the amusement archive for startups
FOLLOW AN INNOVATOR TO PROFITS
Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge Apple fan. I have ever device the company has every made including the Apple TV, a big-boy Mac Pro, several Mac Mini's, the iphone, a new ipod and all the way back to the very first McIntosh computer in the late 80's... and if they ever get around to building a stand alone 60" inch plasma integrated Apple TV - I will buy a couple of those too!
For me, the reasons are simple... it just works. Everything, all the time and always has from day one. Never any blue-screen of death, no ini file frustrations or any of that other configuration nonsense you might sometimes run into on the dark side. Oh sure, it hasn't been 100% peanut butter and jelly - over the last 30 years or so, I have had at least 3 or 4 times the machine has crashed, but she's always fired right back up without any data loss - I mean, Wow!
So what, who cares, right?
Well, you might. If you are reading this you are here thinking about starting a family fun center or other amusement attraction, or you are looking for ways to make your current fun center business more efficient and/or profitable.
Let me share with you why I think Apple is such a great company and how it can be the perfect model for your new amusement business. We all know Apple has built its success on three key things—innovation, customer focus and design and functionality. Let's break these down and relate them to the fun center industry.
Without argument, they have led the pack when it comes to innovation. Every global PC or consumer electronics manufacturer is following their tail-lights in an effort to keep up with Apple. From smart phones to hand-held music devices and user-friendly desktop computers and apps, Apple sets the high-water mark for innovation.
How can you, as a fun center or indoor party center operator use innovation to your advantage? Innovation in the family amusement and leisure business can come from several different things, all focused on adding to the bottom line by creating a great guest experience;
These are just a few of the ways a fun center owner can innovate beyond what their competition is doing. Let's look at each separately.
Guest service - Unlocking the door and collecting money is no longer good enough for a business. We are moving into a time where the indoor playground equipment you provide guests is the bare minimum for success. Great guest service starts with your fun center's over-arching vision of what you want to deliver to your guests—a memorable experience that they can't help but tell their friends about. That has to start from the top (you) down (your staff.) Institute a personal interaction policy and back it up with training—require and teach staff how to interact with guests. Surprise children and their parents in some unique way. Perhaps have a surprise family pass giveaway every 3 hours on weekends, and whoop it up with loud music, a P.A. announcement and your mascot gathering people around for the presentation. How can you make your guests' experiences truly remarkable?
Party experiences - Have you been to your competition lately? Have you or someone close to you booked a party there and seen first hand what that experience is like? Have you spent some creative time just snooping the web and exposing yourself to neat ideas or services other centers across the country offer, or on the other side of the world provide? What do other businesses do for special events, such as restaurants or theaters? How can you take what you offer to the next level and make it memorable?
Check-in and check-out - This is a good one, how can we innovate our check-in and check-out process? Have you spent some time in the check-in line on a busy Saturday afternoon? How is that process from the customer's perspective? Are there efficiencies that could improve that experience for your guests? Are people having to wait outside, and is there coverage outside in case of bad weather? Is there a way you can make that wait time go faster? What about the check-out process, is it 100% safe, meaning are parents able to keep an eye on and corrall their kids? When they step out of your center is there danger of tripping or exiting too close to traffic? Little things make a huge difference.
Cleanliness - We shouldn't have to mention this one, but more often than you think it is a real stinker for parents, especially mothers. Besides the obvious—clean floors, washrooms, counters, windows, etc.—these places get a lot of traffic and quickly become dust magnets. Under, over, and on top of attractions, displays, counters, themeing, you name it. Every so often you need to step inside your facility and give it a really good look from a customer's perspective. While waiting in line, for example. How big are the dust bunnies under the front counter? What about the cables from the register up the back wall, how disgusting are they looking? You should do this at your competitor's place of business as well.
