Water Park Dives in With Dell

Friday Aug 13th 2004 by Lauren Simonds
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Texas-based Schlitterbahn may be a small business, but it's the biggest water park in the country, which presents big challenges. However, since becoming an all-Dell shop, the customers are still all wet, but the company's on solid ground.

The Schlitterbahn Water Park Resort, located in New Braunfels, Texas (population 37,000), is the most popular water park in the United States, and it attracts nearly one million people during its summer season.

Recently, Schlitterbahn hit a milestone of sorts; it now runs the entire park using Dell computers. We decided to take a look at how this small business on a tight budget uses technology to increase efficiency, decrease costs and improve its ability to compete at a national level.

A huge facility, Schlitterbahn's 65-acre water park includes more than 40 rides and activities, such as three uphill water coasters, nine tube chutes, 17 water slides, a body-boarding ride, wave pool, five swimming pools, five hot tubs, seven children's water playgrounds, plus water and sand volleyball courts.

There are also restaurants, five retail-shopping areas and a resort with more than 200 rooms ranging from rustic motel rooms to three-bedroom condominiums.

The company employs nearly 200 full-time workers year round and adds between 1800 and 2000 part-time workers during its late-April to mid-September season.

Technology Made It Better
Leigh Murphy, the company's IT director came on board three years ago. At the time, the company only had roughly 30 desktop computers and most if it's business was processed by hand.

With the support of the company, Murphy and her three-person IT team took on the challenge of automating Schlitterbahn's business processes — from ticketing and sales to inventory tracking and payroll.

While everyone supported this new initiative, Sherrie Brammall, director of corporate communications, says, "We were worried that investing in automation wouldn't pay off due to our short season. Leigh taught us that assumption isn't true."

Murphy's first plan of attack was to automate the company's business systems, starting with the group sales process, and then retail sales followed by ticketing. Initially, she used Access to create a central database for tracing sales — now they've upgraded to SQL.

"Automating the sales process lets us track sales in real time and respond immediately to our customers," says Murphy. Schlitterbahn has five retail stores in the park and each store has a desktop PC. On a recent day, one store had a major run on aqua shoes.

"We saw they were selling out," says Murphy, "so we moved aqua shoes from the four other stores to meet the need. Since the technology let us see the trend so quickly, we placed a restocking order in time to get a delivery in the next day so we wouldn't run out."

Give that the park maintains a retail inventory of over 22,000 items — from key chains to bathing suits and surf gear to cameras — the computerized tracking and order capability makes the process run smoother and more efficiently.


Automating retail sales
Leigh Murphy (l) and Linda Rodriguez scan inventory.

Time is Money
Schlitterbahn's time and attendance process needed updating, too. Employees punched time cards for every shift, and at the height of the season, they were processing 2000 to 2200 paper time cards per week in to make the payroll.

Today, employee name badges come with a barcode on the back, and the workers swipe it through a terminal.

"Our margin of human error for payroll had been anywhere from six to 30 percent," says Murphy. "Automating that process eliminated paper, human error and let the company move three employees into positions where they were really needed."

Schlitterbahn frequently surveys its customers in order to provide better service and to aid in marketing campaigns. That used to be a time-consuming pen, paper data entry proposition.

"Now we use Axim hand held computers," says Murphy. "We upload the surveys to the Axim and then download completed surveys to our server. It's a lot faster, and in a water park, it was tough keeping the paper surveys dry."

Why Dell?
We asked Leigh Murphy why she chose to run her systems on nothing but Dell equipment.

"I had used Dell before I came to Schlitterbahn, and I chose Dell for its reliability and cost," she says. "We may see one million customers a year, but we're a small company that doesn't have a lot of money to spend on anything that isn't truly needed. Dell made the technology affordable."


Surveying guests.
Using a Dell Axim, Leigh Murphy surveys park guests.

"I called other vendors, but they were too expensive, used hard sell tactics and tried to sell me equipment I didn't want. Dell listened to what our company needed. We have to be truly efficient and precise about what we buy. It has to be necessary because we're only open five months a year."

Murphy currently runs the following Dell hardware:

  • Dell PowerEdge servers running Microsoft Server 2003
  • PowerVault network attached storage (NAS) server
  • OptiPlex desktops
  • Latitude notebooks
  • Axim handheld computers

According to Murphy, she uses the hardware to achieve:

  • Time and Attendance automation (real-time information and reduction in human error calculations)
  • Point of Sale automation (centralized database records supplying real time transactions)
  • Remote Administration Services (lets the IT department manage/repair a desktop from the office — when you have a 65-acre park, this is priceless)
  • Accounting and HR automation (to manage employees and obtain real-time information)
  • Help Desk System (manages and stores help desk requests, resolutions and increases our capability to help the end user by creating a knowledgebase)
  • Internet Reservations (to satisfy growing consumer preference for booking rooms online)

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor at SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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