’re going to talk about today. So we’ve got three topics to cover which I’m really interested in. We’ve got processes and systems, we’ve got peer learning that we’re going to talk about and then we’re going to talk about people and team development. So what you just said there about what you’ve brought, that’s one of the things that I’m really interested in terms of the processes and systems because you’ve been through quite a transformative process in your organisation with kind of people and process actually. What have you been able to bring from banking into the attractions world that’s kind of helped you with those processes and systems?
Dominic Wray: I would say I learned a lot from working in a bank. One of the things was how not to do things, I’d say. In terms of life in a bank is very black and white. It’s almost sort of a computer says no culture. And that really taught me that actually in real business you’ve got to operate a bit more in the gray. And it’s much more around how can we actually make things happen and how can we do things rather than actually that’s not possible. So I always say to feeling, great, well, how are we going to work around that? How are we going to make that possible? So, since I’ve joined the business, we’ve gone through quite a large transformation.
It was fair to say that when I joined, the business was very much running in a sort of historic, family orientated way of we’ve always done it that way. That was a phrase I heard quite a lot when I first started this. I know we’ve done it like that because we’ve always done it that way. There’s sort of a lot of, “Okay, explain to me why we’ve done it that way and what’s the approach to that?”. And then over the years, we’ve moved into using far more digital systems. So I’m big on making sure the team can see at the various levels of the organisation, the bigger picture. And I think that then helps them understand exactly what’s going on in the business as a whole. And I think that through digital optimisation of systems and processes, that really helps them do that.
So, for example, on the ride side of the fence, we bought in Mobaro, which is quite a well known safety system for our daily inspections. And that just gives far better visibility right the way from the ride operator, the person checking the rides, to the duty manager, all the way up to our owner if he wants to go in on a day and see what’s gone on at 10:00 before the site opens. So it’s really been around pivoting the organisation into becoming early adopters of technology and systems and processes.
We’ve also recently joined the LEAP scheme, which was quite a big jump for our industry to move away from a historical scheme that had been in place for a number of years. And were some of the first, well, one of the first parks to join that scheme.
Kelly Molson: For our listeners, what is the LEAP scheme? What does that mean?
Dominic Wray: So we have our rides basically inspected by an independent inspection body. And LEAP is the scheme that then oversees and checks off the regulation of that inspection body in a sort of basic format. But it had historically been done by a different organisation and LEAP have come into the marketplace. And taken a different approach to how that is done, which gives far more transparency to the operators and also the customers that are coming into sites to visit as well.
But it was quite a big thing for us to say, “Okay, we’re going to move away from that historic way of doing it into a newer way of doing things.”. But I think as a company, because we can make decisions quite quickly, we don’t have a big gain of sign off to go through as a team. We can move quite quickly on things such as that as well.
Kelly Molson: I really like that kind of transparent approach that you talked about because it feels like that would help with kind of unifying the kind of organisational culture as well because people have a bit more visibility about what’s going on behind the scenes, so to speak.
Dominic Wray: Yeah. And I think giving people the most amount of information you can give them within their job role and position within the organisation, that level of transparency just allows them to do their job better. Because if they understand what the key metrics that they’re working towards and how they’re performing and actually how decisions they make on a day to day basis impact the bigger picture of how the attraction performs over a 12, 24 month ongoing period, that makes them feel much more empowered. Because then they can see, actually, I’ve made this change over here, and that made an impact onto the bottom line over here.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. It gives people that sense of ownership about what they’re doing as well, doesn’t it?
Dominic Wray: Definitely.
Kelly Molson: So what do you think have been the biggest transformations that you’ve been able to make over that period?
Dominic Wray: I would say collaborative working. The organisation used to very much be I look after food and beverage, I look after retail, I look after operations and we don’t talk to each other. That’s my lane.
Kelly Molson: So those little micro companies just kind of like they worked in their little silos and didn’t really talk.
Dominic Wray: Yeah, exactly. Whereas what we’ve done across a number of years is change the structure of the way the parks run on a day to day basis. So each of the heads of those departments do take turns of doing duty management shifts. So that gives them the opportunity to experience the park as a complete 360, interact with different departments, understand how other departments work and function. Most importantly, that gets them in front of customers in different areas of the business as well, then that helps them understand, okay, in retail or operations, we’re allowing people into the park in this way. If we do this is a domino effect that then actually knocks onto something that could happen in food and beverage later on.
