Less than an hour north of Denver, Loveland, Colo., is a scenic retreat in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Fort Collins, a hub for vacationers, craft beer lovers and tourists clamoring to see, among other attractions, the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. The aptly nicknamed Sweetheart City is also home to Loveland Laser Tag, a 5,000-square-foot multi-level entertainment complex that’s on the verge of unveiling a major expansion this month on Denver Avenue.
Not only is Loveland introducing 3,500 additional square feet to the already popular gaming destination, it’s updating its laser tag arena, adding a Pyramid Sky Trail ropes course, remodeling the café and adding even more seating for special events – everything from birthday parties to corporate team building. Already known for its unusual Egyptian-themed climbing wall, Loveland’s real claim to fame is its epic laser maze where groups compete safely (everyone is subject to pre-game tutorials) in a truly family-friendly (and family-owned and operated) environment.
“Since taking over the center in March 2011,” said Loveland’s Owner Jeff Willy, “I’ve added a laser maze, a climbing wall and around 20 arcade games.” The hands-on owner– a young, fresh-faced executive and a former Hewlett-Packard employee who makes his home in nearby Fort Collins – is immersed in every facet of the business, and has brought something especially unique to the Rocky Mountain community.
As vice president of Laserforce International, a 25-year-old Australian manufacturer of laser tag equipment, Willy worked to establish an office next door to the gaming facility this year where a staff has already begun work assembling, testing and providing training and operational support for other laser tag facilities around the country. It’s the first Laserforce site in the United States, he said.
“Having the ability to assemble our equipment in the U.S., will allow Laserforce to better meet our customers’ schedules and fill orders more expediently,” said Willy. “Our North American plant will be committed to ongoing R&D, prototyping and new product development in order to continue to implement Laserforce’s vision to provide the next generation of laser tag equipment.”
The company’s new full-service office will enable customers throughout North America to receive operational training, install assistance and continued support for laser tag.
“We are pleased to expand our location to better serve our clients in the US and throughout North America,” said Len Kelly, owner and founder of Laserforce International. “Strong interest and growth in Laserforce operated centers in the region has led us to believe that this is a great investment for the long term.”
Loveland Laser Tag itself has become a fertile ground for materials testing, getting high marks from guests who strap on electronic vests and are equipped with the latest laser “guns” for friendly elimination games. And while the new company is starting out small (there are two other operation sites in Australia and England), the Laserforce office has already begun working with a gaming destination in New Orleans, refurbishing vests and building new phasers.
In fact, Laserforce has shipped more than 30 systems to customers worldwide, and with the introduction of the North American facility, it expects to install as many as 60 in the U.S. alone this year. In addition to managing his own laser tag facility, Willy has also been helping the Aussie company with research and development, which he comes by naturally having spent much of his career in the tech world.
“I had been working at Hewlett-Packard as a software engineer and later as an operations manager,” said Willy, who first got into the laser tag world managing a facility in college. “When Loveland Laser Tag, which is 15 minutes from my house, came up for sale – I jumped at the opportunity,” he said.
Taking it to the Next Level
Armed with a computer science degree from the University of Texas, Willy spent 13 years at Hewlett-Packard before buying Loveland and accepting the new position with Laserforce.
“My experience running a laser tag facility in Texas helped prepare me for owning my own facility,” he said. “My operations management role at HP also provided the skills needed to help me be successful at owning my own business.”
As Willy gets ready to unveil the latest additions to Loveland Laser Tag, he’s feeling confident that the $500,000 expansion will pay off significantly, drawing visitors from not only North Colorado’s own town of Loveland, but nearby Fort Collins, Longmont, Greeley, Windsor, Berthoud and beyond.
“The showcase addition is a Sky Trial Discovery ropes course from Ropes Courses, Inc.,” said Willy, “featuring 11 elements. We’re also adding a third tier to our laser tag area, which will grow the already largest arena in Colorado by 15 percent.” With 21 employees, including a party manager and food and beverage manager, Willy plans to hire at least nine more people to coincide with the expansion. But that doesn’t ease the responsibilities he shoulders daily – everything from planning new menus in the café to finding the latest and greatest games to upgrade the arcade.
Willy even purchased a local pizzeria, which he’s used to remodel the laser fun park’s café. “We’ve also made minor upgrades to our facility with things like dynamic DMX lighting in the laser tag ara, new café options and projector screen gaming.”
Willy’s tactic for expansion is less about keeping up with the competition as it is setting Loveland up to become one of the premier facilities of its kind in the state and even around the country. “Right now,” he said, “there are not many competitors in Northern Colorado, but with the economy improving, that is slowly changing. Our variety of attractions, friendly staff and clean alcohol-free, family-friendly environment makes us a destination worth checking out.”
