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Amusement, or theme, parks feature rides, games, and entertainment options in an outdoor or indoor venue. Customers typically pay a single entry fee for access to the entire park. The successful amusement park model focuses on the customer's entire experience, offering a wide range of services and entertainment options including parking, trams, restaurant options, water parks, roller coasters, live animal attractions, stage shows, arcade games, attractive interactive landscaping, and family friendly fun. The larger the property you own, the more entertainment choices you are able to offer your customers.
Who is this business right for?
You must be a highly motivated individual ready to sink a large initial investment into the concept, design, and implementation of your amusement park. You may need extensive knowledge in the operation of rides, restaurant and guest services, landscaping design, business practices, and have significant leadership skills.
What happens during a typical day at an amusement park?
Even if you are opening an small, indoor theme park, you will still need to have knowledge and understanding of all of the following tasks:
- Preparing/cleaning property, restrooms, and buildings to welcome guests
- Selling tickets for entry to the park
- Addressing concerns and issues presented by customers that can include service problems, health issues, lost children, found articles, quality of product, etc.
- Maintaining rides and games to ensure fair and safe operation
- Proper food handling and safety practices to provide a healthy restaurant experience
- Money handling
- Coordinating with wide range of vendors that help to maintain and repair the facility
- Developing and training of staff
- Developing a management team able to step in when you are not present
- Hiring of entertainment talent for live shows
- Caring for live animal attractions and exhibits
What is the target market?
This depends largely on the theme of your park. Some parks focus solely on family friendly entertainment, others work best for teens and young adults, and real-life adventure parks like zip-lines, go-carts, and mixed athletic challenges can target adults.
How does an amusement park make money?
The general income is created through the standard entry ticket price. However, add-ons are where the real profit is found and those can include premium prices charged for additional services like food, T-shirts, collectibles, framed photos, and other valuable items. The rides or theme are the attractions that bring customers to your door, but it is the extras that bring you the money.
What is the growth potential for an amusement park?
If you create a unique experience for your customers that cannot be found in any other entertainment facility, there is the possibility of franchising your amusement park format and expanding the business model over time. If you are building a theme park featuring roller coasters and other large rides, your expansion may be restricted by the size of the property that you have. When you create a destination-park, to which customers travel from far away for their vacation, you need to be able to offer an experience that is difficult to consume in a single day, generating return business.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful amusement park?
For the person looking to open a new amusement or theme park, you will need to have a wide range of skills or the ability to hire a team with them. These skills might include:
- Keen eye for the missing entertainment need in your target market
- Solid understanding of excellent management practices
- Strong leadership ability
- Excellent ability to address and respond to customer service concerns
- Attention to detail able to identify areas of the operation that require cleaning, maintenance, and repair
- Creativity and desire to re-imagine offered rides, amusements, foods, and added-value products on a consistent basis
- Knowledge of popular trends and emerging technology that may be able to be included in your park
- Ability to build and maintain a strong staff ready to support you and the park at all times
- Good understanding of profit and loss and the ability to adjust the business model as needed
What are the costs involved in opening an amusement park?
Even if you are opening a 5,000 square foot indoor facility that offers entertainment like bounce houses, arcade games, and pizza, you are looking at a significant investment of at least $250,000 for the building, design, and installation. If you are seeking to open a major amusement park featuring roller coasters, waterparks, and live entertainment you may be looking for investors interested in a multi-million dollar opportunity. You will need about 200 acres of land that is able to be developed for your purpose and local infrastructure ready to support the anticipated traffic.
What are the steps to start an amusement park?
Once you're ready to start your amusement park, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your amusement park is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your amusement park keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting an amusement park?
As an entrepreneur, indoor family-focused amusement parks are becoming more popular as parents look for new ways to keep their kids active and healthy. Research your local community and find the niche market that your idea will fill, such as laser tag, trampolines, indoor mini-golf, or other activities that encourage physical interaction. For a large scale project, you will need a theme that focuses on an emerging pop-culture connection that is now found in other accessible entertainment venues but lacks a supersized experience ready to be consumed anywhere nearby.
How to promote & market an amusement park
Marketing for this project needs to flood all media channels including television, radio, traditional print, overactive social media presence and grassroots promotion at community fairs and activities. An extra push should be scheduled around popular holiday periods like the 4th of July, Christmas, and school vacations when families are searching for entertainment options.
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How to keep customers coming back
You will attract your first customers through constant and consistent advertisement in the community with initial entry fees that offer value for the dollar. A tent-pole attraction like new roller coaster or familiar theme-based entertainment creates more initial interest. Customers will keep coming back when they have an extraordinary experience from the moment they buy their ticket until they leave the parking lot.
How and when to build a team
You will need to start utilizing experts from the very first moment. Park designers can help you hone the theme and targeted audience. Once construction begins, you will need to start hiring your management team with skills in restaurants, entertainment, property management, and specialized skills for rides and games.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
In most states, it is necessary to obtain an amusement park license. Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an amusement park business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, amusement parks should have their clients sign waivers.
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Certificate of Occupancy
An amusement park is generally run out of a large outdoor space (though they can be indoors). Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to an amusement park business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your amusement park will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Most small entertainment venues anticipate their customers visiting for two to three hours. For an arcade, you can charge $10 to $20 for a flat entry fee while more complicated indoor parks may charge $20 to $50 per person. A large amusement park can charge between $40 and $100 per person, depending on variety of amusements and size of the park.
What are the ongoing expenses for an amusement park?
Operational expenses are significant and must be part of your annual budget. They begin with but are not limited to:
- Property/Ride maintenance
- Operation of restaurants and gift shops
- Development of new rides and attractions
- Licensing, taxes, and liability insurance
How much profit can an amusement park make?
A busy small indoor park can see profits of $100,000 to $200,000 per year while the large outdoor venues can generate millions in revenue during the season.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Offer premium services for an additional cost. These services may include no-waiting for rides, collectible drink cups, photo-ops, loyalty programs, and season passes. If you see a service that a customer may want, they are probably willing to pay for it.