Just for the Kids
Keeping the Fun Child-centered at Mini-Golf and Go-Kart Facilities

September 1, 2011 No Comments

A large part of making your attraction family friendly is to ensure that you find ways to make it a place where kids want to be.  Being a kid-centric destination starts by not overlooking the basics.  Here’s how some industry professionals are making sure that their operations appeal to younger people by keeping them not only interested and engaged, but safe as well. “We try and interact with kids as much as possible,” said Matt Chubb, general manager for the Rogue Valley Fun Center in Central Point, Ore.  At the center, which offers everything from mini-golf to kiddie go-karts, he added, “We don’t just focus on the parents and ignore children.  We treat them for just what they are – that is, valued customers.  Engaging them is important; for example, we recognize when a child might be nervous when getting ready to ride our go-karts.  Our staff calms them down and makes them feel special and important by talking with them.”
He further noted that fundamental to any efforts to engage kids starts with people skills. “Having the right staff with the right training is important.  They have to be friendly and involved.”
It’s also essential to offer the right stuff.   “Part of what tends to draw kids in is the attractions themselves,” said Steve Heffley, manager of the 65,000-square-foot entertainment center Incred-A-Bowl in Overland Park, Kan.  “We had the bowling, but when we added miniature golf and laser tag we greatly expanded our appeal.”
In addition, emphasizing special events and pricing can enhance your appeal.  “We do a wide variety of things like birthday parties to making sure we always have a good mix of children’s games at prices that are affordable,” said Austin Bone, general manager for Toad’s Fun Zone located in Ogden, Utah.  He estimated that the center attracts 10,000 to 15,000 customers a month to enjoy the mini-golf, go-karts and more.
At Aaron’s Fun Zone in Belton, Mo., Manager Michelle Jochens advised, “We are always looking for ways to offer special deals – for example, kids can bowl free and then get a special price for mini-golf.  We also offer dollar menu specials.”  As she noted, “We make it family friendly and that makes it kid friendly.”
Heffley added, “We sell discount cards to very small groups of two or three kids to make it more affordable for families.”  And, he noted, “It’s important to do everything possible to create the right environment.  For example, we have cosmic bowling on Friday and Saturdays with black light.  It’s fun and we draw a lot of young people.  Since this starts late, though, we also have a family night that starts earlier so younger kids can participate, as well as one on Thursday mornings for even younger children.”
Tailoring your appeal can also help maintain your focus on children as part of building a kid friendly image and a brand.  “We draw in kids through our community involvement and development of our brand throughout the community,” said Anthony Gonsalves, the general manager and one of the owners of Funworks Family Fun Company in Modesto, Calif.  “Most of our marketing is geared towards elementary school aged children and their mothers.  We have developed a reputation as a family destination and people have come to know us as the place to go where families are safe and welcome and taken care of.  We don’t have games or attractions, which tend to draw teenagers.  Our offerings and pricing structure typically attract families with children who are 12 years and younger.”
Often your approach will depend not just on your target group, but the nature of your center as well.  “We are probably a little bit larger than most typical family entertainment centers,” said Michelle Kap, the president and owner of Fiesta Village Family Fun Park, Colton, Calif.  “Besides miniature golf and go-karts we have amusement rides, a roller skating rink, laser tag and more.  We did that to expand the demographics we were trying to reach; for example we have a middle school night and for older kids we have a college night.”
But even with a broad offering, creating a focal point can be useful. As Kap noted, “With the roller skating rink in the middle of our venue it has the latest music and we do light shows and fun things, which really does draw them in by creating excitement for not only the skaters, but for the entire park.”
At the core of being kid friendly is creating and sustaining a safe environment.  This starts with having a trained staff that is capable of spotting and taking action for everything from unsafe facility and equipment conditions to suspicious behavior.  It can also include using technology to boost security.  “We have put sensors around the entire parameter so parents feel comfortable when they come in with their kids or drop them off,” said Kap.  “Once they are in, they are in – secure and safe.  It’s made a big difference.  Before kids could just walk out and now in order to exit the park they have to go through one of our buildings.  It’s just a much more secure environment and it has been a big help with our school groups.”
Achieving operational success for any enterprise requires reviewing what you offer and how you present it.  This will enable you to find the best ways to integrate what you offer, how you package and price it, the environment and any special effects – such as music, lighting and colors – to create an image and brand that projects fun, excitement and value all in a safe setting. -

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