We have a fascinating chat with James Sinclair, the entrepreneur who runs 9 indoor leisure units, 3 laser arenas, 5-day nurseries, a water park and a 50-acre farm park attraction that welcomes over 1 million visitors every year.
Today’s guest started his career at just 15 years old - since then, he’s gone on to build a thriving entertainment business, consisting of indoor leisure units, laser arenas, day nurseries, plus a 50-acre farm attraction, water park and web-based soft toy business!
We’re talking to the multi-talented and hugely successful James Sinclair - otherwise known as “Jimbo the Partyman”.
His hard work and passion for putting smiles on people’s faces has won him many awards, including Young Entrepreneur of the Year and Growing Business of the Year.
He’s also a published author whose book “The Millionaire Clown” details his journey from a teenage children’s entertainer to multiple business owner, turning 8 figures and employing over 300 staff.
Just a head’s up, we experienced a few technical difficulties on this recording, but James’ story is pretty engaging, so you probably won’t notice!
Just a few of the things we talk about:
We hope you enjoy!
Kelly Molson: Your hosts for this podcast are myself, Kelly Molson and Paul Wright. We're the co founders of Rubber Cheese, an award winning digital agency that builds remarkable systems and websites for visitor attractions. Find out how we can create a better experience for you and your guests at rubbercheese.com. Search, "Skip the Queue" on iTunes and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more over on our website, rubbercheese.com/podcast. We hope that you enjoy these interviews and if there's anyone you think we should be talking to, please do send us a message.
Paul Wright: James Sinclair, welcome to the, "Skip the Queue" podcast.
James Sinclair: "Skip the Queue" podcast. Hello "Skip the Queue".
Paul Wright: Well, can we start by talking about how you got to where you are?
James Sinclair: Yeah, I suppose. Yeah. I mean, I started out as a children's magician. Built a business called "Partyman Entertainments" in the early days, which basically was a children's entertainment agency. And we started providing children's entertainment to visitor attractions and that's where I always wanted to get to. So that's why I started off there. And then we started opening our own indoor play centres. We've got a farm adventure park, we've got Fort Fun down on the South Coast in Eastbourne, which is a small visitor attraction as well. And we've opened a chain of Day Nurseries. And we make lots of Teddy Bears. We've made over a million Teddy Bears for visitor attractions to sell in their shops and a Christmas grottoes sort of do a lot of that too as well.
And then I speak a lot at business conferences and helping people grow their businesses. And that's why I make a lot of content myself. I've got a podcast. I put videos out on YouTube with business advice stuff. Quite active on LinkedIn as well. So yeah, that's me.
Paul Wright: So you say producing content is important for a business.
James Sinclair: Yeah. I think content marketing is absolutely crucial for businesses to make and do a distribute now. I think it doesn't bring you an immediate return on investments. But when it does start returning the investment, I think it brings in well qualified leads and loyal customers faster, quicker than you ever thought possible, once it starts. And that's getting that momentum going. What I tell people is, "look, sometimes you might have to make content for 24 months for an audience to be built. But once you've got that audience, then you really do get the floodgates of customers coming towards you".
And that's why I do it. My whole sort of business premise is that you're running four companies. Company number one is the company you are today. Company number two is the company you want to be. Company number three is a media company. Company four is a property company. And you're running those four companies in unison. And if you'll allow me, I'll explain what I mean.
So, company one is the company you are today. So you go, if you look at my career, all right, I'm a kid's entertainer. I'm going to build up. I want that to be a successful business. But that's going to give me the steps to be the company I really want to be, which is an owner of visitor attractions. Company three then has a role in driving qualified leads towards your operating companies and your operating companies are those companies one and two.
So I've started to creating entertainment. We started a YouTube channel called, "Partyman TV", putting out kids entertainment. I used to go and do kids' shows in theatres and schools and make that into content so that people could watch that content and then come through us because we built an audience. Now some of that audience who's building offline back in the day, because we didn't have access to all these platforms that are out there now. But what I'm doing with my business training business is I'm creating content. Like I'm a TV company that sends well qualified leads to me. And if you see, this is what visitor attractions have been doing over the last, sort of, 10 years, 15 years to build up customers. They've been buying in IP. So Drayton Manor bought in Thomas The Tank Engine, which was a media company. And on the back of that media company they are getting more visitors.
