Call of Leadership

The Call of Leadership

Zehnders Snowfest for 2021 is on! John Shelton, VP of Sales and Marketing for Zehnders, shares with us the history of this great Michigan tradition, the impact it has had on the community, and what Frankenmuth’s Snowfest will look like in 2021.

Zehnder’s Snowfest Website

Zehnder’s Snowfest Facebook Page

Listen to this great interview with the CEO of Zehnders of Frankenmuth, Al Zehnder!


Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. And welcome to the show on your host Cliff DuVernois. And today we’re going to be talking about one of those winter activities. That’s become a staple or a mainstay in our Michigan community, and that would be the vendors, snow Fest that happens every single year. And to talk to us today is going to be the vice president of sales and marketing for Xander’s. That would be John Shelton, John, how are you? 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:00:54] Great Cliff. Thank. you very much. And thank you for having me on the show. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:58] Excellent. Thanks for taking the time to be here. I know you guys have been very busy with all this COVID activity going on. But before we jump into that, why don’t you tell us where you’re from? Where did you grow up? 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:01:10] Well, I am originally from Buffalo, New York as well. Born and raised.   Have been in Frankenmuth. Since 1988, but my connection to Frankenmuth is through my wife, Martha Zehnder Shelton, and we met in college at Valparaiso university. Back in 1976. And we were married in June of 1986. 

And I actually started my hospitality career at, with Hyatt hotels. And kind of traveled all over the United States and up. Became director of sales at a Hyatt in Flint, Michigan in 1988. And I joined Xander’s in January of 1991. And obviously I’ve been here ever since. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:51] Now, why did you choose to go into the hospitality business? 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:01:55] You know what the Cliff I used, one of those things, I don’t think I chose to do that. I think the hospitality business chose me. And it’s just one of those, you know, It’s one of those things, you know, I had, after graduating from Valparaiso university, I have a degree in business administration. 

I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself after college. But my wife now, my girlfriend at the time, Martha was getting another degree. At UNLB and so I went to visit. Her after college, after he graduated and I kind of went to New York city, was working with a relative and just decided to go visit her in Las Vegas. And. 

It was February. And it was 75 degrees in Las Vegas. And I think it was about 15 degrees. New York. And I’m like, you know what? I think I might want to move 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:42] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:02:43] And so she was going to school and you know, in Vegas, I mean, that’s the industry. So it was just ironically, the timing happened to be.  The Las Vegas Hilton and MGM grand at the time had just come through major tragedies of fires and they were looking for people. And perform those things right. Places, right time. And they were. 

Jobs that were paying well, and I needed a job at the time. And so I just, I’ll never forget a guy named Lloyd booth speed was the vice-president of sales for the MGM hotel. I just walked into his office one day and said, Hey, I think I would be great at the hotel sales. And he kind of like, you know what? I like your spunk, but you don’t know anything about the industry. If you’re willing to take a job. 

At the front desk. Or reservations, I think we need people and that’s how it started. And I’ll never, I took a job in reservations, my first boss, and I’ll tell them to do with it. Tough Jewish lady named Joni Clayton for New York. And I kinda liked it. And. But I didn’t. And I loved the experience I was getting, but I just wasn’t satisfied because in my mind, I was like, well, wait a minute. I didn’t really go to college. 

There’s nothing wrong with being. When I was doing, but I wanted more. So I started reading more about the industry. And I kept reading about Hyatt hotels, how they were a very young, progressive company and looking for good people. And I started writing letters and I had my interview with the lady out of the Los Angeles, Sherry Leverone and she was impressed with me and she made some phone calls on my behalf and 

Eventually got a job at the Hyatt Regency in Oakland, California, and working for one of my first mentors. 

DJ Macmillan. And my whole goal at that time, Cliff was just to get about a year’s experience because as I was interviewing, trying to get into the industry, everybody was saying either I was overqualified. I was under-qualified and it was very frustrating. And but you know, It just, I just reflect back on. 

My business history and it always boils down to somebody has to take a chance on you. And then somebody has to mentor you. And I worked very hard and I took all the advice I could get. And I learned from everybody that I could. And so I was like, I was like a sponge. I just want to absorb it as much as I could. And. 

People kept telling me, Hey, we think you have potential to really do well in this industry. They love my personality and not as, and I played, I played sports all my life. I was a student now. A student athlete at Valpo. So I was always into competing. And hotel sales was about being okay. Be the best and competing. So long story short I aye. Aye. Aye. Aye. 

