By Scott Borowsky and Frank Seninsky
This past April, Frank Seninsky took a three-week road trip to several countries in Europe, some of which he had not yet been to, to investigate entertainment centers and out-of-home leisure entertainment and expand his knowledge about our industry. The trip followed the map – Milan, Venice, Munich, Vienna, Prague (Czech Republic), Krakow (Poland), Lviv and Kiev (Ukraine) with several small towns/villages along the way.
Here are some of the comparisons between family entertainment centers around the globe versus the United States:
In many ways, the out-of-home leisure entertainment industry worldwide is grappling with the same challenges as we have in the U.S. That basically is that people expect a greater experience as well as good service whenever they decide to spend their hard-earned money on leisure entertainment. And more and more, leisure entertainment includes food/beverage as well as social interaction.
This translates to expanded facilities with multiple activities. It also translates to more competition as almost every sector is now in the family entertainment industry. Included are restaurants, bars, casinos, bowling and skating centers, waterparks, malls, movie theaters, trampoline parks, zoos, aquariums, haunted attractions, historical attractions, virtual reality, and now even professional sports stadiums and churches. Standalone businesses, for example Escape Rooms, simply cannot compete for the long term unless they are a part of a larger entertainment complex.
Comparisons Between the U.S. and Other Countries
In some of the countries I have visited the average yearly salary for a person (if they can find a job) is $1000. Yes, I said $1000/year or $20/week. Although this may be a shock to some readers, life is much simpler in many countries. In China, there are many who make $150/month or just a few dollars/day. What is important to note is that even in these countries, families will once or twice per year spend a large percentage of their annual salary on a big event such as a birthday party or anniversary, and they invite the entire family. In the U.S., the average household income is many times higher, but then so is the cost of living, and of course, there is much more competition for the leisure dollar.
For most of the world, entertainment centers are located in malls. In Moscow, for example, there are at least two large indoor malls at each of the more than 120 train stops. The malls are where both young and old go after work and on weekends. One major reason is that housing is different than in the United States. Many people only go home to their small apartments or small homes to sleep. In the U.S. the saying, ‘My home is my castle’ is accurate in that we have much of our entertainment at home and the desire to go out especially during the week is less. Americans also tend to go to their friends homes and apartments to socialize and to be entertained.
Entertainment centers in U.S. malls are usually operated by tenants. The rents (plus common area maintenance fees) are high and this has presented opportunities for standalone destination FECs to thrive with far lower operating costs in large, medium and even small markets throughout the country, as hundreds of large big-box stores have closed over the past decade. The same is not easily attainable in many other countries due to non-availability of large-big box spaces and the trend of people hanging out at the mall. Another difference is that in many cases the mall owner also owns the entertainment center which is used primarily as a draw. Often these centers are developed at a higher than normal expense, which makes it even more difficult for a standalone to compete with.
They are Way Ahead
Almost every impressive mall FEC I came across utilized a debit card system. Everywhere I went, retail businesses all had chip enabled payment systems, while here in the United States there is still a large percentage of establishments that are still using mag-stripe readers. Many super markets even in small towns had automatic checkout stations. One of the most impressive stores I came across was outside of Milan, Italy, where you fill up large jugs of wine (at very low prices) from what look like gasoline pumps.
What is the Future of FEC’s Internationally?
From our perspective, the future of FEC’s internationally looks very bright. China, for example, can support about 40,000 non-enclosed mall FECs with their 1.4 billion population, if we go by the demographics that there are approximately 10,000 FECs in the U.S that are supported by a population of 350,000,000. The UK just hosted the first International Association of Trampoline Parks (IATP) conference outside of the U.S. this May in London May 22-23 as trampoline parks are growing throughout Europe, including a giant growth spurt in the UK. Virtual Reality sites and attractions are popping up in Europe and throughout the world. Other attractions such as Ninja Warrior Courses and Escape Rooms are the ‘buzz’ world-wide.
What Have We Learned?
Traveling the world to learn about what out-of-home leisure locations are trending not only is fun and exciting, but helps pinpoint growth opportunities and provide those of us in this great industry the knowledge to plan for and initiate these new and exciting concepts into our existing and new FECs. Staying on top of new technologies and knowing when is the time to introduce them to our current customers is critical for retention, increased frequency of visitation, and ability to attract first time customers is essential for sustained profitability. Yes, the future does indeed look bright for the leisure out-of-home entertainment industry.