Deals and Employee Training Bolster Summertime Guest Spending

Mini-golf and go-karts have long been popular summertime activities throughout the United States. While this remains the case, facilities are going the extra mile to distinguish themselves from the competition, increase guest spending this season and offset any weather-related decreases in guest traffic.
Offering deals and packages tops the list of tactics for accomplishing such a goal. Casey’s Amusement Park in Alexandria, Minn., has seen a 25 percent increase in business for summer 2012. Todd Elmer, who has co-owned the facility with his wife, Kathy, for the past 27 years, attributed this trend in part to “pretty decent weather” at the start of the season and the addition of a second 18-hole mini-golf course. However, Elmer noted that different daily specials and packages available throughout the summer, all of which “seem very popular,” are upping the ante. For example, a “Wristband Dayz” special, which at press time had been featured twice (once in June and once in July, both on a Tuesday,) included unlimited mini-golf, go-kart rides and bumper boats for $19 per guest. A season-long mini-golf deal allows visitors to play one game on each of the two courses for $8.75, versus paying $6 to play a single game on one course, and children ages 4 and under play for free with a paying adult. Volume discounts are available on the purchase of go-kart or kiddie-kart tickets, which regularly sell for $5 apiece; these discounts range from $2 off the price of six tickets to $50 off the price of 50 tickets. As an additional spending enticement, only one ticket, rather than two, is needed if two guests ride in a single go-kart or kiddie-kart.
Like Casey’s Amusement Park, Abilene, Texas-based Play Faire Park, now in its 65th continuous year of operation and the oldest continuously operating mini-golf course in Texas, has experienced a bump in sales over 2011 figures. “It’s holding pretty strong this year,” observed Chris “Doc” England, owner. “We had record-breaking heat waves last year, 80 days of record-breaking temperatures. People didn’t want to play mini-golf during the day; they could only come out at night. This year is much better so far.”
Play Faire Park’s prices compare very favorably to those of other facilities with which it competes; mini-golf is $5 per round for adults, $4 for children ages 6 to 12 years old and free for the youngest set. “We don’t take credit cards, we don’t have video games, you can really step back away from all the stimuli,” England said. “So we’re able to be very inexpensive.”
However, there are a few incentives to bring more guests into the facility and encourage others to stay longer or frequent the venue more frequently, thereby increasing the overall potential for increased spending. One evening earlier this year, England stated, Play Faire Park hosted a well-attended mini-golf tournament with a registration fee of $6 per person or $12 per two-person team. Season passes for adults ($45) and children up to age 13 ($35) are available, and “Music in the Park” concerts are presented throughout the summer.
Mike Greenwell’s Bat-A-Ball & Family Fun Park in Cape Coral, Fla. is also faring better business-wise in 2012 compared to 2011. Some of the boost, said Manager Dana Waters, stems from an initiative to attract more families, which is being accomplished with a “Family Fun Pass” option available from May 25 through August 10. A fee of $39 entitles each family to eight go-kart rides and four rounds of mini-golf, plus 40 arcade tokens and 12 batting cage tokens. Additional flexibility and encouragement to spend more money at the facility were afforded to visitors by a “Wrist Band Days” promotion that ran on weekdays from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., beginning on May 28 and ending on August 3. For $12 apiece, guests received unlimited go-kart rides, unlimited rounds of mini-golf and unlimited access to the batting cages.
Meanwhile, at Kokomo’s Family Fun Center in Saginaw, Mich., sales were up somewhat over last year during the initial weeks of the summer, but flattened out to “close to last year’s numbers” when unusually hot weather hit in the beginning of July, according to Hal Shilling, owner. New for 2012 is a “three-hour, all-attraction wristband deal that’s doing pretty well.” Per-guest fees of $19.95, $16.95 and $13.95, respectively, yield “day-of-purchase” admission to five, four or three attractions, among them the mini-golf course and the go-karts. Like Casey’s Amusement Park, Kokomo’s Family Fun Center also touts discounts on go-kart rides when passengers double up in one kart. Guests riding in single mode, who must be at least 54 inches tall, pay $6 apiece, while $7.70 buys one ride for one driver and one passenger.
For its part, Sports World Family Fun Center in Amarillo, Texas, is concentrating on group discounts as a means of boosting guest spending; small groups are eligible to receive these. One package offers 18 holes of adventure mini-golf, one go-kart ride and 18 pitches in the batting cages. Groups of 10 to 20 participants can avail themselves of the package for $9 on weekdays and $9.75 on weekends. A second package includes 18 holes of mini-golf, two go-kart rides and 18 pitches in the batting cages; prices start at $12 per person for 10 to 20 guests on weekdays and $12.50 per person for 10 to 20 guests on weekends. Alternatively, groups of 10 to 19 individuals can obtain wristbands good for two hours of unlimited mini-golf, go-kart rides and batting cage access; the cost is $22 per person.
Tyler DiMarino, Sports World Family Fun Center’s manager, said business at the facility is currently better at night than during the day because evening visitors are not as affected by the heat as those who frequent it at other times. “I would say things have been a bit slower here because of the heat, but at night, it’s been better,” DiMarino asserted.
Not surprisingly, some mini-golf and go-kart facilities also work with summer staff to ensure that guests receive the best possible service and, in turn, increase the likelihood that they will want to open their wallets wider while they are on the premises. “We have a major blitz in April, when we hire about 35 kids for the summer, and we do a big training then,” said Shilling of Kokomo’s Family Fun Center. Employee training sessions extend over several days and cover everything from how to answer guests’ questions to proper means of handling complaints. Follow-up meetings are held once a month, usually on Sunday evenings.
Employees of Casey’s Amusement Park undergo similar training. Frequent gatherings to reinforce concepts learned and to discuss any problems are the norm. “Deals are great, but you cannot skimp on training,” Elmer said. –

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