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Your local business is more than an income stream. After decades of being a public face in the local community, your business becomes part of your identity.

So when the time comes to exit, it can feel like a part of your identity dies when you leave the business. Even more so when your pride and joy shuts down after you sell.

Few know the feeling more than James Kinney, one of San Antonio’s most public faces. At 43 years old, he sold the iconic Splashtown water park and pivoted into temporary retirement.

In this episode, you’ll discover why Splashtown shut down (even though it was profitable). And through this story, you’ll gather valuable insights that will help you prepare for your own business exit.

Listen now.

Show Highlights Include:

  • Why a sports card addiction teaches your children financial discipline (6:51)
  • The “New Nintendo” principle that turns want-it-all kids into frugal adults (8:05)
  • How to attract thousands of local eyeballs to your business without spending a dollar on ads (10:25)
  • The “Grind” method that lets your well-deserving family members enter executive levels at your business (without accusals of “special treatment”) (11:15)
  • How to sell your business for an above-market price (even if your EBITDA doesn’t justify it) (14:42)
Read Full Transcript

Do you want a wealthy retirement without worrying about money. Welcome to retire in Texas, where you will discover how to enjoy your faith, your family, and your freedom in the state of Texas. And now here's your host financial advisor, author, and all around good Texan Darrell Lyons.

(00:29): Hey, welcome to retire in Texas. I'm glad you hear. My name is Darrell Lyons. I'm the co-founder and CEO of P's financial group in PAXs financial group is the sponsor of this program. So I'm glad you could be here, please visit PAX financial group.com for more information. Also, I want you to text Texas to the number 7 4 8 68. That's Texas to the number 7 48 68. Cuz there you'll get a free 15 minute consultation with one of our financial advisors. And also remember this information is general in nature only. It's not intended to provide specific tax or legal advice. Is it PAC financial group.com for more information. All right, let's get rock and roll. So James, thanks for being here today. Okay. I've got, James can become quite a friend over the last couple years, so I'm really, really happy you're here. I appreciate the invite. Yeah. Yeah. How's It feel to be retired? Uh, very strange. Yeah. So we're gonna unpack this thing because James, you may be our youngest guest maybe, Maybe. Yeah. So I Don't know. Well I'm 43, so, uh, yeah, but don't change the channel right there. yeah. There's still, yeah. Now you gotta listen now you're like, holy cow, how did this happen? So we're gonna get in James' story in just a minute, but the cool thing is I bet you and I cross path when we were younger. We did. Yeah, I know we had a mutual friend when we were much, much younger. That's What I'm talking about. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So you know what? Six degrees of separation. We got a lot closer than that at one point. So what happened was when I was younger and I lived in Bernie, Texas, I had a, a good friend named Jason White and his mom, Kathy. She was working over at splash town. Yep. And uh, so during the summers she'd work and we would just run around the park all day Long. I know I saw you. Oh yeah. I'm sure. Just didn't Know

(02:03): You. Well, James is splash town. I mean, this is Mr. Splash town right in front of us. And so we're gonna get to hear about this cuz if look, some of you guys are outside of San Antonio may have not experienced splash town, but splash town was a staple in San Antonio for many, many years. In fact, an iconic spot right off the road. And uh, I know a lot of people around here have memories since then San Antonio has grown a lot and there's been SeaWorld and sliterahn and all these other alternatives, but for a long time, splash town was a big deal. And so James you've been a part of that growth. So I wanna hear that story. And then we also need to hear maybe even some people locally wanna hear about what happened, why are you gone? So we're gonna get into that a little bit before we get started. I wanna know, are you from San Antonio? I'm actually from Edmond, Oklahoma. How many people from Oklahoma have we been? We've had multiple people from Oklahoma on here and then they make it to Texas. They do. And uh, it's much cooler up there right now. I'm I'm wondering if I need to go visit, but uh, no, it's uh, most of my family's still up there. Uh, my father and I are the only ones down here. He actually moved down here in 1984. Okay. To build what was water park USA that's before it changed to splash down, It was known as water park, USA water Park USA up until I wanna say 89 or 90.