Left the Las Vegas started a job and a high range. The Oaklands I mentioned worked my way up. Got transferred to the Hyatt, Regency Atlanta. At the same time, my wife was in the industry. She had worked for Hyatt. And when we were in Atlanta, but prior to that, she was working in Napa Valley. And so she works with Hyatt in San Francisco Silverado country club. In Napa Valley, we got married, I get transferred. She comes there. I’m in Atlanta 15 months. 

Because I was all in this, I was part of what they call the rising star program. And I knew I was going to be a director of sales. And so I had promised my wife. If you know, let’s go to land on that, going to be there long. I’m going to ask to come back to Michigan. And is either Dearborn or Flint. 

And ideally flipped because my wife wanted to come back home. And so she was looking to get, maybe get back into the family business and it just worked out for us. So I, I, I started at the Hyatt Regency in Flint in 1988. And as I mentioned, then we hired, left that property and they were transferring me to Bethesda, Maryland. I was going to go open up the new Hyatt Regency hotel in Bethesda, marital. 

And they were going to bring my wife because she had worked with the company. But they were offering me a 10% increase in salary, but I was moving into a, an area. They had a 40% increase in the cost of living and the math just didn’t add up to me clip. And so. It would just happen to be at the time that are in our business here at vendors. 

That my brother-in-law Alexander I CEO with looking expand. He was just had become the new president. My father-in-law was retiring and Al was elevated to CEO, president of the company, and he had a vision and as I was working for Hyatt, we sat down one day and he just goes, Hey. 

I’m looking for, I need a sales direction and we just don’t have that. Right. Not our company. I really wasn’t looking to leave Hyatt. And so he kinda made me like the godfather an offer. I couldn’t refuse, I guess. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And I doing that. And I can remember that, that you know, 

One thing I’ve always commended our family. They’re always very professional. I had to still send in my resume. I had to make an appointment with his executive secretary. And so he never looked at me as his, as his brother-in-law looked at me as potential director of sales for the company. And we sat down and had a great discussion and I said, I want this, this and this. They can, he was going to say no. 

And we would just move on and still get along. Great. He said yes. And I didn’t have an answer for yes. okay. I guess I’ll start. And I’ve been, like I said, I started, I’ve been here going on 30 years now. So.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:43] Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Yeah. I was just thinking about the cause when you talk about working for a company like a Hyatt, right? You have A large brand recognition. Most people think like the ultimate in, in stability. You know, the company is going to be there tomorrow. It’s going to be the next day. 

And you chose to leave that giant corporate structure for you know, In the grand scheme of things, a much smaller. Family business. Is there some appeal to being David versus Goliath? 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:08:20] Yeah. With the David versus the Goliath with being Goliath at big corporate setting, I saw a lot of good people. I. It’s It was very, very competitive. And there’s a lot of people that.  Had ambition and sometime it became even a little cutthroat and it wasn’t what you saw as long as you produced. 

You were one of the guys. The moment you stopped producing the new mines you became expendable. I saw a lot of good people. Let go. So it was very stressful, but I didn’t really bother me cause I, I was always producing. But what happened was, you know, life is all about timing. And my wife and I had really reached a point, I think may, I think I was 31 at the time. 

 That. I got tired of moving around. I had moved. Three times in six years, I had moved from Las Vegas, too. San Francisco Bay area from San Francisco Bay area. To Atlanta, Georgia from Atlanta, Georgia. To Flint. Frankenmuth, Michigan. And now they were talking about where now we’re going to move you to Maryland. And the whole concept with Hyatt was the more moves you made. The more money you can make, you get promoted.

And now I have a young family. We had our first child. So you started thinking about, wait a minute. Okay. Long-term I gotta have a place I’m going to call home. And being here in Michigan and Frankenmuth. We had a tremendous support system. I made her. My, my in-laws my whole family. My wife’s whole family was here, so it was, you know, my mother-in-law was more than happy to. 

Look, this, help us out with it. When our first son there, her grandchild. And so it just made it easier maybe because with Hyatt. I mean, I’m trying to find daycares. I didn’t have the same, same personal support. A system that a family business now. That’s that’s the pro. Now there’s a coup there’s always cons. 

Were you working for quote unquote, a small family business, but I think what was very helpful for me, Cliff.  When I took the job, my mother-in-law Marion’s Zender. Yeah, I called me in her office. She goes, I’m going to talk to you. Yeah, what’s up. She goes, look, let me just tell you how this works. 

For you to continue to be successful, you have to learn this lesson. And I’m like, okay. As much as we love each other. And it’s as much as we spend time together. And we work eight and play together. Literally when you go home, don’t take work home. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:42] Nice.

