Prepared to Share - April 2017

IAAPA FEC Summit 2017 packs in networking, education over several sun-soaked days in Arizona

by Mike Bederka

Since its inception, IAAPA FEC Summit organizers have encouraged attendees to “share, engage, and grow.” Now five years later, that mission has truly crystallized with family entertainment center (FEC) owners and operators freely swapping business plans, detailed sales figures, and other personal data without fear of divulging their “secret recipes.”

“I don’t think Coke and Pepsi are doing the same thing in a different ballroom,” joked Paul Noland, IAAPA president and CEO.

Greg Hale, IAAPA chairman of the board, applauded the camaraderie of the FEC community, which makes up the fastes-growing segment in the organization.

“Everyone is here to share,” said Hale, vice president and chief safety officer of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “This is just an amazing industry.”

Presenter and IAAPA FEC Committee member Brian Cohen felt the positive vibes, as well. “The true desire to see others succeed is like no other,” said the vice president of operations for Entertainment Properties Group in Dallas, Texas.

Held at the We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center in sun-soaked Scottsdale, Arizona, Jan. 29-31, IAAPA FEC Summit 2017 attracted more than 150 attendees from 27 states and 10 countries.

Heavy doses of networking and brainstorming, as well as an unconventional setup, differentiated this meeting from other industry events. Moderator Carla Clark, president of Carla Clark Management Concepts in Arlington, Texas, posed related “table talk” questions to attendees throughout the sessions to stir the conversation and generate ideas. For example, she asked tablemates to discuss their current hiring practices before the session on human resources and leadership.

Some talks also opened with an attendee sharing a quick success story with the attentive crowd. Kim Valadez, marketing director for Conroe’s Incredible Pizza Company in Texas, explained how the FEC’s birthday party revenue increased 30 percent just two years after she expanded the hours of the phone reservationist.

Tips and tricks like this filled the event, which covered a variety of topics, including government relations, attractions and games mix, insurance, event planning, and more.

Government Relations Update

The educational sessions kicked off with IAAPA FEC Committee member David Novstrup providing attendees with an overview of current government relations issues potentially impacting FECs, as well as IAAPA’s stance on them.

Labor policies remained top of mind for state legislators during the 2016 session, with 43 states considering minimum-wage increases and five enacting laws to do so, said Novstrup, owner of Wylie Thunder Road in Aberdeen, South Dakota. “Public support for labor-friendly proposals is growing, and many states have organized campaigns to promote them. IAAPA is helping the industry fight back by educating legislators about the effects of these proposals, especially on small and seasonal businesses.”

Novstrup, a former state legislator, urged the audience to attend IAAPA U.S. Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C, April 3-4, to further push the agenda of FEC-friendly policies.

“Always continue the con­versation,” he said. “Build relationships before you need them.”

Put a Good Team Together

Owners and operators can’t change staff members’ inherent qualities, but can take this information into account to place them in job roles that best match their attributes, said Amy Bruske, principal and president of Kolbe Corp. in Phoenix, Arizona. She also noted these common hiring mistakes by managers: desperation hiring; only focusing on experience/skills and education; hiring someone just like you; not having objective measures in place; and lack of clarity in the role.

In addition, these three issues frequently trip up managers when putting a team together:

1.   Too many employees with the same energy or skills.

2.   Having a staff with not enough of any given strength. For example, if employees don’t possess mechanical aptitude, more incidents might occur.

3.   The polarization of skills and beliefs, with no staff standing in the middle ground.

“The most successful teams have a diversity of talents,” Bruske said.

Create Core Values

Work with staff members to develop the FEC’s core values, said Kyle Allison, general manager of Andy Alligator’s Fun Park in Norman, Oklahoma. “This way, they’re part of the process and hold each other accountable. It’s not just some poster in the break room.”

To maximize effectiveness, provide tangible, clear examples of each value (and, importantly, what they don’t represent). With the “practicing safety” tenet at Andy Alligator’s, employees must follow procedures, focus on cleanliness, pay attention, and care for others; it doesn’t describe being distracted, lazy, or careless.

Beth Standlee, CEO and owner of Trainertainment in Fort Worth, Texas, said FECs shouldn’t compromise when it comes to core values. Meaning, if a facility stresses punctuality, a manager can’t look away if an employee comes in five minutes late for a shift or meeting. “When we don’t say anything, we give silent approval,” she said. “The other employees think we don’t care.”

Motivate the Staff

Managers have numerous apps at their disposal to better communicate with staff, track maintenance jobs, and create schedules, said Nicholas DiMatteo, IAAPA FEC Committee member and midway operations director for Dave & Busters, headquartered in Dallas, Texas. FECs should consider exploring When I Work, Jolt, Maxpanda, and especially Google Drive, which saves him from writing “hundreds of e-mails” daily. The versatile tool works across multiple platforms and easily lets coworkers share and edit files in real time.

Despite this wealth of benefits from apps, don’t neglect face-to-face meetings, such as pre-shift get-togethers, weekly operations reviews, and leadership retreats, warned Allison, IAAPA FEC Committee chair: “Otherwise, you don’t have the same impact with your staff.”