(03:20): Okay. So what made him start that, You know, I wish I could give you a real answer. He's a CPA. He was working for an oil company, had some friends that wanted to go in and, and start this waterpark. There was a water park up in Oklahoma city called whitewater that came out and they were intrigued with the business model. So they came down and uh, looked at Austin and Austin wanted to stay weird even back then and they didn't want us. So, uh, moved on down the road to San Antonio and found a great spot of land right off high 35, just three minutes north of downtown San Antonio. And uh, that's where it started. That's cool. So growing up, how many kids, siblings, I'm an only child, your only child. So, um, you got a chance to see mom and dad get this now your mom's around. I'm sorry. I didn't. My mom's in Oklahoma. Okay. And so they were married at the Time they were married at the time. Obviously starting a business in a different state is, uh, rather difficult. And Uh, yeah. So how did that work out? I got a lot of those little, uh, flight pins from the Delta captains on my, uh, visiting flights down here. so your dad was working down here and you and your mom were out. He pretty much stayed here. And, uh, it wasn't much after, I guess maybe five years they divorced.

(04:29): Yeah. That's hard. He's starting a business in San Antonio. Mm-hmm and you and mom are holding down the Fort and sh they probably wanted you to stay in the same schools. Maybe. Was that the idea? Long story short. Yeah. There's some of that, but, Uh, yeah. Well, and as a result, you got a chance to see your dad start something from scratch. I did now granted, you know, 38 years ago, I was five years old. Yeah. So really grasping it and wrapping my brain around what he was doing. I had no idea. All I knew is I loved playing in the water and learned Sam volleyball at a very, very young age. So then did you graduate high school in Oklahoma? No. I moved here when I was 12. Okay. Uh, somewhere around there. So I've been here over 30 years now. What high school? Madison high school Here, Madison high school. And so at that point you're going to splash town. You're probably tired of it. Right. I was working at splash town when I was probably 12, whether it was locker rentals or, uh, airing up and patching inner tubes, we used to rent inner tubes back then. It's been free for the last 25 years now for inner tubes. But, uh, I worked behind the scenes. Did you get paid or was it just child labor? Uh, yes.

(05:39): The first amount of money I remember making was about four bucks an hour, which I think I was actually 16 years old by then. Yeah, maybe 15. Wow. I came out at 16 and became a lifeguard. Finally. I was able to, and, uh, did that for a couple of years and then just decided I wanted to branch off and do something on my own and make a name on my own. And I didn't make much of a name on my own and, uh, I've worked in a lot of different things. Advertising, marketing, sales, you name it, But you did not. When you graduated high school, you didn't wanna go in the water. I was not at splash down. No. Yeah. I went off and I was kind of just wanting to do my own thing, finding yourself. And, uh, back then, I didn't understand the importance of who, you know, and how that can benefit you. And I didn't take advantage of it. So I went down the, the road of, uh, the school of hard knocks and worked a lot of labor jobs and decided labor was really not for me. And I, I had a pretty good personality back then, so I was able to do some sales. And then I, I got into my entrepreneurial state and started a few or tried to start a few, uh, marketing projects. And, uh, I've always enjoyed marketing and advertising. So, uh, that was something I was doing for a while. And then I got into real estate. So did you learn any, did your dad ever talk to you about how to operate or finances at a young age? Did you learn anything about money?

(06:58): I did. They were very good about that when I was young, I wanna say I was probably six years old when we opened my first checking account. Is that right? And this was so that I could figure out the money I was spending on buying baseball cards. Hmm. I had sports card addiction. And I mean, as a little kid, you could show me the face on the front of the card. I could tell you who he was, where he played, how long he been there, what his home run stats were. I mean, I was on it. Wow. That was also back in the steroid era. So all my cards are worth about that much Right there. Yeah. Mark McGuire and Barry bonds and yeah. Other than, uh, Ken Griffy Jr. Which, uh, was the only one that held its value. Everyone loved that car. That was the one to go out there. 92. Yeah. 92 stadium. Don Was the stadium Was the stadium club or Don Russ, one of Those two. And let's going way back now. It is. So you learned about, they opened a checking account, so you could help pay for your addiction. Yeah. I was always good at math growing up Uhhuh , which I may have got from my father who was a CPA yeah. But numbers fascinated me, math fascinated me and going through the responsibilities of keeping a checking account helped me understand the value of money. And I remember when I was young, my mom said, if you wanna buy that new Nintendo, that was when the first Nintendo was coming out, you've gotta work and save up half the money and then I'll pay the other half. Well, I had worked up and saved it. And then all of a sudden I realized that was a lot of work and that's a lot of money and I can get a whole bunch of little things or I can get this one big thing. And I ended up saving my money. And, uh, I guess from that point forward, you can call me frugal, cheap, whatever you wanna call me. But, uh, I've been that way ever since. And I've been very cautious with my money. And even when I was making hardly anything, I lived off of much less than that.

