Episode 244: Brian Knoebel talks about recreating the past, family first and prioritizing value

Business Strategy, Company Culture, History, Podcast

Brian Knoebel is a Co-Owner/Co-Manager of Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA.  Brian began his career at Knoebels before he can even remember; at three years old Brian and his older brother Rick would separate ride tickets by color for the staff to count and add up how much revenue was made that day.  Since then, Brian has held nearly every role one can have at the park, from mowing grass, picking paper, ride operations, games, food & beverage, ticket sales, and blowing up balloons for the dart game.  Brian’s educational background is in food and hospitality management, and takes immense pride that Knoebels is family first, then a business, rather than the other way around.  In this interview, Brian talks about recreating the past, family first, and prioritizing value.

Recreating the past

“What’s our niche?  It’s recreating the past.”

Knoebels is the throwback, traditional quintessential amusement park of yesteryear.  Knoebels has no gate and offers free admission, free parking, free entertainment, and a free picnic area.  While there is an option for a wristband, everything is a la carte.  If grandparents are taking their grandchild to the park, they don’t have to pay to park or pay for admission for anything they do not partake in.

The property also includes farmland, and the Knoebels family used to make and sell charcoal, farm Christmas trees, and people would come in on horseback on the weekends, swim in the swimming hole, and have a picnic.  Brian’s grandfather, Henry Knoebel built a picnic pavilion and began building amusement rides shortly thereafter.

Knoebels’s rich history can still be sensed by park guests today.

Family first

“We are family first.  We don’t have board of directors meetings, we have family meetings.”

Brian shares stories about growing up at the park and playing kickball in front of the guest services office, and how the park was his backyard.  Today, everyone has their own individual roles, but no one looks over each other’s shoulders.  Even job titles are rarely used within the Knoebels family.

Within many family businesses, there often comes a time when the family has to determine if they are a family or if they are a business, due to the challenges that can arise from running a business with close relatives.  The Knoebel family has never had to have this discussion.  The Knoebels have always operated with the understanding that they are a family first and business second.

Prioritizing value

“The business model has always been value, and it works.”

Knoebels has a business model that differs from the majority of gated amusement parks.  With no gate, no admission fee, no charge for parking, and free entertainment, the park presents immense value for its guests.  Brian references Sam Walton multiple times in the interview, stating that if guests perceive value then they will want to do it again and tell others.

When relocating the Phoenix to Knoebels in 1985, the park hired an accounting firm to determine the most optimal price per ride to charge guests.  While the firm recommended $3 per ride, Pete Knoebel made the decision to charge $1 instead.  Despite the data from the study, Pete wanted guests to ride multiple times.

During family meetings, Buddy Knoebel regularly brings value into the conversation.  This commitment is maintained even during economic fluctuation and inflation, or even when their utilities and cost of goods rise.

To learn more about Knoebels, you can visit knoebels.com, and follow on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.  New this year, Knoebels has an app that guests can download to improve their experience at the park.

This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the incredible work of our amazing team:

  • Scheduling and correspondence by Kristen Karaliunas
  • Branding and design by Fabiana Fonseca

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