Christine Buhr, owner of Shakers Family Fun Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, continued the session’s theme by sharing tips on communicating with a millennial workforce. She said managers should engage their staff and ask what motivates them. (To obtain the most truthful answers, step out of the room and have employees write their responses anonymously on a whiteboard.) FECs also should share the state of the company, including 90-day goals, one-year plan, three-year picture, and 10-year target. “Keep them well-informed,” emphasized Buhr, an IAAPA FEC Committee member.

5 Ways to Trim Insurance Costs

Want to cut insurance costs? Of course you do. Drew Tewksbury explained how in a novel way. “Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten,” said Tewksbury, senior vice president of McGowan Amusement Group in Fairview Park, Ohio. “Your rates are in your control.” Here are his five tips for lowering insurance costs:

1. Be Vigilant. A whopping 85 percent of claims come from slips, trips, and falls. “More people get hurt walking to the go-kart track than on the track itself,” he said. “Create your own culture of safety. It should be a core value of your operation.”

2. Don’t Break Your Toys. Consistent maintenance programs reduce mechanical breakdowns and property loss claims, as well as the likelihood of incidents from mechanical failure.

3. Be Kind to Others. Achieve a harassment-free workplace and train management and staff on sexual harassment, age and sexual discrimination, and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations.

4. Sharing Is Caring. Learn one another’s successes and failures, and develop peer-to-peer safety review groups.

5. Pay Attention to Your Teachers. Participate in available educational resources, including future IAAPA Expos and IAAPA FEC Summits, to help understand problems at your facility. “There are resources out there for you,” Tewksbury said.

Women in Leadership

“We have come a long way, but not as long as we think we have,” Standlee told the audience during the “Women in Leadership” breakfast session. Women still need to battle pay-gap inequality, perceptions of a “strong” personality in the workplace, and work/life balance.

Standlee recommended seeking out a mentor for advice and perspective, and Clark advised women to become laser-focused on the future, be it a raise, promotion, or healthy nest egg for retirement.

“You have to know what you want,” Clark said. “Don’t waste any time or resources to get to your goal.”

Make Events Profitable

FECs should position themselves in front of the audience they want to reach, said Kerrell McNeal, owner of The Next Great Event in Phoenix. That means working with groups like Meeting Professionals International, Professional Convention Management Association, American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), and local wedding organizations. More and more, she explained, planners seek nontraditional venues to hold offsite conference events, corporate team building activities, rehearsal dinners, showers, and bachelor parties.

When working with nonprofits, in particular, don’t nickel and dime them, and position some of the goods or services as value added, she said. These items would be included anyway (or at little or no cost to the facility), but let customers know they’re getting something above and beyond.

Buyouts can be a lucrative group-business option for FECs, if they plan accordingly, McNeal added. She gave the following tips:

  • Steer groups away from busy times unless they can afford a peak-day exclusive price.
  • Be willing to charge less for a partial buyout on a slow midweek evening.
  • Try not to offer midday buyouts, as those will restrict the potential for regular business pre- and post-event.
  • Have multiple communication channels (including signage, social media, and website notices) to inform the general public of closures for private events.

Attractions and Arcade Town Hall

FECs can separate themselves from the competition by adding attractions like an escape room, a ropes course with zipline, motion simulators, amusement rides, and inflatable challenge courses, as well as live entertainment, said Barry Zelickson, owner of Big Thrill Factory in Minnesota and IAAPA FEC Committee member.

On the redemption and merchandise side, Mike Abecassis of GameTime said FECs should focus on items that have a high perceived value for guests, such as an 18-inch novelty ball. “Where else can you get it?” he said, advising logos on the balls to push the FEC’s brand.

Abecassis also recommended raising the number of tickets needed for the lowest-cost redemption items, skip purses and sunglasses because people will think they’re fakes, and wait a bit to replace the just-redeemed 32-inch TV to increase the interest level.

Drive Consumer Behavior

Encouraging guests to purchase game cards online helps FECs lock in the sale and build the customer database, said Marc Pollack, general manager of Boomers in Boca Raton, Florida. His facility incentivizes advance purchases with a “boost.” For example, if a guest spends $25 online, Boomers adds an extra $2.50 to the card. The deal increases the more they spend, so a $200 card jumps all the way to a $385 value.

As another way to motivate consumer behavior, Boomers introduced a promotion where customers who buy a one-day four-hour pass can upgrade to a season pass for free, said Pollack, an IAAPA FEC Committee member. Sunday business improved as a result. 

More to Tour

IAAPA FEC Summit 2017 attendees hit the road for an evening reception and tour at nearby Octane Raceway. There, they learned about operations at the high-speed, electric go-kart facility (as well as went for a few spins on the one-third-mile track) and tried out the Segway obstacle course and pit crew challenge.

An optional tour of four different local FECs took place the day after the meeting’s conclusion. Attendees went for a behind-the-scenes look at Amazing Jake’s in Mesa, Arizona; Main Event in Tempe, Arizona; Tilt Studio, in Tempe; and FlipSide, in Gilbert, Arizona. Felipe Arteaga said attending the sold-out tour allowed him to easily explore new concepts he could bring home and implement. “If we see a good idea, we can multiply it by 10,” said the head of new projects of the Happyland FEC chain, which boasts dozens of South America locations.

Contact Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at michaelbederka@gmail.com.