(08:40): And is that still, that still applies today? It Does. Yeah. My wife's loosened me up a little bit. Yeah. Wives will do that. the husbands will do that too for wives that are frugal. So you learn this idea of frugality, not from a self-proclaimed redneck hillbilly in Nashville named Dave Ramsey. You learned it from your, your Box I had no idea who Dave Ramsey was until maybe eight years ago. Yeah. So yeah, no. I taught myself that. I think I just from trying to work to save money and doing chores and yard work and shoveling snow for the neighbors, whatever it was. And, uh, we'd go out to the family farm and I'd take my BB gun and I'd shoot down missile toe. I would bag it and I would stand on the street corner and sell it. And that's how I raised money. Oh, that's Great. So, uh, and so ultimately all these, these culmination of skills do play a role. When you end up transitioning back into the I'll call it the family business, which is the water park. So mm-hmm, what made you get into the water park business at a later age in life? I'll be honest with you. It was, uh, the real estate crash. I was a realtor Uhhuh and, uh, the market crashed and my dad called me and he said, how would you like a steady paycheck? I was slinging rental houses as much as I could trying to get 150 bucks a year, 150 bucks there and trying to pay my mortgage, cuz I had a house at the time and it was a, a blessing and his sales manager left and went to six flags and opened up this opportunity for me to come in. And so basically I worked from the bottom and worked my way up and got to a point where I knew there wasn't much. I didn't know about the waterpark before. Yeah. Yeah. But uh, I paid my dues in every single division, every department and worked my way up and uh, to where I was vice president. And I've been at that for the last eight years or so. And uh, we talked about if there's ever anything bad going on or if there's news or anything, I was the owner and

(10:31): You were on TV quite A bit. I was, well, I did all the commercials. Yeah. And anytime I could PI myself out for a story, I would do it. Yeah. And, uh, it's free advertising as long as it's not a negative story. I mean, if, if they've got a drowning in the Comal river and they want to talk to me about it, I want nothing to do with it. You don't wanna associate's connotation. I don't want, We're gonna talk about some of the negative stories in just a minute. Cause I wanna get into that. But just to remind everyone, you're listening to retire in Texas and we're with James Kenny, Mr. Splash town and if you need to speak with one of our financial advisors, there's a no cost way of doing that. You just have to text the number 7, 4, 8, 6, 8, and put in texts in the text and we'll connect you. They have a heart of a teacher it's 15 minutes and it doesn't cost you anything. So James you is, we're kind of digesting this story here. You get back into the business, your dad doesn't throw you on the top, which makes sense because then nobody would respect you. But having, going through the grind kind of part two, you were able to earn your middle management, the other executive levels, their respect, right. Versus just, Hey, I'm just gonna throw my son as a senior vice president and everyone needs to follow his lead. Yeah. I've worked even up until this last season, I was out helping maintenance and uh, helping, obviously we were short staffed as everybody else was. So there was never a time that I felt like I was too high to do any position out there. So I tried to lead by example with that mm-hmm we tried to have that, uh, mentality with our supervisors and management that once you reach the spot doesn't mean you're too good for still doing every job out here.

(12:03): That's so good. Yeah. And it wasn't embraced very very well, but I was at least, you know, we couldn't get a power washer that last year. So I'm the first one there to sun up power washing the concrete as everybody's coming out. Mm-hmm and you know, it's visual, I'm lifeguarding. I'm power washing. Yeah. I'm I'm not just sitting in my office. Yeah. You know, no that's telling you what to do. And so, and I did that majority of the time and, and I'm not gonna say I enjoyed it, but I found that to be my way of leadership. By Example, by example, plus I was out there with them though. And you know, when you're trying to lead people, everybody has a different personality and everybody needs to be led in a different way. And that was how I learned their perceptions and what it took to get them to be respondent to our needs. I could see that. And especially the relationship building part of it. Yes. We've got some great relationships and uh, our general manager, Lisa, she was with us for well over 20 years and uh, and we couldn't have done it without her. She's just amazing. She could deal. You talk about going through hundreds of teenage kids every summer. Yeah. And she was like the splash town mom and just was great. So I don't wanna leave her out of here. Shout. We could not have done this without her and by the way, I'm so proud of her. She left and jumped out of her comfort zone. Yeah. And she's running a water park up in New Jersey now. No kidding. She's doing good up there. Obviously misses her family and kids, but uh, Yeah, that's a big deal. I hope she listens. So what was the catalyst to ultimately selling?