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:10:43] So, okay. And so, although it’s, it’s hard to not do that. I understood what she was saying. That Hey, when you leave this building. So don’t take what happened in the building. Home with you. And so, and then also, you know, it’s like, you know, and, and the business decisions. Don’t take it personally. So that advice was always kind of helpful philosophically, but, and then you guys, you grow through it. It’s like, you know, I mean, we. 

The, the the restaurant. The golf course, we have the fortress vendor splashed village. We all understand how important those businesses are for us to be successful in. But what I learned right away, we were making decisions, which I like no one was above somebody else. No family member was more important than another family member. 

And everything was done by literally unanimous consensus. And we, it was great. Cause we, we all get along. So that was, you know, so the transition for me, wasn’t that hard. And so it, and then what, what this gave me, that’s something high. It never could give me.  

Cliff Duvernois: [00:11:46] Nice. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:11:47] when you own things, Cliff. Do you look at it a toll a lot differently than when you don’t own it? And so I I loved Hyatt. I had a great career with Hyatt. I have so much still dear friends with Hyde. I learned a lot, but this was probably, this has been. From a professional Stanford, one of the best decisions I ever made because I was able to. 

Just like snow Fest. I mean, that was an idea that was brought to me again. Lo and behold, my brother-in-law said, why don’t you think it can work, make it work for us. So we don’t have a lot of red tape here. We can get things done right away. When that corporate setting you have these layers. Of communication. You have these layers of trying to get things done that by the time somebody decides you’ve lost that opportunity. 

Because we waited too late. So, you know, there is no red tape, I guess, if there is, I’m the red tape, we can, we can. We can huddle anytime he want and say, Hey, what do you think. Let’s make this happen. So that’s how you see, like, you know, when I first started here, there was no splash village. 

And so to kind of put it into perspective. I’ll ask you this question. What do you think is the second largest department we have. Vendors. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:59] Wow. Interesting. I would say. Man, if I were to guess 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:13:04] going to get, go ahead. Go ahead. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:06] I was going to say, if I were to guess off the top of my head, cause you know what it’s going to be, it’s going to be something that it’s not obvious just by asking that question. So I’m just going to say your marketing team. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:13:16] We only got it up. We have four or five people are our second largest department in the company didn’t even exist. 15 years ago. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:26] Oh, wow. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:13:27] Our largest department is our waitstaff, which makes

Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:30] Yes. Yup. Yup. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:13:31] Second largest department lifeguards. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:34] So that’s something I did not. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:13:36] about it. Think about that. Yeah. It’s the largest, the second largest department we have in our entire company is the lifeguards, the life scarred staff. I think we keep a bottle about 80 to a hundred people. For a lifeguard set, but in season where we’re busy, but I’m so. The point of that is, is we were able to take something that didn’t exist. 

Until 2005. So. It tells, it tells you from an innovative creative. That’s what I like about the co. Like about the business and our company. I get around to sit around the table. As a board member, as a family member, as a leadership of our company to help create those types of things. I could never gotten it with Kaia regardless of how high I might’ve sent it. I never would have been able to have that type of ground floor impact. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:24] You know, when. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:14:25] At vendors.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:26] Yeah. I was thinking of my experience with dealing with both large and small companies. The smaller companies are way more nimble. If he got an idea, you can execute on it. Right away, like you said, you’re not having to go through 20 different layers. Of approval or management. And I, and I think that, you know, a lot of people. 

Discount that. You know, and it’s, it’s actually one of your biggest advantages. Yes, you are small. But at the same point in time, you can execute on ideas much, much quicker than your bigger competitors. And speaking of executing on ideas. I want to talk about the Genesis of snowfall. Cause I seem to be hearing different versions of how Snell Fest came about. 

What, how did, how did snowfall, how did the idea even come about in the first place? 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:15:07] Alright, so. Full transparency. We did not create the concept. Of snow fests. There was a gentleman named bill during I believe it was. I may be mispronouncing it. And Pete Rumsey. They were snow Congress in this in mid Michigan. And I’m going to say Cliff back in like 1990. I wasn’t even with the company at the time I was living in Frankenmuth. 

But I love working for heightened flip, but I didn’t work for genders. And they approach the vendors to, Hey, they were having this snow carving event. On a jib way Island in Saginaw. And could you be a sponsor long story short? I think we, we gave him $500. Hey guys. Good luck with what you’re trying to do. 

Here’s $500. Put our name out there. And we do a lot of community type of things. We donate to a lot of different causes.

For whatever reason they gravitated to that. Cause. Jump ahead a year later, I’m not on board. I’ve been working at vendors all of, maybe 35. Less than two months. I’m just trying to get my feet together, trying to put my team together, trying to figure out, cause we didn’t have a marketing department. I created it. 

