The Challenge

As a nonprofit with a powerful legacy in West Michigan, John Ball Zoo had established itself as a popular, locally-loved destination for many families and was experiencing great year-over-year growth. However, with decades-old infrastructure, John Ball Zoo needed to modernize its systems in order to keep up with the Zoo’s exponential growth.

Without a seamless, accessible, and streamlined digital presence, the Zoo was falling behind—and without the ability to visit the Zoo in person, customers were lost and frustrated with outdated systems and a lackluster digital experience. 

“The pandemic was a turning point for us to realize that we have to take action,” said the Director of IT at the Zoo. “We have to make this experience better for the guests—so they can experience the Zoo but also put a better foot forward as a growing organization.”

John Ball Zoo was historically part of Kent County, Michigan—but since splitting off as its own separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Zoo has grown by leaps and bounds. “It’s amazing to see,” shared the Director of IT. “But it means that our systems need to grow in order to support that kind of growth. 

To solve these frustrations, the John Ball Zoo turned to LaunchPad Lab for help, citing their checkout process as one of their main pain points. Anonymous surveys confirmed that many customers and donors found the online checkout process clunky, ineffective, and frustrating. 

Our Process

As a digital product agency, LaunchPad Lab has worked on several zoos over the last few years, enabling our team to jump in and hit the ground running. After our introduction to the John Ball Zoo team, the LaunchPad Lab team quickly moved into a discovery phase. During this portion of the project, we often collaborate closely with the internal team to align on a technology roadmap. This phase serves as our north star: We’ll return to it to make sure we’re still in alignment with our client’s needs throughout the entire process. 

Once we understood that the Zoo’s primary challenges were surrounding the guest experience—specifically the checkout flow, and payment processing options—we began to explore powerful options to modernize and update the user experience. We used feedback from the Zoo’s customers, our roadmap, and past experiences working with other zoos to develop a branded, reliable, and user-friendly checkout experience.

“We saw that we weren’t meeting the standard that other organizations were when it comes to payments and checkouts,” noted the Director of IT. “It was literally costing us money by not having that experience.” 

Reducing Friction in the Customer Experience

Even if a business relies heavily on the in-person customer experience—such as zoos or other tourist attractions—having a strong digital presence is vital. For many clients similar to John Ball Zoo, reducing friction in the digital customer experience results in a massive transition from revenue made in person to revenue made online. When businesses reduce friction in the customer experience online, it helps encourage users to easily interact with a brand digitally.

The Architecture


To achieve the Zoo’s goal of creating a streamlined checkout experience—and reducing friction—our LaunchPad Lab team turned to Spreedly. As a leading payment orchestration platform, Spreedly provides the ability to process multiple payment methods, authenticate credit card information, and securely store payment details.  

The use of Spreedly was particularly important because it would enable the Zoo to have flexibility on what processor and gateway they were bringing to the table, giving them greater buying power when it comes to choosing their payment processor and gateway. For instance, if the Zoo needed to change their processor in the next year, they could make the adjustment in Spreedly—without affecting any of the written code powering the online experience.


Centaman is a Point-of-Sale (POS) system used by various tourism attractions, including water parks, amusement parks, museums, galleries, cultural sites, zoos, aquariums, and more. With the Centaman platform, organizations can easily sell tickets and memberships, order food online to avoid lines and enable customers to manage their reservations entirely online. 

Streamlined Checkout 

After years of collaboration with zoos and other tourist attractions, we at LaunchPad Lab have noticed a common request: A branded, user-friendly checkout experience. 

As a result, we built a product that fully integrates with Centaman’s API and ensures a custom-designed digital experience for each organization. This product maximizes Centaman’s powerful infrastructure for membership sales, ticket reservations, and online stores—but takes the customized features to the next level.

We’ve also built an integration with Spreedly, a leading payment orchestration platform, to provide the ability to process payments across multiple payment gateways, authenticate credit card information, and securely store payment details. 

The Outcome

By using the powerful technology of Spreedly, our LaunchPad Lab team helped John Ball Zoo modernize its checkout process and provide the foundation for higher customer retention, increased revenue, and scalable growth. 

What’s Next For John Ball Zoo

Digital Transformation 

By partnering with LaunchPad Lab for their custom application development services, John Ball Zoo is well-prepared for the future. “The sky’s the limit because we’re starting from the ground up,” the Director of IT shared. “Having the right partner makes all the difference. We built that trust with our organization, with our visitors, and with our members — and now we can start taking on more and doing more.” 

As the John Ball Zoo looks to the future, they’re excited about building on their success: “We’re very early in the digital transformation of our online presence. Just getting the online checkout was a major win for us, especially with the challenges we had with timed ticketing.” 

Now with a minimum viable product (MVP), the team is looking forward to continuing to expand its reach and impact. They’re looking to offer new features, such as automatic renewals, recurring donations, gifting memberships, redeeming gift cards, single-use coupons, and a friendly user experience for camp programs. 

Online Ordering

One of the biggest focuses going forward is finding new opportunities to interact with users digitally. For John Ball Zoo, online ordering has become a top priority. Although the Zoo has a gift store on the grounds, they’re looking to build an online shop as well to further their reach and create streamlined experiences for users. 

To enhance the in-person experience, the Zoo plans to implement online food ordering so visitors can easily and swiftly place their food orders at kiosks via their phones—and eliminate long lines to order.  

Summer Camps

One of the last digital transformations on the horizon is the Zoo’s Summer Camp programs—an immensely popular and robust set of programming that draws children and teens from across the greater West Michigan region.  

“It’s a major draw,” says the Director of IT. “Our servers used to crash from the volume of people that were all trying to sign up and get into the summer camps.” 

Without the proper infrastructure to gracefully handle registration, both parents and Zoo employees were frustrated. “We were doing two weeks of cleanup work after one day of camp registration,” recalls the Director of IT. As the Zoo embraces its new digital presence, a seamless and streamlined summer camp registration process is one of the many new benefits that visitors will experience. 

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