Crain's Chicago Business profiles CSC
Published: August 20, 2012
Crain's Sports reporter Danny Ecker interviews CSC owner Doug Smith
Chicagoland Skydiving Center looking to land more families - August 20, 2012
by Danny Ecker, Crain's Chicago Business
Doug Smith is betting his latest investment will help make more money fall from the sky.
The owner of Chicagoland Skydiving Center just spent $2 million to build a new facility in Rochelle, about 80 miles west of Chicago. It's full of amenities that Mr. Smith hopes will rival those touted by his main competitor, Skydive Chicago, the leader in the market by number of licensed jumpers.
The center's new digs include a sand volleyball court, a basketball court, and a bar and restaurant with outdoor patio dining, among other perks aimed at creating more of a "family experience" to attract first-time jumpers.
"We want to open the place up so that people who aren't interested in actually skydiving would come out and at least get the exposure to it," says Mr. Smith, 39, who bought the company in 2000 after a stint at Platinum Technology Inc., a database technology company owned by Flip Filipowski in the 1990s.
CSC moved to Rochelle in April 2011 after a split with landowners near Hinckley Airport in DeKalb County, reinvesting in its brand to take advantage of growing interest in the sport.
There were around 3.1 million jumps in the U.S. in 2011 - up from 2.5 million just five years ago, according to the U.S. Parachute Association. That includes about 500,000 first-time jumpers, the group that Mr. Smith says "financially fuels the industry," contributing about 60 percent of his revenue at $220 per tandem jump.
The company did just under 9,000 first-time jumps in 2011 out of 37,000 total jumps for the year, and is on pace to have more than 40,000 brave souls jump out of planes this year, which its owner admits has come from good weather as much as his investment.
"On a good Saturday when we're operating both of our airplanes, it's just raining people all day long," he says.
Just as important, says the University of Iowa graduate, is the effect he hopes his investment will have on battling customer fears.
The numbers are already in his favor: There were 25 skydiving deaths in the U.S. last year (about 0.008 per 1,000 jumps), down from a peak of 35 deaths in 2001 (0.013 per 1,000 jumps).
Parachute technology has also improved in recent years, with more automatic activation devices, pressure sensors and other systems in place to help eliminate potential user error.
But perceptions of skydiving instructors as "renegades with no oversight" - as Mr. Smith says - remain an obstacle for the business.
"Our facilities by themselves help decrease fear and make people instantly feel more comfortable," he says. "This allows people to see this is a real business."
Read the original story on Crain's: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20120820/BLOGS04/120829999/chicagoland-skydiving-center-looking-to-land-more-families#ixzz247Ejpxre
"We had an awesome first jump and will definitely be back!"