And so, and then my brother-in-law was doing more of the sales side of it, but he goes, Hey, I’ve got other things I need. That’s why I came on board. He goes, I need somebody to run this. I have a vision. But I can’t do this by myself. So anyway, so this bill gentlemen. We had supported. Came to our offices and says he has this. He had just opened up a business in town. 

It says I have, I’m a snow. Carver. I do this. I’ve gone all over the country, my partner, and I we’ve been doing this event on the Jibo Island, but we haven’t really gotten a lot of support and nobody really comes to the way it was set up. People would just kind of drive around it. There was not much interaction with it. And so he was saying, Hey 

I, I have a business in town now. I think I can bring this concept to Frankenmuth and, but I need $30,000. I’m like, okay. Angle. Let me get back with you. so I sat in the house. I sat down with Al my brother-in-law and we kind of talked about it and he asked, he just pointed. I can remember just him point blankly asked me, do you think it can work? He goes, well, to this, guy’s telling me we’ll have like 60,000 people here. 

Now you have to understand the content of this conversation. This was for January and traditionally the mindset or the paradigm at, in Frankenmuth. So not just vendors. It’s the winter time. Shut down, minimize minimize your expenses because there is no revenue. 

Okay. Well, I’m the new guy I’ve been on board less than 60 days. And coming from a very aggressive sales. A philosophy with Hyatt and it was always about dry revenue. So I’m thinking like, well, why can’t we drive revenue? But I’m being told because we’ve never had it just can’t be done. So then I say, well, I’ve got an idea because this guy is telling me he can bring 60,000 people to Frankenmuth. And in my mind that’s gotta be a lot of revenue for us. 

So my brother-in-law hateful, long story short. He said, he tells me, well, go ahead. And I just think, I think at the time I was. 31, and I can remember him facetiously saying we’ve spent money on hokey or things. And he basically told me to go for it. So I tell this bill guy and I, I don’t know the guy, but he’s got a business in town. I go, here’s the deal. We’ll front. This. But I run the shell. Okay. I said all the rules. You gotta tell me what to do. 

And so that was our agreement. Okay. So we were the major sponsor and we had a couple of local businesses, like Bronner’s I reached out to, and Gary McClellan and Gary McLellan and McLellan, that’s like, Zach’s a fudge. Shop and the candy store. And those are the woolen mill in the white house. 

Those are, those are like the McClellan properties and and Gary, and he goes, you know, but man, he started laughing at me and he goes, all right, John, I’m going to help you out. And he goes, I’m going to help support this, but I’m just going to tell you. You can’t get Jesus Christ to come to Franklin was in wintertime. 

 Just what he told me. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:23] Huh. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:19:23] All right. So I gave it with bill long story short again. We have snow fence now. Cliff. I have no idea what I’m doing. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:32] Right. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:19:32] I’m trusting this guy, we created these forms. He showed us how to build these cube. We, we put a bunch of, we scraped up snow from It was from the parking lots in town. We have a front end loader that a guy. Bob Kurt. Crit Bob Craig helped us get, so we’re kind of just piecing Milinis together. It took us two weeks to set up like eight snow blocks. 

Okay. Cause we did it all manually. We had no idea what we were. But what build knew he knew the carvers. So he got just a bunch of his friends to show up. We, so I start marking as, Hey, here’s what we’re doing. And we literally had, then John Zehnder, our food and beverage. Director and executive chef, he just got some of his culinary buddies that he knew that did ice carvers. You know, you go to a nice buffet. There’s a nice iced 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:21] Yes. Yep. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:20:22] he knew guys that did that. So we had nine of those literally on our front grass. And that was Snowfence and we had about 80,000 people come here. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:32] Sweet. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:20:33] Re got our butts kicked. We were so understaffed and they’re not. And I, and our minds Cliff, we simply said, if we had like 5,000 people over the weekend,

Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:43] We’d be happy. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:20:44] And people like people like our relatives across the street. They went on vacation. We just got hammered. We were just so unprepared, but it was like fantastic. Businesses were happy, but then some of the cards are saying, well, you know, P Bill promises this and we were supposed to get paid this. Now we didn’t mind paying it out because we were successful,

but I didn’t like that. That’s not how I did business. I don’t like surprises. And so then Pete Rumsey, who was an art teacher that was Bill’s partner in snow carving. After law set and done the first year, probably about. A month after the event. He asked to speak with me and they just said, Hey, Bill’s no longer, I’m not affiliated with bill anymore. I don’t like how he does business. 

