On average, 381,000 guests visit family entertainment centers (FECs) a year, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), with the larger facilities hosting up to 622,000 guests annually. With all that traffic, it’s no wonder many roller skating center operators look to expand their businesses by transitioning from roller skating centers to family entertainment centers. However, there are pros and cons to leaping into the family entertainment arena.
The first pro to adding more attractions to skating centers, such as laser tag arenas and soft playgrounds, is that they add variety to roller skating center activities, but industry consultant Bill Carlson was quick to stress that these new attractions should not replace owners’ and operators’ core product.
“It’s all about fun in the end, and if we don’t have fun with our core product, roller skating, then we don’t have anything at all,” Carlson said.
He encouraged owners and operators to develop their core product by exercising good session management and keeping sessions at two and a half hours. Carlson said studies have shown that two and a half hours is the average that parents and children typically stay at a skating facility. He noted that owners can still keep their doors open all the time by adhering to two and a half hour sessions and providing overlapping sessions so skaters can choose to stay for an extra session if they would like to continue skating. For example, he said, a noon to 2:30 p.m. session, a 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. session and a 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. session.
In addition to managing sessions, Carlson suggested developing skating centers’ core product by continually training its staff to provide excellent customer service and programming its sessions by age group, which he added, is most effective when operators have good session management.
Carlson also urged owners and operators to be careful that the new attractions don’t become the focus of the business.
“The add-ons are the spice that is added on top of what [roller skating centers are],” Carlson said, stressing that roller skating is a fantastic product and experience in itself. “Now, roller skating is a super great experience because rinks have all this other stuff to do too.”
One skating center operator who has made the transition from roller skating center to full family entertainment center is Scott Cernik of Skate Daze in Omaha, Neb. In 1994, his skating center made the transition and never looked back. He added a three-story playground, bumper cars, a roller coaster and a rock wall. In 1999, Skate Daze added laser tag and most recently it reinvented itself after a major remodel to the inside and outside of the facility. Adding attractions to his facility made a big difference, he said.
“[The added attractions] made us busier,” Cernik explained. “With more attractions we started pulling people from areas further away. It made us more of a destination.”
Likewise, Michael Feiger of Jamz Family Entertainment Facility in Philadelphia, Pa., also experienced success by upgrading from a roller skating center to a family entertainment center. Feiger explained that although his skating business was doing well on its own, he felt there was were great opportunities in expanding.
“We had a good corner of the market and we wanted to figure out a way to get more money out of that market,” he explained. “The family entertainment center seemed like not only a good way to go, but a good way to go with legs.” Feiger estimated that as a roller skating center, his business brought in $1.1 million, and as an FEC, it brings in $1.7 million.
Making the transition, Feiger did face some challenges. One con of moving forward as a family entertainment center is that the change can cause some displacement for your die-hard roller skaters. “One of the first things that happens is that you alienate your skaters,” he explained. “At the beginning there is some conflict between your new-found family customers, who go out on the skate floor and stagger around until they know what they are doing, versus your traditional skaters.” He added that over time, the conflict seems to resolve itself and both types of customers are happy with the new facility.
The decision to convert to a family fun center is not one to be taken lightly, Feiger said. He suggested that an operator must look at his business and decide if his business is viable. He said owners must ask themselves if they are making a nice living with their current business and if the answer is yes, perhaps there is no need to make any changes. However if the answer is no, that’s where transitioning to an FEC can be beneficial.
“If you are making good money as a rink, I’d keep it a rink,” he explained. “If your business is marginal and you have the space and the capital to work with then I think it makes sense. But I wouldn’t take down a very successful business.”
Should skating owners and operators decide to make a transition, there is another con to consider, the investment and upkeep.
“If you are going to add to the building, that obviously becomes very expensive and it’s a lot bigger undertaking, a huge undertaking,” Cernik said. “That’s the downside.”
After the initial investment, new attractions, like laser tag or a climbing wall, do bring in more money; however, after some time, that new revenue begins to decline. Carlson noted that newness is a factor and the solution is to continually upgrading or making attractions more visual, managing attractions during sessions and packaging attractions.
“Program it, staff it and control it and it can make you money.” Carlson said, adding that many skating center operators have had great success with an all-attractions pass.
Despite the cons, the pros are what every skating center in America is looking for; getting more people into their skating center and having them return over and over again. Not only have FECs been shown to bring in the crowds, but IAAPA has reported that the facilities also can expect a high level of repeat visitation; an estimated three visits per person.
Many skating centers have seen a rise in walk-in traffic because of the recovering economy, but as Carlson pointed out, how skating centers manage to keep the new skaters after the economy recovers is key to keeping roller skating centers strong. The solution may very well be a transition to FECs for some skating centers, but the businesses must continue to develop roller skating as the core product and never lose sight of its importance. –
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