So I think again, that goes back to giving them that bigger picture of what’s going on in the company and for them to think that actually we are all one team and what someone does in one department does have a knock on effect and impact onto other departments as well. And I think that’s really taken place by opening the business up a lot more. Historically, were quite closed off as an organisation, and I’ve been very big on getting the staff out, seeing other attractions, going, speaking to other people in other attractions, finding out how things work in other parks, other businesses.
And I think that’s really then enabled us to open up a lot more and we’ve done that also through being members of BALPPA as well, which has been quite a key point of being able us to open up the business a lot more and experience the team, to experience things outside the company as well.
Kelly Molson: Yeah. So peer learning is one of the things that I’d love to explore a bit more, because I think just going back to what you said about those organisational visits, you’ve got a few team members that are really active on LinkedIn, so I see a lot of the things that you do as an organisation, and it’s really impressive. So you do strategic team visits to other attractions to look at how they’re operating, how their attractions are running, what events. You even go to some of their events and see how they’ve been put on. And that comes back to this whole thing about the sector being really supportive and collaborative with each other, because that never used to happen in my world. In agency world, we are far more open now than we ever were.
But I couldn’t imagine ten years ago me rocking up to someone else’s agency and going, “Could I just sit in on your team while you work through this project and see how your project management process works?”. Piss off. I would be able to do that to a number of agencies that I know there. They’d be really happy to share, but it feels like it’s kind of always been that way in the sector for attractions. Is that the case?
Dominic Wray: Yeah, 100%. I mean, that was one of the biggest things that shocked me coming into a new career, was actually you can go and ask people for help and ask them how they do things and they’re more than willing to share the challenges and issues that they have, but also sharing the solutions to those problems as well. I mean, when I worked at Lloyds, I can’t imagine ever walking over the road to Natwest and going, “Hi, can you explain to me how you do this?”. They’d say, “Bugger of.”
Kelly Molson: You all will have exactly the same problem. So working together to solve that problem surely helps the greater good, rather than.
Dominic Wray: Everyone has the same problems. They just have it on varying scales of economy, so we might have it on this scale. You go to a bigger park, they’ve got the same problem, just magnified by ten.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. But you mentioned BALPPA, which I know is an incredible organisation that you’re members of. How has being kind of a member of that organisation what’s it brought to the attraction and to yourself?
Dominic Wray: I think it’s really been transformational for the attraction, myself and the team. I think having an organisation that these business and individuals completely immerse themselves in from a learning standpoint is so valuable to me. I think it’s almost like a black book. It is a black book of other attractions that you can gain access to for their knowledge, experience, processes and procedures. And as someone that came into the industry having not worked in it previous to that, I found the organisation so valuable in terms of my own personal learning and the learning of the site as well. So as an attraction, we’ve massively benefited from being members of BALPPA. We hosted the summer conference this year, which was a big deal for us.
So everyone BALPPA came to the island and they spent a day at Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill, and we hosted a gala evening dinner at Robin Hill, which was fantastic. And that was great to show it off to peers and people within the industry and for them to kind of understand about what we do. Because obviously I go along to a lot of events with a lot of the other team and we’re all sort of banging the drum about the company. But it’s great for people to come and experience that firsthand as well. So I think it’s helped broaden the profile of the business and also the individuals within the team as well. I think that’s been brilliant for the team’s personal development, but also really for their learning.
The fact that there’s people in the organisation that you can go and talk to about everything from ticketing strategies through to mechanical issues you’ve got on rides, or the fact that people are so open that you can ring them up and say, “Hey, I’ve got this issue with this, how do I fix it?” I’ll bring this chap, he’s the person you need to go and call about this. Or, I’m a bit stuck for this spare part. Yeah, phone this person, they’ll be able to get it to you quicker.” And everyone’s so supportive and willing to help each other. It’s quite amazing to see, as I said, coming from a space where that is the complete opposite of that. It’s brilliant to be involved in an organisation where if all the attractions are winning, the space is winning and the industry is winning.
And I think everyone’s mature enough to realise that we’ve all got our own individual niches and we’re not all competing against each other. So actually, by helping each other and people having amazing experiences across all attractions, it just benefits the industry as a whole.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, completely. It just comes back to that whole working in partnerships and not in silos again, doesn’t it? You mentioned about people, this is the other thing that I really want to talk about, because you’ve got brilliant people that work at your organisation and you call them superstar people, which I really love. I guess BALPPA is one of the things that you’ve put in place to kind of help them because like you said, other team members, not just yourself, can go along to these meetings and they can benefit from the peer to peer learning that you get at those events. And actually just the networking, not even just I’ve been to a BALPPA event. And what struck me about it was the knowledge that was shared at that meeting.
