In November 2007, Nick Farmer will become the first European President of the TEA (formerly the Themed Entertainment Association), a post to which he was unanimously elected. Farmer has 30 years experience of working for theme parks, amusement parks, aquariums, zoos, science centres and other leisure destinations. He advises clients on park, story and brand development and new attraction planning in Europe and Scandinavia. Blooloop talked to him about his 30 year career in the themed entertainment industry and ambitions for his presidency.
Farmer started his career in marketing with Palitoy, makers of Action Man, Tiny Tears dolls and Star Wars toys. He then formed his own production display company, Farmer Studios, in 1976 which rapidly expanded to offer full design, production and installation services. 4 years ago, having become increasingly frustrated that the growth of the company meant that his time was spent on management, administration and cash flow rather than design and creativity, Farmer disbanded the production company and established Farmer Attraction Development.
By reorganising and developing a team of freelancers which can be gathered together as needed for projects, Farmer has created a more efficient business model with a lower fixed cost base. This flexibility allows the company to weather the seasonality of the industry, as well as reducing project costs. He is now free to concentrate on attraction concept development, production and consultancy.
Farmer’s core business involves drawing on his experience in the industry to create and develop attractions. Most of his business is in Europe and Scandinavia and reflects the current state of the European market, with few new parks opening and most work revolving around existing parks by either reworking existing rides or enhancing new standard rides. He particularly enjoys the challenge of working with established venues to develop attractions which will change the direction and the public’s perception of the park.
Farmer worked on seven new rides and several other attractions for the 2007 season.
Recent projects include:
• Gröna Lund in Stockholm. Farmer developed the name, graphic identity and station design for Kvasten, their new suspended coaster. Kvasten is playing a major park in repositioning Gröna Lund within the Swedish leisure market.
• Bewilderwood in Norfolk. Farmer provided consultancy to the 50 acre family “curious treehouse adventure” which opened to such acclaim in May 2007. His contribution was to enhance the original concept and to provide “a layer of storytelling engagement on top of the basic attraction to deliver a much richer experience and a highly marketable attraction”
• Earth Explorer in Ostend. Farmer developed a concept using a standard drop ride to create an educational experience which takes children on a flight around the solar system. In this case Farmer produced a custom video show to integrate with the basic ride, so children have fun at the same time as leaning about space.
In addition to his consultancy business, Farmer is a non-executive director of Wicksteed Park Ltd, Kettering, one of the UK’s oldest leisure parks. This gives him the additional benefit of an operator’s perspective. He finds this useful for an appreciation that “operators battle with budgets just as much as suppliers”.
In terms of demographics, the market has now finally realised the long heralded aging population is finally here and Farmer is working with parks to help ensure new attractions are designed to cater for grand parents and grand children. In his own business for attractions aimed primarily at small children he will usually try to “add a layer of entertainment”, often humour, that will appeal to adults too.
Geographically, he believes that there is still growth available in Europe, although this is largely through updating of existing parks and attractions rather than new projects. In his own business, of the fourteen projects he has worked on this year only one has been a completely new enterprise. As far as industry expansion into India and China is concerned, while these markets are growing at an incredible pace, those entering will need “nerves of steel”. Farmer recommends the fellowship to be gained by membership of the TEA, as many members are already operating in these regions. Discussion amongst fellow members can often be very helpful when dealing with such critical issues as contracts, terms of payment and business ethics in these regions.
Farmer was effusive about his experience of TEA membership saying that it had been an “incredible thing” and had expanded his network within the industry enormously. The TEA (formerly the Themed Entertainment Association) is an international non-profit organization, founded in 1991, dedicated to connecting around 6, 500 creative specialists in nearly 500 firms in 39 different countries. Farmer has been a TEA member in Europe since the association established its European Division in 1998, and has served three years as European President. He is currently in his second term on the International Board and has been a Vice-President for the past five years.
Around 80% of TEA members are based in the US. However Farmer, despite not working in the States, feels that he has learned a great deal from US operators and creative suppliers. “Our members in the US have been the driving force behind so many key developments in our industry, ” he says. ”Our own European industry has benefited enormously from the work of these pioneers”
“The TEA exposes you to the world’s brightest people and most exciting ideas, helping to develop your own creative thinking and good business practice.”
Farmer hopes to develop two key aspects of TEA membership. The first is to expand membership within architectural and digital production disciplines to better reflect the wide range of skills and creativity now found in project teams. The second is to expand the TEA’s horizons by bringing in members from around the world; there are positive benefits of membership where-ever creatives are based.
He sees his tenure as the TEA’s first European president as “a great opportunity to confirm to the world that the TEA is a truly international association”.