When the Knoebels Amusement Resort needs a lumber delivery, the park doesn't have to look far. It just places an order next door at Knoebel Lumber in Elysburg, Pa. "You can throw a stone from the yard and hit the park," says Blair Faust, general manager of Knoebel Lumber.
Knoebel Lumber and the amusement resort are owned by the same parent company, sharing roots with a farm, sawmill, and swimming hole dating back to the 1700s, so it's not hard to imagine where the park turns when it needs lumber and supplies for daily repairs. Most other dealers might not have a theme park next door, but some have found a way to buy a ticket and take the ride, selling to zoos and amusement parks that are in need of ongoing repair due to the daily wear and tear caused by park visitors.
As with other commercial sales, serving an amusement park usually begins with repeated sales calls.
"Honestly, it has taken several years to build our business with Disney World," says Deanna Jenkins, president of Thomas Lumber Co. in Orlando, Fla. "You just can't walk through the main gate and figure out where the carpenter shops are."
Prior to her appointment as president of Thomas, Jenkins spent about 10 years knocking on Disney's door, along with competing parks in the Orlando area. "I never missed a beat with them," she says.
Thomas sells to SeaWorld, Universal Studios, and Walt Disney World. Given that both Sea World and Walt Disney World opened more than 36 years ago, there's a consistent need for repairs.
"We've probably replaced every door [at Sea World] three times," Jenkins says.
At Walt Disney World, Thomas Lumber has better luck dealing with subcontractors as opposed to dealing with the park directly.
They built one in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Scott Lumber and Supply, a Lampert's location, has been selling products both to the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History.
Reid Colwell, sales manager at Scott, says the dealer has an account with the zoo and is the source for small repair items that don't go out to bid. "They contact us and we just take it from there." This includes decking, fencing, and walkway projects at the zoo, along with repairs to buildings and doors damaged by the animals.
One of the white rhinos at the Great Plains Zoo has helped drive sales. Heavy hardware in its pen has been torn off by the rhino more than a few times, Colwell says.
Scott also used its knowledge of building materials to help the zoo get the right products for its wooden sheep pen. Sheep like to nibble on fencing but can have a bad reaction if there's copper in the treated wood used for the fence. Thus, Scott helped the zoo avoid buying ACQ-treated lumber for the project.
"You need to know what the animals can and can't have and check with a veterinarian before orders are placed," Colwell says.
The average sale Scott derives from the zoo is about $1,000 but the sales occur all year long. A recent project included $10,000 in steel door frames. When a larger project goes out to bid, Scott's gives a price that is reviewed by the zoo's board of directors. In about two to three weeks, Scott is told whether it received the job.
Chic Lumber, with three locations in Missouri, has sold materials to both the St. Louis Zoo and Emerson Children's Zoo. "We built a custom entrance for the new addition at the children's zoo, which was a big project for our mill shop at the time," says Steve Neumen, a contractor sales manager at Chic. Via general contractor, Chic has also done work on the zoo's elephant house.
While Knoebel Lumber's primary customer is the custom home builder, the neighboring amusement park makes up about 5% of total sales. "It's a large account and they use a lot of materials," Faust says.
Constructon specifications for wooden roller coasters require the use of select pressure-treated lumber–stronger than No. 1 grade material. When Knoebels Amusement Resort built the Twister roller coaster in the late 1990s, the job required 55 trailer loads of pressure-treated wood. Knoebels' other major wooden roller coaster, the Phoenix (pictured), was purchased from the Playland amusement park in San Antonio. It marked the first time a coaster was bought and relocated. A third coaster now is under construction at Knoebels.
Ganahl Lumber's Anaheim and Buena Park locations serve Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, with the dealer having also done work with SeaWorld San Diego and the Raging Waters waterpark in San Dimas, Calif.
However, Ganahl has primarily seen itself as a convenience venue for neighboring theme parks.
"There is nothing we do with the parks that is consistent," says John Lopez, industrial sales manger for Ganahl Lumber. "We have made sales to them of just about everything under the sun and everything under the spectrum of lumber you can imagine."
Although the majority of larger projects are done through contractors and not directly through the parks, Lopez says, hardware, paint, sundries, tools, fasteners have all been among orders placed by the parks. They've become a steady diet.
"It's a good area to get into if you are looking for consistent repair sales and a consistent customer," Scott Lumber's Colwell says.