And what struck me about it was the knowledge that was shared at that meeting, it was so authentic and so transparent, actually, that you got a lot from just the talks, but actually you get even more from just networking from people that are in the same position as you, at a different attraction again, have those same kind of challenges and same kind of things that they need to talk about. And being able to just have them on speed dial is so beneficial. What else have you kind of put in place to help develop some of your superstar people there, though?
Dominic Wray: So, as you mentioned, I think the team going along to BALPPA events has been a big thing for them. I think when you’re doing your day to day job, you’re running at 100 miles an hour, it’s quite hard to sort of benchmark yourself against other people in the industry. And I’ve noticed that when team members have gone along to BALPPA events, they sort of come back with a sense of,” I could hold a conversation with someone from a bigger park. I’m competent at knowing what I’m doing”, which I know that they know that, but I think that helps reinforce confidence within them as well. And I just think they’re fantastic spaces for developing the team’s personal confidence and, as you said, their wider personal network as well, and knowledge and understanding.
I mean, we’ve seen some of our team members, Laura, who’s one of our superstars in our marketing team, she did a keynote speech on Christmas, at the BALPPA marketing conference. And it was so good. I was so proud to see her go there, deliver that, she’d been in the office working hard on it, and then just to stand up and absolutely smash it and see people’s reactions to her explaining about that piece was just brilliant. And James, who oversees our site and services, he’s due to do a talk on the install of our new rides at the latest BALPPA for Health and Safety Conference that’s coming up as well. So I think it’s brilliant for the team to be able to be on that platform and develop themselves as well.
Dominic Wray: Other things that we do in an organisation as well. I think I’m really big on giving the team space to be able to do their job safely. I think it’s good to allow them to give them the space to they’re the experts in that area. I very much see my role is overseeing that and making sure all the pieces are coming together. But quite often I will say to them, “Guys, what do you think about this particular thing? Or how should we approach that?”. Because ultimately, they’re the experts within the business, within their chosen fields, and I’m big on giving them the opportunity to be the experts in those areas. I also think it’s great to take some time out to learn more about them as individuals and their roles and their interests within those roles as well.
So, for example, when Laura joined the business, went on a two day marketing course together. It was a conference that she wanted to attend, but I said, “I’ll go with you. I’m keen to learn more about the in depth elements of marketing and I think it’d be a good shared experience for us.”. And I think that then just enables the team to feel, actually I’m interested in their department and how they work and operate. And I think there’s always something that you can learn from everyone that you meet and interact with. So I’m big on doing that. And then the final thing I’ll say is really let them be a star in their area and promote that.
I mean, the example of Laura with the marketing conference talk was brilliant. It was great to see her on stage representing the business, but also the spotlight was on her and it was about her in that moment, which was fantastic. And I think that’s really good when the team feel like they can be superstars in their own arenas of their chosen fields.
Kelly Molson: I love that. I remember that talk really vividly. It was really heartwarming, actually. And there was a really personal element to it as well. And you could see how much she was connected to the subject matter that she was speaking to as well. This is something that we talked about prior to coming on today, about how you’ve kind of supported your team as well as they kind of move through their careers and they move through what they’re doing at the attractions. And one of the things that you’ve really helped them start to develop is their personal brands. Such a hot topic. It’s one I love talking about.
It’s something that I’ve really tried to do as best as I can over the last kind of I think just prior to the pandemic, actually, I kind of started to think about what is it that I want people to remember me about, what’s important to me? And if I’ve got a platform, how am I going to use it to talk about the things that I think are important and that other people should hopefully find as important as me.
And I think what you’ve done there is kind of facilitate that for your team, which is really lovely to see because everybody, like you said, is working for the whole of the organisation, but they all have their own kind of individual specialisms. How have you kind of helped people or encouraged people to develop their personal brands? What are the kind of things that you’ve done there?
Dominic Wray: I’ve encouraged them to get out there, engage with other people, engage within different networks. I think LinkedIn is a great tool for that as well. I think the team all do lots of amazing things every day that we all see and know that they do. But I’m big on encouraging them about, shouting about that. I think as general British people, we’re quite sort of we don’t like self promotion too much, don’t like talking about ourselves too much. And I think having Laura, to be fair, join the team earlier in the year, who’s big on her LinkedIn content and big on talking about what’s going on out there, has really helped the team and pushed everyone forwards with doing that. And I’ve really encouraged them.
