Twenty years has gone by quickly. In 1998 it all started in a small office with one employee and both of us sharing one laptop. Fast forward to now and we have 3 offices and 150 employees.
Of course, any story like ours is laden with backstories that at the time may not have been funny, but definitely make you laugh in hindsight. The top of the list has to be our roller coaster project at the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. We worked on the High Roller for almost a year (over six months on-site) and it was the biggest project in the entertainment industry at the time.
One issue was we could not consistently get the train to go over the lift hill with enough speed to have it then come back into the station. When it did not come back into the station this meant we had to spend over an hour with come-alongs pulling the train back to its starting point. Of course, this was all done at about 950 feet in the air. Publicity events don’t often change their dates, so we had a deadline to meet. The Stratosphere had planned a huge media day; one with helicopters and many dignitaries in attendance for the ribbon cutting and first ride.
While we were ready we still had an occasional mechanical issue- if it was humid the train would get stuck and then it was a mess. I could tell it by looking at the speed of the train as it went over the lift hill whether it was going to make it back or not. Well, the ribbon-cutting day comes, the sky is filled with helicopters from news channels, and we are ready for our first ride with the train loaded of Las Vegas dignitaries and celebrities. As the vehicles went over the hill, you guessed it, I know right away the train was not going to make it back. I could tell that we were going to have these people stuck for an hour on that coaster, 950 feet in the air, while the news channels are broadcasting. I still say this is the defining point of my career. I literally started to walk down the stairs to leave and go to the airport. I could not bear to think about the public relations disaster that was about to happen.
I walked down 4 of 95 floors and I thought “this is not me, it is not how to handle this situation”, so I went back to the top. Sure enough, the coaster was stuck and we started the hour long process to winch the train back to the top. While not our best moment, the reception was not that bad since the dignitaries did not mind hanging out that high above the Las Vegas strip talking to each other. We eventually ran it again and this time all went well and the rest is history. Every company has stories like this in their growth, the challenge is that in our industry everything is magnified since it gets global attention.
We also have good stories of working hard and being rewarded for your work. Skycoaster® is a great example of this. We started working for Bill Kitchen, the guru inventor of the Skycoaster, as a sales representative and sold Skycoasters for several years. When a public company in Canada approached him to sell the company, we worked with Bill to complete the sale of the business and continued to sell the ride. A few years later, when the public company decided to sell Skycoaster® we were fortunate enough to be in a position to purchase the manufacturer. So, we worked for Skycoaster Company, helped to sell it, and then purchased it. It is still the most successful and profitable extra-pay attraction in the industry and I believe its culture of safety and expertise is reflective of us as a company.
While stories add to the backdrop of any company, the fabric of Ride Entertainment is the people who worked with me to grow it over decades. I have been very fortunate to have a fantastic team that has allowed us to grow into five separate divisions; all of which are regarded as the best in the industry. I would need much more time and space to tell that story in detail but suffice it to say that Ride Entertainment is truly a team effort and succeeds because of everyone working together. Looking ahead to the next twenty years, I expect there will be many more stories of both fun and challenging times. I hope we can laugh about most of them, but the one thing I know for certain is that the driving force behind the company will be the Ride Entertainment team and their hard work, integrity, and professional excellence. Thanks for coming along for the ride with us, we hope to see you at the IAAPA Attractions Expo to celebrate our 20th anniversary and IAAPA’s 100th anniversary. It will be a great week. #RideOn
Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Ride Entertainment