Howard McAuliffe’s Now Trending – October 2022


Reflections on Amusement Expo 2022


Howard McAuliffe

Finding Many Positives, McAuliffe Looks to Make AEI Even Better

by Howard McAuliffe, Partner, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Jim Gorczyca, the President and CEO of O’Fallon Brewery, said, “I think the continued focus on your super-local market is still running as the biggest trend in brewing. Your hyper-local market is what shapes successful breweries and restaurants.”

While reading this quote in a Sept. 2 article by Maddy Simpson in the St. Louis Business Journal, I realized this trend is also a key to driving profits in family entertainment centers and on routes. This trend became more prominent during Covid and appears to be here to stay. One of the key findings by Accenture in their study, “Covid-19: New habits are here to stay for retail consumers,” is that “consumers are shopping mindfully and cost-consciously, with demand for local, sustainable and value brands rising.” This is especially true in tough economic times as customers reduce discretionary spending. It is very important to be at the top of the list of places to go and things to do, as those lower on the list will be cut out. The way to do this is to have an intentional strategy and use marketing tools to amplify that strategy.

Interacting With The Community

Far too many facilities focus only on telling their guests and communities what they do and why it’s great. It is more important to gather feedback from your guests on what you do, how you do it and what they want. Consumer surveys online and in person are good ways to gather this information. The key is to make these surveys very simple and quick, using one to five questions only. Employees are also a great source of feedback since they’re dealing with customers directly and will know what customers are saying and context. Context is relevant, because there will always be a small group of customers who are very loud and direct about what they like and don’t like. Remember this group doesn’t necessarily represent the client base as a whole.

In addition to listening to locals, giving back to the community helps cement relationships with groups and individuals. Offering a discount for hosting fundraisers and community meetings, and otherwise helping local initiatives, will generate tremendous goodwill. It also offers an opportunity to showcase your facility to new customers and provide incentives for them to come back. For example, if you give away or discount game cards, you can offer a bounce-back offer, giving everyone who attends an incentive to return to your facility.

For route operators, encourage your location partners to organize the above and work closely with them to make sure your equipment is part of the offering. In addition to the above tactics to interact with the facility in your building, amplifying these efforts through marketing is essential.

Happy crane players - Adobe Stock

Happy couple having

Marketing for Low-Hanging Fruit

There are three primary goals to marketing our businesses: attract new guests, attract your competitors’ guests and engage with existing guests. Each marketing tactic your team develops should be focused on one of these goals or it’s probably a waste of time and money. Attracting new guests and competitors’ guests are standard for most businesses. However, engaging with existing guests is often overlooked or done haphazardly by simply posting about the facility on social media.

Improving on this aspect of marketing is especially key this fall, as it’s increasingly likely that consumers will become more cautious about spending money. This means that attracting new customers will be more difficult. Developing relationships with our existing customers and giving them reasons to stay loyal – and come more often – will be increasingly important.

The good news is that most facilities have access to customer data. Most facilities have at least two different point of sale systems, one to run the arcade (for example, Intercard) and one to run the rest of the business (like Brunswick’s SYNC in a bowling facility, MICROS in a restaurant, etc.).

Getting customers to register and provide you their information is key. One relatively easy way to do this is to make them provide an email to access wifi, but the other POS systems typically have a way for a customer to register. Once you have their contact information, it’s key to provide value to them by offering perks like off-menu items, special events and, of course, providing a direct link for them to tell you what they would like. Using email marketing, combined with targeted social media marketing, is the place to start this engagement.

Another key to marketing locally is Google. It has more than 90% of the search engine market share and 86% of map market share, and it is increasingly the primary source of business reviews. The first and easiest thing to do to access traffic from Google is to own your Google My Business profile. Make sure your information and description are accurate, unique and appealing, and that your key search terms are in the first 100 words. Make sure you include pictures, too. You can hire a local real estate photographer for as low as $100 to come take pictures – don’t just snap a few with your phone. Owning your Google My Business account and making it as good as possible is essential and it’s very easy and inexpensive to do.

2021 was a record year for most facilities with tremendous government aid flowing along with consumers’ pent-up demand for our offerings. 2022 is showing signs of leveling off and in some regions, sales are down somewhat from 2021. As macroeconomic conditions get more challenging, it’s essential we focus on keeping our loyal customer happy and coming to our facilities. If we can do this, we will keep our businesses stable. Those who don’t will fail, allowing more market share to come to the competing locations organically.



Howard McAuliffe loves to imagine and implement new products, business models, and ideas, and is a partner in Pinnacle Entertainment Group Inc. He’s an industry veteran who got his start in the business when he was just 16 and has 20 years of expertise in product development, as well as FEC and route operations. Howard’s wife Reem and young son Sami are the center of life outside of work. When he’s not working, Howard can be found enjoying the outdoors, hiking, fishing and mountaineering. Traveling anywhere new or to old favorites like the American West is a passion. Readers can visit for more information or contact Howard at [email protected], he welcomes positive as well as constructive feedback and counterpoints.



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