Delaware North Companies (DNC) is the type of enterprise rarely seen these days when business specialization is king—a true multi-national operating a diverse group of businesses.

Indeed, although a major player in the North American casino marketplace, DNC is probably best known for its non-gaming business which includes a sports services portfolio with the Boston Bruins hockey team as its centerpiece; the operation of parks, resorts and cultural attractions that include providing visitor services to national gems such as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Yosemite in California; its travel hospitality trade which provides vital services at airports ranging from Los Angeles to Glasgow; and a culinary division that contributed to catering hundreds of sporting events and venues each year.

Although not as renown, DNC’s gaming and entertainment arm is no slouch, generating 24 percent of the company’s combined 2011 revenue. The DNC gaming division consists of a number of mid-sized gaming facilities operating in some of the most competitive wagering markets in the United States: Jumer’s Casino & Hotel in Rock Island, Ill.; Southland Park Gaming & Racing in West Memphis, Ark.; Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in West Virginia, The Hamburg Casino at the Fairgrounds outside of Buffalo, N.Y.; and Florida-based Daytona Beach Kennel Club & Poker Room just to name a few.

How does DNC stay ahead of the game in these marketplaces? In part, by a marketing effort that relies on decentralized action with centralized guidance; strong, in-house proprietary programs such as GuestPath, a multi-dimensional, data-driven customer service process that takes a scientific approach to the job of delivering exceptional guest service; GreenPath, which takes the same approach to green initiatives; and strategic spending on capital improvements. Deb Murray, vice president of marketing for DNC, recently spoke to Casino JournalEditor Paul Doocey to explain how this mosaic of marketing action works, for both the short- and long-term benefit of DNC gaming properties. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

 

I understand that Delaware North takes a decentralized approach to its marketing strategy. What advantages does this give the company as a whole? What advantages does it give the individual properties?

Murray: It’s true we have a strong focus on decentralization but we do centralize some of our marketing programs. It allows us to have stronger, more proven management. We find this hybrid organizational structure provides the best framework for us to manage our operations.

I’ll give you an example. Our decentralized model allows our senior marketing directors to determine their monthly programs at their own properties versus using a generic promotion that may not have the same impact in New York as it would in, say, Arkansas or West Virginia.

What we do in the home office is we monitor all the marketing program results. If we see a result in one area that is great, we will recommend that program to another property. Then that property can take it and tweak it to fit its own unique market needs or utilize it as is. Overall, this allows greater purchasing power because if a couple of properties decide to do the same promotion, they can join together and streamline the cost of marketing creative. In the best case, it also gives marketing directors a little assurance that the program will drive guest satisfaction.

Our hybrid structure allows the properties to be accountable for their own goals and their own marketing plans. But our job in the home office is to provide direction for better expense management, the more prudent management of the properties and dissemination of ideas.

 

How is Delaware North differentiating its properties in increasingly competitive gaming markets?

Murray: The one thing we are doing is spending more time and money on research and analytics to better understand what makes us relevant to the customer. We’re doing focus groups, brand equity, brand association research, segmentation research, advertising usage and awareness research and so on. This gives us a better understanding of our guests’ perceptions and our marketing positions. That helps us set the message and tone for our ads.

 

Unlike other gaming companies, Delaware North has a very diversified portfolio of businesses. How are these businesses advantageous to the gaming side? Do you tap into them for consumer and VIP marketing?

Murray: The DNC portfolio is unique to the gaming industry in that respect. We have just hired Todd Merry as chief marketing officer; he will oversee all of those divisions and his goal is to have a single view of our guests across all DNC operations, which will help with our gaming properties.

 

Do you currently offer distinct packages to gamblers who might be sports fans and attracted to, say, the Boston Bruins, a team DNC owns?

Murray: It is something we are working on now. We do cross-promote with some of our divisions. For example, we just did a “blast-off” Facebook promotion with Kennedy Space Center and Wheeling Island, where casino customers had a chance to win a trip for four to Kennedy Space center. Our goal is to work more closely with our other divisions. That is part of my job as well as Todd’s. Todd coming on is the start of utilizing all this synergies we have as a company.

 

Please explain your GuestPath customer service program. What exactly does it entail? How does it set you apart from the competition?

Murray: GuestPath is a proprietary customer service and guest relations program unique to us. We are very proud of this program. It has five key components: standards, training, an in-depth customer service quality assurance audit, rewards and recognition for employees and, finally, a gap analysis.

We believe this program is one of the primary reasons two of our properties—Hamburg Casino and Wheeling Island Casino—are so successful in their local markets. Both utilize Guest Pass to the fullest.

 

Delaware North gaming properties are very forward when it comes to “green” initiatives such as recycling and energy efficiency. Why has Delaware North decided to take the lead in this area? Does it help when it comes to marketing the properties?

Murray:We have been committed to the environment and doing sustainable operations since the 1990s. It is just part of our culture at Delaware North… we want to do what is right for our communities and having GreenPath allows us to do that. We have not done any formal research on how our customers view GreenPath, but we continuously hear from our customers that they appreciate our initiatives and our efforts to be socially responsible within the local communities. It is part of our culture and who we want to be.

 

In 2011, Delaware North acquired Jumer’s Rock Island Casino and entered into the very competitive Illinois gaming marketplace. From a marketing perspective, what are you doing to protect and grow Jumer’s business in the Midwest?

Murray: Jumer’s was just a great acquisition for us. It is in a highly competitive market with Chicagoland and Iowa casinos, but it has kind of developed its own niche in the Quad Cities market. It was voted the number one casino resort in Illinois by Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine in 2012. We also won Rock Island’s Overall Citizen of the Year award.

Even with all these accolades, we keep challenging ourselves at Jumer’s. We’ve tapped into our own Delaware North culinary expertise and we opened Blue Square Café at Jumer’s in 2012. The concept takes all the signature dishes we have across the DNC sport venues and offers them to diners at Blue Square Café.  We also just added an Aqua Driving Range with a floating green about two month ago.

We want to focus on the locals. It is about having a strong value proposition with food, activities and promotions. All our properties are in highly competitive markets with high tax rates. Through our research, we understand what our market wants and we cater to that.

 

I understand Southland Park Gaming & Racing in Arkansas is currently undergoing a $10 million renovation. What does this renovation entail?

Murray: The $10 million renovation included 200 additional gaming machines, the addition of a “blounge,” which is an upscale bar and lounge where the specialty drinks are moonshine-based cocktails. It is the only blounge in the area. The former events center was also renovated so we could handle events of up to 700 people.

 

Why did DNC decide to renovate Southland?

Murray: We had customer demand for it. We created a product there that the customer really likes. Being as close as we are to the Memphis market, it has provided a great opportunity for us.

 

Delaware North has invested quite a bit into Hamburg Casino at the Fairgrounds outside of Buffalo, N.Y., where a large tribal gaming facility is in the process of opening. What is being done to keep Hamburg growing in the face of this new competition?

Murray: In 2010, we celebrated a grand reopening with an improved $25.4 million facility that gave us 37 percent more space, a new 258-seat buffet. A 168-seat bar, a new grill restaurant and a local favorite—a Tim Horton’s coffee and bake shop.  After the reopening, we have never looked back… we have had revenue growth of more than 15 percent. A lot of that is because, combined with the great amenities, they have a strong customer-centric business plan that is aligned with the local market. It goes back to why we are decentralized… we know the local market and how to cater to it.  

 

Is it worrisome that a new tribal gaming facility is being developed in the city?

Murray: We’re not worried. We are always aware of new competitors, but again we rely on understanding our market, understanding our customers and providing good guest service.