At the time I'm writing this, I'm sipping a cup of hot tea at the dropzone, watching yet another inch of snow cover the ground. I haven't seen the sun in a few days, and the landing area looks more like a glacier than I care to admit. Truly living the midwest dream. Yet, the management team of CSC is hard at work.
Winter: It's not skydiving season, it's business development season.
Many people see us hustling all spring, summer, and fall - and many have commented on how much we must enjoy our winter vacations. But the truth is, we take a year-round approach to running Chicagoland Skydiving Center.
What do we do during the off-season? The answer is: a lot!
WE WORK ON THE STRENGTH OF THE TEAM
Our winter work really starts in October. Each fall, our management team takes a short retreat, usually about three days. We go somewhere together, far enough away that we won't get pulled into DZ operations.
This trip is a vital combination of work and play. We do part-day work sessions (year in review, budget discussions, brainstorming, planning, creating goal lists) followed by evening activities purely for fun. If drinking margaritas until you forget the recipe is wrong, then we don't want to be right.
By focusing on getting to know each other better, we develop actual friendship. This time to safely detach from a work mindset helps strengthen the bonds we rely on during times of stress. Everyone leaves this retreat with a clear vision of the priorities for the winter months and goals to hold each other accountable to. We continue to meet weekly throughout the winter to keep in alignment with each other. Our company culture places high value on trust, and it helps to genuinely enjoy the people you work with.
WE DIG INTO DATA
We look at the season as a whole. What does the data tell us?
- Website, social media, and advertising analytics
- Sales trends in all departments - positive or negative
- Customer data - locations, frequency, price points
- Safety performance
- Maintenance logs of equipment
- Aircraft items - turn times, efficiency, slot averages
We make data-driven changes. We've learned you can't sustain a dropzone on "gut" decisions. This is the time of year we can really dig into what happened, what we learned, and what we're going to do about it next season. Sometimes we find metrics we like. And sometimes we don't. We approach this research openly, and work together to improve processes or build new ones based on what we learn.
WE build BUDGETS
While we do have monthly budget meetings throughout the season, the winter is the time we do the majority of our forecasting for the following year. When we can look at a whole season's worth of finances, we can do a much better job of making changes where needed. The entire management team is involved in budget discussions, and we have found that bringing multiple perspectives into this part of the business helps everyone understand how their department must support the big picture.
WE PLAN EVENTS
Putting together a solid skydiving event calendar takes a lot of work. The winter months are used for planning as many elements of events as possible so once we get into the skydiving season we can go into promotion and execution mode. Collecting feedback, scheduling dates, brainstorming new ideas, researching partners, securing load organizers, getting on vendor tour calendars, building the aircraft puzzle, bidding to host future events, creating artwork...you get the idea.
To give some context, this week alone we have: worked on bids to host two different competitions in 2018, hired load organizers for next July's Independence Boogie, mapped out a series of summer events with a Chicago-based activity company, discussed details with a client for a demo for next fall, and built our LO wish list for the year so we can approach our favorite people to build events with us next season. Everything that happens at our DZ is an ongoing project that started long before the jumpers see it.
We pride ourselves on hosting well-run events. That happens as a direct result of putting in the work in the off-season.
WE ManagE THE AIRCRAFT and Team PUZZLE
Requests to lease our airplanes come in all the time. We plan far ahead for when we can send a plane to another DZ, or when we might need to bring in additional lift power for our own needs. We build out maintenance schedules the best we can so operations aren't interrupted when the time comes during the season. This winter, we've been discussing making a substantial change to our fleet - and the whole management team has been involved in looking at the many angles of that decision.
We also focus on hiring. To build the best team in skydiving, we take our time interviewing and recruiting. We never want to start a season desperate for staff.
We Define our STRATEGY
It's the management team's job to constantly look ahead at where the industry is going, and put us in the best position to serve the needs of the market. "The way we've always done it" doesn't apply to our company - we work hard to get ahead of trends and deliver the best value to the customer.
That said, we keep each other in check. We're definitely dreamers, and our goals are big. We work together to prioritize projects on a realistic timeline, based on what the market will support. We've certainly put the cart before the horse at times, but we'd rather keep trying new things than get stuck in the past.
...plus so much more. We can't share all our secrets, right?
As much as we would love a winter vacation, the vision for the future of Chicagoland Skydiving Center is simply too big to put everything on pause for months at a time. Reach out to us, say hi, tell us about your ideas. We love knowing you're as excited as we are about the year ahead.