(13:32): That was actually a surprise. I, a few years ago I'd made the decision, okay. This is what I'm gonna do. And I'm gonna make this park the best park I can for as long as I can. Now, granted we're a family owned business and it was a big water park, but it was on a small family budget. Okay. But sat in perspective, I don't have public money that I can go out and raise private equity Or Private equities or anything to go build another million dollar ride every year. Yeah. Or in six flags in sea world's case five, six, $7 million rides every year. Yeah. You know, it just, I, I didn't have that. And so we had to find ways to stay relevant. Okay. And, uh, that was my biggest challenge, but I think the most fun with the park with that being said, I hadn't quite embraced the thought of not only the income ending, but that Life. Yeah. The lifestyle. Yeah. Being Mr. Splash town. I was the face of splash town. Sure. Yeah. And it's gone and I didn't see that coming. It was not solicited. In other words, you weren't going out there looking for it. No. Yeah. We had talked to a couple of other parks. Yeah. Because I mean, the last thing I wanted to see is that thing being torn down and unfortunately value for water parks that EBIT a was just really low EBITDA. Can you tell people what EBIT is in or I will, You can go ahead.

(14:49): Yeah. It's just your earnings before income taxes, depreciation and amortization. But it's just So you can say that much smoother than not. Yeah. Your It's just your earnings. It's just whatever you made. Yeah. Right. Well, the EBIT all was at a lower, multiple than, uh, where we had really wanted to be. Plus we knew the value of the land. Yeah. And so while several entertained us, none were really good. And you know, it, this one came outta nowhere and it was a property value sale. Yeah. So they weren't looking to buy, like it wasn't like six flags was coming in saying, I wanna buy this water park, your loyal fan base, your tubes. This was a third party saying, I just want your land. Is that right? That's correct. And we were on I 35 with, uh, unobstructed access to four 10 I 10. Yeah. 2 80, 1 37 south. You name it. And, and 35, of course. So it was a very valuable area. We knew it was valuable. Just thought it would be valuable as a waterpark. that's interesting. Yeah. You would. I mean, in your mind, over the years, you might have always thought, look, if we need an exit, we it's gonna be somebody in our peer group. Well, and after 37 years, you want it to be. Yeah. So I bought a warehouse or not bought I'm leasing a warehouse right out the back. So I could take some of the assets off the property and, and park it there for a while. And unfortunately I had to drive by constantly and see how it was run down and taggers and vandals. And that hurt so bad cuz that's been my life. Yeah. And uh, seeing it go downhill and then seeing them partially tear it down. And it's finally leveled. It's done now that that brings closure, brings some peace, but it just stings a little,

(16:30): That period of time seeing Wow. Six months, You know, just, I think about like you see these rides that thousands of kids have smiled on mm-hmm me, including Millions and millions of customers over the years. Yeah. Yeah. Millions. And just knowing that now it's coming down, you know, I can't imagine you driving by and seeing that all the time and seeing each one go down. Yeah. That's gotta be tough, But it was an opportunity. My dad was semi-retired okay. I don't think he'll ever really 40 years. He doesn't know how to not go to an office every day. Even now , he's renting an office now just, Just to, just To go in the mornings and okay. Yeah. Look at the stock market and drink his coffee. And I don't know, but he, it was time to step back and retire. Yeah. And there was a point where I was looking at, uh, obtaining some loans to buy him out mm-hmm and I had a, uh, a minority portion of the park myself, but it was time for him to retire. And this was the deal that it was just too good to walk away from. Yeah. And it seemed like the right time coming outta COVID. We can say who bought it. Right. I mean, it's public. It is public. It's a local dealership here. Yeah. Car dealership Dealership. So it's gonna be a, a truck dealership here, uh, when they finish everything. Okay. So, uh, stay tuned when you drive by you'll maybe start seeing a Ford logo show up somewhere Strange though. Very strange. You know, it could be, uh, what's the new auto manufacturer here in San Antonio. The, uh, DeLorean could be in Delorian. Oh, are they doing DeLorean here?

