What is a Family entertainment center?
There is no generic Family Entertainment Center formula, although there are a lot of proven attractions, layout strategies and designs that in many regards could provide a base formula.
Like proven models such as Andretti’s, Dave and Busters, Urban Air, adventure Park, even a franchise like Pump it Up. With these facilities and a little local tweaking to mesh with different menu preferences and options, maybe operating hours, etc., they could be deemed generic or at least formula.
Generally speaking though, family entertainment centers come in a myriad of different models and project scope, and they really need to be tailored to your area. You can’t just copy a formula from one you’ve been to recently, and drop it in your community and expect it to be the most successful approach. In addition to all the different Family Entertainment center models… for the remainder of this article I’m just gonna refer to Family Entertainment Center as FEC Family Entertainment Center.
As I was saying…. other FEC models or categories are many. As an overall industry umbrella, I like to use location based entertainment or LBE. Location-based entertainment is most generally used to describe any form of entertainment which takes place in a specific location outside of the home.
Community Based - Multiple Categories
First, FEC’s tend to be community-based. They’re not a Disney world. They’re not theme parks that will draw on a large region. They’re dependent and focused on the local market.
We can start with outdoor family fun centers, which generally provide go-karts, miniature golf, maybe some bumper boats or batting cages, and they tend to be more summer oriented.
Then there’s indoor family entertainment centers, and these can vary from around 10 or 12,000 square feet all the way up to a hundred thousand square feet and larger. Although in my opinion, I think once you get past 60 or 70 thousand square feet, you’re more like an indoor amusement park with a wide variety of attractions, rides and service.
Then there are indoor children’s centers, and within that category at least two varieties. One is entertainment, children’s Entertainment Center, or CEC, and most often anchored by a large indoor soft playground or a variety of bouncers and maybe some kiddie rides. The other is edutainment that provides a combination of entertainment and education or playful.
Next you have combinations of indoor outdoor center’s, which are unique in that they can provide a diverse attraction mix while removing the seasonality aspect of a market area, and allow operators to keep people employed 12 months a year, keeping good staff and reducing the ongoing need to be recruiting, recruiting, recruiting.
Then there are fun and feast variety called eatertainment, which is more food and games. If you know of Mr. Gaddy’s Pizza Buffet or Peter Piper Pizza, there’s a whole group of these type of facilities where the food and beverage component is a large draw, a larger draw than the entertainment, and they can do 50% or more revenue from the food service.
There are adult entertainment centers like Dave and Busters, and in recent years, new social gaming houses that offer adult mini-golf like Putt Shack and others, as well as Axe throwing facilities. These have emerged as new forms of social entertainment and in many cases anchored around the brew pub, or upscale friendly dining options appealing to the local foodies, and of course alcohol is an important part of that category. They’re usually tailored to young adults, but included in this mix of LBE’s.
There are also a variety of other attractions that cater to a specific audience, such as Agritainment, your local farm, providing corn mazes, hay rides, along with a smattering of educational opportunities to learn about the farm and farm life.
The Family Market
So with all of this then, what are the different markets for these facilities? One is the family market, and for our industry family doesn’t mean every. Family means parents coming with their children. A lot of new amusement developers that I speak with fall into this family trap by trying to be all things to all people.
If you do this, you end up being nothing special to anyone. With the family market, you have two kinds of groups. You have the younger children, that’s up to about eight years old, and then you have the older children, which are tweens and teens. When you sit down to start your business planning or your initial market analysis, you need to think this through very carefully and determine who you want your customers to be.
Most family fun centers with a varied attraction mix, go-karts, miniature golf, and so forth, appeal to the older group. If you want to make birthday parties a big part of your business, you have to develop a mix for the younger group, because the party crowd is the two to eight year olds.
Tweens and teens are a unique market. It’s a different facility design and attraction mix. This is the market that wants to come without their parents. Remember when we were in that age where the opposite sex suddenly had appeal and you wanted to be dropped off at the mall with your friends looking for opportunities to start meeting up and dating. Roller skating is an activity that appeals to tweens and teens, as do others that can provide this ‘meet-up / dating’ opportunity, like miniature golf – both traditional and blacklight mini-golf.
