Industry data clearly illustrates that a well run family entertainment center can post 40% - 60% of revenues from birthday party's. Larger centers can do as many as 90 - 120 birthday party's per week... multiply that by an average of $300 per party... and you can begin to see the potential for this enormous revenue generator.
This kind of volume requires not only the space, and a local market to support it, but a strategic plan on how to market, and how to manage them once they come.
Fun Center Design : Profitable for Parties
Whether you are opening a small or large center the same general principles apply; Get them in, exceed their expectations, get them out and do it all over again as efficiently as possible. To accomplish this, we need to start with traffic flow.
The process of completing your business plan should give you a solid projection of the potential numbers of party's you can attract, and should thereby give you some clear direction of how many party rooms you should have. Once there, your next task is to create a floor plan that maximizes traffic flow.
Layout and Design - The Floor Plan
Think it through from a full-time staff members point of view. On the busiest Saturday, when all the party rooms are booked and walk-in admissions are also full, what does the facility look like? Are there any flow bottle-necks where and why? This may be hard to visualize at this point, but by being aware in general to your retail experiences, both from restaurants and other family friendly and leisure establishments you can start to get a sense of flow.
What does the check-in / check-out area look like? Will your guests be held up in long lines getting into the building? Is there enough comfortable room inside to accommodate two groups of 20 or more? Will those going out be serviced as well as those coming in? Considering the check-in and check-out process, how long will each have to wait? How many people can get to the concession area and how accommodating is the line-up process there? What about food service to the party areas - are your staff having to wind their way through the crowds for every delivery, or is it smooth? Same questions for your activity layout, have you created walk ways and enough space for spectators to stop and enjoy the fun?
How do groups get to their party rooms? Do they have to fend for themselves or does a staff member assist? Once they are in the party rooms, what happens next, when? What if an extra adult shows up, is there ample seating? Do you have a party manager responsible to entertain, encourage and manage each group? How much time do you give them in the party room, and how do you help them vacate when that time is up? Do they cross back through the facility or are there other options, like a back door area? What happens if groups stay longer than they are supposed to? If groups are kept waiting for their party area, how can you entertain them or cater to their frustrations?
Now see the above through the customers eyes, what is the 'experience' like for them? Hopefully you will be busier than your expectations and by addressing some of these questions and others on the front-end of your facility design, you can create a fluid layout that maximizes your party traffic potential.
Your guests could do a party at home, but the mess, the time it takes to organize and execute including the clean-up is the major consideration for paying you to entertain them. And that word "Entertain" is a key factor in the success of your party strategy. Having the space available for a party, providing some paper plates and napkins with a good assortment of activities and fun for your guests is a good place to start. But, for great "Free" advertising (through a growing army of satisfied word-of-mouth customers) you need to go a lot further.
It goes without saying that your center is clean and safe and you do your best to make it a comfortable experience. But what about your staff,... or should we say, your 'Ambassadors of Play' or some such other descriptive title. Hire and then empower your staff with a play attitude. This is a great industry, we get to play and have fun everyday, make sure your staff understands that, and is enthusiastic about doing it - consistently.
Here's an Idea
One facility we know of creates this kind of guest enthusiasm around their indoor playground and a giant speed slide. The Ambassador of Play will gather 6-8 children together and offer a colored (water-paint) stripe on their cheek for every child who climbs up to the top of the play structure and comes down the speed slide. It is not an award for first or second place, only for the accomplishment. The child with their colored stripe runs off to show mom & dad her achievement. It is a little example, but it helps with the play experience and pushes that warm fuzzy feeling just a little bit further.
Then, find ways to use that enthusiasm to create a reputation for wildly fun and exciting party's. Encourage your staff to play with and get involved in the activities with your guests. Get them to lead while challenging your guests to try new activities and new ways of using old activities. Have them offer rewards for trying something new.
We can assume that most of your staff will be young adults, and may have younger siblings that will have a closer ear to your customer than you. Use that resource. Hold regular staff meetings and ask for their input, give your staff the ability to be part of your center's success and reward them for their ideas and enthusiasm. The best new idea wins the "Master-of-Play" title for a week/month. Most importantly, get them involved with your center and the groups by creating a work environment that they feel they can add to and be respected for, and they will pleasantly surprise you.
Birthday Party Follow Up
Your guests leave with a smile on their face, great memories of fun times, and a sense of value received, now what? Follow up. Follow up is an easy way to stay top-of-mind with your guests once they leave satisfied, and more importantly, if they don't leave satisfied. Nothing destroys a reputation faster than an un-resolved bad experience. But, your guests have left happy, now you can use them as your extended sales force - but only if you follow up, and do so regularily.
If you have started right from day one, you have a system of gathering names and contact information that will become your best method of follow up and marketing. It is much easier and less expensive to keep a customer than have to constantly be searching for new customers. Having an integrated method of gathering and managing your customers is paramount.
Three to four days after your guests event, a thank you email or even better - snail mail note of some kind sets your facility so far beyond all the others, as to not even compare. Additionally, with this form of contact you can present new and other offers, including some sort of discount on their next party if they book now, or if they refer you to friends, the opportunities are endless.
Adding previous and new customers to an email newsletter that is sent every now and again is a standard in today's wired world. Having a web site that is informative and entertaining can also be used to keep customers tuned in to your family entertainment center. It is important if you choose to use these electronic methods of contact that you don't abuse the priviledge and border on the line of spamming people with innappropriate contact. Permission based marketing is appreciated and looked forward to.
If you are using some form of customer database, three months out from the guests birthday, they receive a 'time to party' notice from you and again, it can include an early booking offer or news of a new theme party that the guest may be interested in. By encouraging guests to book early you can set that date aside knowing you have booked the revenue.
Think back to the last time you received some kind of personal follow up from some place where you spent time and money. Chances are it is a distant memory. If you have an automated process (and you should) of some kind, this effort is minimal in both time and money when you consider the potential returns. Now let's party.