How a Young Industry Caters to Its Young
September 1, 2013
Strategies to Entertain Under-18 Customers
In 2005, Erik Guthrie opened the Laser Tag Museum in order to preserve the almost 30-year history of laser tag. The museum now features an extensive collection of equipment, merchandise and memorabilia from dozens of laser tag facilities from all over the world.
“Laser tag has grown to be a worldwide experience now enjoyed in over 35 countries with millions of players every month blasting away,” Guthrie said. He is currently the vice president of sales and marketing for Zone Laser Tag, which he said is one of the largest laser tag companies in the world with over 500 locations. Their Sherman Oaks, Calif., location, Ultrazone, features a 10,000-square-foot facility with a 6,500-square-foot arena. “If I had the ability to expand to two levels I would,” Guthrie said, “but I do not have the ceiling height.” Ultrazone regularly caters to upscale clientele, including celebrities. “We often have major movie stars in our facility on a weekly basis,” Guthrie said, noting that he and his staff are “highly sensitive to their desire to make sure that the children are the stars of the event, not the Hollywood ‘A-lister.’ ”
Ultrazone has been in business for nearly two decades, and grosses over $1 million a year. Guthrie said that his secret to drawing in the under-18 crowd is fun. “We ensure that all the guests are laughing and loving laser tag,” he explained. “Our staff is trained to watch all the guests and to interact with any that may be withdrawn or apprehensive. …We make sure that the kids are laughing and jumping all over the place with excitement. Even the big teenagers want encouragement from our staff members if needed.”
With all of the jumping and excitement, Guthrie knows that it’s important to ensure the safety of Ultrazone’s guests. One of the ways he keeps the arena safe for kids and parents is through checklists. “We love checklists around here!” he said. “Opening and closing checklists; arena inspection checklists; maintenance checklists.” Guthrie also trains his staff to repair or report safety concerns right away. “If a staff member notices an unsafe element and they fix it, we will reward them with bonuses such as movie tickets, free ice cream, free food etc. from area merchants,” he explained. “It is easy to condemn and not reward but the culture is safer if we praise and reward the staff.”
On the East Coast, Roger Rivers, owner of Raider Laser in Newington, N.H., makes safety his top priority. “We keep the facility clean, the floors dry and search for any items that may passively injure a guest,” Rivers said. We have rules of conduct (i.e. no running, no touching other players or their equipment, no food in the arena, clean language, etc.) We post and verbally cover the arena rules to be sure every guest knows them, and we enforce them.” Raider Laser is an 8,000-square-foot facility located “on the border of two states and three counties,” according to Rivers, and the surrounding communities “range from some of the wealthiest in the region to majority blue collar and everything between. …Our pricing structure caters to all budgets, and kids can have fun here for a few dollars or a few hundred.”
Raider Laser draws the under-18 crowd by keeping “the buzz alive,” and making sure that every kid is having a great time. “That is what he or she comes for,” Rivers said. “If we notice an upset child, we go and see if we can turn the situation around.” As each customer leaves Raider Laser, he or she is always asked, “Did you have a blast today?” Rivers explained, “It allows the guest to reaffirm to him or herself that they did truly enjoy their experience at Raider Laser.”
Rivers also likes to focus on mothers by advertising through school PTAs. “It is the mother in a family that seems to make the ultimate decision about what the family will do that day, or where they will book their party or special occasion,” he says. “So when seeking new customers, I find reaching out to both the moms and the kids gives the best result.”
Darin Winick, owner of Red Zone Adventures in Timonium, Md., agrees that parents ultimately decide whether or not their family will visit a laser tag facility. “We strive to keep our facility clean, safe and brightly-lit (except for the laser tag and other glow-in-the-dark areas), which appeals to parents,” Winick said. “We further appeal to parents by promising and providing excellent customer service.” Winick classifies under-18 customers by three different categories: teenagers, “tweens” and young children under 10 years old. Red Zone Adventures advertises to each group differently. “We appeal to teenagers through late evening/night hours (midnight on weekends), events and fundraisers themed for specific schools and groups, and our glow-in-the-dark lounge and game room,” Winick explained. His strategy for advertising to “tweens” and younger children combines fun and excitement with parental approval. “We rely on the ‘wow’ factor coupled with the family-friendly atmosphere,” Winick said, “so the kids want to come and Mom and Dad want to say ‘yes.’ ”
Winick likes to make sure that parents and kids “have a blast” at Red Zone Adventures, so they’ll want to keep coming back. He brings in roughly 800 players per week by offering family- and budget-friendly specials, which he promotes through email and social media. “We also frequently pair with clubs, schools and organizations for fundraising and other events, which keeps us in front of communities and parents.”