Paultons Park have done it with Peppa Pig World. And if you really study this, you think, "actually this is where Disney are so fantastic". They're a media company that also owns operating companies and those operating companies are so much more powerful. So, I just subscribed to that methodology. Now that doesn't stop you from doing your direct response marketing in your typical marketing that you should be doing as well. But I think when you feel like you're making content and you're a media company, you're pulling people towards you rather than pushing for people. And, in reality, you need to do both. And then that company number four is your property company that you invest your profits from companies one and two into a property company, so that if you need to, and this could be the land in which all visitor attraction operates out of, but if you need to re-innovate the main business, then you can just go to your property company, leverage off and get funds to re-innovate back into you four business again.
Paul Wright: What types of marketing really works for you in terms of content marketing? What would you say is the most benefit to you?
James Sinclair: Content marketing, in my mind, is when you're not selling, it's when you're building an audience. And in the visitor attraction world, I would say Cannon Hall Farm up in Yorkshire do this spectacularly well. It's like they're creating a TV show around the farmers that own that farm so that people can follow them. They're not selling, but then when they do sell stuff, because they've got such a highly engaged Facebook audience, they just say, "Hey, we're doing this" and then people buy.
In terms of the content marketing that we would do that's directly for sales, we do mainly video marketing. If you go on our Facebook page at Marsh Farm, you'll see a raft of video content and that's how we get our customers.
Paul Wright: So, do you think YouTube is one of the biggest drivers?
James Sinclair: No, I think for visitor attractions, I still think, in terms of getting customers are the Instagram and Facebook are still. Because that's where the demographic of mums, for our audience, they're mainly at. I would say our core customer, children, are probably on YouTube, not Facebook. But the decision makers are on Facebook and Instagram. We, we do put our stuff on YouTube. But Facebook is definitely our go-to place in terms of getting customers. They're a beast. Facebook actually own WhatsApp, they own Instagram. And they're doing lots of moves to keep people on their platform via Instagram TV and that. I mean in essence all of it's important isn't it?
Paul Wright: Absolutely. I mean how do you find the time? Because I notice you're the key figure, the face for the company. Do you feel like it's reliant on you a lot? So you have to be creating its content a lot? And how do you find the time?
James Sinclair: What I try and do is dual-purpose my time. So yesterday I spoke at Santander. I had a lunch with 10 other business owners that came in for some advice. Then I had 40 other business owners, in the afternoon, for a seminar. We record all of that. We record the whole lot. We turn it into a vlog. We'll turn it into a podcast. We're turning it into articles for Medium. So we're doing it all. We're trying dual-purpose time.
I'm speaking at a conference in Ibiza tomorrow. But to turn that into leverage work, I'll make sure that we go and record that keynote. And then that keynote we'll go on to YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, all of the platforms so that my time is leveraged. And then I'm leveraged. But, not everyone wants to have a videographer following them round every day making content. I choose that as a smart thing to do. And I think, over time, I think that will generate something very valuable for us. I mean, yes, it generates leads and opens doors for us now. Everyone in our industry sort of knows us and they can continue following. So, I do believe in, if you've got the will, that building a personal brand, something that you can go and use is something really powerful.
Paul Wright: Oh, totally. It's an approach that Gary V takes, I believe.
James Sinclair: Yeah. Yeah. So, I've met Gary. I mean basically he probably inspired me to go and really do it. Yeah, absolutely he did. But before that I was inspired of losing my virginity by Richard Bronson. That's what Richard Branson did. He built a personal brand that allowed him to leverage for the Virgin group of companies. In my early days, I built the, "Jimbo, the Partyman" brand. But when we opened Partyman World, our first indoor play center, we had customers ready to come to us because we built an audience. It's so much easier to market to an audience. Most people don't have an audience. But once you go into the audience, I mean the world is your lobster.
