If it weren’t for Clint Ashcraft, Daici Avilla and Alfredo Velasco, Lindsay’s McDermont Field House might well have closed at the beginning of the year. Renovated from an old packing house starting in 2006, the facility opened during the recession – and has yet to see a profit.
Avilla and Velasco have been employed by the city to work at McDermont since its opening in 2008. Ashcraft began his employment with the city in 2006, during the planning and development stages of the facility. With a vision for what could work, and what has not, the trio formed McDermont Venture last November, and took on a five-year lease of the facility.
If they had not stepped forward, “we would have had to have some serious discussions regarding closing it down,” said Lindsay Mayor Pam Kimball. “That was something we didn’t want to have to do.”
The city remains dedicated to the McDermont vision, but could no longer warrant the expense of keeping it open.
The three had largely been the management team prior to the formation of their company and their subsequent lease agreement. The hope is that through management by an outside company, somethings can be handled differently than while being run through the regulations of the city itself.
Last year, the city put out feelers looking for potential buyers or leasers for the fitness center, sports complex and fun zone.
“The way this facility has gone, in terms of numbers, it is very unlikely that someone would want to come in and take it over,” Ashcraft said. “It looks like just a big money pit and it has been for the city.
“It prompted a discussion, that we, as a fallback solution if nobody else comes in and wants this . . . that we would create something together and make it happen. And that is pretty much what’s happened – we have the qualifications to run it, so we’re pooling our resources to put it altogether.”
From city to independent management
It’s a big shift for a fairly young management team, ranging in age from late 20s to late 30s.
For one thing, there is no longer a guarantee of their salaries. In fact, they are now responsible for the rest of the staff, as well as liability insurance and more. The rent is based upon how well the facility does, a percentage of the profits, and is not due until the end of each year. If McDermont Venture does not make money, it will not pay rent.
Nerve-wracking to be sure.
“We have our days,” Ashcraft said. “We take turns having our days. Daici is probably the most consistent – she’s like, ‘we’re going to do this.’
“We’re pretty committed. We have invested a lot into getting ourselves set up correctly.
“There are lots of things that we want to do. But, it Is all going to be driven by how we do with trying to turn revenues around. The first thing we are going to do is just come through and clean things up – give everything a nice coat of paint – just get back to the way things used to be and try to build it up that way.”
As far as management, all three will make decisions together, but each is filling their own niche.
Avilla has been the financial manager for the facility, and will remain in that position as secretary and treasurer. McDermont Venture has hired a payroll company, which also provides legal support services.
They have also have hired their own accountant and attorney.
“It’s really about surrounding yourselves with the right people,” Ashcraft said. “We know how to run McDermont – we know what does and doesn’t work, and we’re excited about eliminating some of the political pressures that come in from running it through the city, and, some of the restrictions.”
Ashcraft has been serving as director, but his focus is shifting a bit into being the one responsible for bringing people into the facility. He also is filling in for a gap on the maintenance staff. Velasquez is most responsible for the day-to-day operations.
All for one, one for all
“One thing we are really excited about is making this an employee-owned company – that’s what we are, we are employees, we work here,” Ashcraft said. “But, we want every employee tied to how we do things. If we are successful, we want every employee to be successful with us.”
For example, when the facility was managed under the city, employees could not receive tips – it is a natural environment for tipping, Ashcraft said, and now employees may accept them. The facility is also looking at commission-based sales for all employees.
The overall goal, Ashcraft said, is to get the income up to where the group can start purchasing the business – the facility and equipment.
Some entities included in membership remain part of the city, such as the swimming pool and the golf course. As such, McDermont now pays the city for each membership usage of those facilities.
Outside fitness consultants and trainers remain partnered with the facility, as in the past.
The management staff has been able to make some changes in the past few months, prior to actually taking over with the lease. Some layoffs were necessary and inevitable, Ashcraft said. But due to the those decisions, the facility is way better off during the first half of its fiscal year, then it has ever been before, he said.
“The pricing structure has changed somewhat– memberships have been changing and evolving, but mostly we have learned how to save money,” he said.
The three commend the entire McDermont staff for stepping up and going beyond their normal work parameters.
They also say there is no way they could be in the position they are in without the aid of their families.
For the city, while it may or may not receive rent, it no longer is out any finances in support of McDermont.
It still receives tax benefits because the facility is still bringing in people from outside the area and helping booster other local businesses as well.
Rental of areas within McDermont are still available, for sporting events, parties, concerts and more. Another benefit of independent management is that decisions can be made much more quickly. Before, the city had to sign off for many events, usage and pricing. Now it is up to McDermont Venture. There is now a lot more flexibility.
And, the goal is to fill the place up – every day, Ashcraft said – school field trips, corporate team-building, birthday parties, chamber events, and, of course, everyday membership.
“McDermont is awesome, but it can be better. There are lots of places where we can add things and revitalize things. There’s a bowling alley that we haven’t used in a long time, and the light-space floor. We have our interactive Squeeze, a talking orange, that we hope to get active again.
“I’m really hoping we get our zip line back. That was a huge attraction, but it’s going to require some alterations. Now, OSHA inspects it, so it’s going to take a little bit of time, but we’re really hoping to get that back and operating.”
Rebranding – it’s a family affair
“One of the other things we are trying to do, is rebrand ourselves,” Velasquez said. “We still want to keep McDermont as who we are, because it has been such a part of the history. But, we want to change it a little bit – we want to send a different message – so we are becoming McDermont X.
“We feel that McDermont Field House didn’t really reflect who we were, the “X” stands for extreme family fun. We want to make sure that people know this is a family place where people are going to come, be active and just have a good time.”
Avilla said that she sees McDermont as where she is supposed to be. “This is kind of where I belong.” She started as a cashier and worked her way up. She cannot imagine working in a different position.
The key is to draw not only local Tulare County residents, but visitors as well, the management team said. They want McDermont to become a worldwide attraction – a “must stop” on the way to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
“We want to support them as much as possible,” Mayor Kimball said. “We’re very optimistic that the new management can do things that we, as a city, could not.”
“We want to work hard and give it our all,” Velasquez said.
The McDermont Fitness Center is open Monday-Friday from 5am-10pm; Saturdays from 6am-9pm and Sundays, Noon-8pm. Some of the sporting activities are available after school weekdays. And, the fun zone attractions are open Fridays from 4-9pm and Saturdays, Noon-8pm.
For more information, call (559) 562-3326.