Making a Go of Go-Karting
Strategies to Drive Increased Interest

No matter their age, many guests of family entertainment centers jump at the chance to ride the go-karts. But that doesn’t mean operators shouldn’t implement, and aren’t implementing, strategies for driving increased interest in and profitability from this activity.

Go-karts are a major draw to, and centerpiece attraction at, Rogue Valley Family Fun Center in Central Point, Ore. “Our location is right off an interstate highway, and the fact that the go-kart track runs alongside it and is very visible as a result, is part of the reason this is the case and is our best advertising,” said Matt Chubb, general manager. However, a comprehensive cadre of deals also ranks among efforts used to whet patrons’ go-karting appetites. Rather than relying on limited-time offers and coupons, as do its competitors, the facility features individual and kiddie go-kart specials every day of the week, bundling in bumper boat rides and miniature golf for added value. The individual special costs $18 and includes one go-kart ride, one bumper boat ride and a round of miniature golf, while the kiddie special runs $14 and covers one kiddie cart ride, one bumper boat ride and a round of miniature golf.

Another regular deal, offered every Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., is priced at $12 per person and buys one go-kart ride, one bumper boat ride and play in the Jack’s Playhouse soft play structure. An upgrade to unlimited go-kart and bumper boat rides can be obtained for an additional $8 per person.

“Most of our go-kart business is done as a part of a deal or package,” Chubb noted. “A lot of families love it.”

The go-karts are also heavily promoted as the star attraction of special events held at Rogue Valley, among them corporate parties and high-school “lock-in” graduation celebrations. These events are typically held during the warmer months of June, July and August, with an average of two to four groups booking the facility per month.

Meanwhile, at Swing-A-Round Funtown  in Fenton, Mo., special events help to put the spotlight on the go-karts. “Once or twice a month during our busier times, particularly summer, we’ll invite radio personalities to do their broadcasts here, and they will get up to do rides with guests,” explained Kyle Reuther, general manager. “It almost always bumps up ridership.”

This past Father’s Day, go-karting had a starring role in the facility’s “My Daddy’s Better Than Your Daddy” contest. In the weeks prior to the holiday, young guests were invited to “like” Swing-A-Round Funtown’s Facebook page, then submit via email a photograph of their father and a 20-word (or less) explanation of why he is better than other fathers. Contestants subsequently were asked to watch the Facebook page to see whether their parent’s photo appeared there and, if so, to “like” it and share it with Facebook friends. The five semi-finalist fathers faced off against each other in a go-kart race and miniature golf tournament, with the winner receiving one year of unlimited play (including go-karts) at the facility.

In a somewhat different vein, center policy calls for going the extra mile to make the kiddie carts alluring and fun for riders. Staff members are responsible not only for assisting youngsters who are having difficulty steering their go-karts or otherwise negotiating the track, but also for riding alongside any child who looks uncomfortable or bored. “Once this happens, they want to ride again,” Reuther said.

For its part, Bonne Terre Family Fun Center in Bonne Terre, Mo. plays up its go-karts in a television commercial aired on a local station. While footage that depicts guests participating in other activities is part of the spot, shots of the go-kart track appear several times throughout the short commercial.

Further, a pass good for four hours of  unlimited go-kart rides has been introduced to to cater to guests who prefer to buy unlimited go-kart rides instead of one-time rides, but have time or budget limitations. A four-hour pass costs $16.95 per person when purchased on Mondays and Fridays and $18.95 per person when bought on weekends; unlimited bumper boats, miniature golf and bowling are also included.

Physical changes, too, go far toward heightening guests’ interest in go-karting, pointed out John Rimakis, general manager at Blackbeard’s Cave Family Entertainment Center in Bayville, N.J. The facility recently added several attractions near its outdoor go-kart track, including Battle Tanks, to create an area that would appeal to teenagers and young adults. “The go-karts have always been popular, but this is a very nice ‘marriage’ and has definitely created more go-kart momentum,” Rimakis said. “People on their way to the Battle Tanks see the go-karts, and vice versa. They stay and ride longer.”

Rimakis is currently considering similar future enhancements, such as a sophisticated sound and lighting system that would allow Blackbeard’s to feature such special events as “disco go-kart” nights. The facility already holds “Wet Track Night” events twice each week during the summer months; “hosing down the track with water makes it even more fun to drive,” Rimakis observed.

Additionally, although some nearby facilities exclude go-karts from “Wristband Night” specials, the $20 wristband Blackbeard’s offers once each week in the summertime gives guests unlimited access to go-kart track, as well as to the rock wall, archery range, miniature golf course, Euro-bungee attraction and 13 kiddie rides. “Every once in a while, we also team up with a local radio station that does a remote broadcast from the park, to try to bring their listeners here,” Rimakis noted. For these events, the cost of the wristband goes down to $15, but go-karts remain an option. A free go-kart ride is also one of two rewards (the other is two free kiddie rides) given to guests who purchase two “value ticket” books, at $30 apiece.

The Wilsonville, Ore. branch of Family Fun Center & Bullwinkle’s Restaurant has also made some physical changes to its go-kart component. The facility used to have single and double go-karts alike, but the former have been eliminated and replaced with double models. “When we intermixed the go-karts, there were long lines,” said Darren Harmon, general manager. “Making things faster has enhanced the experience” and heightened guests’ inclination to make riding the go-karts a part of their day.

The addition of a track-timing system that ranks racers based on lap time and the number of laps they have completed has had a similar effect. Rankings are displayed on a digital board.

Harmon said the competitive challenge facilitated by the system is hard to resist for groups of friends who are visiting the facility. It also decreases participants’ tendency to try to bump other guests rather than race them, making the experience a more pleasant one.

“But the best thing we’ve done,” Harmon said, “was to add unlimited go-kart rides to our Extreme All-Day Pass.  For $33, guests get the go-kart rides plus lazer tag, miniature golf, bumper boats, the Max Flight Cyber Coaster, the rock wall, the Sky Trail ropes course, Kidopolis Playland and the Frog Hopper. In the seven years since we made the change, our go-kart usage has increased by 10 to 15 percent. It’s a big difference.” –

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