Paul Wright: Absolutely. Have you done anything extreme like Richard Branson?
James Sinclair: Yeah, I mean we done mini-extreme things but never anything as extreme as he's done. Should do shouldn't I? I absolutely should. We had a meeting about that yesterday, yeah.
Paul Wright: Oh what? Coming up with ideas about what you can do?
James Sinclair: Yeah. I mean my team want me to go and run on in front of the rugby world final naked and share to my YouTube channel. But I shan't be doing it. Well, we're discussing ways of making sort of YouTube style documentaries that would build up big traction on YouTube and hopefully build an audience that way. And we went into discussions of that.
Paul Wright: Okay. I noticed there's a bit of noise in the background where you are.
James Sinclair: Yeah, I'm in my office. Not as noisy as... yeah, just be careful mate. It's not as noisy as your office, with trains running through the office. No, yeah, we got PAs next to me, Charlie's next to me, "Janky Listener" and RFD, we're all in the same office. Yeah.
Paul Wright: It sounds like you're busy.
James Sinclair: Yeah, we're always busy.
Paul Wright: So I noticed the long list of businesses that you own, which is, probably you might have to put me right here, but is it nine indoor leisure units, three laser arenas, five day nurseries, 50 acre farm park attraction a waterpark.
James Sinclair: Yeah.
Paul Wright: And a web-based soft toy business.
James Sinclair: Yeah. That's the bear business yet.
Paul Wright: I noticed that, on your LinkedIn profile, you mentioned how they complement each other during the dry and wet seasons.
James Sinclair: Absolutely. I mean I've spent my time... I mean, leisure businesses are fickle in terms of the customer. The customers- you have a new leisure business opens up in the town, the customers want to go and check it out. And I realise that. And so I've tried to make my businesses more boring. So you've got this leisure business. And what I try to do is tag on other businesses that the leisure business supports that are more boring. So we we want to start accommodation or one of our sites. But we've also opened day nurseries at all of our businesses. So that the leisure business feeds the day nursery, so that has more predictable revenue.
One of the big things that I think have been a bit of a groundbreaking move that we've made over the last 18 months, is we've set up a direct debit memberships. That are completely paperless. That you can sign up on our website and you can come to our Farm Park for five pound a month unlimited. Because £65 to be a member here. And we realised that a family of four, to find 250 ish quid to come once a year, not a lot of families got that sort of disposable income a month. But when you say, "yeah for a family of four it's now only £20 a month..." They're like, "Yeah, this is great". And I think they really increased our visitors and more people that come there then get to see about our day nursery and get to see about our higher priced events that are booked in advance.
That makes us less weather dependent. You know we sit here today and our Christmas event, we're in September and we're a third full for our Christmas event. But we realised that we need to have lots of customers to try our products at a lower price so they book in advance. And I think that's what's going to happen with accommodation for us when we kick off with that. Because you know, that's the big thing about the leisure business, or certainly an outdoor and indoor leisure business. No matter how good you are, the weather can really decide whether you're going to be 30% up or 30% down one month. And that just drives me insane.
Paul Wright: I bet. I can imagine last year it was so good with the weather, it was such a great summer and this, this summer hasn't been so good. Have you seen a massive effect?
James Sinclair: No, actually this summer we've had a record break in August.
Paul Wright: Oh, wow.
James Sinclair: In terms of visitor numbers in cash, both indoor and outdoor, we've got a record breaker. But I think that really comes down to what we talk about the five P's in a business. So you want to make sure you've got the right pricing architecture. And that's what I was sort of alluding to there. Where you know you have your most customers that are coming in to a Farm Park that are between 10 and 15 pound per person per visit. That allows you to market to them for your higher price events like your Father Christmas event, your day nursery. If you want to open a holiday club or do accommodation. So you're going to make sure you've got a really good pricing architecture, knowing that you've got something that people can try before they really buy.