Winick keeps his 8,000-square-foot facility safe through a no-tolerance policy for roughhousing. “We staff heavily, set a positive example and are firm when it comes to promoting safety and respectful play,” he said. “We have a few straightforward rules and enforce them, and we never tolerate unsafe/aggressive play, poor sportsmanship or disrespect of staff and other players.”
Bill Mann, president of Laser Tag Adventure in Waukesha, Wis., agreed that enforcing rules is important when protecting the safety of laser tag players. His staff gives warnings to rowdy customers, and very rarely has to remove a player from the game. “Running is the biggest thing we have a problem with,” Mann said, “kids getting the adrenaline flowing and just running quick. It’s a dark environment, and you don’t want them to run into walls or people.”
Laser Tag Adventure’s 10,500-square-foot facility sits in the Milwaukee suburbs, where the cold winter months have people looking for fun indoor activities. “We only have three, four or five months of good weather,” Mann said, “and the rest is not so good.” September through May is Laser Tag Adventure’s busy season, but in the summer, business tends to be slow, as Waukesha residents turn to outdoor sports and other activities. “As it warms up, our business is going to slow down,” Mann said. “A lot of people want to go outside and see what the sun is like.”
During the colder months, Mann reaches the under-18 crowd through his happy customers. “I think that word-of-mouth is the best advertising you can get,” he said. “The number one draw we have is kids who come to birthday parties and want to come back and play.” Mann keeps his young customers happy by providing an exciting environment that’s “not just walls and paint, but a little more immersive.” The environment at Laser Tag Adventure is heavily themed, according to Mann. “It’s kind of a jungle-ruins look with lots of murals on the walls.”
At Laserdome in Manheim, Pa., owner Karl Ross steps up the environment with a dome-shaped theater and interactive dance floor. “We have a large stage, a permanent laser light show and concert lighting,” Ross said. Saturday nights at Laserdome have welcomed up-and-coming local bands. “We give them 50 tickets to sell or give away, and we usually get a decent amount of people from their circle of friends,” Ross said. “It’s our secret weapon to keep us relevant among the higher teen range.”
Ross has taken a unique approach to advertising through social media. “I took an office video projector that you use to project your computer screen, and a small computer, and ceiling mounted the two things together,” Ross explained. “It shines on the wall above our laser tag entrance, a 15-foot image of our Facebook timeline.” Ross even created a script that scrolls slowly down the screen, even clicking to view more posts and posts by others. He encourages customers to post to the Facebook timeline so that they can watch their posts appear live. Laserdome staff members also carry Android devices for the specific purpose of posting photos of customers to Facebook (with the customers’ permission, of course). This high-tech advertising technique has helped build the Laserdome Facebook page to almost 10,000 likes.
Laserdome is located in the heart of Lancaster County, Pa., a mostly rural area well-known for its Amish community. “Lancaster County is the most productive non-irrigated farmland in the whole country,” Ross noted. “We live in an area where things grow.” With the help of Ross’s innovative advertising, Laserdome has grown to earn $1.2 million per year from an average of 50,000 visits.
In 1984, George Carter III watched the famous laser battle scene in Star Wars and was inspired to create an exciting new game. Almost 30 years later, laser tag lives on through indoor and outdoor facilities all over the world, competitions and tournaments, clubs, conventions and even home games. It’s a fun, family-friendly activity that will always appeal to kids and their parents. To learn more about laser tag and the Laser Tag Museum, visit www.lasertagmuseum.com. –