3150 IH 35 South
NBGS International, Inc. is an industry leader in the design, engineering, and fabrication of waterpark rides and attractions, or what the company calls "Transportainment." From original concept to implementation, the award-winning NBGS is a sister company to Waterpark Management Inc., which oversees the Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort, the nation's most successful waterpark, located in New Braunfels, Texas. In addition to its one-of-a-kind waterpark attractions, NBGS designs and manufactures soft-play areas, playgrounds, and fountains for municipal centers, shopping malls, resorts, campgrounds, and cruise ships.
In the Beginning: 1970s-80s
In modest-sized New Braunfels, Texas, population 36,000, sits a giant: the Schlitterbahn. While fellow Texans had long enjoyed the town for its annual Wurstfest (a ten-day celebration of German pride, represented in tons of wurst [sausage] and beer), it was literally put on the map by the mighty Schlitterbahn Waterpark. The story of NBGS International, Inc. began with the Henry family's desire to create an amazing, one-of-a-kind waterpark near their riverfront hotel, the Landa Resort. Bob and Billye Henry bought the Landa, which was surrounded by the Comal and Guadalupe rivers, in 1966. Landa guests, area residents, and college kids from nearby San Antonio (25 miles south) and Austin (40 miles north) had long enjoyed swimming and sunning themselves on inner tubes, lazily traversing the rivers. The Henrys began thinking a more structured "waterpark" would bring vacationers and tourists to the Landa and generate dollars for New Braunfels as well.
Over the next several years Bob Henry created a number of chutes and river rides for the Landa. The resulting waterpark was eventually named the Schlitterbahn, which meant "slippery road" in German. The Schlitterbahn was modeled after the Solms Castle in Braunfels, Germany, where the town's original settlers had come from. The waterpark's centerpiece was a 60-foot replica of the German castle's Bergfried Tower, around which Henry designed four water slides. The Schlitterbahn (often referred to as Schlitterbahn West) opened in 1979 and for the next several years the Henrys added additional attractions and water rides to the park. In 1980 came the 50,000-square-foot Lagoon pool (with the first ever swim-up refreshment bar) and the Hillside Tube Chute; in 1983 the Cliffhanger Tube Chute and a recreation facility; and in 1984 the Tunnel Tube Chute, tennis courts, and another pool.
Bob and Billye Henry's son Jeff founded a company called the New Braunfels General Store (later known as NBGS International) in 1984. NBGS provided some maintenance and foam-coated equipment, designed by Jeff, to the Schlitterbahn. The two entities had a working partnership for years, though NBGS would move beyond its role as Schlitterbahn supplier to designing and building recreational complexes around the world. Through the ingenuity of the Henrys, the Schlitterbahn became the most celebrated waterpark in the United States and the standard to which all others aspired.
As the popularity of the Schlitterbahn grew, the Henrys continually sought new ways to keep the waterpark fun, unique, and ahead of the competition. By 1985 the Schlitterbahn's success had spawned a slew of imitators, riding an industry trend as waterparks were built in major tourist attractions across the country. Within a decade there were waterparks throughout most of the nation's popular destinations not only in the South and Southwest, where warm weather permitted attendance most of the year, but in the Midwest and eastern states as well. The trend came to include hotels, beach resorts, campgrounds, park districts, and health clubs--many of which were built using NBGS-designed attractions and equipment. By the close of the decade several new slides, chutes, and concessions had been added to the Schlitterbahn, courtesy of Jeff Henry's designs for NBGS.
Rapid Expansion: 1990s
By 1991 another 25 acres, a few blocks east of the original Schlitterbahn, were added to the megapark and called Schlitterbahn East. The new section included additional concession stands, a gift shop, lockers, and more German-themed water rides including the Boogie Bahn for body surfing. The world's first uphill "water coaster," designed by NBGS and called the Dragon Blaster, wowed guests by the Schlitterbahn's 15th anniversary in 1994. The following year Schlitterbahn became the top seasonal waterpark in the United States, rivaled only by year-round parks.
By 1996 several amazing new rides, designed by NBGS, were added to the Schlitterbahn--rides that solidified its reputation as one of the world's most innovative recreational design companies. The Torrent River rapids ride, the Master Blaster uphill water coaster, the Black Knight dark tube adventure, and the Wolfpack family raft ride not only gave Schlitterbahn's visitors the ride of their lives, but put NBGS on the map.
With the ongoing success of the Schlitterbahn, the Henrys were looking to expand. One area of interest was in southern Texas, at South Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico. Located less than an hour from the Mexican border and near the city of Harlingen, South Padre was a major hangout for spring breakers, attracting thousands of college students each year. Families and tourists visited too, lured by the beaches and the Gulf's warm waters. The Henrys and several investors broke ground on the 15-acre South Padre Schlitterbahn in 1997. The new water rides and attractions, which Jeff Henry promised would be cutting edge with surfing areas and large wave pools, came from the increasingly renowned NBGS.
