Opening a Casino in a Saturated and Challenging Market

The story of Redwood Casino and their unique service approach

For the past year and a half I have been working with the Yurok Tribe to open their first casino/hotel property. It is a remarkable property, located in the Redwood National & State Park, which just happens to be a World Heritage Site. Opening any casino property these days is challenging, given the changing market conditions.

This one is no different, with the addition of a few interesting twists:

  • The property is opening with a branded hotel, a 100% nonsmoking casino with Class II games in a saturated northern California market.
  • The guests are a mix of local and international travelers, making it difficult to focus on one specific niche and important for us to understand why people come to the facility.
  • Additionally, we are committed to employing Yurok Tribal Members and giving them the training needed to succeed in this new venture.

Therefore, developing a strong service strategy and investing in training is critical to ensuring the success of this venue. We set out to create a program for our team of “Adventure Guides” that would be woven into the culture of the organization from the beginning. This program was also designed to be carried throughout the Tribal Government and the Yurok Country Reservation itself. The commitment was to brand service as part of the experience while visiting Yurok Country. (Kudos to the Yurok Tribal Council for having the vision to understand the importance of creating a service culture). Developing a service strategy is an involved and complicated process, but when you boil it down, we needed to create a road map to ensure that our team is consistently nice and does the right thing. This is a good strategy for life too!

Crafting a unique and enduring training program for the “Adventure Guides”

The Yurok Way Service Program was facilitated by Raving Guest Service Strategist, Steve Browne, with a great deal of passion from Adventure Guides throughout the Tribal organization. It had been fi fteen years since I had the pleasure of working directly with Steve to create and train for a new property opening. (Yes, pre-ponytail!).

This training came three days after opening the casino and restaurant, with a very green and limited staff. Running on only a few hours of sleep, I was not overly excited about the prospect of an 8:30AM Monday morning training, but I put on my game face (the first standard – a big smile) and dove in. As I entered the conference room, Steve was already working the room with his signature smile; a big, booming, “welcome” voice with a hint of a Southern Drawl, and an over-the-top handshake. The first expletive came out of his mouth in under one minute. For which his reaction was to look at me and say, “Don’t tell Amy.” This scene brought a grin to my face.

By the end of the week, he had trained a small army of Adventure Guides. From housekeepers to social workers, the Yurok Way Service message has been planted.

Like with any strategy implementation, success of the program will hinge on remembering a few key ideas:

  1. It takes work every day – It’s not a policy that you hand out and hope it sticks. It won’t work unless you have commitment from the top. Don’t waste your time or money if that is not the case.
  2. Everyone in the organization needs to know why guest service is important. You can’t expect your team to go the extra mile if they don’t understand why. Pick up the book, It Starts with Why. It’s one of my favorite organizational empowerment books.
  3. Employees from all departments and job types must have the ability to weigh in on the development and on-going implementation of the program. If it does not become part of the culture from the ground up, it can become another “duty,” rather than an opportunity for improvement.
  4. Spend your time working with your Service Leaders, and say goodbye to those who aren’t.
  5. You need to keep it fresh – You need to bring in outside help to reignite the service flame. Let’s face it, we all get tired of the same guest stories. And this is where Steve comes in.

Steve will be the first to tell you that we have debated about training and marketing/sales strategy for years. I am the first to question and/or debate him in an effort to challenge the status quo, and maybe even try to annoy him a bit. As I spent this week with Steve training our team, and watched his interactions with our Adventure Guides, and even our guests, I spent some time refl ecting on working with him over the past fifteen years.

I realized that creating amazing service is not simply reciting “standards,” it must be practiced until it becomes a part of who we are. I came to appreciate that Steve has the same passion for service today as he did fifteen years ago. His enthusiasm is contagious and he reminded me why I love this business. And although I will still enjoy our banter regarding best practices, I will cut him some slack since he is one of the few who consistently practices what he preaches.

Not only has he created an amazing service strategy for training throughout our industry, but he seems to have created a personal service strategy for living a positive life. The jury is still out on how successful we will be at creating Legendary Adventures for our guests, but one thing is for sure. If we can focus on it as consistently as Mr. Browne, we will have a good chance of being one of the few organizations that truly delivers on their service promise.

Want to know why I wanted Steve for this challenging job? Buy his book, How to Raise a Rocket Scientist for Fun and Profit. You’ll better understand the man who wins the hearts of the people he works with