Can FECs Be All Things To All People?
Blog Questions Validity on Longevity of the Wide-Appeal FEC
By George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group
In a recent blog post, Randy White, whose column frequently appears in RePlay, began one of his usual thought-provoking discussions. The post was noticed and the dialogue picked up on LinkedIn, with a consensus developing that focused, out-of-home entertainment concepts are the future, and multi-attraction, wide-appeal facilities –– what we know as “traditional FECs” –– can’t keep up.
While there are strong arguments in favor of many of the niche or new category concepts we see developing –– and they certainly have their place –– I’d argue that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the multi-attraction FEC are exaggerated.
The blog defines FECs as places that cater to the entire family, all age groups, offering amusements for children, teenagers and adults. Among some of his comments:
• “They (have) so many attractions and target so many customer markets, they…(aren’t) special to anyone.”
• “Categories (continue) to evolve with different types of children’s centers offering specialized attractions such as edutainment, trampolines and play cafés; and different types of adult-oriented centers, such as bowling lounges, restaurant and bocce ball, etc.”
• “Unfortunately, even today… we still have FECs being developed on the same philosophy of offering a little bit of something for everyone.”
Does it have to be one way or the other? Can’t both focused/niche concepts and big-box multi-attraction formats continue to develop?
Focused-Niche Concepts Not Uniformly Successful
The history of the FEC industry has many examples of what I would call one-dimensional concepts that have failed. Others have evolved to survive, often adding attractions to broaden their audience, not narrow it. A few examples:
• Trampoline Parks: This sector is broadening its attractions, beefing up food and beverage, adding laser tag, bigger arcades and virtual reality.
• Bowling Lounges: The pioneer and largest bowling boutique chain, Lucky Strike, is expanding their attraction mix by adding their For The Win FEC concept to some centers and incorporating it into new locations. For The Win leads with arcade redemption and even includes mini-golf in its Chicago location.
• Inflatable Centers: The bounce house craze seems to have run its course, at least as stand-alone attractions (being especially challenged by multi-attraction trampoline facilities).
• Further back in time, tightly focused children’s play facilities such as Discovery Zone and Leaps & Bounds ran their course in a few years and died.
If a tightly focused concept fizzles, there is only so much one can do. In a multi-attraction FEC, components are more easily unplugged and replaced.
Big-Box, Multi-Attraction Centers Continue to Grow and Thrive
In today’s marketplace, there are many examples of successful concepts that appeal to a wide audience:
• Dave & Buster’s: Yes, good old D&B. While we think of D&B as an adult concept, the truth is that without families with children as a significant part of their audience, they would be out of business. In fact, Dave & Buster’s is a great example of how both theories can be true. They’ve done a terrific job of presenting themselves to the marketplace as an adult-appeal, restaurant entertainment concept. Founders Dave Corriveau and Buster Corley understood before anyone else that if they “design for the adults, the kids will come.” This chain is a great example of how both theories of concept can coexist.
• Restaurant-Entertainment: There are numerous examples of focused-concept restaurants adding traditional FEC attractions to broaden their appeal and thrive. Our client, Shakey’s Pizza, was a pioneer here. John’s Incredible Pizza, America’s Incredible Pizza and others are thriving. Restaurant-Entertainment is working in both directions, by the way, as many FEC facilities are upgrading their food and beverage operations to evolve and remain relevant.
• Resort Hotels: Many examples in this growing sector including our client JW Marriott Marco Island (Florida) which recently added 10K Alley, a 12,000-sq.-ft. entertainment center. This concept includes arcade redemption, high-end mini-bowling, highly themed 6-hole mini-golf by Creative Works, Hologate virtual reality and a gastropub with restaurant. The facility is a major hit appealing to the business traveler, corporate groups and resort families with children.
• Cinema Entertainment Complexes: Cinergy Entertainment Group (formerly Cinergy Cinemas) is a leader in this category, bringing together a high-end cinema experience with FEC attractions. Again, arcade redemption leads the way, with major attractions such as bowling, laser tag, Hologate VR, ropes courses and dark rides. The cinema world has taken notice. We are currently working with three other chains expanding their focus to widen their audience.
• Bowling Entertainment Centers: One of the most successful examples of a focused business widening its appeal, the business model is proven. Hundreds of traditional bowling centers have successfully converted or new BECs have been built from the ground up. Strong growth continues.
The Fundamentals of Successful Multi-Attraction Concepts
1. Recognize: The word “family” in family entertainment means the family as a unit, but it also means the members of the family as individuals and with their peer group. Target social media and other marketing assets accordingly.
2. Design: As above, the environment must appeal to the primary adult audience. The look and feel are important to them. The kids are happy to be out playing games, competing on attractions, and having fun.
3. Dayparts: Again, Dave & Buster’s led the way with target audience segments to fill dayparts. In their case, it’s business lunch, corporate parties on weekday evenings, late-night Millennials and, yes, families with kids on weekend days. The newest versions of FECs, whether based in restaurant, bowling, cinema, resort or casino, have figured out how to attract and entertain these diverse groups through daypart management.
4. Multi-Focus: Each of the audience subsets has its own criteria for judging the entertainment experience, and the experience should have its own feel within dayparts.
We are fortunate to be in this business at a time when it is enjoying its widest appeal. The audience for what we produce has never been larger, and both genders and all age groups like what we offer. Great FEC operators have figured out how to create a complementary mix of attractions in a great atmosphere to entertain that diverse audience and keep it coming back. While centers will continue to evolve, we don’t see that changing.
Aha! Moments – by Pat Ciniello
Pat Ciniello wears at least two hats. He is the owner of HeadPinz Entertainment, a multi-location chain of bowling entertainment centers based in Florida and he’s also chairman of QubicaAMF, a leading supplier of bowling equipment and expertise. We asked Pat for an Aha! Moment that he experienced in his career:
“I’m a bowling guy and have been for many years. We always had a few arcade games in our centers, and I saw it as “other” income. Then I started listening to my friends in the business and tried a modern-day arcade. My Aha! Moment was in realizing how much we were leaving on the table by not being in that business. I now tell everybody how much revenue per square foot you can generate with games, while complimenting bowling.”
George McAuliffe has helped hundreds of business 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. With his partner and son Howard, he launched The Pinnacle Insider to help a wider audience execute FEC operations at a higher level. Readers can become an Insider at ThePinnaceInsider.com.
George lives on the Jersey Shore with his wife, Julie, and has a passion for passing along what he’s learned in the fun business to the new generation of operators and suppliers.