Pricing policy - The last time I went to the local family entertainment center, it was a frustrating experience right from the initial front counter. First off, the place is big with many popular attractions, including outdoor go-karts, miniature golf, big game room, batting cages, indoor bumper boats and two 18-hole indoor blacklight miniature golf courses—great stuff, couldn't wait to get at it and have some fun. But their pricing policy was sheer madness! We couldn't pick and choose just any attractions we wanted, they had them pre-packaged for us and that was our only choice. I do understand the convenience of trying to make it simple for your guests, and in this case some of their staff. But when I asked the very pleasant attendant why, her response was simply 'because that's the way they are programmed into the cash register'. In my opinion, this is laziness on the store owners part, and demonstrates a distrust placed on his staff's ability to help the customer quickly choose the right set of attractions for their best experience. A little staff training, a little more flexibility would have found us spending more time there, and leaving twice as much cash behind, while talking it up to others about how much fun we had. The moral of the story, do your best to get involved with your guests experience. You and your staff know your attraction mix best, you have seen how others have used it, use that knowledge to help create fun packages that your staff can sell as a ' tailored' experience to your guests. Sure, lets make it easy for guests to choose the most popular attractions as a package, but don't hobble their interest in paying for other rides and attractions. You'll find the average per cap spending will increase, as will the smiles leaving your front door.
There are always little ways in which to innovate and make your product better. Better product, better guest experience, better repeat visits, better revenues, happier you.
Over the years, Apple has become very good at identifying and focusing on their target customer. They created software and hardware that focused on early adopters, specifically in the design industry. By listening and engaging with their customers, they created a cult around their brand. Over time, they have reached out to the average consumer and have increased their market share, but their core base is so strong, it's hard to believe Apple could ever alienate them.
This, too, is something the fun center operator needs to be very good at and can model after Apple. Knowing who your guest is and focusing exclusively on that core customer enables any operator to bring all of their energies to creating a unique experience that turns your guests into loyal fans and keeps them coming back. Listen to them when they suggest changes, and respond to them when they interact on social media or leave a review of your fun center on TripAdvisor.
By focusing on your guests, you will turn your loyal guests into referrers who will bring friends and family and recommend you endlessly to others.
When Apple introduced the Mac Store, many PC manufacturers and retail industry insiders scoffed at the idea and were quick to heap their predictions of failure on the idea. Fast forward 15 years and the average revenue per square foot at an Apple store is $6,050 (May 2017), more than twice that of their next retail rival, Tiffany's at $3,017 / square foot. How did they do this?
Apple realized they needed to turn the purchasing experience on its head in order to improve the transaction process. Instead of having customers take their purchase to a line-up for a cashier, they now have the staff member stay with the customer, message another staff in the back to bring out the merchandise, and complete the transaction right there on the floor using a credit card-enabled iPhone. This significantly streamlines the customer experience, and lets them see iPhones and iPads in completely different roles—underscoring the innovation of the brand. By having sales staff double as cashiers, it also frees up real estate at the back of the store for learning and customer service.
How can your fun center use this intelligence? Where are your pressure points or bottlenecks? Instead of having every guest pay, can you sell packages that are tagged to an RFID armband? That ways guests scan their way in without any staff member needing to hold up a line? Can your food service make the rounds with a tray of items to sell to adults in the waiting and watching area, effectively doubling your food sales and improving on your guests' experience?
You may think we're comparing Apples to oranges here, but there are huge takeaways for you when comparing your business to an innovative and successful company like Apple. What do you think of our ideas? Let us know by leaving a comment.
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"I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to chat with me. This was a very valuable conversation as it gave me a whole lot more to think about. Although I have done some research, our conversation opened my eyes to things I was unaware of. From lease negotiation and startup costs to a much better understanding of what and how our local community and area demographics play into our fun center planning. Time well spent and I would recommend others who are researching their startup, give your office a call. You were extremely selfless with information and provided an encouraging view based in Reality. Thank you."
"Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, we really appreciate your time and insight. We had some idea of project scope, but had no idea about all the minutia and details to consider for startup location and our funding. After speaking with you, we came to the realization that ultimately the project we were considering is more of our time than we can commit to, and would not have discovered this reality until much further along. Thanks for helping us determine our path forward."
"This was by far the best thing I have done for my fun center startup. You provided such great and unbiased information, some of which I did not want to hear, but so glad that I did. I now have the focus of mind to proceed with a lot more confidence and direction. I just want to say again, thank you for sharing these insights and your experience."
"I wanted to say thanks again for all of your time in answering my many questions, and helping to make me better understand the steps needed to see our dream of a family entertainment center business in reality. For the first time in this journey I understand how and why to prepare our plan for funders, and how to match my own abilities and financial resources to accomplish my goal. And yes, I would recommend others do take advantage of this service, I can’t imagine to find this much experience and honest at any price, none the less for free. Thank you."
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