Spooky Nook Sports’ COO talks growth and leadership

Jim Launer of Spooky Nook Sports became the East Hempfield Township-based company’s first COO last fall. This year he was named one of the Central Penn Business Journal’s “40 under 40.” PHOTO/ MAXIMILIAN FRANZ

Spooky Nook Sports’ COO Jim Launer’s career has grown alongside the extensive development that the East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, sports complex has seen in the six years since it opened.

Launer joined the sports complex in 2013 as its director of sports performance when he was 30 and for the majority of his time at Spooky Nook he has led the company’s athletic program.

Now manning operations for Spooky Nook Sports, the former athletics trainer oversees 29 revenue-generating operations in a company of more than 700 employees.

Spooky Nook is the country’s largest indoor sports complex. The organization offers training for athletes from across the country and operates a hotel, restaurant and events from its location in East Hempfield Township. This year the complex has seen over 1 million visitors.

Launer spoke to the Central Penn Business Journal about what it has been like to grow his career alongside Spooky Nook and how he has changed as a leader within the organization.

What has your trajectory been like at Spooky Nook Sports?

I came here about a month and a half prior to Spooky Nook opening their doors and I was originally hired as the director of sports performance. I came here from Atlanta. I’m originally from Pennsylvania and then moved to Atlanta to work with some pro athletes down there and this opportunity came up to move back to Pennsylvania and I jumped on it.

I was hired as our director of sports performance. Shortly thereafter, I took over our fitness center and a couple other departments—next thing you know I had maybe six or eight departments 18 months into operations and was named managing director of operations.

I did that for another year and my title switched to chief athletic officer and at that point I was overseeing the majority of the stuff that Spooky Nook owned and operated with the exception of retail, hotel, food and beverage and our sales and events.

Last fall I became COO and that’s when I essentially took on the rest of the company’s operations.

How would you describe these past six years?

It’s been difficult and challenging but the reality is that what I do here at the nook can’t be done by one person. There are a whole bunch of strong leaders that make up my team that allow me to be successful because they do such a good job.

What accomplishments have you and the organization achieved in that time?

Some things we’ve accomplished are that we made our company profitable and we’ve hit pretty incredible traffic marks. We run our business based off of traffic. Last year we hit our millionth visitor in September and this year we hit our millionth visitor on July 14.

We are also very close to starting construction on a project in Ohio. The project is a $140 million build that will be bigger than our property in Pennsylvania and we have been working on that for the last four years.

Why is this COO position a good fit for you?

I consider my style of leadership servant leadership. I want my team to bring me their ideas and to own their departments. At the same time I am willing to jump in and do whatever it takes- I have served banquets, painted walls and made French fries. It’s not only me that does that here though. Having that type of work ethic and that desire to see everything be successful, works well.

What would you tell someone in their thirties that is looking to scale their business to the size of Spooky Nook?

It’s important to realize that if you are going to get into a business this large, you have to work in every aspect of the business.

There are so many facets of our business that if I didn’t touch each of them, I’m not sure I would be able to lead those teams or that I would be able to make sure that the decisions the fitness center are making benefit the hotel and vice versa

Immerse yourself as deep into the business as you can. Nothing should be below you and nothing should be above you.

If it’s a 60- or 70-hour work week, that’s something I do and that’s something everyone does here. You need people to see you are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.