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Midway Millennials Profile: The Kissel Sisters
Staying on Top of the Guest Experience

Madison Kissel-Jonker (left) and Savannah Kissel Seibert

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It used to be called thinking outside the box , and contemporary business observers use the term “disruptive” to explain new innovations, but often innovations are simply a sign of a new generation stepping into leadership positions. That seems to be the case at Kissel Entertainment, where a daughter duo of Savannah Kissel Seibert, 26 years old, and Madison Kissel-Jonker, 22 years old, are reimagining the midway for 21st century families, and reaping the rewards.

The first reward of course was this regional company being awarded the 2020 Kentucky State Fair contract, after carnival behemoth NAME (North American Midway Entertainment) held the contract for 13 years. “We believe that Kissel Entertainment is bringing a unique touch in its industry, providing a positive customer experience,” said Ian Cox, Spokesperson, Kentucky State Fair.

Guest Experience

The Kissel family spans four generations and more than 70 years providing midways for fairs, festivals and other events. The company itself is 45 years old and bills itself as a traveling amusement park,  but it's the millennial branch of the family bringing the midway into the 21st century by raising the bar on the guest experience. “What we've done in the last year is improve our guest relations,”  said Madison Kissel-Jonker. “We have focused the company on the guest experience and staying on top of the guest experience. We want to ensure our guests are going home happy. ”

For the Kissel sisters, “staying on top” is a comprehensive, daily, detail and team-oriented approach to the midway operations. It's an attitude impossible to miss. At the entrance of the Kissel midway is a fully staffed Welcome Center. The food are is designed as a food cafés,  featuring ample seating areas and servers wearing chef uniforms. According to Savannah Kissel Seibert, the goal was to resemble “a Starbucks. We have huge colorful vinyl that looks like canvas and colorful rocks. We try to make it as un-carnival as possible. We have a different feeling and perspective on our midway. We want families to feel welcomed, so they stay longer.”

Guest Relations

This guest experience enhancement is midway-wide. Not only are the company's food vendors in uniforms, but the  game operators wear striped referee shirts and the ride operators are in button down shirts. Every morning before the midway opens, the entire crew – which during the season-peak is about 150 workers, with about 70 percent being H-2B foreign workers – gathers for a meeting.

“Every single day, we meet, with all our team members” said Madison Kissel-Jonker. “It's everyone on the staff, that's very important. It's not like we have our executives somewhere else offsite, we all meet. We listen to the ideas and we implement those ideas every day because that way we keep all the lines of communication open,  because we are all a team and it's important to keep that dialogue open.”

The management style the newest generation of Kissels both sisters agree can be described as “very hands on.”

Team Approach

The daily meetings also include a worker inspection, making sure they're clean-shaven, hair brushed and combed, always keeping in mind that the staff member on the frontline engaging with each fairgoer is an crucial to the overall appearance of the midway as clean rides and ease-of-flow layouts. “Everyone has their uniform, and is neatly groomed,” said Savannah Kissel Seibert “We are sticklers on how everyone looks and acts.. We feel everyone is representing our family and our company.”

 Even more critical is the ongoing employee training, especially when it comes to enhancing the guest experience.  “We've come up with 20 different scenarios of problems a customer might have and everyone from the person manning the Welcome Center to the ride operators are trained in how to properly handle each problem,” said Madison Kissel-Jonker. “All our game operators are trained in low-pressure sales techniques, so people can walk the midway and not feel pressure to play.”

In addition to training, the young women have implemented a checks and balances system. The Kissel Entertainment midway is divided into zones, generally 10 to 12 zones, each once containing four to six rides. “We have a supervisor looking over the safety and security and the onsite staff,” she said. “They've been trained to sweep their zone, before the operator starts each ride. If there's a question somebody has, or the zone supervisors sees a concern within eyeshot, they immediately address the concern. We are all team members, and from the attire to the training, we all are professionals.”

The sisters – who are both mothers – have also made significant upgrades to the Kiddieland area, making it a separate zone for the younger children, too short for most of the other rides. “The music is not as loud, there are no strobe lights,” said Madison Kissel-Jonker. “The area is far from the spectacular rides, and the teenagers. It's a space for the younger kids with rest areas for their parents, that lets them enjoy the fair.”

Besides a more team-oriented, training-heavy restructuring of the workforce and a holistic, detailed overhaul of the entire midway, the Millennial touch is evident in the new marketing programs by the company. The fact is that midway providers not only must more strongly supplement a fair's marketing effort, but they also have a growing following of their own fair enthusiasts.

“We have hired staff to help with the social media and to stay up to do date,” said Savannah Kissel Seibert.
This year, we are definitely trying to push our online sales more. We are more engaged with the communities we play, but it is very difficult, because we play about  60 locations. It is an area we probably tapped into as fully as we should, but we are growing in that area this year.”

Like most heirs to a fair family tradition, the sisters wear several management hats. In addition to managing the office, they manage about 30 games between them – with their husbands Delgado Jonker and Nick Seibert. During the course of the season, Kissel Entertainment operates two units – Celebration and Jubilee  -- and for larger events, such as the Kentucky State Fair, both units merge.

Erasing Stigmas

“Both my sister and I were raised this industry and we love this industry, and I think it's up to the younger generation to bring the company into the new century,” said Savannah Kissel Seibert “And we hope by doing that we can also bring the entire industry along as well.  We're both NAARSO instructors, because we are want to better the industry.”

Another objective is to further erase the stigma carnival workers had. There's no doubt they take pride in the profession they've chosen even though many outside the industry don't usually think of it as a profession. “Growing up we went to school and on weekends we go to whatever fair my dad was playing. I remember going into restaurants and they've have signs the ‘bathroom is closed, the carnival is in town.”

“The younger people in the industry, we are showmen and showwomen,” said Madison Kissel-Jonker. “Our company is growing because we're young, and we're hungry. We have attention to detail and we have built a great team. We stay true to ourselves, and believe in quality over quantity. That's our secret sauce.
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