2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo Recap - FEC Sessions


FEC Sessions Highlight Sales, Recruitment, Marketing, and More

by Mike Bederka

Good Candidates Rise to the Top During Group Auditions 

Want to hire the best staff? Consider a group audition, suggested the panel during the “Optimal FEC Operations” session.

“It’s a lot more revealing than a one-on-one interview,” said Marc Pollack, a general manager at Apex Parks Group. “You find out who the real leaders are.”

Jeremy Hoyum, manager of operations at Jakes Unlimited, also recommended this interview technique. At his facility, candidates will take part in a handful of group activities, such as the human knot; situational roleplaying (“What if a child goes missing?”); and an “American Idol”-like Q&A where candidates share something unique about themselves.

“They have to earn that spot,” stressed Hoyum, adding that the training process starts during the auditions. “That’s when we introduce them to our core values. And when they know what your goals are, they’re more likely to exceed your expectations.”

Six Tips to Maximize Game Room Success

“The arcade is a muscle,” said Mike Abecassis, CEO of GameTime, at the “Game Arcades 101: Simple Systems to Maximize Success” session. “You have to continually work it, or it will go stagnant.”

Abecassis and Curt Lindbert, amusement director of GameTime, offered these ways to keep the game room buzzing.

  • Don’t assume people will find your arcade. “Signage is important,” Abecassis said. “The ability to drive revenue is dependent on your ability to drive people to the space.” 
  • Include money in the budget for reinvestment of new games. A fresh-looking facility increases repeat business, Lindbert said.
  • Avoid low-end redemption merchandise. “It depreciates the business,” Abecassis said. “There isn’t a need for five-ticket items.”
  • Be smart with the game room layout. For example, Lindbert said to group exciting machines together; make sure teens don’t need to walk through the kiddie area; avoid game overcrowding; and occasionally rotate machines around the room. 
  • Look for the wow factor. Lindbert said things like super-sized basketball and the latest driving games usually draw a crowd. 
  • Invest in maintenance. Down games can ruin the experience for a guest, Abecassis said. However, if a bummed customer comes across a broken machine and complains, let them play any other game for free—even if it’s a higher value.

Three Ways to Make Marketing Meaningful

Successful marketing can be the difference between running an FEC in the black or the red. Here are three tips from “Making Marketing Meaningful: An Operators’ Guide”:

  • Don’t Fear Online Deals. James Saxe, president of Putt-Putt FunHouse, worried that guests would take advantage of online specials. He thought customers would just flash a coupon on their phone at the door and the FEC would be out a few dollars. “It didn’t happen,” he said. Not only that, he saw a boost in revenue with the discounts on its all-day passes. People put in the back of their minds the admission purchase they made online. When they came to the venue, they spent even more money while onsite.
  • Complete a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat (SWOT) Analysis. “This is a great exercise to do with your team leaders,” recommended Julie Dion, president of Dion Marketing Company, giving these examples on what an FEC might consider: strength—a veteran staff; weakness—wrong game selection for the facility’s target audience; opportunity—new corporate events from a string of new businesses in town; threat—another FEC opens down the road. 
  • Make Something Out of Nothing. Take advantage of every holiday on the calendar, no matter how silly it might seem, Saxe said. For instance, on National Hot Dog Day, promote and offer food specials to increase food and beverage sales.

How to Boost Group Sales Business

Group sales can significantly grow a facility’s revenue, especially during the week when attracting guests may be a struggle. In the advice-filled “Group Sales for FECs, Small Parks, and Water Parks: Tips from the Pros” session, Annaliese Morgan, a senior sales and marketing manager at Apex Parks Group, and Beth Standlee, owner of TrainerTainment, discussed how to expand this vital business: 

  • Seek Repeat Clients. Ninety days before the anniversary of a group event held last year, reach out to the point person again and see if he or she plans to hold the function again, Morgan suggested. “Get the conversation started.” 
  • Charge Accordingly. Price at a premium if a group wants to book an event during peak times (Friday or Saturday night), Standlee said. If non-group guests seem disappointed by a park buyout or a shutdown area, give them bounce-back coupons for another day.
  • Always Hustle. Block 25 percent of group sales time to work on new business development, Standlee urged. Some segments to explore include grad nights and church group overnights. 
  • Package Deals and Customized Events. Group packages work well for repeat customers who have to work within certain parameters, Morgan said. However, customized events with add-ons like a DJ, alcohol, and catering can be strong selling points with the corporate crowd. “It makes the event more extravagant,” she noted.
  • Words Matter. Avoid terms like “event planner” and “marketing” in job postings for group sales staff. “If you’re hiring for sales, use the word ‘sales,’” Standlee said. Plus, conduct an e-mail screener with candidates first to knock out unqualified people and not waste valuable time.