(17:56): Now DeLorean will be here. Yeah. That'll be another show. So tune in . So as we kind of wind this thing down and I know we've gone a couple different directions, but it's been really cool to hear this and uh, to see how often our identity is in our vocation. And sometimes we know that sometimes we don't, but you've made it clear, Hey, my identity was in my vocation and it hurt You talk about strange. I was invited to everything before , you know, being Like the chamber functions and all those things, just yeah, whatever, Just galas and golf tournaments and whatever. And with the exception of, uh, one TV station anyway, that KCW X, it's a small station, but they've been great partners of ours for many years, channel two here in San Antonio, they still invite me because we've developed a friendship over the years. Yeah. And, and I feel like I've developed it with others, but uh, you get a lot of crickets now. , it's quite different. I tried to prepare my wife cuz right before COVID hit, we had seven galas that we had to go to. And so what does she do? She goes out and buys a dress for each one. Cuz she can't wear the same dress twice. Oh God forbid. I mean at least put it in rotation because Everyone knows yeah. That you wore that dress to the last gala, Especially now with Facebook and social media cuz it's out there anyway. Long story short COVID hits, every gala got canceled. Yeah. And now she's sitting on this pile of dresses going, what am I gonna do now? And I said, I don't know, but we're not gonna be getting gala invites. Well let's,

(19:21): Let's go there. What are you thinking you're gonna do, You know, I've looked at a lot of things. I love travel. Mm-hmm I love tourism. I love RVing. Okay. I've got a couple of business plans in mind that are around RVs or RV resort. Okay. Or somewhere in that realm. However, it's really blown up recently and land values have blown up recently. Yeah. And I'm putting that on the back burner for a little while. I've been blessed that I don't need to run out and do anything right now. Yeah. I've been doing a lot of praying, a lot of praying. Oh good. Trying to be patient and wait for his time because I know there's a plan mm-hmm and I know it'll be there. Mm-hmm and it's in his time, not mine. And I just gotta keep telling myself that cause I'm getting real restless right now. not because I need to do anything, but I may or may not have D D ADHD. You Know, they didn't diagnose us Sitting still for very long is not my thing. And uh, I tried being an investor and uh, investing in the stock market and right when you know, the money hit, the bank was right about the time the market decided to yeah. Go the other way. That could be humbling. Yes. And uh, fortunately I hadn't put a whole lot in, so I'm kind of waiting on that too. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Good. And uh, I'm the old adage is by low sell high. And so, uh, in everything I'm doing, I have a feeling there may be a business that becomes available at some point here, maybe in 2023, it just depends on what this market's doing for us and What you wanna do. Right? Like what's enjoyable. So the most important question as we top off our show here is what's your favorite kind of salsa? Did

(20:56): We already reach the salsa Question? We already reached the salsa question. I mean, we're, We're in it. So locally here, you know, we've got Julio's salsa and Clint's salsa. Yeah. Those are kind of big names, but I still, those are go-tos. Those are easy. You have to it's but I've got a friend of mine. I'm gonna give her a shout out. It's Becky flowers. She has Becky's salsa. She's got a page on Facebook. Okay. But, and she started giving me some jars of her salsa and I can't go without it. Is that right? I put it on every breakfast taco I make and nachos and you name it. She's got the mild, which I can maybe only go up to her, her two jalapeno rating. She goes all the way up to ghost peppers, which, uh, that's a whole nother story, but uh, Becky's salsa. Okay. Is Becky salsa? It's on my list now I'll have to check it out now. Do you like it hot or you I'm Medium. Medium. Okay. Medium. The older I get the milder. I like it. Yeah. I gotta keep Tums next to me now it's uh, right. I know well look, James, this has been so good and there's so much to talk about, but kind of covered a lot of ground. And this was helpful that to me to learn about you and I'm sure to others, as we navigated some of these decisions you had to make. So thanks for being on the show. Thanks for having me. You know, I may be the first, uh, non-retired retiree. On show, but you're at least the youngest. Yeah. I, you know, I just can't sit still. So I'll enjoy it for a little While. I love it. Hey, thanks for listening. It's a retire in Texas. Remember you can always text 7 48, 6, 8 and put in Texas. And one of our advisors will give you a 15 minute consult. And most importantly, you think different when you think long term have a great day.

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