Bill eventually lost his business in towel. And, but Pico’s, I’m an art teacher. I go, well, you have here. Can be tremendous. I like to work with you. And I go, okay. And we created this association, but during that first Snowfence, you know, my son now who works in our company he was, Nick was two and And

my son, Brad for was maybe four. And I remember walking around, we’re all excited people everywhere and they kept complaining. And it kept complaining that they were cold. And I don’t know why clip this light bulb went off. And I said, okay. I know, because as much as I enjoy looking at the ice and snow, I could only do that for so much.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:07] Right. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:22:08] And in my mind and just clicked. I thought right away as a parent, if my two kids are whining, Okay, for lack of better words and complaining that this isn’t fun. I’m sure I’m not the only parent experiencing this right now.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:22] Right. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:22:23] And so it just hit me. If I can keep these two kids happy. We’ve got a winner. So that’s when we started the warming tent, we started having the petting zoo. I think the next year we had fireworks. So my whole entertainment mode. Came to being like, wait a minute. We can do more. Everybody loves the snow because it was more than just a snowman. This was great art. 

And so Pete says, I’ll get teamed for you. We’ll work together. We create an association and I said, okay, I run a shell. I don’t want any surprises. We’re going to do a P and L we’re going to forecast what our revenues are going to be. And we’re going to. Outline what we think our expenses and I’ll go and I’ll get I’ll raise the money. 

Obviously the vendors always being the title sponsor and we’ll put it in the most, but we’ll go around. And so then we started getting Carver. We had done so by year, Year three. Oh, we had team from Italy, Germany. We stayed a whole international division. It just blew up in the pun intended. It’s snowballed on us. So between then we start having our own internal committee, but I just saw it. I was like, okay, we’ve got something here. 

And, but I’ve got, so really what I brought to the snow Fest is the entertainment. I would say like, okay, I tried to bring the charisma to it, the dog and pony show, because I knew nothing about the artwork part of it, but I relied on, we relied on Pete to do that for us. And gosh, I mean, so that was a marriage made in heaven for, until Pete retired for about. 

2020 plus years, if not 25 years, we just made it work. And I just got. Then when I say I, our committee, we Scott, more people involved. That work as vendors. And we had originally the river committee, we had a couple nonsequitors employees. Then we like now, you know what? This is our baby. We’re going to only non-gender employee is going to be Pete. 

And because we had a vision, how we want it to run into sometime some new community people that were on our board. Or committed to say, didn’t have that same vision. So I gotta be honest with you. We just, I didn’t, I don’t want to say I got rid of them, but we just say, Hey, we can take it from here. And if you want to support us as great. So we’ve always, so it really started out. 

Cliff as a business. Opportunity. And the first two or three years, it was about. How are we going to grow our business? We were making money and everybody in town was making money. That’s not everybody loved it and everybody is willing to support it from a business standpoint. But then I started thinking, let’s expand this out more to make it more of a community event. 

So that’s when we start getting school kids involved, we started doing like field trips. We created the high school division. Then I started thinking like, well, how do we perpetuate this art form? To younger people and really it became  The kind of like the training ground. For other divisions. So we, for example, we started with our kids division. Those kids ended up being in our high school division. When they got out of high school, they got into our state division. So we’ve actually had people that have competed. Now I will tell you when we started our high school division, 

I don’t know his last name, but he was an art teacher at Milton high school. First name was Chuck. Chuck bought into it. He loved it. And for like the first three or four years, the military was the best. Teams, we had.

He got them jackets. And they have these great data. They had, they had Carhartt jacket with Millington, snow sculpting team on the back of it. So Chuck took it to another level. Now, other high school solid he was doing. So those art teachers took it to another level and how we got the art, the schools involved with it. We said we would, if you give us a team, 

And there’s no cost to you, but we’ll donate back to your art program. For your high schools. In every thing, every person would get a certificate. So it was like, they loved it and was like, Hey, we don’t get it. So they turned it into a educational opportunity for their schools. And then I can tell you, we have schools till this day. 

But we have schools that it’s where the teachers tell me the kids take it seriously and they compete to get on the team. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:26:25] Oh, nice. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:26:26] And so that’s how that also. So I went from more of a, like this as a great business. Opportunity business model. To make it more of a hybrid business model and community model. And how do we get the community behind it? And how do we get more people from the community involved in it? And that just kind of started happening over, over time. As I said, we just started adding different components to the snow and ice carving competitions and involving younger adults. And really that helped us sustain. 

