IAAPA News - IAAPA FEC Summit Recap - April 2018


FEC Summit attendees networked with fellow FEC owners, operators, and suppliers while also learning about new trends and successful business practices.

California Dreaming

IAAPA FEC Summit 2018 shares, engages, and grows

by Scott Fais

The only things bigger than the surf lapping the cliffs of Laguna Beach, California, were the warm smiles and connections made at IAAPA FEC Summit 2018.

“You are a huge part of what IAAPA represents,” moderator Carla Clark from Carla Clark Management Concepts said when welcoming attendees hailing from 31 U.S. states, and nations such as Argentina, the United Kingdom, Italy, Turkey, Canada, and China among others.

“Being from Chile, we came to California to see most important FECs in the United States,” said Cedric Moller, the owner of Happyland in Santiago, Chile. It was Moller’s fourth time attending the FEC Summit. 

The annual IAAPA signature event for family entertainment center (FEC) owners, operators, and suppliers has earned the reputation as the place to learn from leading experts and gain special access at leading FEC facilities during post-tour visits.

“I think the most important reason to be here was to grow,” said Tyler Neill of Big Air Trampoline Parks from nearby Laguna Hills, California. “Networking is important, and you certainly do some of that, but I was able to learn new ideas.”

Held at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the sixth annual IAAPA FEC Summit spotlighted refining sales techniques, empowering staff to perform at peak levels, uncovering new trends in food and beverage sales, engaging guests to become your advocate, and responding to an emergency. 


Beth Standlee of TrainerTainment moderated "A Woman's Path to Success," which explored how women in the industry navigate challenges and celebrate triumphs.

Super Heroines Unite

Attendees awoke early for a breakfast roundtable discussion exploring how women in the attractions industry navigate challenges and celebrate triumphs. “A Woman’s Path to Success,” moderated by Beth Standlee, owner of TrainerTainment, produced a lively discussion, with Standlee and other members of the IAAPA FEC Committee wearing superheroine costumes.

“The way we think as managers is the beginning of change,” Standlee said with passion in her voice. “Great leaders figure out how to lead based on who their people are, not their gender.”

Christine Buhr, owner of Shakers Family Fun Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and incoming IAAPA FEC Committee chair, joined Standlee in costume to promote hiring women into leadership roles, along with compensating women at a salary level comparable to men.

“Why did I have to start behind the boys? What was that about?” asked Standlee aloud as to why her salary two decades ago was dramatically lower than male counterparts. She forecasted gender inequality will eventually cost business owners who don’t compensate women fairly. 

“You are going to lose talent faster than you can get it if you don’t pay attention,” Standlee warned.

1804_fec_speakersWhat FECs Can Learn from Zoos and Aquariums

“We’re all in the business of creating destination experiences where visitors can come and just have fun. This is what makes our industry so exciting,” said IAAPA First Vice Chair David Rosenberg, vice president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Based in California, Rosenberg opened two days of education by sharing how attractions can create two types of lifelong advocates—visitors and employees. Rosenberg believes in creating what he calls “a statement of intention,” a mantra that clearly defines the organization’s mission. Once connected to the statement, employees can then connect with visitors on a greater level.

“After experiencing our living exhibits, viewing one of our many live programs, and connecting with our enthusiastic staff and volunteers, our visitors care more—and want to do more—to protect ocean life,” he said.

Rosenberg showed how with a clear intention, his team found success in bringing science to decision-makers in California, with the goal they prioritize ocean health on behalf of future generations of Californians and beyond.“We’re working with nearly two dozen public aquariums in the United States to reduce our demand for single-use plastics, like straws, shopping bags, and beverage bottles, and to create market demand for innovative, Earth-friendly alternatives,” Rosenberg explained. Internationally, the team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is connecting with businesses and governments in Southeast Asia, Japan, Brazil, and Central America to improve fishing and fish-farming practices. 

Rosenberg thinks having a statement of intention can also help chart future growth. “I believe zoos and aquariums are showing how attractions can be fun places to visit, and financially successful, when they embrace business practices that protect the health of the planet on which we depend for our survival. I firmly believe our next generation of visitors will expect this kind of leadership from us,” he said.

Millennials Need Engagement

Millennials. We know where they came from, but how did they get their reputation?

“We did it!” exclaimed Bruce Cameron. “We taught them it’s OK to disconnect.”

