With a mix of games, rides, and fast food, family entertainment centers have been a big draw for families, adults, and kids of all ages. But thriving in the current economy, and getting consumers to choose a family fun center over other entertainment options, can be a challenge. Across the nation, venues are still drawing crowds, but utilizing some new angles to make sure their attractions are crowd pleasers.
At Boomers in Avondale, Pa., a lot of creative and entrepreneurial spirit has gone into keeping this family entertainment center buzzing. For example, Manager Michelle Bitzberger, has created a new laser maze through revenue sharing. “We teamed up with the builder of our existing laser tag attraction to create a new one, without incurring a lot of the cost. We joined forces, they built it, and now we share the revenue. This way we bring more revenue into our facility without taking on the huge cost of a new attraction.”
In Spanish Fort, Ala., Kangarooz Assistant Manager Amanda Wolff said her staff and reasonable prices are the draw that brings in customers. “We’ve deliberately kept our prices reasonable to appeal to families. While we don’t offer family packages, the individual admissions are inexpensive. And we have a great staff for parties and the Kids Club.” Running every Friday and Saturday, the Kids Club offers personalized attention filled with entertainment for children of all ages. “The staff will do arts and crafts with the kids, play with them on the jumper or in the arcade, from 6 to 10:30 both days.” School groups are also welcome.
“In this economy we do run local military and senior discounts, as well as ‘buy two get one free’ offers in magazines and newspapers. Plus, from Memorial Day to Labor Day we give 50 percent discount early bird specials from 9 am to noon,” according to Annette Manual, manager of The Track in sunny Destin, Fla. Annette competes with another big attraction in town, the ocean. Drawing beach-goers to her venue are go-karts running on an elevated wooden track, a ride unique in the area. While riders have to meet a minimum height requirement, young children revel in their Kids Country attraction with eight rides including kiddie cars and a Ferris wheel.
With no beachfront location to compete with for customers, The Hub in Missoula, Mont., is a destination draw in and of itself. According to Manager Dustin Parmiter, along with family groups, his venue draws people on dates, and adult social groups, too. “Monday through Thursday we offer buy two get one free rides on the go-karts, and at all times we offer multiple-ride tickets for less than the cost of a single ride or game. And we have a very popular ladies night on Fridays, offering go-kart rides at a reduced price.” In the Missoula area, his venue is unique. “We’re the only location for laser tag and indoor go-karts in the area.”
Chris Collianno, owner and manager of Scooters in Bullhead City, Ariz., has taken on some big changes to his venue, despite the economy. To complement his attraction’s go-karts for big kids and adults, he’s adding go-karts for little children. “It’s a risk expanding right now, but we’re a family run business, so we have more control. This attraction should be a big draw.” Scooters also offers a free birthday club for kids which brings families to the venue, and his friendly, involved employees make sure to keep the location itself an attractive destination. “We have lots of trees and we keep things looking nice.”
The area around Los Angeles, Calif., has plenty of attractions to keep families busy, so the three Mulligan Family Fun Center locations in Murrieta, Palmdale, and Torrance, Calif., have a variety of special draws. Marketing Director Robert Araiza noted several stand-out activities at each location. In Murrieta, water-slides are a huge seasonal draw. “From Memorial Day to Labor Day people come to Murrieta from Los Angeles and San Diego at our Torrance location, go-karts are a big attraction. We have a large track with banked curves.” At all three locations, mini-golf courses are a solid crowd pleaser, too. Still, given the economic slowdown, the company has focused on “reinventing” its birthday party offerings and reaching out to non-profits. On the birthday front, according to Araiza, Mulligan now houses glow-in-the- dark party rooms in Palmdale and Murieta. “Glow wall murals have a birthday theme, cups, plates, pitchers, utensils – all glow in the dark. It has a fun haunted house feel that’s a real draw.” In regard to the non-profits, “We hold fund raisers. We offer discounted admission rates and donate a portion of the proceeds back to the non-profit.” Mulligan venues also offer heavily discounted Twelve Dollar Tuesdays.
Boomers’ Bitzberger said “Given the state of the economy, we really focus on the customers, on listening to the customers and what they say they’d like. It’s difficult to purchase new attractions right now, but you can be creative by offering combo packages for existing attractions, or adding new items that aren’t very expensive.” One new touch – Bitzberger decorates attractions seasonally, “For Halloween both the laser tag game and the laser maze have glowing ghosts and goblins.” At Florida’s The Track, Manuel believes entertaining the customers is key. “In our Kids Country area, our staff works hard to entertain the kids, and of course keep the rides running smoothly and safely.”
Across the board, although many family fun centers have had to think outside the box and work a little harder to attract their customers, attendance has stayed strong, and the outlook for family entertainment centers is bright.