 People. As they got older, it gave him a chance to stay with it. Instead of just saying, we still, we just introduce people to this art form at an early age. And a lot of them carried on. And I have people come up to that have competed. Their kids are now competing. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:27:13] That’s cool. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:27:14] It’s very, yeah, so it’s been very, very  gratifying to watch how this kind of. This from its infancy to I’ll just say knowledge, adulthood. Of watching how this whole thing has come together over the last 30 years. And, you know, the, the, the common denominator has been myself, Linda Kelly.  Were the two last remaining charter committee members. 

John Zehnder, just retired. And then we had Scott Watkins who was always in charge of our set up here where that golf course superintendent, but then his assistant. So we’ve been able to use the talent of our company. To make this continue to grow, but here’s, what’s also interesting. Once we saw the success and, and it became really big and we raised a lot of money. And then when I say raise a lot of money, it takes a lot of money to put this on.

And. Then we got the old a hotel or see what happens. I always liked to say cliff, The reason we’ve been able to sustain this because right out of the. Our humble beginnings.  This was never just Zehnder success. See when you have an event that makes everybody around you or everybody involved with it. 

Just as successful. However they’re defining next success. They’re going to participate. But if this had always started out to be something that only Zehnder just benefiting from. That doesn’t work. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:28:38] Right. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:28:38] And so our mindset, but that’s just that’s Franklin. Before you clip. This is a community that has always worked well together. And so snow Fest is no exception. 

And so we were just able to kind of just make this bigger and all around us. So, you know, we can’t do this without hotels, donating rooms to put up, put the Congress up, but they’re willing to do, because they’re selling out. 

They know they wouldn’t be successful without the events. So they’re more than happy to help us in any way, shape or form. And then what, and I’ve never started out. And as it grew, I never got to the point and people always ask me like, Oh, you want to be the biggest, I’ve never wanted to be the biggest in this venture. 

But I’ve always told people I wanted to have this to be one of the highest quality events.  In North America. And so. 

Pete Rumsey, who was really in charge of helping us get the carvers in the beginning. Was telling us I’m going to get you the best carvers that do this. And then, because this is Franklin was, and we know for our hospitality be, could make the kite, as we like to say, The carvers were blown away, how well they retreated. So then they started making decisions because it’s people are taken off from their jobs. 

For a week, this is how they’re spending their vacation. But they love the treatment. What we gave them. So now they start making decisions and I’ve had people tell me, I only go to one or two shows now. Okay. But if I’m going to go to one, you’re always the one on my list. We became the premier snow sculpting event for the carvers because they love the way the hospitality. They love the treatment that received when they were in Franklin, not just from senders, but from everybody.

And they were blown away by that. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:30:19] You were talking about.  Growing and just to get some, get my head around a couples, like some numbers here, you know, at its peak before this whole COVID thing kicked in how many people actually come to Snell Fest? 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:30:32] At his peak traditionally. And I’m going to give you a range and I’m going to tell you. And the peak that is obviously a weekend. But we have aunt estimated. That we literally have about 150,000 people annually.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:30:47] Wow. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:30:48] Yeah, we’ve actually been on the today. Show Willard. Scott was live. From Zehnder Snell, Fez, I think 1996.  For doing the weather segment. Right here. Right now, drive away here. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:31:01] Nice. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:31:01] And that happens strictly because at the time TV five w NDN was the NBC affiliate. 

And w EYI was the CBS affiliate and they flip flop. And so, so EYI was looking, looking for something and it just happened to be in January and they were looking for something to kind of a big event to ’em. To signal that they were now. An NBC affiliate. And I’ll never forget the station manager. Calling me his name escapes me, but he ended up going to. 

A station in Buffalo. So that’s why I recall the story he called and said, Hey, would it be possible? He asks, I go, well, let me think. He asked, would it be possible? Willard. Scott could come this smoke fence. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:31:45] Oh, yeah. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:31:46] at no cost. I’m like, well, hold on one second. Oh, yeah, I think we can make that happen for you. And so that’s how we’ll have Scott was here. Willard Scott was here. Because EYI went from a CBS affiliate to an NBC affiliate and they were trying to make a big splash in the marketplace. And so the time of year happened to be in January. There’s not much going on in January. And so Snowfence was an easy, easy thing you for him to come to. And he was great. 

And it was fantastic. I mean, think about it we’re live on the today. So it Willard Scott here in little old Frankenmuth. It was crazy. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:32:19] Nothing like nothing, like having access to a nationwide audience. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:32:23] Yeah, so that just kind of, and then other things would just kind of fall into that lab in our lab cliff, but the reason I think it’s been. I think we put on a great show, but our competition is minimal. What else is going on in January. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:32:36] Nothing. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:32:37] I mean, you’re obviously, yeah, you can go your scheme, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But we’re not for like the summertime. We noticed so many other activities. There’s so many other festivals. That people can choose for it. It’s just limited this time of year and people want to get out. And so we, so we ended up, you know, doing it in January last year. We’ve kind of fluctuated only have to move it. 