Moving on to that, you've got to show that you've got a great product. Once you've sorted your pricing architecture out, you got to make sure you got great products. And I think that's what we delivered here at Marsh Farm this summer holidays, which were the children's festivals that ran for the six weeks holidays. And that's why we doubled our visitor numbers, doubled our cash and some. So, then, after you got your product, you've got to make sure that you focus on promotion. You've got to do a lot of promotional work. I'm very keen to do that stuff. And you can't just say, yeah, because radio worked before, newspapers worked, before leaflets worked before. If you've got to embrace digital products, digital mediums, to get your customers, then you need to do that. And maybe go run, flick over to what I just said that maybe you do need to do radio. Maybe you do need to do offline stuff and online stuff. You've really got to focus so much of your time on the promotion of your business.
I've always said that the greatest business owners that I come across spend most of their time growing their business rather than operating their business. And that's a bit of a mind shift change. So you want to become a marketeer of your business, rather than an operator of your business, to be really successful. So that brings us up to the third P.
The next P is make sure that you have the very best people that you can have around you. The best staff that really believe in your product. That's the fourth P. So what's fifth, I'm just trying to get to- Price, Product, Promotion, People, Perpetual. That's what it is.
Perpetual revenue. Perpetual income, which would be making sure you've got some residual income each month. Where Marsh Farm has got thousands of people on direct debit membership and we have a day nursery, those people that are our perpetual customers that spend with us every month from direct debit are like our outsource marketing department. They come in and try the product, share it on social media. So that really gets us going on the ground. Gets us going on the ground running, if you like.
Paul Wright: In terms of the... so the memberships, how did you work out a pricing structure for that and implement it? Was it an easy process or was it something you've developed over time?
James Sinclair: Well, we just said, "right, well this is our..." So we sort of know that most families after all their Xs only have 200 pounds a month of disposable income. They want days out. They want to take their families out. We understand all of that. But they want membership. And we just understand that most people can't stump up for a family of four or five. I mean, if you're a family of five and you want to be a member at Marsh Farm, you've got a find £325 to become a member. And that's a problem for lots of families. So we sort of said, "well, why don't we divide that by 12, so that becomes 27 pound a month". Then we say, "ah, let's actually make it cheaper and then just say, look, there's five pound per person per month so you don't have to- And here's the other thing; we also go with what we call Granddad's or grandma rights if you like. So if you sign up for our direct debit membership, the price will never go up in the future, so you know what your paying.
We also worked out, through doing some research, that most people that come onto direct debit membership last and stay around for an extra six months compared to those people that pay up front.
Paul Wright: Oh wow. That's interesting.
James Sinclair: Great news, all round. And, in January, by the time we get to January, we'd say, "yeah actually we've got 25 grands worth of direct debit income. 60,000 worth of child caring income coming in". So, we can say already in January, which is a tough time for outdoor leisure businesses, you don't need to be Albert Einstein to work that one out. Nobody really wants to trot along to a Farm Park in January. But when you can say, "yeah, we're going to have 80,000, 60,000, 70,000 pounds worth of income in January on direct debits through those two perpetual revenue streams, that really starts to give you a business that's much more confidence for you to run.
Paul Wright: Absolutely. So what would you say is down to your success? What would you, I know there's probably quite a few things, but what would you, if there was one key thing, what would you say is?
James Sinclair: I would say it's E plus M equals S. Which is my formula for business success. And that that's, "Entrepreneurship plus Management equals Success". Entrepreneurs don't tend to make great managers of businesses, but actually the greatest businesses have the great management. There's way too much spoke about leadership in businesses right now. The leadership, there only needs to be... That's a leadership is a vision, a culture. And people are muddying up leadership into management. And management, great quality management, really is the magic of a successful organisation. And if you look at really great businesses, they are micromanaged. If you look at Starbucks, McDonald's, great schools, the army, they're micromanaged. Now they've got leadership within them, don't get me wrong. They've got entrepreneurship, leadership around them and they've also got the day to day stuff being really well looked after.
