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Does Your Maintenance Department Cost You A Fortune… or Make You Money?

by Kevin Derrickson

Many park managers probably did a double-take at the title of this article, not realizing that the second half of the question was even an option!  The managers that have seen that possibility first-hand are probably smiling to themselves as they watch their profits climb steadily upward…  Evolving the first category of manager into the second category has been such a popular topic that there have even been a couple of successful TV shows geared toward this type of transformation!  My personal favorite deals with restaurants rather than amusement parks, but the general premise is the same: an outside source with extensive experience comes in to help point out the areas just waiting to be improved in order to help turn a business on the brink of collapse into a successful, profit-generating dream.  I suspect that just like the supervisors of the kitchens on the series, many of the supervisors of the maintenance facilities at their respective parks have the problem areas right in front of them, they just don’t realize it.  Since Gordon Ramsey is not likely to come tell you if you have a “Maintenance Department Nightmare”, allow me to help you assess your facility for those improvement areas that you might not have considered until now…


First of all, how does the maintenance area look?  Is it organized?  Can you even see the workbench?  How long would it take to find a needed tool or part?  Here’s a quick test: go to the employee currently working in the maintenance department and as them for 3 commonly used tools and one commonly stocked part purchased within the last month.  Did they go to three or more different areas?  How long did it take to find these items?  Time is money and if the maintenance person spends more time looking for what they need than they do actually fixing the issue, that is costing revenue!  Tools should be kept clean and in central locations, and parts should be organized and labeled with one location for each item.


Also, how large is the yearly parts bill?  Are you repairing broken parts or replacing them?  It is normal to see parts costs increase as the equipment gets older, but when something like a motor is worn out, get a new one!  It is much more cost-effective than trying to rebuild an old, worn-out motor.  Used parts can be cleaned and re-used if they are still in good condition, however, if it is actually broken, don’t save it.  In a few rare cases, I have had to roll a dumpster into the shop and refuse to go any further until we got rid of the trash!  Ask your maintenance department where they keep the used hardware (for some reason, this is a common concept in many parks).  There is usually a box or bucket of odds and ends being kept “just in case”.  I do not recommend saving all the old nuts and bolts removed; things like locknuts should not be re-used ever, and in almost every “used bucket” I’ve looked in, I found stripped bolts.  Go to the maintenance facility for any airline and ask them where they keep the used hardware bucket… then wait for them to stop laughing.  Ok, that might be a bad example, but maybe it’s not!  Safety had better be one of your top priorities, and a good maintenance department should be maintaining equipment for optimal safety instead of waiting for problems to arise.  Failures will happen, of course, but how well the equipment is maintained will directly affect how many and how severe of failures you have.


Does your maintenance department blame every problem on manufacturer design and construction?  Believe me, I know nobody’s perfect: on occasion, issues will arise with almost every piece of equipment, but “manufacturer error” should not be the answer to every problem that comes up.  Think about it this way: did you have this problem when the equipment was brand new?  Parts get worn out, and sometimes things just break, especially when they’re not maintained properly.  If a piece of equipment is fixed correctly and completely, the repair (in most cases) should last as long as it did when it was new.  Most manufacturers have warranties and welcome feedback on how well their equipment works or items that may become issues in the future.


Let me end with a quick, real-world application of the concepts I’ve outlined in this article:  A while back, I had the pleasure of training Mike Hartwell, the new shop manager of a park in Meridian, Idaho (now known as Wahooz).  He was dropped into a park that was maintained at the minimum level, and after he took charge, it was amazing to see the difference in the quality of the shop and equipment!  He believed in these concepts of quality, preventative maintenance, and a workspace that facilitated productivity and effectiveness.  It didn’t happen overnight, but the change was tremendous.  I visited that park later on and spoke with the GM, who gleefully remarked that after bringing Mike onto the team, he experienced his first time after a busy weekend where he had no go-karts break down!  This just goes to show how pleasantly surprised you could be by the rewards of a little forethought, organization and attention to detail, and that a well-maintained fleet and an organized shop are not out of reach.  Good maintenance technicians and practices do not cost you money, they make you money!