Not Just for Kids
These days, Loveland courts kids ages 10 to 14, though Willy admits guests of all ages make up the facility’s diverse demographic. “We just had a group of senior citizens come in for a private laser tag event last week,” he said. “The biggest thing we do is provide a fun place for kids to play with their friends.”
If the commentary on social media sites like Yelp is proof, customers are giving Loveland high marks as not only a great place to visit, but also to work.
“We get very positive feedback from our guests about how awesome and friendly our staff is,” said Willy, who occasionally takes his own turn in the laser tag arena testing out new gear. “We provide an amazing laser tag experience with top-of-the-line Laserforce equipment. With laser tag surging in popularity and more centers popping up, our equipment really helps set us apart.”
Willy and his staff also spend a lot of time advocating for physical activity at every age, especially as the American Medical Association has classified obesity as a disease for the first time this year. With kids and teens especially interested in video games that may have them camped out on the sofa for hours on end, laser tag seems like a better, healthier fit thanks to the physical exercise component it offers. “Our focus is on things to do,” he said. “Our laser tag, laser maze, climbing wall and ropes course are all active.”
What Keeps Them Coming Back
While laser tag is the most popular offering at Loveland, Willy said that the arcade is also expanding. “We just added Spaceballz, which is a huge hit,” he said. “Big Bass Wheel and Slam-a-Winner are also very popular.
But with so many families owning their own video game systems at home, one must wonder if it’s at all challenging today to attract visitors to public gaming venues like Loveland. Not according to Willy.
“Redemption offers something people can’t get at home,” he said. “And even with games that offer game play similar to what players have at home – like Terminator Salvation and Fast ‘N Furious Super Cars – there’s something about the atmosphere of playing in an arcade setting that isn’t replicated in your living room.”
The center also offers karaoke and interactive games from Nintendo, Kinect and Wii that can can be played on a 144-inch projection screen – not exactly something that most families have in their own living rooms either. The karaoke and large-scale video games are housed in a dodge ball room that also features three-on-three basketball, air hockey, pool and foosball.
Eat, Drink and Play Laser Tag
Willy complements the gaming experience with comfort food. “Pizza is our bestselling item,” he says, “mainly because it feeds a group of people. Everyone loves pizza.”
And while Colorado is a state known for being health conscious, with nature trails and natural wonders that attract outdoors enthusiasts of all kinds, Willy says guests tend to treat themselves to comfort foods at Loveland, especially on the weekends. “Our guests tend to go for the comfort and finger foods,” he says. “Some parents ask for fruit or other healthy options, but most go for pizza, chicken nuggets and pretzels.”
There are currently four party rooms that can be combined into one room for large events. Willy’s also adding an espresso bar to the café that appeals to adults. For the past two years, Loveland has also been transforming the dodge ball room into a kind of small-scale concert venue with professional lighting, a karaoke experience and occasional open-mic nights.
As Willy spends his time polishing the final stages of the massive expansion, which has been in the works for the better part of the year, he’s also aggressively rethinking how Laserforce can become an even bigger player in the gaming market here in the states. Using entertainment trends to help shape the next generation of gaming systems, Laserforce has been testing a zombie game mode this year that is already being rolled out with much success.
“Our business has grown by 200 percent in the past two-and-a-half years,” said Willy. “We’ve done this by constantly upgrading our facility and always working to improve the guest experience. As we’ve grown, we’ve also been able to increase our marketing presence. We’ve enjoyed success with billboards, radio and online advertising.”
Willy’s also amped up Loveland’s social media presence by building almost 4,500 fans on Facebook alone. He’s also exploring Twitter, Instagram and Vine to promote the facility to a whole new generation of smart phone and app users.
But despite the significant investment, the expansion and the focus on employee training (Willy admits that the staff is at the heart of this business), he said one other very important factor truly makes Loveland the success it is today. “It helps,” he said, “that I love laser tag.” –
Quick Facts: Loveland Laser Tag
- The family-owned and operated venue is 5,000 square feet, but is being expanded by 3,500 square feet this season.
- Up to 36 players can battle it out at one time in the mist-shrouded, Egyptian-themed Lazer Maze – the most popular attraction at Loveland.
- The facility has a four-person rock-climbing wall, ropes course, arcade, karaoke and other interactive gaming and competitive attractions.
- The café (with its grown-up coffee bar) offers a menu of comfort food that especially appeals to families, including pizza, hot dogs, pretzels, nachos, buffalo wings and desserts – even smoothies. New menu items have been added, including mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, boneless wings, French fries and stuffed pretzels. The cafe also offers free wi-fi and features TVs. –N.H.M.