Just a few words and reflection on our first birthday at Ninja Valley in Hamilton and as we accelerate into “what’s next”.
It still amazes me, after 365 days, that I love coming to work nearly every single day of the week. My three daughters have “grown up” at Ninja Valley, as we built it, fitted it out and eventually filled it with adventure, energy, fun and love.
I get such a thrill being around that energy and fun that guests and the crew bring, that I am often at work when I possibly shouldn’t be.
We carefully selected and took on 40 (mostly) young people, all at once, and asked them to define the “Ninja Valley Experience” – a task that they fervently went about in a number of group workshops.
CREW WORKSHOPS - 2 MONTHS PRIOR TO OPENING
I had been worried about attracting enough good applicants because of the apparent “tight labour market” and high employment. I shouldn’t have though because we had 100+ applications for the Crew Member role from a single free online advert. The majority of these youthful applicants interested us, so I interviewed around 65 of them, one by one, for 30-45 minutes each.
I say “interviewed” but what really happened was that I tried to convince them that we would be a good choice of employer. We had no website, no customers – just an empty building that we were starting to fill. All they had, to help them decide, was our vision and our purpose from my mouth. We wanted exceptional people who would bring their energy and their personality to a new business that aspired to create a community asset, where guests would want to keep coming back because we engaged them, we helped them play and develop skills and confidence together with friends and family, we kept them safe and we enjoyed our jobs as much as they did playing.
A BIG EMPTY BUILDING - AND A PROMISE - WAS ALL WE HAD
Nobody had ever asked them, mostly in their teens, to build a company culture but collectively their passion and desire to help build a brand up from the ground, belied their years. And because they helped define our values and aspirations, they/we discovered that taking ownership and accountability for those values was an easier proposition than receiving a staff manual and a set “way of doing things”.
That was just the beginning though because once the doors flew open, right at the end of those worrying COVID restrictions, all hell broke loose as literally thousands of excited and fizzed guests showed us how they wanted to play and how the human traffic ebbed and flowed within the waiting area, the café, the party rooms, and the Ninja Arena.
It took the best part of a month to find our rhythm, momentum and mojo under the strain of hourly waves of our hearty and enthusiastic guests but we did it.
A year later, at least 50% of the crew remain and it has been a joy to see them grow, develop skill and reveal their character while enjoying each other’s company at work and at our regular socials. The strength of Ninja Valley lies in our people and I am exceptionally proud of the team we have built.
We haven’t always got it right but we’re constantly learning, making corrections and adjustments. We have surveyed more than 2,000 guests over 12 months – and continue to do so – as it provides us with instant feedback on what we are doing right and what we need to improve on. This feedback is shared regularly - as it happens - with the crew on our massive WhatsApp chat group.
We align and reinforce our values and standards with quarterly bonuses for crew when we meet our levels of service and cleanliness. We promised this from the beginning, when we riffed in an empty building, and I am proud that we continue delivering on our promises at all levels and to all our stakeholders.
Our contribution to our community also fills my cup and those of our crew. To date, we have committed around $200,000 worth of gift cards to schools, sports clubs, charities and other worthy causes and continue to do so on a monthly basis. Our goal was that Ninja Valley would be inclusive and that everyone should have the chance to come and play with us. We offer our Ninja Bus for free to schools and we installed the Giant Ninja Water Slide so that guests could continue playing and cool off for no additional cost, after their time in the Arena.
It is easy to make promises but harder to keep them when the pressure comes on, but I can honestly say, we’ve been able to stayed the course and deliver again and again.
For that, I am massively grateful to our guests, our community – the Ninja Nation. You have filled our building with massive positive energy that inspires us to keep getting better. We know that you have choices and times have not been easy but we truly feel privileged that you have chosen us once, twice or 19 times. We hope to keep seeing and serving you again.
Happy birthday Ninja Valley – we have all made it a truly memorable and wonderful year!
Grant “Ninja G” Beuzeval