Three-year-old Lazy Springs Recreational Park is just the opposite of lazy. It is more like a small amusement park on steroids.
Its core financial model ($20 per capita with less than a five percent labor cost) and attractions operational philosophy are completely ‘opposite’ of our traditional amusement entertainment industry. At Lazy Springs, attractions are not staff supervised; there are no lifeguards and no life jackets provided by Lazy Springs.
Their call to action may be similar: “You bring the family, we bring the fun,” but their out-of-the-box approach to what they call “asset management” is what really makes Lazy Springs both unique and highly profitable. This is my main reason for passing on what I have learned from Owners/Partners Bill McDaniel and James Ivy.
The 375-acre outdoor recreation park has just about every activity that outdoor enthusiasts crave. The pricing is simple: $10/person/day in advance (kids under nine are free) and $10/recreation vehicle (you must “run what you brung,” no rentals). Everyone signs a waiver. A bus and a motor home are considered recreational vehicles.
The rules are simple: If you see anyone with glass, speeding, littering, riding after dark, or engaging in inappropriate behavior, call us; don’t confront. The speed limit for driving any vehicle on the park roads is 10 mph.
The guiding business principle from Co-owner McDaniel is, “People, in general, lie. We help them to not cheat so they do not have to lie. Yes, glass is prohibited. Anyone caught with it is called a ‘glasshole.’ Our guests really appreciate our strict rules.”
There are up to 10 security personnel on event days riding around on ATVs and two county deputies stationed at the front gate. Gates close at sunset and re-open at sunrise. There is no vehicle movement permitted during after hours. Alcohol is permitted but it is an official misdemeanor if you are seen drinking while driving any vehicle.
Imagine spending a day/weekend actively, or as a spectator, enjoying what we might label as attractions in the family entertainment center (FEC) industry. A quick summary of current and new attractions continually being introduced as the park expands are:
• Six lakes with 80-85 degree water temperature (eight miles of coastline) for boating; water skiing; wave running; swimming; fishing (catfish pond, bass, blue gills – 8-10 lbs. – can keep ‘em and cook ‘em or throw ‘em back and catch ‘em again); scuba; Southern Extreme Waterski Show; paddle boats; three rope swings (45 foot long telephone set at 45 degrees); and Slip and Slide, a 60-foot long plastic slide for body or on inner tube.
• Beaches – plenty of ’em.
• Two zip lines all over water, a 150-foot ride. Everyone starts out 25 feet above the water.
• Camping: Bring your RVs and/or tents for what is called primitive camping.
• 14 Jeep Obstacle Courses: Lazy M, Little Rubicon, Telephone Poll Crawl (120 feet long). Many get stuck in the mud and have to be pulled out. Carnage Pass: 72-inch giant tires are 50 percent buried and the challenge is to get over them.
• Wicked Trail System is one-half mile long and takes 10 minutes for ATVs, side by sides, buggies, dirt bikes, jeeps, jet skis, kayaks, and canoes.
• Mud Hole with mud…mud…mud and a maximum depth of eight feet with unlimited mud class racing and multi-competitions and Open Mud Hole. The Mud Hole dries up in the winter so McDaniel and Ivy installed a 12-inch dia. pump that has a capacity of three million gallons per day.
• MX Track for motorcycles and ATVs: Currently, one moto (lingo for lap) is 0.9 miles and is being expanded to 2 miles. All two-wheelers race for 30 minutes at the top of each hour and then switch over to four-wheelers (ATVs) at the bottom of each hour. This is done for safety reasons as two-wheeler bikes and ATVs tend to jump over the hills in different sections according to specific groove patterns the riders are looking for.
• Mega Truck Track is five acres, for trucks up to 1,000 HP with 60-inch diameter wheels. All jumps are timed; 22 seconds is a great time.
• 16 Events per year: Swamp Cabbage Festival; BYOT (Bring Your Own Tree during Christmas Week); Budweiser 30; Fancy Car Shows; Bike Rallies; Go Topless Charity Jeep Event – May 14, 2016, 200 jeeps entered from Calossa Jeep Club in Ft. Myers, Fla.; Partners for Brest Cancer (last year raised $15,000).
• Challenges: The Truck Pull Pad is 20 feet wide, 120 feet long. Two trucks back in, tie up, and play tug-of-truck. The Jan 30 Grudge Match attracted more than 50 trucks. In Teeter-Totter, a truck crawls up on a see-saw and tries to balance. So far, in three years no truck has accomplished this challenge. Also: Run Over Old Cars is a staple with lots of uncrushed old cars arriving weekly; RTI Suspension Flex Ramp-One Wheel Flex is when the back same side wheel lifts off the ground, a linear measure of how far up the ramp is made. Bounty Hole is 300 feet long, $20/attempt, winner gets $200. If no one wins Round 1, entrants pay $20 and the prize fund is increased to $400. If no one wins Round 2, entrants pay $20 once again and the prize fund is increased to $600.
• Kiddie Track: This is for kiddie motorcycles with training wheels that go up to 3 mph. It is adored by the three-to-four-year-olds and even some two-year-olds and the parents, friends, and spectators.
HOW MARKETING WORKS
Currently, Lazy Springs has 8,100 Facebook friends. According to Brandi Broxson, Director of Marketing and Social Media, “I ping our Facebook friends about an upcoming event and each of them pings their friends and the total is more than 24,000.” Wow, if only more FECs understood this simple concept!
