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Business Resources: Investment - July 2017

Jonah Sandler’s Scene75 FEC has now expanded to three locations. (CREDIT: Scene 75)
The Great Expansion

How family entertainment centers can make the leap to multiple locations

by Mike Bederka

At first, Jonah Sandler just planned on running one family entertainment center (FEC). But when Scene75 opened five years ago in Dayton, Ohio, it almost instantly became a hit. 

Guests flocked to the facility, and the “chief entertainment officer” saw a chance to expand beyond his initial aspirations and allow his staff to grow in the process. Sandler opened a second spot in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2015, and a third across the state in Cleveland this July. He anticipates more Scene75 facilities on the horizon, but urges a word of caution before other owners follow a similar course.

“People think that if you do one thing well, it’s easy to ride on past successes,” he says. “But there are so many pieces. It takes a strong personal desire to want to grow and a commitment from your team to build and continue to learn. Plus, you certainly need to ensure the financing is in place and your cash flow can sustain it because there will be delays. It’s not for everyone.”


Scene75 prioritizes brand consistency—so guests know they’re in a Scene75 facility the moment they walk in. (CREDIT: Scene 75)

An Empowered Staff

Sandler would not greenlight any expansion until he knew his staff members could handle taking on more responsibilities with less oversight from him on the direct day-to-day operations, he says: “You have to learn to delegate certain tasks so the overall brand can elevate.” 

Mike Abecassis, CEO of Florida-based GameTime, agrees an empowered staff fuels company growth and stresses the need for “layered communications” for an expansion to be feasible. 

“As a small company, I was always available for someone to pick up the phone and talk to,” says Abecassis, who acquired two existing facilities seven years ago and opened a third GameTime on Christmas Day 2015 in Fort Myers; two more will open by the end of the year in Ocoee and Daytona Beach. “As we grew, if I left that opportunity open, I would never accomplish anything. It’s not that you don’t want a store-level employee to communicate with you, but they really need to start with their general manager first.”

Where to Grow

Both Abecassis and Sandler believe extending well beyond their original locations geographically (at least initially) would be a mistake and make them lose out on crucial brand recognition. 

“If you spread yourself too far, nobody knows who you are, what you are, and why you are,” Abecassis says.

But at the same time, operating two spots in close proximity does not make much sense, either. They do not want to compete with themselves and cannibalize business. Therefore, information on where current customers come from becomes vital to help decide the best place to set up shop next, Sandler notes.

Abecassis does not suggest following a uniform hard rule of how far apart locations should be. That decision should differ based on an FEC’s various offerings and concept, he says. However, Abecassis believes drive time, not distance, should be the determining factor. For example, driving five miles in a traffic-filled urban environment takes a lot longer than in a suburban or rural area.

1707_biz_expansion_barBuild Brand Cohesion

While the footprint and ceiling height among locations may differ, the look and feel inside should not be completely disparate, Sandler says: “If you walked into any of our locations, you will have a pretty good idea that you’re in a Scene75.”

GameTime has steadily worked on creating uniformity with furnishings, and exteriors, but Abecassis will not call his company “cookie cutter,” especially when it comes to its video and redemption game selection. 

“We’re not going to say, ‘This is our list, and every store must have the same ones,’” he says. “Every facility is independent.” 

Some machines might perform well in one place and be a dud in another, says Abecassis, noting he sometimes moves games among locations—a nice benefit of owning multiple facilities.

Sandler says one of the biggest challenges in sustained growth comes from keeping the company culture consistent from one venue to the next. In part, he brought some of his old managers to the new locations, but he also implemented professional management standards and systems processes for greater cohesion. For example, Sandler and his team applied the Entrepreneurial Operating System across his facilities to help document procedures, standardize metrics, and clarify his vision. 

“Translating a culture requires proactive work,” he says.