The New Braunfels Schlitterbahn celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1999. With waterpark mania in full swing--both domestically and internationally--Jeff Henry and NBGS had taken advantage of the craze and brought the family's unique recreational designs to the forefront of the amusement industry. Not only would there be two Schlitterbahns gracing U.S. soil, but NBGS had helped design and build six waterparks in Asia: two in China, two in Malaysia, and one each in Guam and Indonesia. Jeff Henry believed the industry would evolve further, especially attractions or waterparks with pervasive themes and those constructed as part of extensive hotel complexes.
The kinds of equipment and rides were changing too. As Henry told Amusement Business magazine (October 1999), fiberglass, once practically the only material used in fashioning water rides, could be mixed and matched with other materials. "In the beginning, many parks [used] ... pre-shaped fiberglass attractions," he said. "But to create a comfortable attractive environment, a park needs to mix in other elements with the fiberglass, such as concrete. A good mix of textures is very important and more and more of the modern parks are realizing [this factor]. It's what we have done at Schlitterbahn, and it works well."
New Century, New Goals: 2000s
The New Braunfels Schlitterbahn experienced record attendance in 2000, with visitors topping the 900,000-mark for the first time. To help the flagship break the million-visitor mark, NBGS renovated the park and added a new two-mile river rapids ride. Schlitterbahn's trademark German castle was given a facelift and its four Castle Slides became part of the river rapids ride. At the same time, NBGS was completing the attractions for the family's new waterpark in South Padre, which included a series of lock-like fun stations and conveyors at differing water levels to eliminate waiting lines. This became the hallmark of NBGS's "Transportainment" system, where any waiting was done in water--on an inner tube--keeping visitors cool and comfortable. The concept was introduced at the opening of the Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark in South Padre.
The Transportainment concept became the talk of the amusement industry, winning a slew of awards and recognition for NBGS by 2001. The system was so named because it combined the elements of transportation, sport, and entertainment, integrating several of NBGS's most popular rides and chutes to lift, push, and float patrons throughout the park's river system. As Jeff Henry told Amusement Business, "It's a continuous loop that will also be used as a transportation system within the park," he said. "When we finish the entire system ... a person [could] be on it for six hours without standing in a single line. I think this is the wave of the future."
Patrons evidently agreed as the New Braunfels Schlitterbahn was voted the number one waterpark in the nation by Amusement Today's poll for the fourth time in 2001, with the Master Blaster as "Best Waterpark Ride," and its Raging River ride winning second place. To protect its more than 100 products and proprietary designs, NBGS had patented its Master Blaster uphill water coaster and had applied for patents on its innovative Transportainment system and automated control systems.
In early 2002 Abigail Erwin was named president of NBGS and Mike Jaroszewski was appointed to the new position of vice-president of sales. Founder Jeff Henry remained chief executive, and had commented in a company press release that it was "[T]ime to move the company to a new level of industry leadership. With Abby and Mike at the helm we are well positioned to move the company forward." Erwin was new to NBGS, having worked for Wells Fargo, Texas Bancshares, and San Antonio's Resources Connection, a financial and management services company. Jaroszewski had worked at NBGS since 1994 and had worked on the Master Blaster coaster and other products during his tenure.
By 2005 the word "Schlitterbahn" had become part of the lexicon not only for those in the amusement industry but to waterpark enthusiasts in North America and beyond. NBGS and the original Schlitterbahn had been lauded by the press and even on television. The Travel Channel's America's Best Waterparks named the 65-acre New Braunfels Schlitterbahn as the country's best, and went on to do an hour-long segment on the park, covering its giant wave and surfing pool, three uphill water coasters, nine chutes, 17 water slides, five swimming pools, five hot tubs, seven children's water playgrounds, five gift shops, and nearly two dozen refreshment centers.
What the Schlitterbahn did for waterparks, NBGS took several steps further: helping recreational centers create unique, high-tech attractions and even schooling clients in the maintenance and repair of these products free of charge. NBGS began offering an annual Tech School session at its New Braunfels headquarters, which included its 300,000-square-foot manufacturing plant. The company also continued to capture more awards and honors, including its ninth World Waterpark Association award (seven had been for Innovation, two for Safety), and its 11th International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA) award, six of which had been for Innovation, one for "Impact" lauding its Transportainment system, and the remainder for individual rides and attractions.
NBGS continued to expand in the mid-2000s with projects in Delaware, Mississippi, Texas, and Dublin, Ireland. A third Schlitterbahn waterpark was soon to open in Galveston, Texas, south of Houston, while other projects in Florida, Alaska, the East Coast, the Midwest, Spain, and South Korea were underway. With its increasing exposure in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, NBGS opened an office in the United Kingdom to liaise with its growing roster of international clients.
Principal Competitors: Fun Corporation of America; Six Flags, Inc.; Walt Disney Parks & Resorts; Wet 'n Wild Inc.; Paramount Parks Inc.