By Scott Borowsky and Frank Seninsky
As of this writing, we had both have just returned from a fantastic week at the 2015 IAAPA Attractions Expo. This was Frank’s most productive IAAPA since 1998 in terms of closing business deals and networking with people ready to move forward. Many industry entertainment center businesses had a decent 2015. We heard very little whining and complaining and that in itself is a positive indicator of good times ahead. The industry’s attitude meter needle has clearly entered the positive zone!
IAAPA attendance was reported as 21,200 buyers and 11,700 exhibitors (from 1006 individual exhibiting companies) for a total of 32,900 registered (of course that includes family members who love to spend a day on the show floor enjoying themselves at what we tongue in cheek refer to as the world’s largest free indoor amusement park.) Even if you can’t go on all of the rides on display, you can still play all of the games and eat all of the free food and enjoy walking the nine-plus miles of carpeted aisles. The first day’s traffic was great, the second and third days were good and the fourth day’s traffic tailed off with exhibitors making deals to sell their booth products, finally having a couple of hours to get out of their booths and walk around, and then hurry back to start the breakdown process.
There were also plenty of educational seminars. In fact, there were 114 educational programs with 210 individual speakers taking place in eight rooms that were scheduled continuously throughout the week with 200-250 enthusiastic learners attending each of the standing-room-only more popular ones. A total count of 13,400 seminar attendee clicks breaks down to approximately 2,000 individuals going to one or more seminars. That is 10 percent of the total buyers, and that is excellent as far as trade show seminar attendance goes. Kudos to IAAPA Education Committee members.
Trends at IAAPA included:
• Participatory Play Attractions – Laser tag is in another growth mode as systems and arenas are becoming more player interactive and quickly incorporating individual player achievement goals that are tracked in the cloud. The number of trampoline parks has doubled for each of the past three years and will surpass the 500 mark worldwide by year end. This opens up whole new market places for games and food as that market hits saturation here in the United States and they begin looking for additional revenue generators.
• Food, and Better Food – This year was the first time that IAAPA had a designated food section and we give that a thumbs up. The new mantra is, whatever type of food you serve, you must do it right. If you serve pizza, serve good pizza. Guests will no longer accept inferior quality food. For example, bowling centers can capitalize on craft beers. More FECs should consider getting a beer and wine license. The same could apply to even children’s entertainment centers so the parents can relax, stay longer, and more importantly, look forward to a repeat visit.
• Photo Booths Are So Much More Appealing – With many new technologies being incorporated into the old staple photo booth, a new photo booth renaissance has clearly begun. Everyone wants to capture their fun experiences and share them with their family and friends. The key driving point or end game to all this innovation is to produce logo souvenirs of the guests’ experience that brings people and small groups of people back to your facility and draws the attention of those guests’ family and friends. Let’s not forget that regardless of high tech or low tech, these photo booths generate revenue. And they look so good that many more locations will want them right up front where their customers will best see them.
• Ticket Cranes with Ticket Bundles – Primarily due to extensive coverage in The Redemption & FEC Report provided over the past two years touting the huge revenues generated from Frank’s ticket crane, many game manufacturers have jumped on the band wagon and there were many different models exhibited at IAAPA. This trend of taking an old redemption and merchandising concept and reintroducing it using industry knowledge related to per play pricing, hit frequency and proper ticket payout, is a positive trend that we hope will be utilized more often. Frank and his team have used the same concept and readjusted an old rotary merchandiser game called Knock It Off. Using rolls of tickets with the middle pushed up to form an upside down funnel look has resulted in this game being ranked number three overall in the industry for the past 12 months. Elaut has taken this concept to the next level with their new Tower of Tickets rotary.
• Hottest Games We Liked – Angry Birds (ICE) grabbed the IAAPA Brass Ring Award for Best Game and it is certainly a great game. Other new games exhibited that we have recently tested and rank in the Top 20: SpongeBob Pineapple (Andamiro), Quick Drop & Grand Piano Keys (Bay-Tek), Fishbowl Frenzy (Team Play), Ocean Pearl & SpaceBallz (JET), Tickets-Tickets-Tickets (Coast to Coast) and Tower of Tickets (Elaut)
• Games We Like that We Have Not Yet Tested but Will Be Testing – Blizzard Blast (JET), Chaos & Sweeper (Benchmark), Wham-O Blast & Ghostbusters (ICE), Sonic Dash (Sega), Ticket Typhoon, Frog Around & The Balloon Game (Coastal), Photo Studio Deluxe (Apple/Face Place), Gold Flare Elite Air Hockey (Gold Standard/Shelti), Fun Zone – 256 Color Changing Crane (Coast to Coast), Luigi’s Mansion Theatre (Sega), Ticket Monsters (IT) and Storm Air Hockey-Curved Playfield (WIK).
Here’s the buzz on the upbeat 2016 industry big picture:
• The Chains Are Dominating – The larger chains like Dave & Busters, Main Event and the big franchise players in the trampoline park sector have the financial backing to forge ahead in 2016. New Jersey has changed its law that paved the way for D&B to open four stores in the state. As is what is occurring in all industries across the United States, the little guys will be OK, but the middle size facilities are getting squeezed, as is the middle class. You middle guys need to get up to speed on how to better compete with the big boys, and that means reading more trade magazine articles, going to industry trade shows, sitting in a chair and listening to informative seminars and attending one or more of the great industry educational programs.
• Banking/Financing – Regulations have ruined many community banks. More than 3,000 have gone out of business in the past several years. These are the banks that make loans to Main Street. Although interest rates are artificially low, small businesses do not have easy access to the low rates. They must borrow from a middle man and pay a higher interest rate. That is the current political climate and our industry must carefully observe and be more pro-active in 2016 when it comes to lobbying federal, state and local government to be more supportive of small businesses.
• Low Gas Prices Are Great for Our Industry – Gas prices should remain low heading into 2016. Lower gas prices means more disposable income for the average family. This translates into more people getting out of the house and spending some portion of that money at an entertainment facility or a bowling center in their local area or heading on a trip to a regional pocket park or an amusement theme park. The big picture is that people are buying cars and going places, and that is a good thing.
• Debit Card Systems have Grabbed Traction – The debit card systems have seen slow but steady market penetration increases over the past two decades but they are poised for rapid growth in 2016 and beyond. Improvements in data gathering have meant reaching out directly to frequent customers and potential ones using new technologies and social media platforms with a message of Come on In, We Have these Specials for You. These changes have increased both the frequency of visitation and overall attendance while at the same time increasing length of stay and per capita spending. The money and redemption points that remains on expired cards, known as expired float, is more than enough to pay for the entire debit card system in less than two years. And that is not including any of the revenue increase and labor saving costs. It doesn’t get any better than that.
We can learn a lot from what some call the competition. There are so many great ways to make your family entertainment center, bowling center, waterpark or amusement park stand out from the competition. Here is a story that really impressed both of us:
The new World Trade Center has an observation deck at the top. The price they are charging to go up there seemed outrageous, but then again, this is New York City. With a little due diligence, we discovered that special exclusive elevators were designed that make it an experience as you participate in a special ride that shows you what is happening in NYC. The elevator ride is a themed attraction and the price now seems much more reasonable. Look it up and you will instantly see what is going on in this big wide world right under our noses. People are craving experiences and are willing to pay for them. Who is better to provide that great out of home experience for them than us?