Business Resources - Operations - September 2017

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Stretch the Imagination

FECs can capitalize on unconventional group events

by Mike Bederka

Most family entertainment centers (FECs) have business meetings, school field trips, and camp outings down cold. But to generate additional group revenue and free public relations, they can stretch to what some might consider unconventional functions. Here are a few outside-the-box group ideas to consider.

Wedding Receptions

After they say, “I do,” let them come to you.

Bowlera in Caguas, Puerto Rico, has hosted wedding receptions ranging anywhere from about 20 to 100 people, but it has the room in its full-service restaurant to hold 140, says president Manuel Morales Jr.

Couples choose his facility—and make reservations a year out—for a few reasons, he says. First, the attractive space does not require extra time, money, and energy to decorate, except with fresh flowers if desired. Second, he offers free parking, which gives him a competitive advantage over nearby hotels that may charge $10 per car. Third, the FEC handles all the food and service, just leaving the couple to hire a band or DJ. Finally, the guests can play the games and attractions afterward (at no charge if negotiated in the price; otherwise, they pay as walk-ins).

Wedding receptions have become a successful niche business for the venue, as it hosts three or four a year, Morales says. He believes guests come to Bowlera for these special intimate events because the FEC has earned the trust of the community members who visit as regular customers.

“They feel at home,” he says. “They know they’re welcome here.”

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Six More Unconventional Group Ideas

High School Reunions. People look for a fun, social setting (sound familiar?) to reconnect with old friends. Search Facebook and Classmates.com for leads, TrainerTainment’s Beth Standlee says.

Quinceañeras. This celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. Usually, a party follows the religious service. 

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. In this Jewish rite of passage, adolescent boys and girls come of age. Here, too, a celebration caps off the day.

Milestone Birthdays. Kids do not have the market cornered on parties at FECs. Bowlera recently hosted a woman’s 100th birthday, Manuel Morales Jr. says.

Direct Sales Parties. Plan an event for people involved in direct sales (for example, diet supplements, jewelry, beauty products), Standlee says. In addition to charging for tables, FECs can generate revenue by attracting customers who might not have come to the facility otherwise.

Anniversaries. FECs can provide the perfect space for couples looking to celebrate their years together, Morales says. Bowlera holds about five of them annually.

Tie the Knot

While Bowlera sticks to the receptions, Crazy Pinz Entertainment Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, hosted a unique Valentine’s Day promotion in 2016 called “One Crazy Wedding.”

GM Collin Kerschner says the event provided a free wedding to anyone who stood at the altar and exchanged vows at the FEC. (One of the managers became an ordained minister.) Participants received a semi-formal wedding ceremony, champagne toast, and free one-hour reception on the bowling lanes with a DJ. 

“We didn’t know what to expect, but the investment was minimal, so having a single wedding would have made the day a success,” Kerschner says, noting the event also included wedding practice runs and vow renewals. “To our surprise, we ended up hosting 10, five of which were legitimate ceremonies.”

Crazy Pinz received strong media attention for the event; as a result, the FEC became known in the area as a wedding venue. Since the promotion, the facility has hosted other related functions, including proposals, showers, rehearsal dinners, and receptions.

Company Picnics

Businesses often use FECs for meeting space and team-building exercises, but they can be prime places for a company’s family picnic, as well, says Beth Standlee, owner and CEO of TrainerTainment in Keller, Texas.

FECs, especially those with outdoor attractions, can compete with water, theme, and amusement parks for these entertainment dollars by proactively going after the business, Standlee says. 

Incentivize companies by making their employees VIPs at the picnic, she says. For instance, they can head to the front of the line for go-karts, have dedicated bowling lanes and a mini-golf course, and get every third laser tag game to themselves.

Post-Prom and After-Graduation Parties 

Think beyond field trips when targeting schools, Standlee says. Post-prom and after-graduation parties between mid-April and mid-June can be even more profitable.

“People misunderstand how much they can bring in and undersell them,” she says. “Kids start saving their freshman year for these events and have the money to spend.” 

FEC owners and operators just need to appropriately sell to the value of the parties, and not waver from it, says Standlee, who also advises a couple stipulations with post-prom and after-graduation celebrations.

To curb any inappropriate behavior, require one adult chaperone (who gets in for free) for every 10 students. Also, make it a lock-in, so if any kids leave the FEC, they cannot come back in with any, shall we say, contraband.

1709_BIZ_operations_moneyBuyout Best Practices

TrainerTainment’s Beth Standlee has a two-word message for FECs interested in complete facility buyouts for group events: Aim high.

Not only should FECs charge a premium for the experience, their sales teams also must actively pursue these lucrative opportunities, she says: “Do one a month. You might improve your bottom line by $200,000.”

When deciding on buyout pricing, owners and operators should estimate how much they would be making if at capacity—or even 80 percent full—during normal operations, she says. (Plus, charge an extra fee for the coveted Friday or Saturday night slots.)

“You’re shutting your place down to the rest of the world,” Standlee reasons. “You just don’t want to replace your revenue because there will be some disappointed people who can’t come in and play.”

To help smooth over the inconvenience, she recommends displaying the temporary closing details on in-store signage and making updates on social media, Yelp, and the facility’s website. However, Standlee suggests just posting the notices the day of the event to minimize the long-term effect.

A sign up weeks ahead of time that reads “Closed for a private party Sunday, May 24, 12-4 p.m.,” can be somewhat surprisingly misconstrued as “Closed all Sundays.” 

“People think in shorthand,” she says. “You only want to advertise to the people that it will impact that day.”

Guests turned away at the door by a friendly staff member should receive a coupon for some free games on their next visit to further ease any bad feelings, Standlee says.

Bowlera’s Manuel Morales Jr. says the public does not generally balk at his buyouts, which have become a popular option for area corporations looking to do something different—and more economical—than going to the mountains or the beach for an all-day event. The companies need at least 250 people in attendance to shut down the 30,000-square-foot space, he says. If they expect less than that, the facility will remain open, and the group will have a dedicated area.

Standlee also advises FECs stick with a minimum number of guests for a closeout, even if a relatively small crowd would be willing to spend the same amount as a larger group. A gathering of just 50 people roaming about likely will lack some energy and just not show the facility in the best light. “You want it to feel like a party,” she says.


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