Aspiring operators have myriad decisions to make before opening a location.
by Mark Griffith
Even the biggest, most successful family entertainment centre had humble beginnings, and that modest start had to have a solid plan at its core to stand any chance of getting off the ground and thriving.
Designing an operation from scratch is a daunting prospect, so where to start? Laserforce’s Jason Wallace suggests a “no stone left unturned” approach.
“After completing a good process of diligence, working through the demographics, competitors and all the other factors, then it is time to get onto the real fun stuff! How do I design my location to be operationally efficient, create a space of fun and maximise my return?” he said.
“Research, research and, just to be sure, a little more research. Even if you have a consultant on board, take a look at what they are suggesting, and more so – why? What are the reasons on the surface that make the attractions being suggested so good, then pull back the curtain, take a look and make sure you agree with the selections that are made. What are your competitors offering, what will you offer that will be different – it needs to be either a better environment, or a better product, or the best scenario – both!
“Consider operational efficiencies. Is the location designed to be operated with minimal staff in the quieter periods, but have the ability to be just as efficient at peak operating times? This industry is known for being quiet for a large percentage of the time, so how do you reduce your expenses in these quieter moments? What else can you do or offer to increase revenue further in these moments?”
One of our industry’s many strengths is its variety: there is an attraction out there for everyone. But this embarrassment of riches causes a dilemma for the would-be operator: what attractions are worth the investment?
“Take a look around,” suggests Wallace. “What is already operating near you? As mentioned previously, will you do it better? Why will the customers come to you if you are offering the same products? Have you got a better location, are your staff friendlier, do you have a better pricing structure? There are so many variables.”
Taking into account available space and budget is key, said Wallace.
“The attractions you will be able to include will be determined based in part on the available space you have to house them. It’s no good thinking you’ll have an indoor roller coaster if you don’t have the roof clearance.
“Take a look at what your anchors will be. In this case, we are referring to attractions and will leave the F&B offer to one side. What will your customers expect you to have?
“Great arcade games. Depending on your location and competition, you don’t always have to have the greatest and latest. Just the latest and greatest for your market.
“An awesome prize shop or counter, with well-selected merchandise and clear pricing.
“Anchor attractions can take up valuable real estate, but when working through your product mix and overall offer, Laserforce laser tag provides one of the best ROIs you could ask for. Depending on floor space, games can be turned around every 12 minutes. So, for a 40-player location, you can put through 200 guests per hour.
“An XD theatre or dark ride from Triotech provides for an awesome immersive experience. Again, depending on footprint, customer throughput is quick.
“Bumper cars, again, old school, but an awesome experience with great throughput.
“I would think you are seeing a theme here: give your customers a great immersive experience – something they cannot replicate at home. You want something with high reliability, robustness and a good reputation. You want a great Roi, after all: isn’t that one of the reasons you want to do this? By the way, there is nothing wrong with making a great Roi: it allows for even better investment and improving the offer to your customers.”
Although the attraction mix should be tailored to each individual location, some are guaranteed winners and tend to work anywhere, said Wallace.
“There are some attractions that are a must. Laser tag is one, bumper cars are another, and bowling, if space permits. A developer must look to what the space permits. They also need to take a look at their local market, what else is in operation, attending trade shows and visiting as many other locations as possible. Network, join associations, talk to other operations.
“Laser tag has been around for more than three decades now and has proven to be a reliable earner in many economic conditions. For me, the Laserforce Gen8 system checks all the boxes in terms of being robust and next to impossible to damage. It’s reliable: the uptime of the Laserforce gear is second to none. It’s reputable, you can contact any of the 360 locations that operate their equipment and ask them how it works. The answer will typically be the same, easy to repair when required, the system just works. Customers have a great experience.”
With all of this taken into account, the vital ingredients to Fec success come down to research, attitude and business savvy, concluded Wallace.
“Research as much as possible. Read as many industry trade magazines as possible. Visit other locations. What do you like, what don’t you like? Engage a consultant that doesn’t take kickbacks, make sure they are working in your best interests.
“Ultimately, you must have the right attitude for this industry. With the right attitude, it is possible to learn almost anything you need to, but you have to have a clear understanding of what service you are providing to the community, and who you are aiming at.
“Don’t try and be everything to everyone. Choose the customer you want to aim for and make everything about that person. Don’t aim for a specific group, pick a person, aim at that person and then find out: is this what that person is looking for in entertainment? Don’t simply do something because you like it, or because one person said that would be awesome. At the end of the day, do your homework, research your market and make a decision. Get into decisions slowly, get out of a bad one quickly.”