By Barbara Long
Since 1984, with the opening of the first Photon center in Dallas, Texas, the laser tag industry has grown immensely. According to recent studies, laser tag is an over $375 million dollar a year industry in North America alone. Today in the U.S. an estimated 4.9 million laser tag experiences happen each month at more than 880 locations.
Laser tag is not only popular, but profitable, and appeals to players of many ages and interests, whether they are looking for fantasy, social interaction, teamwork, competition or just plain fun.
Laser Storm at Gable House Bowl in Torrance, Calif., which opened in 1995, “is doing fine,” noted General Manager Mickey Cogan. “Last year the facility had 108,000 games played.” He also said that birthday parties “are booked six to eight weeks out.”
“We are really growing,” said Shaun Woods, assistant manager of Laser Quest in Newington, Conn. “We have people coming for years and we are still getting new people.” Woods estimated that his laser tag facility logs 700 plays a week.
The majority of facilities cite their primary guests as between the ages of 6 and 14.
Charles Catanzaro, director of operations and one of the owners of the 10,000-square-foot Laser Planet in Waterbury, Conn., said that the facility’s main clientele are ages 5 through 12. “We do all age groups,” he said, “but the equipment really doesn’t fit children younger than 5.”
“Most of our business comes from children’s birthday parties,” Woods said, and his 4,000-square-foot center recommends players be 7 and older because play packs weigh 9 pounds each.
General Manager of Q-Zar in Carle Place, N.Y., Jennifer Pietro, indicated that the largest demographic group at her laser tag center is children between 5 and 12 years old.
William “Chris” Tyler, general manager of Ultrazone Baileys Crossroads in Falls Church, Va., also said his largest demographic is ages 6–13.” However, he noted, “Always remember that while kids may want the party, Mom and Dad make the call. If it is not the best fit for them, they may look elsewhere!” He added, “Adults always make the reservation, be it for birthday parties or corporate outings, so remember to gear your verbiage toward them.”
Indeed, adult laser tag play is growing via corporate events and adult parties. A September 2014 survey of adult participation in family entertainment center activities verified this by predicting that laser tag would begin to surpass bowling around 2021. Commenting on this projection, Erik Guthrie, vice president of Zone Laser Tag and curator of the Laser Tag Museum, said, “The future of the [laser tag] industry continues to be bright and should continue to grow. Bowling has been a staple of social entertainment for over 100 years and laser tag would be honored if it equals bowling’s appeal.”
At Ultrazone Baileys Crossroads, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, Tyler listed events such as adult team building, business after hours, and play therapy as the quickest growing demographic at the 18,000-square foot facility. And Cogan’s Laser Storm center offers a session of unlimited play for adults called “Fire Til You Tire.”
Laser tag guests tend to reserve time rather than simply walk in and play. So if reservations, particularly party reservations, are the name of the game, how should laser tag centers up their ante and host the perfect laser tag party?
Tips for a Perfect Party
• Make It Easy for the Hosts
Everyone prefers the party over the preparation and clean-up, so making it simple for those making the reservations is key. Laser tag facilities offer various party packages that include food, cake, favors and game passes, making it easy for those hosting the party. Also, most laser tag centers provide a template for party invitations on their websites. Tyler said that at Ultrazone Baileys Crossroads, “We also make sure that parents know that our parties are turnkey, where they don’t have to do anything but bring the kids if they want!”
• Make It Private for Players
Many people, including youths, are shy about trying something new. Pietro, whose 5,000-square-foot laser center has been in business for 23 years, said that people most enjoy private parties where they can “strategize with just friends and family.”
• Work with Parents
Tyler also offered a tip about working with parents during youth birthday parties. “Parents are a major part of the party; involve them or make sure they don’t have to do a thing. Constant communication with them is key; always anticipate questions by thinking like a parent who has never done this before. The more comfortable they are with the process, what to expect and the host, the more likely they will recommend you to friends. No marketing can beat guest referrals. We have some families that have had parties with us six years in a row with multiple children.”
• Plan Every Detail
Nothing dampens a party mood like standing around waiting for the fun to begin. Cogan said his 2,500-square-foot laser facility sets a full schedule for each party, which keeps everything flowing. The schedule also allows hosts and players to know what to expect and “helps keeps the ‘party mom’ calm.”
Woods encourages his hosts to ask any questions of staff, as “they are very knowledgeable and helpful.” His 4,000-square-foot center also keeps parties on a well-run schedule that “keeps everyone moving.”
• Keep Players Safe
Safety is a top priority with any physical activity, particularly involving children. Facilities have staff and referees involved, depending on the size of the parties, who can enforce rules and also keep a watchful eye on players to ensure that they are not engaging in any unsafe behavior that could cause a possible injury.
• Provide Promotional Take-Aways
Another tip that Tyler shared was guest take-aways. He explained, “We also make sure that all guests leave with something in their hand. Birthday party kids leave with flyers for birthday parties and a 2-for-1 pass on a single game; it gives the flyer value, so kids don’t purposefully leave it and parents don’t file it in the trash!”
Catanzaro promotes Laser Planet, which entertains thousands of visitors each year, through its website, local newspapers, television, billboards, and Groupon. “A lot of our business is word of mouth,” he added. Laser Planet is also a field trip destination for area park and recreation departments, generally running from late June through mid-August.
Lock-ins are another marketing vehicle for numerous laser tag centers. Players can enjoy unlimited play during a set time as well as refreshments.
Also, like any savvy business, laser tag facilities utilize websites and social media such as Facebook and Twitter to promote their business. To reach new guests, Baileys Crossroads also implements targeted advertising. And several times a year, Laser Quest Newington focuses on different groups such as youth and sports to gauge their interest or questions.
As with all advertising, the best method is word of mouth. “If we provide good service, and people have a good time, then they will tell other people,” said Woods. So it seems that hosting a perfect laser tag party means generating even more parties and revenue.