Back to School…
Means Back to Work
By George McAuliffe, Chief FEC Strategist, Redemption Plus
Summer has come and gone and I hope yours was as good as mine. Having moved from the Midwest back to the New Jersey coast where I grew up, we caught up on our beach time. I also got to spend some quality time with my 5-year-old grandson –– lots of fun!
The business side was productive as well. Howard (my son and business partner) and I successfully launched our new business unit –– the Pinnacle Insider, with which we intend to have a major impact on our industry. (Find out more on that at ThePinnacle Insider.com.)
For most of our family and bowling entertainment center clients, September is traditionally a slow month. Back to school, Friday night and Saturday afternoon football, great outdoor weather all add up to reasons for people to stay outdoors, spending time on other things. The good news is that this is something of “the calm before the storm” of steadily increasing traffic, which starts in October and carries us through the winter months, especially in bowling entertainment centers (BECs). That makes September ideal for planning!
One of the major initiatives for our Insiders going forward is in helping to create and execute internal promotions and events. In my previous life running an FEC chain, we made a lot of money with what I call “inside the four walls” promotions.
We’ve always been amazed at the money left on the table by FEC owners. FEC and BEC owners who invest millions in building and equipping their centers, who think nothing of writing $10,000 checks for that new game, ignore the relatively easy and inexpensive ways to supercharge the guest experience through events and promotions.
We see this in our monthly Pinnacle Report. Each report has sections on data/game performance and marketing, among others. The click-throughs (the number of Pinnacle Insiders clicking through to learn more) for data/game performance exceed those for marketing tips by 300 percent! While regular game purchasing is certainly important, promotions and event marketing help support those investments. Implementing a predictable calendar of events that dovetail with the seasons and other cultural attention-grabbers creates an expectation in your customer base that drives visits. They want to stop in because “you never know what (fun) is going on at [YOUR] FEC.”
As examples, our Insiders are receiving event outlines and support materials for the following promotions in the September-December period:
• Back to School: Centers need all the help they can get as kids go back to school. You can’t fight it, so get in on it! We suggest special offers for you to promote throughout this period, supported by the marketing assets to get the word out.
• Good Grades/Perfect Attendance: One of the best promotions I’ve ever been involved in, rewarding good grades or perfect attendance, is popular on several levels. It allows centers to contribute to their community, and generates guest loyalty and great PR.
• Holiday Gift Card Sales: If I had to pick the highest profit promotion I’ve been involved in this is it. This is a great sales channel that excites customers and staff.
By the way, I may have given you the wrong impression early in the article. We didn’t spend all summer at the beach. In fact, our consulting practice was extremely busy with new business. Like any FEC owner, when sales are up its because of “great management,” and when they’re down, it’s because of the weather! It’s really because of the continued growth of the FEC industry, especially arcades and laser tag.
Just look at the sectors. Arcade development continues strong in bowling centers. Family pizza restaurants are adding arcades and smaller attractions like Laser Frenzy. Perhaps the biggest growth sector is in trampoline parks. That subset, still relatively new in the marketplace, is discovering what so many have discovered before: one-dimensional attractions don’t last long.
The well-capitalized are morphing into multi-attraction FECs, smaller operators are at least adding arcades and laser tag.
Maybe this boom will be different. Those of us with gray in our hair have seen several cycles over the years. I personally think there are some differences in present times, starting with the fact that the audience is much bigger than it has ever been. Arcades and family entertainment are more popular than ever! New attractions like virtual reality have the promise to sustain this interest for some time to come. But nothing lasts forever!
That’s why our current “points of emphasis” to clients and our Insiders is focused on the fundamentals of operations, enhancing their guest’s experience, and running promotions and marketing like those we’ve discussed. That’s what the strongest competitors do. In today’s competitive market, strong execution will determine the winners. When the economy turns, gas prices rise, or we reach saturation, it is the strong who will survive.
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 recently 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.