Point-of-Sale Systems Provide Wealth of Info for FECs

From reports, record keeping, and booking business, point-of-sale (POS) systems provide FEC owners and operators with a wealth of information and added benefits when switching from coins to cards, said Michael MacDonald, director of merchandise and product of Player One Amusement Group, during “Point-of-Sale System Decision Making for FECs.”

MacDonald said there will be an initial cost to convert games from accepting tokens or quarters to card readers. He believes facilities will recoup these expenses with labor savings, along with improved customer satisfaction. For example, guests no longer have to wait for redemption tickets to be refilled on machines, and FECs won’t have to deal with ticket dust messing up the game’s internal components, since cards can now keep track of prize credits.

Some other POS advantages include: 

  • Tracking hourly sales data to better understand scheduling and labor requirements
  • Determining the most popular games and the highest earners
  • Tracking cost of prize goods
  • Seeing game earnings by category (merchandisers, redemption, video redemption, points not redeemed)
  • Understanding the most common ticket and price values at the redemption counter, as well as tracking inventory

However, MacDonald did offer a word of caution about a common area of theft. If left unchecked, staff could collect nominal amounts of unused credits and tickets and combine them on one game card, which in turn they could give to friends to use. Management should keep a close eye and put safeguards in place to prevent this from happening.


Redemption Rally 

“Who’s ready to rally?” asked Nicholas DiMatteo of Dave & Buster’s, pumping up the crowd. At “Redemption Rally,” a panel of industry veterans dished on ways to drive revenue, capitalize on trends, and set up the facility.

When deciding between a redemption counter or a full-blown store, there’s no right answer—both options offer pros and cons, said David Katz of BMI Merchandise: “It’s up to your facility’s abilities.”

A counter offers labor savings and better security, but it comes with a smaller merchandise selection and longer wait times. Meantime, a store gives a “wow factor,” where customers can touch the merchandise, which often translates into greater spending per visit and repeat trips. However, these benefits must be weighed against higher construction costs, inventory stocking, and shoplifting concerns. 

Chris Barker of Elaut USA next gave attendees another choice to consider: a fully automated vs. hybrid redemption center. A self-contained unit that allows guests to redeem tickets for prizes can open up new revenue streams, but it needs to be filled frequently, and guests may not like waiting in line during peak hours. 

The hybrid concept—a traditional counter with an automated unit added on—is perfect for candy and helps with pressure point relief and labor reduction, he said. However, it does take up space that could be used for games and only can handle a limited product selection.

As for the types of redemption merchandise to fill the machines, bins, counters, and walls, Justin Ripp of Shenaniganz said operators should ask themselves two questions: “Would a kid think it’s awesome, and what’s the perceived value of that item to the parent?”

The fidget-spinner craze may have died down, but the toy still performs well for him, he said. Other popular characters include emojis, superheroes, unicorns, aliens, and licensed plush.

When looking for redemption trends, Joe Camarota of Alpha Omega Amusements sets up Google alerts on hot toys and looks at box office trends. If a particular movie underperforms at the box office, he won’t load up on the related merchandise.

The seasoned panel offered a handful of other redemption tips:

  • If a product “dies in your crane,” move it to redemption, Camarota suggested. The item may find a new life when offered in a new location.
  • Don’t invest too much in holiday-centric redemption. Merchandise focused on Halloween or Christmas generally falls flat with guests. “You don’t make that mistake more than once,” Ripp joked. 
  • Stick with more durable sugary candies like Airheads instead of chocolate goodies, which can melt more easily, Ripp said. Plus, employees tend to snack on chocolate inventory.
  • Allowing guests to outright buy redemption items in lieu of using tickets can ruin the magic of the FEC experience, Ripp said. “I’m not in the merchandising business. I’m in the arcade business.”