And this is the way I see it; the entrepreneurship, the leadership in a business is thinking quarter to quarter. Is thinking year to year. Thinking decade to decade. It's thinking about what's the next generation going to be like for this business? Whereas your management is thinking second to second, minute to minute, day to day, week to week, month to month. That is a clear difference. And you need to have both. You need someone to really understand the war plan for the business, leadership, and also have someone that's going to work out how to fight the battles in the most efficient way for you to win that war. The way I really describe it to people is that you need to have a head teacher, but you also need great teachers for the kids to really have successful education. And that's what I mean when I think about E plus M equals S. Too much management, there'll be no innovation. Too much entrepreneurship, too much leadership, nothing gets done. And you need both.
Paul Wright: That's really insightful, I think.
James Sinclair: In terms of why I think, "Partyman" has done so well is I've embraced putting great people around the business that have strong management DNA. That understand leadership's important, but understand that there needs to be super systems and organisation. Basically, you got to run a business like a franchise without it being a franchise. If you look up why banks like backing franchises is because they believe in the management of it.
Paul Wright: I'd imagine you have quite a strict recruitment process. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
James Sinclair: I'm only really responsible really for the people... There's about six people I work with that are my senior team. In my view, when it comes to recruitment, you want to have maybe four. But at least at least four but maybe more. And that would be you four interviews or getting to know someone for a senior team position, if you're an entrepreneur. Because usually entrepreneurs, they meet someone they think they're great or they think they're terrible. But then by the interview three, they might changed their mind. And also on a senior person, you must get them to do a presentation, to you and your senior team, on how they're going to take forward the business and implement the ideas so that everyone's clear on what's going to be done. So the four interview process for entrepreneurs I think really important.
Paul Wright: Do you use digital at all, for recruitment process? Do you use any tools, digital tools doing that?
James Sinclair: So, my team, the way we recruit our team that don't work directly underneath me, we try and use an X factor recruitment style of staff. And I have day nurseries so it's different again. But we would get people in for group interviews. Get them to stand on stage. And we're looking for people on attitude over skillset every step of the way. We want happy, hardworking people rather than people that are highly skilled with the wrong attitude. And we've had our fingers burned when we've employed people. Falling in love with the CV. "Oh, this person is so highly skilled". But they come in and they're the wrong cultural fit.
Paul Wright: Yeah.
James Sinclair: But we've done well to mould people into the right culture because your business isn't perfect. It takes so long for businesses to become so strong and stable. Especially, if you look at some of the great... Here's the facts of it; 50% of businesses go bust within two years. 80% are gone within five years, 94% are gone within 10 years. That's sort of the fact of UK businesses. Then if you look at those 6% that make it past 10 years, they're usually really great at marketing. They're usually the experts on a particular industry and there are property business in unison where they own good assets so that they can, when the business needs innovation, they can re-innovate and go again.
I've always said if businesses don't innovate, they're going to evaporate. And the world is constantly innovating. Even when you're at the top of your game, the world is constantly innovating. Now, that's what I try and do in our businesses. I constantly push for innovation. Whereas management, they're going, "well, why break something that's fixed, that's working?" It's because the West of the world is continually innovating. And they are out innovating you a constant speed, so you've got to be constantly out innovating the world at the same time. Even when you're really good.
Paul Wright: So how would you define great customer service?
James Sinclair: Well, I've wrote a book about this called, "The Experienced Business".
Paul Wright: Yeah.
James Sinclair: It's available in all good bookstore. What I've learned about customer service, though, is actually the business has to be business savvy to deliver consistent customer service. i.e. The business must have margin so that it can afford to give its customers, what I call, Customer Cuddles. What's a customer cuddle? You go and stay in a really nice hotel and there's towels on the bed made into shapes of animals. It looks like a zoo. There's flowers on the bed. They've given you a glass of Champagne and they've showed you how the wardrobe works. But if you're paying four to 1500 pounds, I know I have to stay in a hotel like that, they have margin to give you Customer Cuddles.
