Morey's Piers, located at the very southern tip of New Jersey on an unusually wide stretch of beach called Wildwood, has been ranked one of the best seaside amusement parks in the world.
It's a distinction few might have expected considering the amusement park's inauspicious start. It all began with a 12-lane slide built on the Wildwood boardwalk in the summer of 1969.
"My dad broke his leg the first year because someone slid into him," Will Morey, president of Morey's Piers, said of his father, who started the company along with their uncle. "There were probably about 12 to 15 people involved in running the slide and there weren't a lot of rules. They tried everything to make the thing work with the humidity. Our cousin even went down on a plate and ended up in the middle of the boardwalk. I still always remember dad standing there, pushing people down and being right in the action."
Today, the slide is gone. In its place, visitors find three colorful, blinking, pulsating piers extending out over the sand toward the ocean that were visited by an estimated 1.5 million people last year. They are filled with roller coasters that hurl riders out toward the sea and back, a 156-foot Ferris Wheel, two water parks and more than 100 other rides, games, restaurants and concession stands.
Not too bad for a company that actually has its roots in real estate and the development of many of the doo-wop style hotels that still define Wildwood's 1950s aesthetic. The Morey empire has not lost sight of those roots and also includes Morey's Resorts, comprised of four hotels and the luxury condominium community of Seapointe Village, all located in the town.
That decision to jump into the boardwalk came without the backing of a great deal of experience in the workings of the amusement industry. Against the odds, the company was able to succeed because they followed a clear and strong guiding vision.
Credit: The Morey Family Archives
"We really researched everything about Wildwood and we learned that the boardwalk was a really authentic, zany and little bit of a tacky kind of place," Will Morey said. "We learned we should be number one at that and not try to be anything else."
"We are tacky and proud of it," was the way Jack Morey, executive vice president of Morey's Piers described it.
The ability to readily embrace their identity has helped the company to build their brand on a rock-solid foundation that has supported them even during tough times. The brothers, however, know that there is something much more important driving interest in their company.
"If you are not compelling, the clock is ticking," Will Morey said. "You have to have a compelling reason to visit. We spend a fair amount of time figuring out how to be compelling, but there is not one thing that does it."
Staying compelling may be important to all businesses, but it is even more important in a seasonal business like Morey's Piers. The short season creates a number of challenges for the company, including finding enough seasonal employees to help ensure the park is run smoothly and safely during the peak season.
In response, the company recruits workers from around the world throughout most of the year. In total, international workers represent around 600 of the nearly 1,500 to 1,700 workers the company employs during the peak season. Morey's also employs 125 full-time employees throughout the year.
"You need to have a balance of people to be successful," Will Morey said. "You can put a bunch of really creative people together you can have a short journey or you can put a bunch of uncreative people together and have no journey. It may not always peaceful, serene and soothing to find that balance, and sometimes there is some conflict, not the bad kind, but it occurs to move the ball forward."
Morey's Piers works hard to find that mix of people but the leadership of Will and Jack helps to keep the company in line with their vision. The brothers are able to do this by playing off each other's distinct strengths, but that does not come without some brotherly teasing.
"People say I am creative but I'm not," Jack Morey said. "Everyone, with the possible exception of my brother, is creative. It is all about solving a problem. Will, however, really does have a nice steady hand on the tiller running this company."
"Just be sure to refer to me as Jack's boss in the article," was Will's response.
Through all the fun and games, the brothers know that a vision can carry a business only so far. The most crucial building block of any successful business remains one that cannot be bought or taught.
"I personally think that all successful businesses are not started by people who are trying to make a buck," Jack Morey said. "They are started by people trying to execute a passion. I think you are doomed if you start the other way."