You might not think anyone’s going to take value from the content you’re putting out or discussing that, but actually they will because there’s probably someone somewhere looking at that thinking, “How do I overcome that problem?” Or “I’ve got a similar ride to that we’re just in the process of refurbishing, maybe I can reach out to them and find out how they’re doing that.” So really believing in themselves and that they really are superstars in their area and they should be promoting that and talking about how great they are in the businesses that they work for.
Kelly Molson: Have you seen that encouragement kind of help with some of the team’s own self confidence as well? They’re kind of braver about putting themselves forward for certain things.
Dominic Wray: Yeah, yeah, massively. James, who oversees both of our sites from the site and services viewpoint, started off within the maintenance team one of those sites and he’s worked his way up through the business. Now he’s responsible for health and safety across both of them. He oversaw the install of our new ride which went in at the beginning of the year as well and it’s been fantastic to see him grow and his confidence grow and develop within that. And now he’s been asked to go forward, as I said, to do a talk next month about that ride install going ahead, which will be his first sort of public speaking gig, and I’ll be very much there to support him along with that as well. So it’s been great to watch the team develop and grow along with that and their confidence as well.
Kelly Molson: That’s really lovely to see. Well, I think in the past, people probably haven’t wanted to highlight certain people, do you know what I mean? If we put these people out in the world, other people might steal them from us. But I think you have to develop your people and you have to let them shine in the roles that they’re in because they’ll just get better and better and better. So it’s really lovely to see that you’re encouraging that. I think it’s such an important part of running a successful organisation now.
Dominic Wray: Yeah. And I think the team are happier from that. I think if you give them the freedom to go out and experience other attractions and speak to other people at various different levels of organisations, they feel happier where they are. I think if you kind of constrain them and say, “Oh no, we can’t allow you to go and speak to these people. We can’t allow you to go and visit them because they might poach you or they might offer you a different job.” Then they’re going to be thinking, “Actually, maybe the grass is greener on the other side.”.
Kelly Molson: This is not the company for me after all.
Dominic Wray: Yeah, exactly. And I think there’s nothing wrong with them being having their own personal brand within the wider brand of the business. I think that’s good for them.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, I think so too. It’s really brilliant to see what you’ve been developing there. Right. I would love it if you could share some top tips for our listeners. We always get our guests to share top tips. Three top tips on processes and people development that you’d encourage other attractions to adopt.
Dominic Wray: My first one would definitely be, and I’ve already mentioned it, but get your team out visiting other attractions. Can’t express enough how much they’ll learn from those experiences. I think if you set it out in the right position to say, “Okay, guys, we’re going to go and visit this event, this is what we’re going to be looking for. This is what I want us to take back from that. When we come back, we’re going to have a clear debrief to go through key learnings of that and how we’re going to implement that into our business. You can still obviously have a great enjoyable experience.”
That’s one of the best things about working in this industry is going on an R & D trip, but getting to go on a couple of roller coasters and get scared, go to the scare mazes or whatever else you’re going to be doing. I think it’s great team building as well. It’s great for the team to go and see that. And what I find amazing is it can be anything from the way a site manages its waste or the layout of a queue line or actually I liked on the way in how this person upselled this ticket for me. There’s so many things you can gain from that.
I think when you’re going into an attraction, looking at that from that perspective, I just think it’s brilliant and there’s no kind of training course that you can send anyone on that will deliver that value that they get from going and experiencing it firsthand.
Kelly Molson: I’m just laughing at the excitement about waste as well like, “Yeah, we could see how they process their waste.” That is exciting.
Dominic Wray: That would be something that James would probably come back to say to me. But that’s what I mean. Everyone of the team’s interested in different things, so it’s good.
Kelly Molson: On this topic of the visits, do you always go to places that are quite similar to yours as well? Or do you do visits that are in complete contrast to what you do as well? To see the difference.
Dominic Wray: We’ll do a bit of both. Probably a good example is when we set up our Halloween event over October, when we very first did that, went to visit Tully’s Farm, which was sort of, in our eyes, as the gold standard of scare attractions. The first time went there, we just went to see what is it as an attraction? How does that concept work? The overview sort of headline of that. And then over the years, as we’ve developed Terror Island, which is our Halloween event, which we run here, over October, we’ve been back to Tully’s on numerous occasions. We’ve had Stuart, who runs that, come down to the site as well, and we’re then looking at that from a different perspective.
