Swimming Against The (Recession) Tide
"It's recession proof. I guarantee it's recession proof!" Todd Nelson is adamant about it and who am I to doubt him? After all would you doubt a guy who is obsessed with building the largest indoor water park resort in the world?
"This is the best indoor water park resort in the country, bar none." Nelson is telling me this as we take a brisk walking tour of the Kalahari Resorts operation in Sandusky, Ohio. It is 6 degrees outside. It is 80 something inside.
"When the sun is out, even in the winter, you have to wear suntan lotion on our tanning deck. The sun is that hot coming through our specially made roof. You can get a sunburn!" Nelson is nothing if he's not enthusiastic. Oh, and very, very successful.
"It is a multi-billion dollar industry and it started from nothing in 1992. Nothing. It all started with one guy building a little water park in Wisconsin Dells. And here we are today."
Nelson needless to say is from Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. The birth place of the indoor water park industry. Nearly all of the people and companies now in the business are from that part of Wisconsin.
"We're just a bunch of serial entrepreneurs all from the same place. We just like 'one-upping' one another all the time. That and making money." Nelson got his first shot at making money when he was 14. He was the youngest professional auctioneer in the USA. Fast talking comes naturally to him.
"This park is 173,000 square feet. The biggest in the country. And we have a hotel, a convention center, condos for sale. We've got it all." That's what makes Nelson different from most of his competition. He sees the water park element as only one source of revenue. He puts his parks within a four hour drive of at least 30 million people. He doesn't expect people to come for a week, but rather for 2 or 3 days. Or he expects the convention goer to bring his or her family.
"When they can bring their families and when the families have something to do, convention business goes up 20 per cent. I tell you it's recession proof."
I'm convinced, what I'm not is about to put on a bathing suit and ride the wave machine. Nelson would love to see it he says. Sometimes Todd, you can't talk fast enough.
'MOA' is on the road in North Carolina all week. You can catch our video reports on CNBC's "Power Lunch." See you along the road.
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