Twice. And that was because in 2001  with nine 11, the Superbowl was delayed. 

And so, right. So the net kind of, that we had to kind of, and it fell on the same weekend of snow Fest. And it was really kind of like made for a very, very soft Sunday. So we realize we’re not trying to compete against the super bowl. So literally what I started doing is I, let me see when the next. 15 Superbowls are slated for. And so we’ve actually figured out it works out ideally that where the week we’re always the last weekend in January with tends to be the weekend before the Superbowl. 

And so that’s how that, that’s how that date really came about. That we didn’t move it.

It just kind of that’s in stone, so, and people kind of end there. I mean, just getting people, just people just always enjoyed it and people just say, thank you. And you know, like I said, the Warmington and we’ve, we’ve made. Adjustments to warming tent. We really made it. Now it’s warm and we figured out how to keep it warm and put the hay that we just learned and what we really got really good at a setup. 

I mean, as I said, I told you that first no Fest took us two weeks. To do like eight, eight or nine blocks. We can do literally 60 snow blocks and probably five days. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:34:12] Nice. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:34:13] Yeah. So we had you know, we could, we still have the original cubes or blocks. We call them. That it was Tim’s ender, but very builder. And some of the Congress taught us like, Hey, you need to do this, make it this. And so we just took their advice. And Tim build Tim’s. Andrew said, I tell you what John. 

You might supplies we’ll donate the labor. And that was back in like 1992 or 93, and we still have the same blocks, but then we, then we. Well, we, we put the, we figured out how to lift it up with a crane, but it was real kind of hard at first year. So then Scott, lock-ins our superintendent, a golf course and our setup director, he decided to put. 

A liner inside the box and then they slid right off. So we just kinda got smarter. As we went along, we became more efficient. We used to bagging to block, to keep the sun off of him. And then we got with and they go, Hey, we have a lot of scraps. Why don’t we create a.  Commerce for you. And so instead of you trying to wrap it around and taking you hours to do it. 

So we said, okay, well by covers and we put covers on, and that process takes us five minutes. And, you know, the first three years we were counting on mother nature. And, and mother nature doesn’t always come through. And so we decided we partner one. That year when Mount Holly logs. The reality is they had a old snow gun. 

 That they sold to us and allowed us to buy it over. A two year period, we still have that same snow gun. Because now, you know, after that third, third or fourth year, and we were scraping up parking lots in. Creating these snow blocks. The economic benefit was too high. And so we were like, man, we really don’t want to lose this opportunity and risk it by not having snow. So we started adding ice to it. 

But we were like, okay, how do we do this? So we tried to take mother nature out of the picture by creating our own snow. So what we need from mother nature is cold temperatures typically in January and she comes through. So we’ve figured out how to make snow. So we started doing and the carvers like that, they go, Hey, there’s not there’s, there’s no dirt in there. And we kind of liked that. So they liked it. It was a win-win. It helped me sleep a little bit better at night. 

Not worrying about if we’re going to have snow. I just worried at that time. About cold temperatures and we make the snow. So that became one Okay. We’ve got to have, make sure we have the snow gun and makes sure we have parts for it. And so we use it once a year. And so that worked out for us. So we just learned, there were no we learned during the period of time and I was always open-minded to new ideas and new concepts. And so I never said no to anything. 

And was always willing to take advice and try things and it just worked out. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:36:56] Yeah, that seems to be a recurring theme in this podcast episode is you know, embracing new but also too. Is a, the theme of continuous improvement. I do want to spend a couple minutes talking about this year for 2021. With, with COVID and in what is going on, what is, you know, what is the status of snow fast? What are you guys doing? What are precautions that you’re taking a share a little bit with us about that. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:37:22] Okay. As we started our planning, we always start planning around August and obviously in the middle of a pandemic. The first discussion that we even going to try to do this and what we were getting a lot of feedback from community people like, if anything possible, would you please, because you know, we’re trying to get back to quote unquote, as normal as we can be as can be. And it’s been a tough year. 

So we decided that we’re going to try to do it. And, but first and foremost, every discussion we’ve had clip is we have to figure out how to do we did, how did, how to do this safely. 

And really we came down to the conclusion to have any opportunity to really do it safely. We cannot encourage this mass gathering. Of people. So with that in mind, we knew we couldn’t do the warming tent. We knew we couldn’t have fireworks. We really knew that. Well, in essence, we can’t schedule anything. 