Dominic Wray: So then we moved on to, “Okay, how do we look at improving through, how do we look at improving guest experience? How do we look at upselling F&B? Where are the entrance and exit points of the mazes in relation to the broader site? How’s the actual site laid out?”. So we’re then going back and looking at it in a sort of more detailed layer of that. But no, as a team, we’ll go to much larger parks, much smaller parks, because I think there’s things you can learn from all different sizes of attractions. We went to Hobbledown last year, which was an interesting experience, and we saw their water pillow there, and we actually put one of those into Robin Hill this year, which was one of our most successful attractions.
Dominic Wray: So the guys there were fantastic at explaining about the pros and cons of that attraction, which then enabled us to make an informed decision as to whether to purchase one of those or not. But, yeah, I think there’s things to be learned from all different types of attractions. If people are going to them with the right mindset of thinking, “What am I going to learn?”
Kelly Molson: What’s the objective here? What’s the takeaway? Okay, great. So that’s top tip one.
Dominic Wray: Top tip two would be celebrate personal wins for the team and then let them be stars in that moment. I think when someone in the team does something really well and they’ve achieved something, it’s really important to broadcast that to everyone, let everyone know about that and let them shine in that moment. And for it to be about them as an individual, not so much about the company as a whole. It’s them in that moment, and you want to make them feel valued and positive about whatever the experiences that they’ve achieved.
Kelly Molson: Nice. Good tip.
Dominic Wray: And then my third one would be let people make mistakes in a safe manner and learn from it. I think in a working environment, people are quite often aware when they’ve made a mistake or something’s gone wrong. They don’t leave someone jumping up and down. Yeah, exactly. You know, when you’re like, “That didn’t work. I know it’s not worked well,” but I think allowing them to make mistakes in a safe, controlled manner that they can then learn from, because I think quality people understand when something’s gone wrong, and they equally understand how to fix it and put their hands up and say, yeah, that’s happened. But we’re quite quick to acknowledge that and move on to how we’re going to resolve it and not allow that to occur again.
Kelly Molson: Excellent tips. Okay, as an organisation, what’s your biggest opportunity and also your biggest challenge as we head into the winter months? Because I think you’re coming to do you close over the season? Do you close down?
Dominic Wray: Yes. So Saturday is our last operating day, and we close from November and we open in March.
Kelly Molson: Wow. Gosh, you really are coming up to the end of the season. Okay, so what’s your biggest opportunity and your biggest challenge as we head into that time?
Dominic Wray: It was quite a big challenge, and opportunity for the company is that we made a difficult decision to put one of our sites on the market and we’re looking to sell Robin Hill. So that will be the biggest challenge and opportunity for the business in recent years, to be fair. I think it presents a great opportunity for the business to double down and invest further into Blackgang, which is 180 years old this year. So it’s a big birthday year for us.
Kelly Molson: Incredible.
Dominic Wray: And I think that will enable us to be here for another 180 years. Not that I might still be around at that point in time.
Kelly Molson: You certainly won’t look like Mark Wright at that point.
Dominic Wray: No, look like a very aged Mark Wright. But I think it’s the biggest challenge for the team and myself personally as we reshape the business and pivot into a new direction, but I equally think it’s an exciting one to see what will come out on the other side of that as well.
Kelly Molson: It is exciting, isn’t it? I can imagine that having two parks to oversee can be a stretch at sometimes in terms of resource and also in terms of strategy and how things work, because I guess that they work similar but different. So, yeah, I can see that as a huge opportunity and something to I guess it’s kind of a nice thing to focus on for the start of the new season as well, that’s kind of progressing. And then you’ve got this really big opportunity to focus on this one thing and make it as the very best it could possibly be.
Dominic Wray: Yeah. And the team have really taken to it. They’re really passionate about driving Blackgang forwards and are very excited about the changes and the plans we’ve got for the next year and coming years as well. So it’s been well embraced by them.
Kelly Molson: Good. And I guess you’re ending the season on a high as well, because we talked a little bit about your Halloween event, but it has been a really successful Halloween event this year, hasn’t it?
Dominic Wray: Yes, it’s gone down really well. We made the sun top ten events for Halloween attractions. So yeah, it’s been really well received. It’s a personal favourite of mine. Absolutely love it. It’s been a complete passion project for the team, and the team are always up for every event we do, but this is one that they really get behind and are in every possible conceivable bit of detail. And as someone that never used to like horror films and hated being scared, I now absolutely love going through scare attractions and love scaring other people even more than that. Complete 360 for me as well. So you don’t know what you like until you try it.
