Dig This concept has been tried and tested in the United States and is sure to increase visitor numbers to Invercargill and Southland, concept creator Ed Mumm, says.
Mr Mumm visited the Dig This Invercargill site this week and Southland Express reporter HAYDEN WILLIAMS took the opportunity to ask how he grew the business from inspiration to global franchise.
Mr Mumm said he went straight from high school in Dunedin to working on high country stations in Otago in the late 1980s.
After several friends returned from rodeos in the US with stories of how great it was over there, he decided to go and see for himself.
He travelled the West on a three-month working visa, but met and fell in love with the woman he eventually married in the state of Colorado. He moved there permanently in 1992.
“I love the high country there. There are a lot of similarities – I call Colorado New Zealand without an ocean around it. I’m officially a ‘Kank’ now: half Kiwi and half Yank,” he said.
Mr Mumm then worked as a fencing contractor.
“I operated dozers but I’d never used an excavator. It wasn’t until we built a house in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, that I did excavator work.”
After two hours using a digger in 2004, Mr Mumm thought it was “the coolest thing”.
“I thought, ‘if I’m having this much fun, imagine the fun other people could have’.”
That’s when he came up with the concept for Dig This, he said.
“Digger Land in the UK focused more on smaller equipment, but I was in America where they love to have things big.”
No-one had done anything similar in the US before, he said.
“Our first and foremost consideration was safety – how to put someone through a safe experience in two hours. I put together a team of people who had never been on heavy equipment before in order to design an experience for them.”
Mr Mumm said he deliberately did not use people who had worked in construction when he trialled the business concept in Steamboat Springs.
“Instructors needed to have people skills rather than driving skills. We found the ideal people for the job were people like skiing instructors, who had adaptive teaching skills. We also employed a psychologist so we could adapt the programme to get people through a lot faster, efficiently and safely.”
After two years, people were travelling from all corners of the US to visit Dig This, he said.
“We knew we were on to something – after two years we moved into a larger market. Las Vegas was the perfect location. Las Vegas has 40 million visitors a year. About 50% of those are big groups like people attending corporate conferences or bachelor parties. The other 50% are tourists. About 50% of our Dig This Las Vegas visitors are women. We [opened Dig This Las Vegas in 2011 and] perfected the business more, then wanted to grow the brand through franchising or licensing.”
Transport World, Invercargill, was granted a licence last year so it could bring the concept to Southland and add to the “amazing programme they had in place already”, Mr Mumm said.
Dig This Invercargill manager Lex Chisholm said he originally thought the licence might go to somewhere such as Queenstown or Auckland, but given what Invercargill had already done [with Bill Richardson Transport World and Classic Motorcycle Mecca] it was a perfect fit, he said.
“It’s going to bring a lot of visitors and it’s also a great alternative to saturated markets like Queenstown,” he said.
Mr Mumm agreed and thought the location “looped in nicely with those markets”.
Mr Mumm will spend three weeks in New Zealand visiting family, with a week in Invercargill helping Dig This crew members perfect their use of the NASCAR-style headsets which would help them communicate with visitors using the heavy equipment.