So the thought process is, and as we moved forward is let’s create. A mini winter Wonderland with tents, no blocks. And we’re going to end up probably having about 60 ice carvings. So between the Bavarian Inn, parking lot and vendors parking lot. We can create the seventy-five block ice.  Display. 

Make that a little interactive people can take pictures. So we’re thinking, how do we social distance? How do we keep it safe? So in essence, we’ve almost gone back to our humble beginnings. When we knew when we didn’t know what we were doing and had, as I said, originally, Nice, no blacks at Nikon rigs. We’re going to have 10 snow blocks. And I, as I mentioned, about 50 to 60 ice carvings. 

And we want people to come at their leisure.  From January 29th, starting at noon to Sunday, January 31st. So we condensed the days. So instead of trying to have an a seven day event  we’re having a three-day event and it’s literally for people to have an opportunity to get outside. Get some fresh air and take a look at this. What we feel is awesome larger than life. 

Snow sculptors in ice carvings. And looks like we’re going to find out from the governor today. The rumor is that we’re going to be able to have in-room dining and starting February 1st. So obviously that doesn’t help during snow Fest. So we’re going to still be in the takeout mode. We do have a tent outside now that’s heated, but the flaps are open. 

That seats about 50 people for their own convenience. So literally come to Frank and move, walk around, visit the shops stop by any of the restaurants, get takeout and enjoy the artwork. That’s an essence what we’re able to do. In a, a COVID 19 pandemic, snow fests. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:40:01] Nice. And if anybody’s listening to this episode and they want to get up to the date information on you know, snow faster, maybe activities that are happening on certain days, what would be the best way for them to do that? 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:40:11] You can go to Zendesk. Dot com WW. Or you can call us. ( 800) 863-7999. (800) 863-7999. Those are the best two ways to get the up-to-date information. Of what what, what we anticipate for snow Fest, 2021. We still have the, a lot of people have traditionally bought Ash, no Fest, and we had those on available online the purchase right now. 

With a Chanel Fest. Typically every year we do like a snow Fest sweatshirt and we have people that collect those. So we’ll still have that available for sale as well. So I like to think of this as 2021 is more of like Snowfence alight. Okay. So it was just a decision that we didn’t want to just cancel it altogether. 

We just looked at cliff elements of snow Fest that we felt we could do in a safe manner. And it really came down to the snow sculptors in the ice coffee beans. It’s not a competition. The snow sculptors will actually be arriving on January 25th. They’ll have that week to get all the artwork done. So literally that weekend. 

Come and just look at the, the, the display of the artwork. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:41:28] Nice.

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:41:29] smell. I was 2021 will be that’s the best way we felt to keep it safe again. We didn’t want to have anything particularly scheduled for a certain time because we thought that might encourage people gathering. And that’s really what we’re trying to avoid. We want people to come in with their families at their leisure, at their convenience over that weekend and take a look at what was created. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:41:52] Nice.

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:41:53] spend a little time in town, walk around. I think people are itching to get out. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:41:58] I agree.

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:41:59] a little fresh air walk around. Visit Bronner’s visit the river plays again, visit the different shops and whether you spend. An hour or three hours. I think it’s just an opportunity to serve people, to have a chat. If we want it to be an opportunity to cliff, that people could spend a little family time together. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:42:17] Nice. That sounds absolutely great. And for our audience, we’ll have all the links. To everything in the show notes down below. John. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. It was, it was great. Chatting with you and getting that history on, on snow fast. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:42:32] Well, thank you cliff for the opportunity. And again, wish you well with your podcast. Send me links. I’ll I’ll I’ll become one of your followers. I was at.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:42:40] That sounds awesome. I love it. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:42:42] it. Appreciate what you’re doing. And again, I appreciate the opportunity to reach out to your audience and want to thank our sponsors who make this happen. You know, I don’t, I don’t want to come across it as this is something that’s centers is doing. We can’t do this alone. And we’ve been very blessed over the last 30 years to have a lot of corporate business sponsorships, a lot of support from our community, a lot of support from Michigan, who’s just coming to visit and tell us and telling us that they appreciate what we’re doing. And that, to me, that goes a long way. That’s very rewarding. 

To hear people that say, Hey, we look forward to it. And it’s been very rewarding for me, cliff, over the last 30 years. To have. Staff carvers and visitors say I’ve been coming bringing my kids and now I’m bringing my grandkids. So to me, that’s cool.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:43:31] Nice. Nice. Okay. Thanks Sean. 

John Shelton, Zehnders Snowfest: [00:43:33] Thank you. You have a great day and take care of yourself. As I like to say, stay positive. Test negative. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:43:40] Love it.

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