Kelly Molson: Exactly. You just never know where you never knew where this role was going to take you, did you? When you started this, Dominic, you never knew you were going to end up as a horror fan.
Dominic Wray: Yeah, exactly. Now I’m like, “Oh no, we need to make that person over there look more dead. Or how loud we need the chainsaw louder, or that guy doesn’t look scary enough.” Way more interesting than ices and loans.
Kelly Molson: I love it. A massive learning curve and 180 years old. I mean, that is a phenomenal achievement. There can’t be many other attractions that are coming up for that age. So this is really incredible. I think you’ve had a really brilliant year. Can’t do this podcast without talking about Radio One as well because I’ve been aware of Blackgang Chine for quite a while, but I think it maybe isn’t on the radar of many people because it’s Isle of Wight, it’s not on the mainland. But I was driving back from the gym one morning and I listened to Radio One.
I listened to the Greg James breakfast show on Radio One in the mornings and they were doing this thing where they had to find one of the presenters and all the presenters were hidden up and down all over the country, and they were talking about the Isle of Wight and they kept saying, Blackgang Chine. And I was like, they’re talking about Blackgang Chine. Let Laura know. I need to pull over and let Laura know. Obviously she already knew that you were being talked about, but I think how many times did he say Blackgang Chine? It was a lot.
Dominic Wray: It was a lot. I think it was over 50 times. I mean, my phone was going mental, mate. If you’ve got the presenters because it’s because we have an area called Area Five with large animatronic dinosaurs, and they thought we’d hidden them down there and they were like, “God, you’re really good at keeping a secret. I can’t believe you haven’t told us this.”. And I’m like, “No, honestly, they’re not here.”. I don’t want to actually believe me. Well, clearly no one did. Kept ringing up Radio One to talk about it, but that was a great bit of brand profile for the business and I guess sort of showed that people were associating the element of dinosaurs to the park as well. So that’s obviously positive for us.
Kelly Molson: It was really good press, even if we didn’t have the presenter there. It was absolutely brilliant.
Dominic Wray: Yeah, it was fantastic. And then everyone was almost like, they should have been here.
Kelly Molson: They should have been here. We should, we need to get Greg James back over, don’t you? I mean, he said it enough, so you should get him there for a visit soon.
Dominic Wray: Greg, if you’re listening, come down.
Kelly Molson: I mean, I’d love it if Greg listened to this podcast, but it’s highly unlikely. But if you are, Greg, would you like to come on? I’d love a chat with you. I’m just around the corner of Bishop Stortford. That’s where you were born, right? We could be friends. Dom, thank you for coming on the podcast. It’s been brilliant to chat today. We always end the interview by asking our guests to share a book that they’d like to share with their listeners. So something that you love can be work related or it can be personal, whatever you fancy.
Dominic Wray: Well, I was going to think about saying the Highway Code so people can understand how to overtake cyclists, really, but I won’t. My favourite podcast at the moment is a podcast called the Big Fish that’s presented by Spencer Matthews.
Kelly Molson: What? Hang on.
Dominic Wray: Oh, sorry, my second favourite. My second well, obviously ones that I listen to after yours.
Kelly Molson: Thank you. Well recovered.
Dominic Wray: Once I’ve listened to the latest episode, I move on to Big Fish after that.
Kelly Molson: Sorry, say it again. Big Fish. Who’s it by?
Dominic Wray: Big Fish by Spencer Matthews, who used to be on Made in Chelsea, I think, and now owns a company called CleanCo, which is a non alcoholic brand, which is quite interesting. But I like it because he interviews lots of CEOs and business owners. It’s got a bit of a sports mindset focus to it, but it’s also very much around the culture in those businesses, how they’ve built the businesses and the challenges they face within them as well. So it’s quite an interesting one.
Kelly Molson: I like the sounds of that. I listen to quite a lot of podcasts like that. All right, I’m going to put Big Fish on my list. Well, there you go, listeners. You can’t win a copy of this podcast because I can’t give it away, but I encourage you to go and have a little listen. Maybe it’ll be your number two podcast as well, who knows? Dom, thanks for coming on today. It’s been lovely to have you. Congratulations on 180 years and best of luck with everything that comes next. I think you’ve got a really exciting new chapter that’s about to start and maybe you’ll come back on in a year or so and tell us how it’s all gone.
Dominic Wray: Yeah, sounds good. Thank you very much for having me enjoyed it.
Do you know someone we should be talking to?
Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?
If so, email us at email@example.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.