As the owner of Front Line Marketing, Cameron shared how the youngest employees now in the workforce need to feel engaged.

“Those of you who think millennials are lazy, you’re wrong—they just want to be engaged in your business,” Cameron said. “That is the difference between generations.” 

He believes better employee engagement will increase a bottom line and suggests every attraction owner needs to develop an “intention statement,” stating why the business exists and lists what owners hope to accomplish. Cameron feels once younger employees understand the purpose of a business, they can become emotionally rooted in the product and then provide the best guest service experience. 

“Engagement is getting more productivity out of the employees you have,” Cameron said, adding that building employees’ self-esteem will in return build their strength and, ultimately, strengthen revenues.

Cameron recommends prominently answering the questions young employees are thinking:

  • What do you expect of me?
  • Will you ask for (and listen) to my suggestions?
  • When will you recognize that I am doing well?  
  • Who cares about my well-being?
  • How will you make me feel what I am doing is important, and mean it?

Drafting an intention statement accompanies the need for creating an employee handbook that can answer the questions above.

“It’s the way to communicate policies and show what’s expected,” said Barbara Flynn, president of People First, a human resources consulting company. Flynn recommends every attraction should have an employee handbook. 

All IAAPA members are welcome to use the IAAPA Sample Employee Handbook, designed as a template when creating a handbook for the first time. Request a copy at www.IAAPA.org/FEC.

Celebrate the Sale

How do you get parents to commit to a birthday party or convince an event planner to schedule a special event? It’s all about having a strategy for outbound sales, according to Phil Showler, vice president of sales for TrainerTainment.

“You can’t get off the phone without identifying who is the decision-maker,” Showler said. “Each sales call needs to end with a specific call to action to [that person].”

That call to action should include inviting a parent for a tour of your facility or booking time for a follow-up call. Showler believes half of all interactions will lead to creating a relationship that, in turn, will lead to booking an event.

“The science of the numbers always works,” Showler said, adding FEC owners need to place an emphasis on relationship building as a core value. “You should never ask, ‘How many birthday parties did you book?’ but, instead, ask, ‘How many meaningful conversations have you had?’”

He said salespeople should be having six or more meaningful conversations with decision-makers each day to keep sales on target to meet goals.  


A post-tour event offered participants a behind-the-scenes look at the operations at Mulligan Family Fun Center, John’s Incredible Pizza Co., Big Air Trampoline Park, and Dave & Buster’s in Irvine, California.

Stay Social

Sharing enthusiasm for a visitor attraction before, during, and after a visit has a name: evangelizing the experience.

“It’s so much more credible when it’s from a consumer,” said Annika Chase, vice president of marketing strategy at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.

Chase would know—Disneyland became the most “Instagrammed” location of 2017.

At IAAPA FEC Summit 2018, Chase provided a rare look into how posts on social media affect “the consumer journey” of a visitor. Early touchpoints for inspiring a visit to an attraction or FEC may include seeing a television commercial, billboard advertisement, or post on social media. 

“We need to be thoughtful across the journey—before, middle, and end. Hopefully, our guests will become our advocates,” Chase said.

She shared how Disneyland partners with Facebook Business to reach potential guests based on demographics, location, interests, and behaviors. The online tools created by Facebook allow any business, including FECs, to identify a “custom audience” or “lookalike audiences” to find Facebook users with interests aligning with a particular form of entertainment. 

“It’s a very powerful tool,” Chase said. 

In the pre-visit stage known as “activation,” families with toddlers who are ready to explore, or those with children approaching a life milestone (like meeting the height requirement needed to experience a big attraction for the first time) can be directed toward a visit. 

“People come in and out of these phases, and hopefully, the stars align, and they come back and visit us,” Chase said. “We’re all in the business of creating memories for everyone.”

Next-Gen Eats

What if you could make money without visitors ever crossing your threshold? Leading hospitality researcher Jeff McNeal, president of consulting firm Fessel International, presented data showing that while restaurant growth slowed in 2017, FECs can compensate for the loss by making their menu items available for takeout or even use Uber Eats, a delivery service enjoyed by millennials.

“Everybody wants to cater to the millennials,” McNeal said. “They are driving the trends. It’s all about knowing your data.”

