Are You Shrinking Your Market?

Why do some family entertainment/leisure entities with more, do so much less with their party programs?  Here’s a hint: it’s not the location, population or even the bad economy.
The answer:  “You’ve Shrunk Your Market.”   Owners and managers are actually the cause of their market reduction.  This is due to a lack of understanding of the market’s needs and developing or holding onto outdated party concepts that are destined to be mediocre, from start to finish.
You might have a slap-in-the-head idea that may make you uncomfortable, a wake up call when you don’t want to get up or a “This guy’s off his rocker” comment after reading this. But most party concepts limit themselves or fail, either by design or by accident, by their own hand without anyone really knowing why.  
The “Shrunken Party Market Syndrome” leaders are amusement parks, waterparks, (indoor and outdoor) roller skating centers, paintball parks, laser tag facilities and outdated large indoor or multi-acre outdoor family entertainment centers.  

They share one or all of the following:
•  Their limited attraction mix draws an older age demographic (age 7 and up)
•  Their expectation is that the attraction(s) will carry the party’s success.
•  Their expectation is that party parents can organize and facilitate a party group.  This becomes a huge problem in large, multiple attraction environments.
•  Stale parties that have not changed or been altered for a long time.
•  Their business model itself is outdated.  It worked 10 years ago and the “I’m still open, I must be doing something right” mentality is their business mantra.

If any of these are you, read on.  If you said “no not me” read on anyway, because they probably are.  
The commercial birthday party market can be defined as follows:  Eighty to 85 percent of out of home, commercial birthday parties fall within these demographics: families with children (boys and girls)  between the age of 4 to 10, who have a household income of over $35,000, have some sort or secondary education and live within a 15-minute drive radius of the business.  Sure you might argue that you get parties for 1 to 3 year olds, tween and teen events (11-16 year olds) and even parties where folks drive more than a half an hour, to get to your place.  But it’s a small number.  Check it out if you don’t believe me.  Track it for a few months or go back and research your past party bookings.
Now that we have identified the largest portion of your small commercial party market, lets pare it down one more time.  Only a twelfth of this small group even has a need for your party business next month.  The largest segment of your already small market does not even need you until it is their birthday month.
Starting To Get the Picture?
OK, let’s dig deeper into the “shrunken” market, Attractions that naturally draw older will attract only the tail end of the primary birthday market.  Trying to offer or accept younger aged parties with these, non-age appropriate attractions, confuses the market as to who and what you are and typically produces mediocre to poor end results.  Many owners do not want to turn away business, so they book these inappropriately matched parties. They end with the same result, frustration for all.    
If you do not have attractions for 4, 5 and 6 year olds, you better be the best at what you do for the 7 through 10 year olds.  An example might be a stand-alone laser tag or paint ball attraction.  Your active age group starts around 7 years old and is somewhat boy dominant.  Your party market shrinks from households with families age 2 through 12, to households with boys age 7 through 10 who live in a 15-minute drive, who have a birthday coming up in the next month. The same thing happens when a party program is defined and driven by its play attractions alone.  If you are a bowling center and the child or parent is not a bowler, but it’s the essence of your entire party, you may not get them.  If you are a skating center, ice skating or roller skating, the same applies. You shrink your market limiting parties to kids who like to skate.  You should brand your party as an entire birthday experience, where; “Oh, by the way we skate here too.”  Are you the very best and the most unique in your single attraction category, as well as always evolving?  If so, it could work as long-term strategy, like the sweet and sassy concept (7 through 16-year-old girls).  If not, you better look at a better attraction mix.  Mono cultured (one style attraction) family entertainment or party centers have historically failed after 18 – 24 months.  Believing that your business will be any different is a formula destined for “Doomsville.”
Here’s where amusement parks, waterparks and large family entertainment centers accidentally shoot themselves in the foot.  It starts when they send party folks into a large, unfamiliar environment, without the right tools, for a long time.  
When party parents or even other attending adult(s) are asked to organize and lead a party group through the attraction phase of a party, the take-away emotions are rarely positive.  They are typically replaced with negative feelings and “I’ll never attempt that again.”  Even though early on in the party, they may enjoy the feeling of being in control and involved, it rapidly turns into frustration.  Many party programs successfully create major frustrations for party Moms, rather than giving them the single thing they value most, the freedom from the work and anxiety of it all working out.  
Let’s look at party concepts in these environments.  Parents do not care how many parties or how busy the park is on this particular day.  They are consumed with the safety and fun of their group and how all your other guests get in their way. This especially holds true in large “acreage” environments like amusement or waterparks and large family entertainment centers.  Observe your parties.  Are any of these you?
• If their party feels like chaos and no one is there to keep the group intact.  
• When they have to wait in long lines or face the conflict of trying to satisfy the preferences of individuals in the group.  
• When they assume the responsibility for the safety and fun of their party group and it’s outside their comfort zone or ability to successfully entertain.  
•  When they have to corral the group through each component of the party, in the heat or crowds.  
All-day parties may seem like the best value your park can offer, until the day is over when the drain and all the negative feelings are all that remain.  Think of the average Mom struggling with their immediate family on outings to large parks, much less having to be concerned with another 10 kids.
Asking party parents to organize and supervise a large group of children in a large environment dramatically limits your party market to the upper age bracket.  All day events cut it down even more. Those that give it a try and have a frustrating experience, will not do it again, while their negative word-of-mouth buzz adds to the shrinking of your market strategy.
Change and Variety
Finally, change and variety is essential to all successful party programs.  All retail businesses rotate their stock as well as selling environment with the upcoming season or holiday.  This draws shoppers and gives them a reason to return.  Distressed merchandise is defined as goods on the shelf too long, damaged merchandise, returned merchandise, outdated merchandise, obsoletes, less than perfect (LTP) irregulars or worn merchandise.   
Distressed party concepts are similar, they are stale, they are boring, they are the same old thing, nothing is different.  Get the picture why this shrinks your market?  Design a continual evolving concept and facility or at very worse one that changes, adds something new or replaces something used, at least every 18 months.
So, What’s The Answer?
Define your birthday party concept as everything that surrounds your attractions.  Your attractions are just one part of what you do while they are there. Design your party concept around eliminating frustrations, not adding to them.  These frustrations are viewed from the two most important influencers to your programs success, the front line employee and the guest.  If either is frustrated, you will be too, because your party program will shrink.  If your party program has stalled or is not hitting the projections you have intended or it once did, do not look at the uncontrollable demographics of the market or the bad economy.  Look in the mirror at how you have “controllably” shrunk these demographics with the design or lack of change in your party concept and facility.
(Frank W. Price is the founder of Birthday University and the FL Price and Associates training firm. Reach Price at (919) 387-1966 or visit

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