Adventure business TreeTops has continued its 11-year achievement of delivering 52 per cent year-on-year growth. General manager Sandrine Gaymard opens up on how the business is maintaining such impressive growth.
Pretty much anyone with kids – young and old – living in NSW will know TreeTops, the operator of five adventure parks with various activities, including Tarzan swings, vertical challenges, tightropes and other adventures, that get users off the ground.
Yet what most people don’t see is the business behind the activities, and one which has delivered strong annual revenue growth since it first launched in Australia back in 2008.
TreeTops and its parent company Ecoline now operate five locations across eastern NSW, including two in Sydney and one each on the Central Coast and in Newcastle and Coffs Harbour.
“The response from locals and tourists alike has been phenomenal,” said Ms Gaymard (pictured).
“Everyone from young children through to the young at heart just love getting up among the trees, bouncing, playing and discovering different rooms, each with their own unique theme, including the suspended ball pit right through to the room with swinging chairs and hammocks.
“It is an attraction that is for everyone, not just those looking for extreme adventure challenges or adrenaline-inducing activities.”
Ms Gaymard and her husband Fred decided to bring the experience to life here in Australia, having discovered similar activities in their native France, which they had left a decade earlier.
My Business asked Ms Gaymard how TreeTops has continued to change and evolve over the past 11 years in ways which have delivered strong, sustainable revenue growth, and why sometimes passing on an opportunity to grow can be for the greater good.
“Regardless of the exciting innovations and plans we have to grow the business, they sometimes are temporarily put on hold.”
What have been some of the core challenges in delivering revenue growth year-on-year and ensuring that such growth is sustainable?
“Our growth has definitely presented some hurdles when it came to growing the TreeTops brand. The main challenge has been the number of hours in a day!
“When you start a new business, you cannot afford much help and you work tirelessly across every area of the business. Once you can afford help, then the obstacle is recruiting the right people and managing these new team members. If you can find the right people for the job, people you can trust and empower, then you’re on the right track.
“The other challenge has been to continue a sustainable operation on each site, with the strong focus on safety and customer service we value, while developing new activities or locations. At times, we’ve had to concentrate our energy on consolidating our current operations, rather than developing new ones.
“Of course, the last, but not least, challenge has been to develop new sites. Our criterion when looking at a new TreeTops location is based on the sustainability of the site and for our business, which considerably reduces the potential for expansion, as good sites that offer these conditions are rare.
“One of the main topics I remember from my time at uni – and I’ve constantly had this in mind since we started – was the risk for a business of growing too fast. That surprised me so much at the time!
“Growth has been our goal since we created our business and has been at the forefront of everything we’ve undertaken. We believe if a business does not grow, it dies off. Throughout our journey as business owners, we’ve never lost sight of where we were and the risks any changes were posing to our business.
“We’ve always kept our finances healthy by not depending on banks, reducing our costs and always listening to customer feedback so our products always remained ‘wow’ experiences.
“Reducing costs was definitely one of the challenges but somehow also an asset of our growth, and keeping them down started with paying ourselves nothing or very little in the first few years, which meant anticipating so we could survive on our savings and doing many things ourselves like designing our logo, routing our signs, bookkeeping and admin, to name a few. This is where the number of hours in a day became a challenge!
“When scouting the country for new TreeTops locations, we always examine the catchment of the location, the assets of the environment and the land’s potential for additional attractions. At times, we have had to give up on pursuing a site as it didn’t embody each of these qualities, while others can take some time. For example, our Hills District location in Sydney took us 14 years to secure.
“This does mean that regardless of the exciting innovations and plans we have to grow the business, they sometimes are temporarily put on hold.
“Local tourism is another challenge that can hinder our revenue growth. If an area that we operate in is struggling with tourism and visitation rates, we can definitely feel it within our own business.
“That’s why we’re always looking for fun and quirky ways to bring excitement and interest to our locations to make it a destination. As an example, in 2018 TreeTops Central Coast attracted an estimated additional $1.14 million in tourism dollars to the local economy, a number that has been growing year-on-year.”
“What’s funny is that we became innovators without planning to be!”
But how has the company kept average growth at 52 per cent for 11 straight years?
“We have kept our average revenue growth of 52 per cent per annum by consistently innovating and introducing ‘firsts’ to the world and Australia.
“During these 11 years, we’ve had milestones every year or so with new products or locations, the main ones being the world’s longest roller-coaster zip line on the Central Coast in 2014, and the world’s fastest roller-coaster zip line in Western Sydney in 2018.
“Recently, we introduced Australia’s very first suspended net park, TreeTop NetWorld, on the Central Coast.
“What’s funny is that we became innovators without planning to be! We were the first to introduce tree-based ropes course with a wow-factor in 2008. By looking at our products and listening to customer feedback, we constantly improved our courses by adding new activities and developing our own safety system to allow children as young as three years to enjoy flying foxes in total safety.
“We introduced the first suspended venue in 2014. Our customers regularly told us how much they loved our flying foxes, so we made them longer and faster, but eventually they were always going in a straight line. We investigated changing this, although people were telling us it was impossible. As a result, we invented the roller-coaster zip line concept and patented a unique (yet simple) safety system we now export overseas. At the same time, we continued developing new sites to capture bigger catchments.
“Each of our attractions have been in huge demand by our existing customers, which is how we’re able to remain consistent in our growth and success – by always giving our customers what they want, or what they never even knew they needed. This has generated consistent repeat visitation and word-of-mouth customers.”
You mentioned growth by regularly adding new products and locations. What goes into determining that a new product will be successful?
“It is a mix of looking inside and outside our business. Feedback received from our existing customers play a huge role in determining which new attractions we introduce to our parks. We interact with our customers to find out exactly what they like, or don’t like, and brainstorm as a team what we can do to improve.
“We’re also very big on facilitating self-learning and ensure that we are as involved in developing our skills and knowledge as we can be, so that we can remain at the forefront of sustainable innovations.
“We regularly attend the IAAPA Exhibition in Orlando, which is the landmark for the attractions industry to fetch new products and trends, and are involved in a number of member associations such as the Australian Amusement Leisure & Recreation Association and the SLA (Syndicat des Loisirs Actifs – Leisure Activities Association) in Europe. These keep us up to date with what’s going on globally in the industry and also ensures that we are on top of any changes to relevant legislation.”
“Surround yourself with people that share the same values as you do.”
How does the business operate in terms of its sites – are they company-owned or leased?
“All of our sites are leased from government departments. This is for the benefit of both partners.
“While we’re able to take care of their sites, remove weeds and anti-social behaviour in the area and provide the landowner with revenue, we get the returned benefit of reduced set-up costs and operating in a site that has excellent existing foundations (for example, plenty of trees and a large catchment).”
What advice would you give to other fast-growing businesses about ensuring they can achieve long-term viability?
“My biggest piece of advice would be to surround yourself with people who share the same values as you do, so that your business vision is cohesive and you’re both able to work towards a common goal.
“I work with my business partner and husband, Fred, which I can say with certainty has had a huge impact on our overall success. While I handle the business side of TreeTops, Fred handles the safety and construction side.
“Because of that, we’re able to fuse together our two very different minds and brainstorm new and creative attractions that we think will benefit not only our business, but the community we operate in.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.