A Few Things Along the Way
By George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group
I’m happy to report that Bowl Expo 2022, held in Las Vegas, was a big success. The most fun for me was walking into the convention center and seeing the industry action and attendee enthusiasm. From our perspective as an exhibitor, it was one of our most successful Bowl Expos, partly because of our latest venture featuring the 1huddle app (more on that further along in this column).
A Lot of Speculation on the Economy
We spoke with several operators who have seen sales soften in May or June. One multi-location operator told us he was up 22% through May versus 2021 but June was down 8%. On the other hand, half the owners we spoke with are still running ahead of last year. All are concerned about the rest of the year.
Increased demand and constrained supply, post-Covid, equals inflation. Inflation is highest in gas and food prices. When disposable income is constrained, entertainment spending is among the first to be reduced. In our world, that can mean fewer trips to the FEC and/or less spending during the visit.
Wall Street seems to be pricing in a slowdown, perhaps a recession. No one can say for sure, but it would be wise for FECs and BECs to be planning for leaner times. As a high-operating-margin business, much of the post-Covid sales increases went right to the bottom line. The reverse is also true: a huge percentage of sales declines come right off the bottom line!
When The Going Gets Tough…
The tough get going! Above all, let’s not make it worse with the wrong solutions. Great operators always find opportunities, and this could just be the best time to take market share from competitors. To have a shot at that, we need to deliver a great guest experience.
If “Retail is Detail” and if FECs retail fun, then details matter! We are always amazed at how many FECs –– even those doing well –– don’t realize how much money they are leaving on the table. Paying attention to the detail of operations will yield a big payback. Where to start?
1. As my partner Howard McAuliffe noted in his Now Trending column in last month’s RePlay, addressing your sales mix will pay dividends. While consumer spending may well decrease, group and party sales are just starting to recover post-Covid. More companies operate remotely so, group-gathering venues are in demand for social and team building events. Today’s corporate employees are majority Millennial or Gen Z. FECs and BECs are perfect places for corporate functions. It’s not too late to prepare your packages, marketing and sales plans before demand picks up for the fall and winter.
2. When is the last time you analyzed –– really drilled down into –– your Intercard or other card system reports? There is a HUGE amount of information there to help refine and improve operations. Cash vs. bonus play, price point performance, game sales ranking, category balancing, payout and cost of sales management, redemption dynamics are among the details waiting for you. There’s a host of information you can use to point you to improvements. It’s like tuning up your car: it runs more efficiently afterwards.
3. Did I say redemption dynamics? Merchandise drives sales! Is your merchandise moving across ticket price-point groups? Are crane mixes changed regularly and kept full, with eyes front? Our clients use Redemption Plus or Rhode Island Novelty for their merchandise, so we know that they offer regular analysis of merchandise assortment, planagram suggestions and refreshing of client’s redemption centers. Other suppliers do, too. This is a good time to check in with them to ensure your redemption program is hitting on all cylinders.
4. On the game and attraction side, detail includes tightening up on preventive maintenance. A good “PM” program has a huge ROI. When is the last time you raised your prices? There are ways to do that and ways not to. We always start with adjusting our price points at the iTeller or point of sale.
And this is not the time to let your game mix age. There were a few good-looking new pieces at Bowl Expo that we will hear more about between now and IAAPA.
5. Earlier I mentioned our latest venture in partnership with 1huddle (1huddle.co). Hiring and retaining good people is one of the biggest challenges out there. Turnover comes with a huge cost. A direct cost, yes, but the biggest cost is lost sales from undertrained, undermotivated staff. Even so, many FEC operators still do things the way they always have. Our 1huddle app (Pinnacle has the exclusive for the FEC/BEC industries) reaches your staff where they spend their time –– their smartphones –– and its game-based learning makes it fun. The back-end scoreboard and customizable features are a manager’s dream. We featured it in our booth at Bowl Expo and the response was tremendous.
That takes us full circle, appropriately, back to the all-important area of guest service. Improving your ability to deliver great guest service will help you to thrive during the tough times ahead, if they come. If they don’t, you’re still way ahead of the game! Have a great summer!
George McAuliffe has helped hundreds of businesses large and small develop and execute arcades and FECs. He has personally operated family entertainment centers from 2,000 to 150,000 square feet as a corporate executive, entrepreneur and consultant. He is the owner, with his partner and son Howard, of Pinnacle Entertainment Group.
George lives on the Jersey Shore with his wife, Julie. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law and a grandson.