That’s the tween market, and tweens, teens are like oil and water with the younger birthday party market. Moms with younger kids do not want to have teenagers running around the mix, and teenagers and tweens at that age do not want to be with the sissies of their younger siblings any longer.
And finally we have the young adults mentioned, which are basically the 21 to 35-39 year old.
Repeat & Expenditures
As mentioned earlier, FECs tend to be community based and generally draw from a 10 to 20 minute drive time within that community.
I’d like to compare them to a local movie theater. If you’re in the mood for a movie, you may check the see what’s playing nearby. You may see the movie that you wanna go to see is playing at a theater that’s an hour away. Chances are you’ll wait for that film to hit your local theater rather than make that.
The FEC functions very much the same. They’re in or near residential areas and the market area are within a reasonable drive time. You may find during your market research that reasonable for your area may be an hour in one direction because of horrendous traffic and 18 minutes in another. If you’re in an urban area with heavy traffic all day and ongoing road work, it may be 10 minutes in all directions and, you know, we’ll get into further demographic analysis and transit times in another classroom.
The key to FEC success is high repeat traffic. It’s different than a theme park where somebody might go once every two or three years. For the community FEC to be successful, you have to develop a loyal, repeat, growing customer base. Latest reporting by IAAPA, shows the average per person visits a year is in the three to seven trips per year range.
So this is job number one folks for fun center owners and operators. Putting the whole experience together so that you can find, attract and develop that customer and his family and his friends into repeat customers. It is impossible to generate the revenue you need to stay in business and make profit if you do not develop continuous and high volumes of repeat traffic.
In line with your repeat traffic is your per cap expenditures. How much does everybody spend on each trip? From your admissions, your food and beverage, games and rides, everything. In today’s market, it ranges from around 12 to $22 per visit per person, as before similar to a movie theater experience.
By the time you buy your popcorn soda, the gummy worms, it’s generally about the same. The length of stay is very similar as well, two to two and a half hours. At your FEC People don’t stay all day and they don’t come for a 30 minute walk around your facility and leave. By the time they get their attraction fix, ideally it’s two hours later and $22 dollars or more.
Niche, Parties & Groups
What makes a family entertainment center different from say, a bowling center – is a bowling center, primarily offers bowling and people come to bowl.
FECs have a variety of things. It could have rock climbing, it could have rides, it could have laser tag, it could have VR and arcade games, but it’s a combination. FEC’s generally provide two or more anchor attractions, things to do along with some degree of food and beverage, and then the ancillary services like parties and groups. Markets are changing and there are many different options with food and beverage becoming just as important, if not more in some markets.
When it comes to arcade games, token operated games – or today mostly swipe card operated games – are usually a significant component of a family entertainment center, and they typically generate 20 to 25% of revenue (in an upcoming post, we will review the ongoing debate between tokens and swipe cards).
Food and beverage should generate 20% or more… and the key phrase here of course is should. There are a lot of centers that don’t do this, however as a successful center, and as a major revenue component, can and should do this. Group business and birthday parties are also a major revenue component.
Birthday parties can generate 20, 25% of the revenue. Some family entertainment centers where group business and birthday parties combined generate well over 50% of the gross revenue. Parties and group activities are an important mix to the center’s overall opportunities that must be taken into consideration during the design and layout process. We will cover some of those design strategies and a break-down of revenues in an upcoming classroom.
Think about the Ma and Pa local businesses in your area who survives and is profitable over the long run. It’s the business owner who has found their niche and goes at it with ravenous focus every day.
Here’s the FEC takeaway. You can’t be all things to all people. You have to target very specifically if you want to be highly successful, and you have to be razor sharp within that target, knowing who your market is. So you have to focus, you have to target, you have to define your niche market, and you have to go at it.
Find them, entertain them. Send them away with a smiling face to tell all of their friends. Repeat.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything, family fun, but I think for our audience, it covers most of what people who find us are interested in. I hope it’s been of interest for you. Thanks for hanging out with us, and until next time, class dismissed.