Gateway Ticketing Systems has come a long way in the last 26 years. From a tech start up in a small shed behind co-founder Peter Grumblatt’s house, to ‘the world leader in admission control and ticketing software for the attraction and amusement industries".
Gateway now serves customers at 400 venues in 40 countries, with 93 employees at its corporate, Canadian and UK offices, together with a dozen Gateway Value Added Resellers globally.
Gateway’s well attended user group meetings reflect its large and loyal customer base. Demonstrating the same kind of commitment to its employees, Gateway has been officially recognized as one of the Best Places to Work in PA.
The Pennsylvania based company moved into a purpose built new facility in August 2014, marking the start of what Michael Andre, President and CEO of Gateway, calls Gateway 2.0.
Andre talked to Blooloop about Gateway’s evolution, the secrets of business longevity and his vision of the future.
From a ‘homebrew software product to an actual company’ [Peter Grumblatt]
Michael Andre was studying Computer Science at university when he met Peter Grumblatt. [Image above shows Andre (right )with Peter Grumblatt]
“While in university, I was working on the weekends for my parents as a cook in their diner. Peter was a customer; this was 1986 and he had seen that the menus in the diner were printed on a dot matrix printer, which was kind of unusual at that time, for a very small diner in a very rural area in Pennsylvania.”
Andre spoke with Grumblatt, and discovered that he and a partner ran a computer software consulting company. Within a week or so, he had offered Andre a job, working with him on a project that they needed some help with.
“…And that was my first experience with ticketing: it was a one-off custom project to document some existing ticketing software that one of Peter’s clients had written for one of their customers.”
Globe Ticket Company had created a custom system for New Jersey Transit, the state transportation agency providing commuter buses from New Jersey into New York City for daily commuters, and needed support to maintain it. Grumblatt’s company provided that support, but he had realised that there was a better way to achieve what they were trying to do. All the fares and pricing was hard-coded into the program, requiring a programmer to make any changes. The system had been created using a Hewlett-Packard laboratory machine, and Grumblatt realised that he could improve the process using the newer IBM PC. So he wrote one of the very first PC based ticketing systems, certainly the first to be used for inter-city bus transportation, and Andre joined him working on and developing the product.
In that same year, 1986 to 1987, they won more customers: Howard University in Washington DC; Gray Line New York Tour in New York City and Bonanza Bus Lines in Providence, Rhode Island. Business began slowly to escalate with a project for Greyhound Canada, who had learned about the work they had done for Bonanza.
“That was a very large project for us at that time, ” says Andre. “Because we were just a little consulting company with two partners and a college student – that was me. We installed 80 point-of-sale terminals at locations across Canada to do the bus ticketing for Greyhound. That was in 1987 into 1988, and was followed by a project for Greyhound Lines Inc in the US, also looking to replace what they had been doing for ticketing – they had been using IBM department store cash registers – and they deployed our system to their top 100 agencies, so that was about 500 ticket windows.
“I became one of the main programmers on the ticketing software itself, and we hired my college roommate at the time, Darryl Moser – he was also a Computer Science major – to join us and help us to continue developing the project.”
They continued to build their customer base and in 1988 when Grumblatt and his business partner decided to go their separate ways, the partner choosing to concentrate on the computer consulting business, Grumblatt officially incorporated the company Gateway Ticketing Systems to do what it is still doing today.
Andre’s experience began as a software developer working on the product itself, and over the years he widened the scope of the product from the bus industry into other markets including the edutainment and attraction industries, as well as the museums, zoos and aquariums sector.
“When Peter wanted to step back from the day-to-day operations of the business, I became President of Gateway in 1998 and have been leading the company since then.”
In August 2014, Gateway Ticketing Systems moved into its new premises and the next stage in its development.
Andre says, “On August 25th we turned on the lights and began operations in a brand new facility – very near our previous location but we moved the entire company into a new building that we’ve constructed, and that moves us to the next level of what Gateway will be for the next 25 or 26 years: to me, a midway point from the last quarter century to the next one. In fact, we’re kind of joking that it’s Gateway 2.0 – the reincarnation of the company.”
The two storey, 42, 000 sq ft structure set in a beautiful landscape with space to expand over the years, cost $7 million and was necessary both to accommodate Gateway’s expanding employee and customer base, and to reflect the quality of the product, its established brand and values. The new facility has been designed as a comfortable and functional workspace with the company’s core values integral to its design. Spaces foster communication and the generation of ideas, and elements suggested by employees have been incorporated: charging points for electric cars; quiet rooms; bike storage and a fitness centre, as well as fun features such as a 300 gallon salt water aquarium and a free soda fountain.
“For us, it’s not just about the building, but it’s a brand-new environment that’s much more technology-forward for our staff to continue to develop the product and support our customers in a more efficient fashion and to continue to allow the company to grow, so we’re actively recruiting – we’re always expanding our software development staff – and we’re looking to grow our capabilities over the coming years.”
