This company has evolved quite a bit since I launched it back in December 2000. Back then, I had a business partner, we were leasing aircraft, we were operating out of a different airport, we had virtually no facilities to speak of, we employed only seasonal staff (usually different people each year), and no idea how to actually run a business - clearly, all of the key ingredients for a successful endeavor!
Obviously, Chicagoland Skydiving Center has evolved into something completely different today, given that we own aircraft, built a large facility, opened a year-round restaurant, created a team of year-round senior level employees for operations, business development, finance, marketing, guest relations, cleaning, and maintenance. We're flattered to be included in conversations about dropzones leading our industry and hear the respect our guests have for how we run our business. As we've grown in physical size and volume, we've also matured as a team with a unified focus on the same goals.
Woody, our Chief Operations Officer (and Guest Relations Associate) boils it down to one simple idea: we sell fun. And while each guest at CSC may find fun in different ways, or even without spending a dime, every person is important and every interaction is our chance to share the "why" behind what we do.
No single change we made has been more impactful on the business than that of defining our core values and making certain that the team understands what our goals are. In doing this, we also made a change to every job title in the organization. Literally every staff member is a Guest Relations Associate at CSC. Myself included.
The development of our core values was a lengthy process that began in 2011. The timing was critical because we had just closed down our original location and began construction on our new venue in Rochelle, IL. At first, the concept was met with some resistance by the team. What are core values? Why does a skydiving operation need core values? Are we trying to be "too corporate?"
At that point, I had been running CSC for 10 years and decided that if we’re going to make the investment to create beautiful new facilities, there’s no way we can let the same problems of the past creep back in. In other words, new facility, new beginnings.
Core values provided me with a road map to share with the rest of the team. They helped me hire (and fire, even when it meant legacy staff and friends). They helped me develop the best management team this industry has ever seen. They keep me on-point and grounded to my vision. They helped me create an environment that allows me to work “on" my business and not “in" my business. They helped me find work-life balance so that I can spend more time with my wife and kids. They helped me empower my team and trust them with major business decisions.
It feels good to know I could be out of town on a busy summer weekend and have complete confidence that our team would run the show like true professionals. When I'm not at the dropzone, I don't feel stressed about things coming off the tracks. Instead, I feel jealous that I'm missing out on the fun.
Disrupting our Industry
Let’s face it, there are nearly 300 dropzones in the US. We didn’t want to just be another dropzone, so we set out to create a complete entertainment venue that happens to feature skydiving. In addition to the busy summer months, we created year-round uses for our facility including banquets, business meetings, space for parties, and more.
Most dropzones around the world create a private club-like vibe that makes outsiders feel as if they can’t get in if they’re not jumping. We saw this as an opportunity. People are inherently intrigued by the concept of humans falling out of airplanes, but they feel that they can only pull over on the highway and watch from a distance. By developing a restaurant concept around the theme of aviation and skydiving and inviting the public to get close to the action, we have seen a tremendous amount of crossover from restaurant patrons to skydiving.
Anyone can create a beautiful facility and a cool restaurant. The hard part is creating the team of professionals who can take people who thought they would never jump out of a perfectly good airplane and get them to open up to the idea. We’re the first to recognize that skydiving is not for everyone, but we want to make sure that people are well-educated before making that decision. Our team encourage guests to come over and watch us pack the parachutes, take an aircraft observer flight, watch the landings, etc. We actively approach people who seem curious and offer a tour. Skydivers love to share the love of their sport with people and we only want those types of people on our team.
There's no "sky god" in TEAM
We are very careful to only hire team members who understand and share the passion we have about skydiving and delivering the wow experience to every single person who walks onto our campus. Every guest is our most important guest, regardless if they are jumping, eating, shopping, or spectating.
Our philosophy is to hire the right person, and train the task. Personality, attitude, and openness to learning are the first things we look for in any job candidate. While experience is important in our sport, it isn't the most important factor for who will make a good CSC Team member.
Our team knows every interaction is an opportunity for our Guest Relations Associates to shine. When you build a team of people who will act with integrity and remain ambassadors of your values, goals, and brand, you know you have something special. We have something special.
There are plenty of things that we want to do to make CSC and the Flight Deck Bar & Grill better, but with the foundation of a strong management team, empowered and valued employees who are able to contribute to success of the company, and a solid roadmap, I am confident that we are on a trajectory that will put us on the map as one of the top skydive locations in the world.
Guest Relations Associate