If you are charging, just enough between, 50 and 70 pounds for your hotel room, then all your decisions will be made on a profit and loss basis on how you can survive. And, therefore, you cannot afford to consistently give Customer Cuddles back to your customers. Therefore they're not becoming raving fans of the business. And therefore you need to do consistent, "okay" service rather than sometimes be excellent, sometimes be okay, sometimes be average.
And I think, we was talking earlier in the office about Ryanair you know the rules to them and if you don't like it you don't go. But they're not Cathay Pacific Virgin Atlantic style customer service because the margin isn't there for them to be able to do that consistently. So, good customer service requires a ton of training and you've got to be able to consistently afford to do that training. So that has to be reflected in the prices that you charge for your products and service. i.e. Most theme parks are 25 to 35 quid to get in. Disney's £150. That's what it is. They do all these added extras because there's tons of margin to give those Customer Cuddles. So I always tell people, "you want to give your customers great service, make sure you've got margin to be able to do that consistently".
Here's what happens in loads of startup businesses. The business owner doesn't pay himself anything. He puts in all the effort and gives a Disney Harrods customer service, but he's not actually charging his customers the right amount of money for it. So he then tries to have some time off and put a management team in place. Doesn't train them. Doesn't afford the best people that you can get in the market because he's prices don't allow it. So, if you want to deliver great customer service, that's why I put it in the book, "The Experienced Business", and actually you got to get your business in the right place before you can do that. And if you don't have margin, don't expect to have great customer service because you can't do it. You'll end up cutting stuff.
Paul Wright: I think it's so important these days if you have bad customer service, people are very quick to then talk about it online.
James Sinclair: Yep.
Paul Wright: And that can manifest into all sorts of trouble.
James Sinclair: What I'm trying to get here is you can't do great customer service if you don't have margin. You just can't do it. Can't afford to do it. And that's hacking. One of the biggest things that is driving great customer service, now, is also the ability to self-serve. People are going into McDonald's and going into Costa Coffee, they're going in supermarket and they can get out quicker because of self-serve. Self checkouts. Going to the airport, self-serve. Checking into hotels, self-serve. What the smart businesses are going to do is they're going to then surprise people with customer service where they're not expecting it. So, could you imagine a supermarket is all self-serve, but then there's 10 staff that are there to help you take your stuff to your car and load it into your car. That is a surprise and delight of customer service, rather than just where you expect it to be. Does that make sense?
Paul Wright: I mean is that something that you're working on with your visitor attractions?
James Sinclair: Our Father Christmas experience, it's probably one of the best things that, that we run in terms of customer delivery and service. Because there's margin, we put in loads of Customer Cuddles. So taking someone's shopping to your car is what I would call a Customer Cuddle. Customers love that. They'll become raving fans of that. But you can't continually do that unless you have margin. But businesses are saving money now a colossal rate. Like McDonald's and supermarkets. You think when they would have 104 checkouts in some of these places and that every time you go in there and I've taken a few more out, put in self serve. There'll be huge labor savings in that.
Once they've worked out all the software and paid all that off. Paid off the capital expenditure doing that, there's going to be some labor savings. It would be at that juncture, if you've got the margin, that you should surprise and delight your customers, where they're least expecting it, with human interaction. That is how you win.
Paul Wright: Be remarkable I think.
James Sinclair: You can't be remarkable unless you charge the right prices because you will end up having to cut corners. And this is the bit that no one talks about.
Paul Wright: Yeah. Do you think that's a bigger business decision for visitor attractions?
James Sinclair: If you look at Apple, it costs them 200 quid to make an iPhone, but they sell it for 1,250 quid. £1,050 worth of margin there. They do deliver remarkable customer service. And it consistently so. That's because they have so much margin in their products. If they were a normal business, "right, this costs 250 quid to make. Right, let's set it for 400 or 450". You start looking at the profit and loss. You want to have so much margin that you can say, "no, let's always invest in our customer on stuff they're not expecting.
Paul Wright: So what, what do you think is the future of family and children's attractions as a whole? Where do you think it's going?
