AT A GLANCE
• Location: Farmington, Pa.
Nemacolin Woodlands is reshaping the resort business behind the efforts of an aggressive and inventive staff that’s determined to never let anyone leave feeling like they’ve done it all.
You don’t have to look very hard these days to find evidence of the critical challenges now confronting even the most well-established resort properties. These aren’t exactly rosy times for businesses tied to the housing market, either. So imagine if your business fortunes were tied to both the resort and housing construction industries. You probably wouldn’t expect to refer to the “fun” that comes with the current state of those industries.
But “fun”—and in fact, “really fun”—is how Maggie Hardy Magerko still describes the resort side of the business units she oversees as President of 84 Lumber Company, headquartered in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania in the town the company was named for, Eighty Four, Pa.
Magerko is the daughter of Joe Hardy, who founded 84 Lumber in 1956. She was appointed President in 1992, and the father-daughter team have built the company into the largest privately owned supplier of building materials to private contractors (over $3 billion in sales), with much of that growth coming from the boom in residential housing.
|As group business has slowed, the Nemacolin Woodlands team has become even more aggressive about developing new ideas—such as the Kidz Spa (left), opened earlier this year in a retailing area adjacent to the resort’s main Woodland Spa—that can add appeal to a property already known for distinctive attractions such as the Chateau Lafayette hotel (right).
In 1987, Hardy bought a piece of property at auction, near the town of Farmington, Pa., that had been a 400-acre private game reserve for the Pittsburgh industrialist, Willard Rockwell, and his family. The property included a conference center but little else. Hardy renamed it the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and established the Woodlands Golf Academy and The Woodlands Spa in the first two years. After his daughter joined him shortly thereafter, the two continued to upgrade and expand the resort.
Twenty years later, Nemacolin has earned a bushel of awards, distinctions and top-star and -diamond ratings, not only for its golf courses, but also its culinary and lodging offerings, and as a meetings and event venue. The resort is firmly established as a primary attraction in a part of Pennsylvania, known as the Laurel Highlands, that has grown in popularity because of the variety of year-round recreational opportunities offered in the region. And because of its accessibility (a quarter of the country’s population is within a four-hour drive of Nemacolin), the area’s appeal has grown even more, as closer-to-home vacations have come into vogue.
|Maggie Hardy Majerko, President of Nemacolin Woodlands’ parent, 84 Lumber, enjoys working with a resort team led by General Manager Trey Matheu that’s always focused, she says, on “thinking about what we can do next to keep the place contemporary and fresh.”
But today, Magerko is not one to sit on the resort’s many laurels—nor is she being naive or pie-in-the-sky when she comments about the “fun” of owning a resort in the midst of such challenging times.
“Absolutely, [the recession] has really made it tough, especially for the group side of our business,” she explains. “And I don’t see that part of it coming back to where it was until maybe even 2012.
“But I think some of the problems of [established resorts] are as much about how they never tried to reinvent themselves as they are about the economy,” she adds. “The customers they could always count on just aren’t around anymore.
“Especially in these times, you can’t practice ‘Hospitality 101’ or go by standard operating procedures and allow yourself to get stale,” she continues. “That, to me, is what’s really fun about this business—the chance to work with a great team as we think about what we can do next to keep the place contemporary and fresh.”
Putting More on the Map
With all that Nemacolin already offers on its property, it’s reasonable to wonder just what else could be dreamed up to add to the current mix—or where it could fit in. But running out of room is far from a concern: “We still have lots of space,” Majerko assures.
Sometimes, as was the case with a new Kidz Spa opened earlier this year, existing space has been repurposed to house new concepts that will help to create a better overall offer for guests.
“Resort spas have been notoriously adult-oriented environments, with very few offering distinct services for children,” reports Spa Director Lisa Meinhofer. “We felt for some time that a kids’ spa could fit in well here, as another way to make the resort more inviting to families and avoid having kids feel left out from what Mom or Dad are doing.
Executive Chef Jeremy Critchfield oversees an $18.5 million F&B operation with over a dozen widely varied dining options, including the Academie du Vin (above), where wine tastings are held three times a week.
“It was just a matter of finding the right place for it,” she adds. “We finally decided to convert some retail space just across from [The Woodlands Spa] into rooms with special themes like ‘The Rejuvenating Jungle,’ for massages and facials, or ‘Paradise Beach,’ for a boutique mixing station. It was all designed and built within 10 weeks, and startup costs were less than $5,000.
“In a soft opening the first weekend, we had $1,500 in revenues,” Meinhofter reports. “We think the Kidz Spa has especially good potential for birthday parties or private functions, as well as for local clientele.”