The current land mass and adjacent property were originally an orange grove and cow pasture and still fall under that category for tax purposes. The entire 10,400 acres in prehistoric times was all under water. McDaniel is a farmer turned real estate developer. His original plan was to create a 750-unit lakefront community including commercial development, or as he puts it, “Plant houses and grow Yankees.”
This dream took three years in the planning and then another two years to obtain permits. Along the way he had to make concessions in order to operate Lazy Springs a total of 172 days a year, agreeing never to permit horses on the property. The development of Lazy Springs was made possible because the real business was excavating and mining. McDaniel and Ivy removed dirt and rock and sold both to local contractors. A typical day saw 500-600 truckloads of rock and dirt removed. The rock is sold as a major ingredient in concrete. Creating a beautiful lake is not as easy as it looks. It takes a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of hoops to jump through with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other local and federal authorities.
The development of Lazy Springs was made possible because the real business was excavating and mining. McDaniel and Ivy removed dirt and rock and sold both to local contractors. A typical day saw 500-600 truckloads of rock and dirt removed. The rock is sold as a major ingredient in concrete. Creating a beautiful lake is not as easy as it looks. It takes a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of hoops to jump through with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other local and federal authorities.
Creating a beautiful lake is not as easy as it looks. It takes a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of hoops to jump through with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other local and federal authorities.
McDaniel and Ivy build everything themselves and have designed in safety elements that have not yet been introduced to traditional amusement parks. For example, McDaniel designed and installed a 27-foot-long retractable dog leash to the rope swing rope so the second person in line can easily help the first person in line pull in the rope. This leash costs approximately $6 and is replaced once each month during the summer. He said, “We are considering adding pay-for-play bumper boats, at least two go-kart tracks, a dozen or so paddleboats, and a free drive-in movie theater with
This leash costs approximately $6 and is replaced once each month during the summer. He said, “We are considering adding pay-for-play bumper boats, at least two go-kart tracks, a dozen or so paddleboats, and a free drive-in movie theater with old-time speakers on poles.
Last week I hooked McDaniel up with a friend of mine who owns 14,000 acres in Colorado and rented a section out to a famous Hollywood director for a cool million-dollar movie set lease. Perhaps Stallone, Statham, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren would like to film “Expendable 3” at Lazy Springs?
If that doesn’t work out, an additional 10,000 acres are available, and when the housing market improves a bit they anticipate building more community homes. I am looking forward to bringing my two grandchildren (Royce, age 8, and Pendry, age 6) to Lazy Springs when they visit me in Naples, Fla.
It should be both an eye-opening and educational experience for all of us. I can’t wait to see them swinging on the rope swing, sliding down the Slippy Slide, and of course, going the full distance on the zip line and then dropping off into the water with a big splash. I am sure I will be right behind them along with Lily, our new drone camera.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN?
The important takeaway was appreciating how Lazy Springs has maximized its financial return on investment (ROI) by easily hitting that magic $20 per capita, along with a high repeat visitation, word of mouth advertising, and such low operating costs.
I am sure that there are many skeptics who find it hard to believe that without attendants at each attraction there would be hundreds of accidents and thousands of lawsuits. However, that has not been the case. Guests look out for themselves and each other and quickly report any inappropriate behavior or take care of the culprits themselves. There are several recreation parks already open that are similar to Lazy Springs, but on a much smaller scale.
This past year McDaniel and Ivy permitted small vendors to sell firewood, T-shirts, ball caps, sodas, and water. They are anticipating adding a few additional vendors but only for essential items that guests sometimes forget to bring. A gas station might be a good idea.
After our tour, my partner, Joe Camarota, and I started brainstorming with McDaniel and Ivy about other revenue generating sources such as a games tent, rock climbing walls, balloon flights, and corporate sponsorship opportunities, especially in the categories of trucks, motorcycles, and racing. They continue to add more attractions each month. The future does indeed look bright for Lazy Springs. Special thanks to Brandi Broxson, who made sure I received all of the special truck pictures taken by Victoria Marcano of Miami, Fla, (www.victoriamarcanophoto.com). Photos by Victoria Marcano
Profiles: Bill McDaniel and James Ivy
William L. McDaniel Jr. began his professional career as a carpenter shortly after moving to Naples, Fla. in 1981. In college, he majored in accounting and computer programming with a minor in economics. In 1982, he became a licensed real estate salesman and in 1985 a licensed realtor. In 1987, he founded The Realty Co., which he manages today, primarily focusing on the sale, management, and development of real estate in Southwest Florida.
In 1998, he co-founded Big Island Excavating Inc. with Ivy, which they still manage today. Big Island is a mining company whose main office is in eastern Collier County and has experienced tremendous growth. McDaniel serves on the boards of a long list of civic organizations and was a member of the Rural Land Stewardship Committee, and another Collier County commission appointment in 2008-2009. He enjoys outdoor activities with his two children.
James E. Ivy Jr. grew up in Georgia and Florida. After graduating high school, he started installing electronic telephone systems with a local company. Ivy worked for 11 years installing, programming, and networking electronic telephone systems before deciding to go into business for himself. He then opened Comtel Business Telephone, which he operated for eight years.
The growth of Big Island Excavating Inc. co-founded with McDaniel, allowed Ivy to sell Comtel Business Telephone so he could focus more time on the flourishing and demanding excavation company. Ivy has managed Big Island Excavating Inc. with McDaniel by overseeing the operational side of the company. He enjoys hunting, fishing, and traveling with his two children.
Reprinted from Play Meter – March 2016