James Sinclair: The number one thing that drives customer service for family attractions, in my opinion, is making, as much as you can, a queue-less situation. So self-serve. Ordering on your phone for your food, all of that. Getting in quickly and as efficiently as possible so you don't have to queue. If you get rid of the queues then people are already much happier. And technology is making that happen.
I mean people going into Wetherspoons right now and just ordering food on their phone and it arrives at their table. So if you've got a four year old, or a three year old, that's whining and moaning you don't have to take them up to queue. That is actually delivering a fantastic experience for a mum or a dad that's stressed. I mean, I know I've got a two year old. Reese gets the hump when you have to queue for something. No amount of customer service will make me feel better other than sorting him out.
So if you can remove those stresses. Making your website as easy as possible to buy tickets. And this is stuff that we've constantly trying to work on. If you can cut the clicks and bring down the queues by about 70% by embracing technology, that stuff I really think drives great customer service, because people then start to notice all the stuff you do.
Paul Wright: That's what we're trying to do for visitor attractions.
James Sinclair: I mean, in, "The Experienced Business" book, experience starts at, "easy-peasy". Let me read you this:
"So here's the thing. This book, and anything that you commit to, must be backed up with evidence. You can argue with opinion, but it's impossible to argue with evidence. However, I hate what I'm going to share with you in this chapter. I've discovered that something that's odds with my core beliefs about running a business. It's like someone showing you water running uphill. Every part of you says it's not possible, but the evidence staring you in the face. Things evolve, I know that. But sometimes things change faster than we expect. I've always believed that good old fashioned human interaction is a key part of every business operation. For years I've heard people raiding against robot phone systems. "Press one for that, two for that". You get the idea.
People want to talk to real people, not robot voices. At least that's what I used to think. But now the simple truth is that more and more people don't want to interact with humans when they're doing business. They want to self-serve. They all want interact with a website so that they can literally book their tickets at 11 o'clock at night. The shift is happening. I've seen the evidence in my own business and it's a game changer for us all.
I'll give you two real life samples of how my own habits have changed. Number one, when the supermarkets introduced self checkout lanes a few years ago, I said, "they're a really silly idea because people like talking to checkout assistants". Now I go straight to self checkouts. Number two, up until recently I booked all my international travel over the phone. I wanted to speak to a real person. This week booked to flight to Hong Kong on Virgin Atlantic. No human interaction required. Two small examples but are backed up on what we want to do with Partyman customers. Which is; generally they prefer to self-serve instead of being served. Before long some customers will want to do everything without interacting with a real person. So businesses must allow their customers to self-serve. Too many businesses still forced that human interaction".
James Sinclair: That's just a little snippet from the book that emphasises what we've just discussed there. My view is, if companies save on labor, maybe they need to build a theatre and put on shows so that that style of human interaction, people still want. They want walkabout entertainment. But, if you can give someone a choice, "would you like to wait for the human, that might be a bit tired, to check your passports, not smile because they've had a bad day and have had an argument with their other half? Or do you just want to go self-serve through, have your passport checked and do it 20 times quicker?" They're going to think that's better customer service, aren't they?
Paul Wright: Absolutely. What book was that taken from?
James Sinclair: That's called, "The Experienced Business".
Paul Wright: And the two other ones called, "The Millionaire Clown" and, "Getting Customers". Is that right?
James Sinclair: Yeah. "Getting Customers" comes out momentarily. I'm just waiting now for my team to push it off. But, for "The Experienced Business", the book I've just spoke about there, that is also available at Audible. So you can get that on Audible. Or you can get it, we'll send it to you for free, just pay the post and the packaging, on my website; jamessinclair.net.
Paul Wright: Oh brilliant. Yeah. We'll be sharing those details around in the show notes. So what plans and things have you got coming up with your businesses?
