By Barbara Long
Two popular summertime family entertainment activities are mini golf and go-karts. Because these businesses are frequently weather-dependent, they generally generate more business during summer months, and sometimes, more challenges.
While weather can be good news to these enterprises, it can also be bad news because it is unpredictable. “We try to stay open as much as possible, but we do need to close in the event of bad weather and thunderstorms,” said Ryan Tracy, owner of Aloha Falls Miniature Golf & Games in Libertyville, Ill. Indeed, weather is a primary challenge for many mini golf and go-kart businesses.
Another commonality is the need to hire good employees and keep customers happy. “I cannot overemphasize customer service,” Tracy said. And many other business owners and managers seconded that thought.
Last year, mini golf celebrated its golden anniversary, and according to the US ProMiniGolf Association, each family visits a mini golf course at least once a year
Not only is mini golf popular, but it is also profitable. Owners of Harris Miniature Golf courses, many of whom operate other family entertainment attractions such as rock climbing and paintball courses, claim that miniature golf is the top activity for profit margin, return on investment and broad market appeal.
From April through October, Aloha Falls opens its two Hawaiian-themed courses: the Beach Course and the Waterfall Course. The latter has been named one of the eight most difficult miniature golf courses in the nation by Popular Mechanics.The course includes drop holes, bridges, jumps and nearly every trick mini golf has devised.
Now in his sixth year of ownership, Tracy emphasized his biggest operational challenge as the weather. “Our hours are constantly changing,” he said. “There’s not really much you can do about the weather.”
He did, however, stress the importance of treating his mostly local customers with the utmost of care. “We have an annual attendance of 10,000 people,” Tracy said. “People need to hire employees who reflect how you treat customers.” He also added, “In my experience, there is no such thing as over explaining, letting people know where they should go next [on the course].”
In addition to miniature golf, Aloha Falls offers a retro arcade that features console games from the 1980s and 1990s as well as pool, ping-pong and air hockey.
Mike Hong, owner of Willowbrook Golf Center in Wayne, N.J., also noted weather as his biggest concern. “If it is too hot or rainy, it has an effect on sales.” Willowbrook’s 36-hole course include 15- and 30-foot waterfalls.
Hong said, “We try to make customers happy so they will come back again.” He also advised hiring friendly staff and making the facility clean and fun.
The history of go-karting generally dates to 1956 and Art Ingels, a racecar builder who used a two-stroke lawn mower engine to power a vehicle he designed for his son. The recreational activity for families, friends and co-workers has expanded to competitive indoor and outdoor racing series.
According to a 2017 market research report by IBISWorld, the go-kart racing market is expanding with more demand for services and an increase in the amount customers spend per visit. The report also reflects a 3.7 percent annual growth from 2012 to 2017.
In addition, FKP claims that indoor karting industry is growing in popularity, “Indoor karting has become the focal point for the renewed emphasis on family activities and traditional entertainment values in the United States.”
Go-karts can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars and come in various shapes and sizes and are powered by all types of energy sources. Yet all of these variations have a common theme: fun.
Galveston Go-karts and Fun Center, in Galveston, Texas, features a curved track and a numerous go-karts in addition to an indoor arcade with an array of popular video games, air hockey, and more. Owner John Zhing said his biggest challenge is hiring and training attendants. His solution? “I keep hiring until I get the right one.” About 25,000 people visit the facility each year.
At Orlando Kart Center in Orlando, Fla., Manager Jessica Gutierrez noted that the business had two busy seasons—summer and winter. During the busy seasons, the center’s world class race track receives 200 to 500 people per day. From January 2016 to January 2017, about 24,000 people visited. “Go-karting is something different to do in Orlando—it’s not the parks or eating at restaurants,” she commented.
In terms of customer service, Gutierrez said, “We have a very good process. We have 25 karts and every 10 minutes, we send people out. There are no long lines waiting around.”
Also, employees at Orlando Kart Center care about visitors. Gutierrez offered, “We talk to people and give them tips on how to improve their track skills and get better times.” She added, “People love it here, and no one leaves upset. They really enjoy themselves.”
Mini Golf and Go-Karts
In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Go USA Fun Park offers visitors both mini golf and go-karts as well as batting cages, a driving range and arcade games. Its 18-hole miniature golf course is lit for night play, and the facility is open year-round. Since many of its attractions are outside, busy times are spring, summer and fall.
Terri DeLong, a manager who has been working at the park for 18 years, said visitors are “a good mix of locals and tourists. We do have more local people, but we also get a lot of tourists.” She added, “We have definitely grown, particularly the last three years. The area has also grown a lot, which helps.”
Like many other managers and owners in the golf and go-kart business, DeLong noted, “Weather is always a challenge because when it is bad, we have to close down the track, and no one wants to go outside.”
When asked about the center’s customer service, DeLong responded, “We try to have excellent customer service.” She also pointed out, “We keep up with maintenance and replacing go-karts. And little renovations help a lot.”
So, while businesspeople clearly cannot control the weather, they can control their business operations and their customer satisfaction, making their visitors comfortable, safe and happy. Indeed, customer service is the key to driving business.