Turning the ship around

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The marketing challenge Brian Murphy faced in 2006, when he joined the hospitality division of Aramark, a professional services company, was the kind of opportunity that virtually all veteran marketers savor: the chance to devise and deploy a turnaround strategy. As national director of marketing for the division, which manages resorts and concession businesses located within or close to many national parks, Murphy's objective was to improve sales and revenue for the company's Lake Powell houseboat rental business, which had declined steeply.

Murphy gathered and analyzed existing Aramark customer data and market information. One company-commissioned market research study stopped him in his tracks: the target market for Aramark's Lake Powell houseboat rentals represented about 80% of all US families. “I looked at that and thought, if our customer is ‘Everyman,' then why can't we rent these houseboats?” Murphy says.

Murphy ultimately teamed with Intrasight, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based relationship marketing company with whom Aramark had worked to devise its first automated solutions and subsequent databases. Armed with Intrasight's recommendations,

Murphy championed major initiatives that led to the creation of a highly sophisticated, multilayered customer database that began delivering results within two weeks of launch.

A complex business problem
Situated within the 1.2 million-acre Glen Canyon National Recreation Area that stretches across Arizona and southern Utah, Lake Powell boasts nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline amidst spectacular rock canyons and towers. Aramark operates the Lake Powell Resort and Marina and, among other services and lodging, offers houseboats ranging from 44-foot pontoons to 75-foot luxury liners with staterooms, hot tubs, and fireplaces. The houseboating trips are often multi-family get-togethers with a high price point: $3,000 to $13,000 per week.

For several decades, Aramark's Lake Powell concession was the country's premier houseboating destination. Demand was high and almost no marketing or sales efforts were needed. But over time the marketplace changed — the number of houseboaters declined, family dynamics were altered, and vacation options grew. Then, a drought in the late 1990s lowered water levels at Lake Powell and brought bad press. “In a three-year time span, demand dropped by 50 %,” Murphy says.

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