The quest to continually find and implement ideas for new attractions and enhancements at Nemacolin will continue no matter how tight things may get, assures General Manager Trey Matheu. “If you stop trying to grow amenities or revenues, you will backslide into a death spiral,” he says.
In an environment where a spate of group meeting cancellations has knocked every resort property, including Nemacolin, to its knees, growing revenues is truly the tougher task at hand.
Here, too, the staff is not shying from the challenge. The current management mantra at Nemacolin is to shift from the traditional hospitality focus on “RevPAR” (revenue per available room) to instead launch an all-out push to generate as much “RevPOR” (per occupied room) as possible.
A key strategic weapon in this initiative will be massive mining of a new customer database, implemented under the direction of Assistant General Manager Chris Plummer. Before coming to Nemacolin three years ago, Plummer was in systems development for casino operations, where success hinges on knowing as much, if not more, about customers and their preferences than they know about themselves—and then using that knowledge to engender and ensure unbroken loyalty to your property as a favored venue.
Plummer thinks the potential for applying the same strategy in a resort environment, and especially one with as much to offer as Nemacolin, is virtually limitless. “There’s a clear multiplier effect for ‘RevPOR,’ both with length of stay and with repeat visits,” he reports. “That’s why it’s critical for us to have the right data about our guests’ likes and dislikes, and to use it effectively.
|Thanks to TV exposure gained when Nemacolin’s Mystic Rock course hosted a PGA TOUR event in 2003, annual golf rounds have grown from 18,000 to 34,000. “We were a well-kept secret,” says Director of Golf Operations Dennis Clark.
“It all starts with what we can find out about how people look at our Web site, which is where 90% of the initial research about us is conducted,” Plummer adds. “But how it continues with all subsequent contacts with guests—whether it’s when we have them on the phone or while they’re here on site—is just as important. Everyone, from our sales and reservations staff to our servers and our management team, has to be smart about what we’re suggesting to whom, so we can help everyone make the most of their time here. We figure if we can show people enough things that they like in their first two visits to get them back here a third time, that’s when we’ll turn on the loyalty button.”
Click to Enlarge
|A Mystic Mountain Ski Slopes & Sundial Ski Lodge
B Wild Pete’s Snow Tubing
C Adventure Center
• Climbing Wall • Ropes Course • Paintball • Archery • Bike Rental • Disc Golf
D Off-Road Driving Academy
E Airplane Hangar
F House of Meditation
G Miniature Golf
H Shopping (Heritage Court)
I Paradise Pool
J Woodlands Spa
K Chateau & Lodge
L Auto Toy Store
M Nemacolin Golf Academy
N The Nike Shop at The Links
O Wildlife Academy
• Walking Tours • Trail Rides • Pony Rides • Safari Tours • Sled Dog Kennels • Dog Sledding
P Falling Rock & Mystic Rock Pro Shop
|Q Black Bear Habitat
R Children’s Play Area
S Wildlife Habitats
T Hardy Girls’ Gymnasium
U Buffalo Habitat
V Zebra Habitat
W Paige’s Beach
X Maggie Valley
Y Mystic Rock Golf Course
Z The WildSide
• 8-Lane Bowling Alley • Indoor Climbing Wall • Arcade Games • Exotic Bird Habitat • RC Car Racing Area • Sports Bar & Restaurant
AA Shooting Academy
• Sporting Clays • Fly Fishing
BB Walden Pond
CC Cottage at Grouse Glen
DD Garshack Treehouse
EE Arden Estates
FF Nemacolin Wooflands Pet Resort & Spa
GG Hardy Family Learning Center
% Pet Stations
To give this strategy some punch that goes beyond merely making customer-savvy suggestions, Nemacolin is also being aggressive with value-added offers like a new “Adventure Pass,” which gives guests the opportunity to choose from a selected menu of activities for a low daily rate ($15). By establishing specific time periods for when the various activities are available (vs. having all of them open all of the time), Nemacolin is also attacking the cost side. It all adds up to a win-win, says Director of Recreation Jon Pitcavage, with guests being offered “a vastly better opportunity and value for experiencing all that we have here, while we streamline operations.”
Because this approach will now allow Pitcavage to assign a staff member to two four-hour shifts at two different activities, it also fits well with Nemacolin’s emphasis on staff cross-utilization, felt to be another key to effectively assisting and making suggestions to guests. The resort is also doing more to get staff members themselves to experience all the resort has to offer.
“If we want our people to understand, and enthusiastically describe, the value of all that’s here, it’s important that we make it possible for them to try it all out themselves,” says Dennis Noonan, Vice President of Sales. “Ultimately, we want our employees to anticipate our guests’ needs and then to be able to talk about the amenities of our resort that will be most appealing to them during their stay.” C&RB