By Scott C. Borowsky and Frank Seninsky
Looking for and tracking the ups, downs and sideways movements of collected information and data can identify what is referred to as a trend or a pattern. A trend is also what is popular at a certain point in time. The following are trends that we have noticed as 2013 has ended and 2014 has begun:
The 2013 IAAPA Attractions Expo
The year ended with a positive IAAPA show, higher energy than was experienced in the past five years. A majority of the random exhibitors interviewed stated they closed deals and made better-than-average sales from the strong traffic of buyers. Amusement park rides made a comeback after years of slow sales during the recession. Rides4U had the best show ever in their long history. Wisdom Rides also had a good show. Family entertainment center and game suppliers such as Apple proto booths, Creative Works, Studio 41b, Zone Laser Tag and Laserforce, which offered new interactive technology innovations, saw an increase in sales not only to FECs but also to waterparks, zoos, museums, aquariums, restaurants and other destination venues that are seeking to compete for out-of-home family business. In the food sector, impulse items such as ice cream, frozen yogurt and other desserts were also writing a high volume of business, with their customers’ anticipation of increased usage during the Christmas and New Year’s season.
There were more than 200 first time exhibitors at IAAPA that made up approximately 20 percent of the total exhibiting companies. Most are new, small companies that believe that the industry is ready to add new products and services.
Bowling has discovered that adding an FEC component to their already established and paid-for infrastructure, sometimes by removing several lanes to create the needed space, is a very profitable business model. Over the past five years, approximately 150 of the more than 6,000 existing bowling centers have renovated or modernized, added redemption games, and at least one FEC attraction and quickly saw up to a 50 percent increase in gross revenues. Some of these centers have seen a 75 percent increase, and this trend looks like it will continue over the next several years.
Roller skating is another industry sector that has very slowly started to add FEC attractions by shortening the skating rink length to create the space, or expanding by adding onto the existing building. With the success of this financial model, this could become what we call a potentially developing trend.
Laser Tag is also evolving. Over the past three years, existing laser tag owners have been concentrating on enhancing and upgrading their arenas, such as by adding 3-D projection. Currently, a developing trend is to incorporate more interactive and reward incentives into game play, including individual player stealth and additional weapons availability. We predict that laser tag will evolve in a similar manner, the way that video games have evolved but at a much quicker pace.
Foundations Entertainment University has seen an attendee group increase from 5 percent to 25 percent in attendance by existing FEC owners and managers who want to learn more about how they can improve their business and compete with new FECs that have entered or will enter their market. We view this as a potentially developing trend. There has also been an increase in attendees who are now ready to expand their current space.
Single attraction FEC’s, such as laser tag and indoor glow mini-golf, are also following the trend of adding one or more attractions (when space is available) to increase their target market demographics.
Indoor Trampoline Parks
Indoor Trampoline Parks have quickly grown to more than 200 over the past few years. They have marketed themselves as the easiest way to exercise and to have fun. A visit last week to one of the top trampoline park chains on a Saturday morning was exciting. More than 100 people were jumping, playing dodge ball, dunking small balls, and jumping into foam pits in a 15,000-square-foot facility. More than 150 non-jumpers, such as parents, were there as spectators. The pricing model was simple and within the reasonable per capita spending rate: $10 for 30 minutes and $13 for one hour (including jumping socks.) Average turnover was less than 1.5 hours.
Food and Games
Food and games are still a great combination, as chains like Dave & Busters, Chuck E Cheese and Peter Piper Pizza continue to grow. This long-term trend is now branching off into a few new niche directions. Old style bowling alleys are where people came to bowl, drink, eat and socialize. The new upscale style hybrid facilities are where people come to socialize, drink, eat and bowl. A new trend that we have labeled as “Nostalgia,” incorporates classic amusement games such as pinball and video games, with an old-time, from a past decade, themed bar with food and drink setting. Other variations include games and a restaurant or games and an ice-cream parlor. More than 200 of these type businesses have opened throughout the United States in the past five years and we see this trend continuing, at least at the same rate.
- Prices of games continue to increase. Parts costs continue to increase.
- Redemption games continue to get larger (bigger footprint and increase in height)
- Price/play is slowly increasing.
- Video-Redemption (Videmption) is the fastest-growing game category.
- Prize-per-play laws will continue to negatively affect merchandise dispensing games.
- Merchandise dispensing games will continue to evolve and remain a large sector of game revenue from street location and facilities that do not have redemption games (often due to not enough prime available space or not enough traffic.)
What We Can Learn from the Retail Industry
Retailers have recently zeroed in on a growing market population segment that the FEC industry has overlooked. We have labeled this population segment “the Aunts.” The Aunts are a high income group of professional women who are single or married, have no children, but who have brothers or sisters (or in-laws) who have young children. In other words, they are aunts who have plenty of money to spend on their nieces and nephews. This a group that will take their nieces and nephews to FECs, amusement parks and other out-of-home entertainment venues. The “Uncles” are also to be considered but this group has other spending priorities.
Tracking the trends indicates that the family entertainment center and amusement park sectors are ready to re-invest money into their facilities in 2014. The bar keeps being raised but the FEC industry must never lose sight that the per capita spending needs to be within the range of other entertainment options within a 20 minute travel target market area. As the cost of everything increases, this is perhaps the most difficult challenge facing our industry. However, being aware of the trends is most helpful in making the most educated business decisions. –
(Scott C. Borowsky is president and executive editor of Kane Communications, publisher of Tourist Attractions & Parks magazine. Frank Seninsky is president of Amusement Entertainment Management in New Brunswick, N.J.)