The success of a family entertainment center (FEC) lies in the months of planning before the doors open for the first time. Entrepreneurs new to the FEC industry can get overwhelmed if they do not prepare for the road ahead.  Now in its seventh year, Foundations Entertainment University provides entrepreneurs practical information from industry experts on market and financial feasibility, planning, design and management.  The three-day comprehensive educational workshop and seminar gives present and future FEC owners the tools they need to achieve long-term success.
“One of the most important topics for today’s economic conditions is financing,” said Frank Seninsky of Amusement Entertainment Management, who with Randy White, is one of the founders of Foundations and a speaker at each of the three-day/two-evening seminars.  “Entrepreneurs have to know how to put together a plan and how to approach banks and investors with that plan.”
Seninksy added that the financial picture for new business owners is very different than just two years ago.  Today’s FEC owner needs to have ample capital to develop the right-sized FEC for a particular market. FEC entrepreneurs have to be flexible and open to developing partnerships with experienced business owners and local investors.
“In these tougher economic times, banks do not want to see start up enterprises. They want a track record to feel good about,” he noted.  “They might be willing to lend money six to eight months down the road when they see profits, but not on an idea.”
To be profitable in tougher economic times, Seninksy advises those who attend Foundations to concentrate on volume (repeat customers) and to rein in per capita spending.  With the seminar and workshop, he and the other speakers try to open the eyes of new entrepreneurs and make them re-examine everything that they thought about starting a business.
“Most of the people who come to Foundations, think they know who their customer is and what their customer wants.” Seninsky said. “However, they soon learn that they were not accurate in many aspects of starting a FEC. We have prevented many entrepreneurs from making costly mistakes that could have destroyed their dreams, and we have made some people re-think their entire business plan.”
Susan Hoffland attended Foundations University in July of 2010.  Her dream to build Kids Canyon Adventure in Phoenix, Ariz., is still in the planning stages.
“My plan is to have a 10,000-square-foot facility with four to five attractions that can accommodate birthday parties. I also want to have a café,” Hoffland said. “My goal in attending Foundations was to validate the research I had done in the last year and to get expert advice on how to proceed.”
Since Hoffland had done a great deal of research into the FEC industry before she attended the workshop and seminar, she was familiar with the speakers and their various areas of expertise.  
“I knew what to expect as far as schedule and topics at Foundations, but I was taken aback as to how accessible everyone was,” Hoffland commented. “They went over my plan in detail and gave me great advice on the operation of an FEC.”
One of the operation tips that Hoffland learned was to make her FEC a destination place where families come for food first and then attractions.
“I need families to think about my FEC when they are contemplating going out to dinner,” Hoffland said. “They have to want to eat here and play here. Food has to be their primary goal – not an afterthought. “
The second operating tip that surprised Hoffland was in the design of the FEC.  Since she is in Arizona, Hoffland was contemplating a complete canyon and desert theme. At Foundations, she learned that while theming makes an FEC unique, it should not be everything.  
“The experts talked about how colors, fabrics and textures are more important than theme.  The design should be welcoming and warm and attractive to children and adults. I had not thought about that.”
Foundations also shed light on financing obstacles as well for Hoffland, who still works as a telecommunications professional. Learning about bank timetables and requirements has made her more savvy and capable of being ready to answer any questions when it comes to her FEC plan.  
“I know securing financing now takes months – not weeks. But I am prepared for that. I have been in touch with banks and the Small Business Administration, which is opening up their purse strings a bit to help new, start-up businesses.  Because of Foundations, I have more faith than ever in my dream, and I am doing this for me and my kids, so I am committed to the big picture.”
As owner of McCullough Realty in St. Marys, Ohio, Curt McCullough already possessed a great deal of business expertise running restaurants and dinner boat concessions at Grand Lake, a major tourist area in St. Marys. But when he decided to convert an 84,000-square-foot complex into a combination fitness center and FEC, he thought he should get the advice of experts in the amusement and entertainment field.  
