Merlin has become master of branding and scale - ﬁtting each business to the opportunity to create a company that's thriving at local, regional, national and international levels.
In this issue we talk to Merlin CEO Nick Varney about his company's plans for international expansion following the recent opening of Legoland Florida.
The growth of Merlin has been a labour of love for Varney who's been with the business since it was Vardon, a small operator of Sea Life Centres - regional and local aquariums.
Identiﬁed as a potential future CEO of the Tussauds Group during his time with that company, Varney's move to Vardon perplexed many who thought he'd walked away from a big opportunity to go places with Tussauds in favour of what was then a small and slightly scruffy local attractions operator.
The growth and rebranding of the business and its transformation into Merlin hasn't happened overnight, but has been a long and thoughtfully conducted process, with a number of strategic developments and investments along the way, including - rather sweetly - the purchase of Tussauds Group and later Lego to form a group which is now second only to Disney in scale.
Unlike many operators who embrace ventures money to grow their businesses and ﬁnd it sucks the life out of them, Merlin has managed to keep a succession of investors happy, while being proﬁtable enough to be able to continue to invest in the businesses it has both acquired and grown itself.
The company has plans to expand into both the Asian and US markets, with the new Lego park in Florida being the ﬁrst major foothold in North America.
The acquisition of the old Busch Gardens and its transformation into the new high-proﬁle Lego attraction was a clever move and it's clear Varney's delighted with how the new park has turned out, given its melding of the best of the old with the new elements.
There are many mothballed theme parks around the world, particularly in the US, so if the company wants to pick up more businesses to rebrand and revive, then there will be opportunities to do so.
Merlin is unique in having grown from being a small attractions operator into one which has a full range of attractions within its portfolio, from small local and mobile, to full-scale theme parks.
No other operator has managed to create this mix. It's interesting to consider whether it's more achievable to scale up than scale down - is it the local and regional attractions which are harder to crack?
No major theme park operator has ever managed to 'think small' and roll out a successful chain of attractions at this level. Merlin has become master of branding and also master of scale, ﬁtting each business to the opportunity to create a company which is thriving at local, regional, national and international levels.