James Sinclair: We want to put focus more on outdoor attractions rather than indoor attractions. So we've got our eye on some possible opportunities to get some more outdoor attractions. I'm not massively keen on opening more indoor leisure stuff. I think the market is very competitive on that now. Saying that we, obviously, do I have a chunk of them. We will keep them. We're a bit more of a collector of stuff rather than sellers of stuff. Not saying that's forever. But, I just find outdoor attractions, just such better businesses to build. You can dock capacity and I think you can build a big membership base around them, so that they're not so weather dependent, by putting on childcare that strengthens the robustness of the business.
Paul Wright: I suppose you're competing against a lot of these trampoline places and these bounce places and the soft-play areas.
James Sinclair: Yeah, all of that. Yeah. Well we are the biggest soft-play area chain in the country. Unbelievably. We've got nine sites. It's a tough business. Indoor leisure we would not do unless we had childcare there. The thing is people open indoor leisure and have a great first year because it's like the new restaurant in town that everyone wants to check out. Now I want to say to people, "show me your figures in year four. If they're as good as year one I will done". And very rarely do people do that. Well, not everyone, but very rarely.
Whereas a visitor attractions outdoor has capacity. Otherwise what's the point in blooming marketing an indoor leisure attraction? Because if the sun's out and it's super sunny, no one's going to bloody come. And even if, in the winter, you can only get so many people in, if you look up Marsh Farm and get 5,000 people in at any one time. An indoor attraction; 700, 800 in at any one time. That's a fundamental difference.
Paul Wright: How do you deal with, when it easy then, with the outdoor attractions? What things have you got in place for that?
James Sinclair: Well you have a membership, you have members, they still come. So that's why I think having members is really important. And we have a day nursery on site. So, I mean, I think is near on impossible for visitor attractions to make profit every single month of the year. But, I do believe you could get to a break-even situation by adding on additional services around the core business: day nursery, accommodation, pet hotel, hiring out the parts of your places for conferences. I don't know, whatever it might be. Those sorts of things. But the core business feeds that happening.
Paul Wright: Have you thought about moving any of your businesses overseas or anything like that?
James Sinclair: No, I've prefer to do stuff in the UK really, because it's margins I understand. Not saying never, but-
Paul Wright: Yeah, at the moment it's a bit unsure with Brexit as well, I suppose.
James Sinclair: I don't care about Brexit.
Paul Wright: No?
James Sinclair: No, I don't care about recessions and whatever the economy's doing. I've believe that entrepreneurs make their own economy. I think Brexit or recessions and downturns help in many ways because less people want to open up. Less people invest in their business. So the person that goes forward is actually in a better position. And I've always believed that. What I think would massively help leisure businesses is lower VAT, like it is around the world. I think, Europe for example. France only pays 5% of VAT for leisure attractions.
Paul Wright: Right.
James Sinclair: Spanish flights are cheaper as well. And then I think that will drive wage growth in the service sector in the UK as well. But, who knows what's going to happen. There's some... But I don't worry about that stuff. There are those things will continue to happen. And this Brexit thing could go on for another three years and I'm not going to let that stop me getting on with what I want to do. But I do know loads of people that are holding back. And I think that's great. There'll be more opportunity for us as we want to go forward.
Paul Wright: Yeah. Where can people follow you? Or-
James Sinclair: Well, I've got quite an extensive YouTube channel, so you can go over to YouTube, type in James Sinclair. I'm all there. Follow me on LinkedIn, James Sinclair again. I've got Facebook chat group, "James Sinclair's entrepreneurs chat" on there. Just entrepreneurs, helping entrepreneurs. And on my website; jamessinclair.net. I mean if you go to jamessinclair.net all roads lead to all the other roads there, so there we go.
Paul Wright: Well, thank you so much for today James, for doing this. It's been really insightful and really useful.
Kelly Molson: You can find links and notes from this episode and more over on our website, rubbercheese.com/podcast or search, "Skip The Queue" on iTunes and Spotify to subscribe. Please remember to leave a rating. It helps other people find us. This podcast was brought to you by Rubber Cheese, an award winning digital agency that builds remarkable systems and websites for visitor attractions. Find out how we can create a better experience for you and your guests at rubbercheese.com