“We are opening West Ohio Fit-N-Fun, which sits on 21 acres about a quarter mile from Grand Lake, so I wanted to make sure that we had identified the right customer base and that we knew as much as possible about the operations of an FEC.”
According to McCullough, Foundations University helped him to pinpoint his diverse customer base and what he needed to do to keep his sales volume high.  
“Our immediate market is 250,000 people in the five-county area surrounding St. Marys. We also want to attract customers who come from the tourist areas and we want to sign up at least 2,000 members to our fitness center. Learning about the design and operations at Foundations gave me validation that I was heading in the right direction.”
One of the concerns that McCullough had about opening a combination fitness center and FEC centered on current economic conditions. However, learning strategies to weather any kind of economic turns at Foundations University helped put his mind at ease.
“Families are looking for ways to have fun without spending a fortune or going on a long-distance vacation,” McCullough said.  “With FECs, we can give families what they want:  time together in a fun and safe environment.”  
Other operational tips that McCullough brought home from Foundations included the hiring and treatment of employees and the importance of social media in getting the word out about his new venture.    
“FECs tend to be major cash businesses, so it’s important to train employees well and treat them with respect. The happier employees are in their job, the less likely occurrence of shrinkage and job turnover.”  
Although Canadian banks have not proven to be as tight with loaning money as American banks, Darlene Babineau of Windsor, Ontario, still worried about financing her 15,000-square-foot FEC called High Jinks.
“It used to be until recently that you had lunch with a banker and shook his or her hand and a financing deal was approved, but now we have to jump through hoops to get bank financing,” Babineau said. “So, I got a partner and I told her we need to go to Foundations to learn as much as we can, and what did Foundations show me?  They showed me that my partner and I were not suited to be in business together. They saved me from a huge mistake.”
Babineau and her former partner realized after listening to the experts speak that they had different goals that would have affected the success of the new FEC.  Once the two parted ways, Babineau found more suitable partners who have the same goals that she possessed.
Another discovery she made while attending Foundations was that she did not have a clear idea of her target market. When Babineau sat down with the experts for one-on-one time, they told her that she did not know whom she was trying to attract to her FEC. She had already purchased soft play, high ropes and a magnetic wall and was considering a ball cannon room.  
“They said very bluntly that I was reaching for too many age groups.  At first, I was a bit defensive, but as they explained further, I realized that they were right. The attractions I selected were for different age groups.  So, I went back to my plans and decided to divide the building into an FEC and daycare center.”
Although separate facilities, the daycare will have access to the FEC, which will have bouncies, roller skating, playground structures and games. Babineau is now in the process of obtaining her daycare license and she is working with her playground consultant to re-design the facility, which she hopes will open in spring of 2011.
In June of 2010, Jay Roberts and Mark Roney attended Foundations University in anticipation of opening Provo Beach Resort, an $8 million-dollar, 53,000-square-foot FEC that contains a Flowride®, ropes course, eight full bowling lanes, two mini-lanes, four PGA golf simulators, a stage for live music, soft play, a toddler playground and a Pinewood Derby race course. The two-level facility will also house a redemption area with 75 games, a full-service snack bar plus an ice cream and smoothie parlor. Roberts’ employers own the outdoor mall where the new FEC will reside, and he is hoping that the FEC will attract customers for his other tenants and his tenants’ businesses will attract customers to his FEC.
“We were already into construction when we attended Foundations, but we wanted to go to hear what the experts had to say.” Roberts acknowledged. “They were able to solidify our plans and validate that we were headed in the right direction.”  
Although the project was already under way, Roberts was unsure if he was going to add bowling in his amusement mix.
“They were great. They looked at our plans and told us the many advantages that bowling provides, especially in attracting customers.  After we left there, I knew we were going to include bowling.”
Roberts also was able to learn a great deal more about redemption games and how to manage employees at the three-day seminar.  
“During the workshop, I learned how it important it is to motivate employees and keep them motivated.  When employees are content, the turnover is less and friction among staff is avoided.” –