In 2015, restaurants and bars overtook spending at grocery stores for the first time, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. McNeal showed research supporting the growing millennial base is not cooking lunch or dinner at home, rather looking to eat in a social setting—whether that is at home consuming takeout meals or dining out with friends.

“The gastro pub is the millennials’ fine dining,” McNeal said, noting younger diners seek out craft cocktails and small plates, and want locally sourced ingredients. Individuals falling into this group have historically outspent their parents, spending the highest portion of their disposable incomes on dining out.

McNeal suggested FECs could attract part of that spending by creating menu items that generate buzz on social media (case in point: Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim’s foodie tweets that went viral during her gold-medal performance in February). That can be accomplished by designing a must-have pizza or dessert or a new concept. To attract customers 21 and older, McNeal has seen self-service beer taps, where diners pour their own drinks and pay with a credit card, eliminating the need for a bartender.  

“It’s a social interaction that cannot be replicated online,” McNeal concluded.

Initiate Incident Reports

Three leading experts with safety and legal backgrounds led attendees through a series of exercises on the proper way of documenting an incident.

“The first five minutes of an incident are the most important,” said Drew Tewksbury with McGowan Amusement Group. 

Tewksbury supports making a staffing change a priority so details can be recorded correctly and without distraction.

“You pull that employee out, and they do the incident report right away. It has to be done immediately,” Tewksbury said, recommending the employee who witnessed the incident needs to focus in a quiet area away from the scene and responsibilities.

One way to ensure all details are recorded and illegible handwriting will not be open to interpretation: utilize an automated data-collection system. The computer program will guide an employee through answering the most poignant of questions. Next, a manager will want to read all of the data collected.

“That manager will be the face of your company in trial,” explained Jeffrey Johnson with the Florida Defense Lawyers Association. “It’s important you choose that manager wisely.”

Also note on paperwork if those involved enjoyed any additional rides or attractions following the incident. Taking an extra ride or going back inside an arcade are important details to note. 

Also, look for witnesses. “A third-party guest is going to have a different perspective than a family member,” Tewksbury said, suggesting FECs also ask any bystanders to complete witness statements.

California trial attorney Dwayne Beck reminded FEC owners to collect all evidence at the scene.

“As silly as it sounds, take a picture of the sky,” Beck recommended, adding documenting the scene and any injuries will not abate privacy laws. “Creating a paper trail is the most important thing to show you do care about safety.”

Here are tips to remember when collecting information after an incident:

  • Save surveillance video on a hard drive.
  • Photos should be saved on a flash drive and backed up on a hard drive.
  • Keep photos/video of involved parties enjoying other attractions after an incident.
  • Always obtain an e-mail address from those involved. Employees go to college, move away from home, and change phone numbers. Yet Tewksbury believes most folks will keep the same e-mail address for years. 
  • Call your insurance representative after caring for those involved.

Government Relations

The IAAPA Safety and Advocacy Department tracked almost 800 pieces of legislation in 2017 in federal and state government that could affect the attractions industry in the United States—everything from predictive scheduling laws to paid sick leave. 

“There is a lot going on both on the federal and state level that can affect owners of FECs,” explained Austin Gold, IAAPA’s senior manager of advocacy.

Gold shared the importance of knowing state and federal lawmakers and encouraged attraction owners to use IAAPA as a resource.

“Reach out to us if issues arise that you need us to look into. We are here to serve our members,” Gold said.

All IAAPA members are invited to meet their lawmakers and discuss policy issues affecting the U.S. attractions industry in Washington, D.C., this spring. IAAPA U.S. Advocacy Days are scheduled for April 16-17 in the nation’s capital. Attendees will be able to communicate with policy makers on a number of priority issues during a visit to Capitol Hill. A reception at the Capital Wheel at National Harbor, Maryland, will also allow for networking. Prior experience meeting with elected officials is not required.

1804_fec_2More to Explore

A Summit post-tour event took participants to Mulligan Family Fun Center, John’s Incredible Pizza Co., Big Air Trampoline Park, and Dave & Buster’s in Irvine, California. At each stop, business leaders shared insights and offered a behind-the-scenes look at their operations. 

“We never know enough,” said Evelyne Villame with La Boite aux Enfants in Paris, France. “IAAPA FEC Summit taught us we should be asking, ‘What can I do for you?’ It’s all based on relationships, not transactions.”