By our most recent tally, Zoo Advisors has worked with somewhere north of 70 different zoos and aquariums across the country and around the world. Every single one of those engagements has been unique, but of course there have also been a lot of similarities. In fact, there are a few aspects that come up in nearly every single project, no matter the type. One question we get on just about every project we work on is: “how do we compare to our peers?”
This is a great question and the answers are always very illuminating. With organizations so complicated as these, sometimes it’s hard to know if they’re doing as well as we should be, or as well as they could be. By comparing our clients to their peers, we’re able to zero in on areas where there is opportunity to grow.
But finding answers that are meaningful and actionable is no easy task. It’s one thing to have the data, but it’s entirely another to look at it the right way. From where we sit, it’s not meaningful to compare one zoo to all other zoos, or all other zoos in the same region, or all other zoos in cities with similar populations. There are just too many variables at play: geography, demographics, climate, and lots more. We like to go deeper, and if you’re benchmarking along at home, you should, too.
Let’s say you’re a zoo who sees about 500,000 visitors per year, so you say to yourself “I’ll look at zoos who see between 400,000 and 600,000 visitors.” You crank up your trusty database, but you are chagrinned to find 32 different facilities meeting that criteria in the most recent year’s AZA dataset. It includes organizations from Houston and Philadelphia (populations over 6 million) to Brownsville and Erie (populations below 500,000). Those are wildly different geographies and markets, and not incredibly helpful towards benchmarking your hypothetical zoo. We’ll say it is located in a city with a population of about 1.5 million, and has a population density of 4,500 within a 5-mile radius.
To make this benchmark group more relevant and useful, you might take those 32 facilities, and pare it down to the ones in markets with between 1 million and 2 million residents, with 5-mile population densities between 3,000 and 6,000. What you’d find is a tidy little group including just 4 zoos (Virginia Zoological Park, Buffalo Zoo, John Ball Zoo, and Reid Park Zoo). This is a much more useful comparison benchmark for metrics like attendance, market penetration, and membership. This is how ZA approaches its benchmarking assignments.
This is just one example of the ways Zoo Advisors leverages data resources for our clients. Depending on the aspect we’re analyzing, we frequently also look at data specific to climate, precipitation, household earnings, population within certain age ranges, and much more.
Some of this data is publicly available via sources we talked about in our last blog post, although much of it is not. Zoo Advisors has invested significant resources in compiling a detailed dataset on zoo and aquarium operational metrics across many years, so if you’d like to have some help from the professionals, drop us a line and we’ll be happy to discuss your goals and help you set up a relevant benchmark group.