Ticketing Past, Present and Future
Andre reflects on the evolution in ticketing over the past 26 years:
“In the early days, the challenge was to make a PC print a ticket on a ticket printer, and all the little technical hardware challenges that go with that. It’s certainly evolved from that to encompass more sophisticated ticket products: multi-data tickets and the turnstile validation that goes with this. Once we were able to produce and replace hard tickets and accommodate the manual accounting that goes with it, we moved on to solving the problem of how to validate a ticket at the turnstile in a very fast transaction time and at the high volumes demanded by theme parks and the number of guests that enter the park first thing in the morning. And then we moved on to working on annual passes, memberships, photo id cards and so forth. All of these were projects that we worked on and features added to the product in the early to mid-nineties.”
In the present day, ticketing technology continues to advance.
“Purchasing tickets on your mobile phone is what is hot today; using your mobile phone for admissions and to reduce lines at the turnstile; and what’s soon to come is mobile payments, not just using your credit card to purchase the ticket on your mobile phone, but actually to use the communications NFC in your phone to make those transactions at the point-of-sale to purchase those tickets.”
In the future, Andre envisages that the trend towards consolidation to a single medium – which has been the Holy Grail for years – will continue.
“It’s really hard to predict what that medium’s going to look like in 5 or 10 years… I think the point to remember is that the medium – wristband, ticket, phone, proximity card – is irrelevant: it’s the identifier; the visible connection to the guest. The real power is in the system – what the system does to consolidate and provide the integrated experience for the guest.”
There have been, inevitably, obstacles to overcome over the past 26 years, mostly, but not exclusively, related to computer software and hardware.
Andre says, “There are always those very technical challenges that come up any time you’re working with a software system or hardware system, but those aren’t particularly exciting… One sort of funny story is that in 1998 we were working with the Nascar Speedpark in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and we had installed some self-service kiosks in a trailer – the kind of trailer you would use to haul Nascar race cars – which was part of their theming. In South Carolina it often rains. Severe downpours would occur and we had a problem where the water would run off the roof of the trailer and down into the front of the kiosk and flood the equipment.
“We were waiting for the construction people – they were just in the midst of opening the park – and we were hoping they would put a canopy or some sort of cover over the trailer so it would stop flooding our kiosk. But then we came up with a solution, which was to go around to the other side of the trailer and let the air out of the tyres so that the trailer would slant back away from the front where the kiosks were, and all the water would run off the other side. It was a very non-technical solution to a problem that we had, but in some ways it represents our philosophy of solving the problem in whatever way we can and not just sitting there waiting for somebody else to do it.”
A Large and Loyal Customer Base
Gateway Ticketing Systems has a large and loyal customer base including the Empire State Building™, San Diego Zoo™, Statue Cruises™, LEGOLAND® theme parks, Crayola Experience™, London Eye™ and Universal Orlando® among many more.
Gateway’s typical client is a fairly large theme park or museum park requiring a high-volume, high-capacity ticketing and admissions system plus the spectrum of related revenue collection areas: pay-for parking, stroller rental, annual passes and so on.
Another core customer group is the cultural and non-profit sector: museums, zoos and aquariums. Their requirements differ from those of the major theme parks; they are essentially mission focused, and often the support they need is in optimising the collection of front desk admission revenue and improving the way that their membership system is managed. Gateway might, for example, offer ways of maximising revenue generation through expanding memberships with the introduction of features to handle joint, shared and family memberships, together with managing admissions to identify the specific visitor actually using the membership on a certain day.
Gateway has also maintained its heritage in the bus industry, primarily in the US, as well as a number of passenger ferry companies.
Andre explains that what Gateway’s customers need is a “blend of different applications and we meet these needs with a unified product across. Each customer’s business, of course, has its nuances, but we have a very strong core product suite and we’re able to service all these industries.”
The Secret of Success
What’s the secret to keeping those customers happy?
“One of our original customers, Grayline NY Tour from back in 1986 is still one of our clients today, ” says Andre. “The secret to that is actually pretty simple. It’s continuing to work every day to support our customers in their business and be their partner. Part of our culture – and this goes back to the early days – is a persistence in working with our customers to make sure that regardless of what need they have or what issue arises, we work with them to solve it. We just don’t give up.
“Our system is the engine that drives our customers’ business and it’s our role to make sure that engine is working every time. We’re a core part of their operation. For many of our customers the majority of their revenue flows through their ticketing and point-of-sales system.”
Andre concludes, “There have been so many customer experiences that I’ve had personally working with our clients – and many of them I call my friends. We just had a great user group meeting a few weeks ago in Denver [see image above] with almost 200 attendees, and for me they’re not just clients, they’re close friends and we do great work together, that’s something I really enjoy about what we do. …We do what is needed to make sure our customers are successful and that builds really strong relationships.”