FEC Start-Ups Share Advice

by Juliana Gilling

What are the realities of launching a family entertainment center (FEC) in Europe today? Operators from the UK, the Ukraine, and Finland who made it work share their stories and insights on getting started.

Funtura, Ukraine
Designed as the premier attraction at the Donetsk City Shopping Center in eastern Ukraine, the Funtura FEC will celebrate its first birthday on Dec. 17, 2012. Owners Investments and Development Ltd. funded the project, which was created in collaboration with KCC Entertainment Design. According to Alyona Gumenyuk, project manager at Donetsk City Center LLC, Funtura should hit 2.5 million visitors by the end of the year, based on average monthly attendance.

KCC’s theming for the FEC tells the story of a “Lost World”—created when an iceberg hit a tropical island—where animals from around the world live together in harmony. Distinct zones, divided according to different age groups and types of equipment, “make Funtura simple and understandable for customers,” says Gumenyuk.

“We have an adrenaline area, with the big and fast attractions, and areas for families, babies, and video and redemption games,” she says. “We have a big natural ice rink in the middle of Funtura (Editor’s note: Ice rinks are a trend in the Ukrainian market, as are thrill attractions and water parks). There’s a food court and restaurants, including a themed children’s restaurant and a lounge for older visitors. We are providing everything in one place,” she says.

She finds customers are dipping into Funtura’s attractions alongside their shopping, with dwell time ranging from one hour to an entire day: “We have visitors who just come for the ice skating, small children who love the soft play, and teams of teenagers who do one or two rounds of all the attractions.” Each attraction has a price per use. Each use, or “round,” lasts three minutes; the price per round varies from $1-$5. People purchase cards with the amount they wish to spend and access the equipment using touchless card readers.

The 13,000-square-meter (140,000-square-foot) FEC has “a perfect location in terms of accessibility and visibility” at the mall, says Gumenyuk. The shopping center, conveniently situated in the heart of the city, “has a recognized name and reputation, and constant visitors,” she says.

“This is a young industry for the Ukraine, especially in this format. We are providing a service and an experience: It has to be constantly good, and our clients have to be satisfied,” continues Gumenyuk.

Funtura’s owners aim to refresh the attraction regularly: “We are planning to purchase the newest games. We are organizing birthday parties and corporate events, and we are working on a loyalty program and marketing tools. Funtura is our first project of this size and concept. We are planning to develop the chain and open more FECs,” says Gumenyuk.

For others following in Funtura’s footsteps, she advises: “You have to love this industry. You need to spend time researching the local environment to understand your target audience’s wishes. Safety is a priority. Get strong technical support and work with experienced suppliers. Provide clients with a high-quality and unforgettable experience for a fair price because word of mouth is very important. You need good management and a good team.”

http://funtura.com.ua/ and www.doncity.com.ua

Funpark, Finland
With its long, cold, and dark winters, the Finnish climate doesn’t always lend itself to outdoor amusements. Funpark, which launched June 15, 2012, offers a new all-weather alternative.

Funpark is based at the Ideapark shopping mall in Lempäälä. Its backers include Ideapark’s owner, Toivo Sukari, HopLop Co., and two private investors. To date, the project represents an investment of €6 million (US$7.5 million). Tomi Pulkki, Funpark’s CEO and one of HopLop’s founders, describes the attraction as “Finland’s first indoor amusement park.”

The park builds on HopLop’s seven years’ experience in the FEC industry. The company has 13 other indoor FECs and an “80 percent share of the total market” in Finland, according to Pulkki.

HopLop specializes in providing “sporty activities,” such as soft play, trampolines, mini-golf, and skills-based arcade and redemption games for children 1-13. “HopLop discovered that there was also a demand for these free-time activities in the winter,” says Pulkki.

It found the ideal site for Funpark at Ideapark, which brings in 7.5 million visitors annually: “Ideapark is one of the biggest shopping centers in the Nordic countries, and it attracts consumers from southern Finland year-round. It is in the middle of the most populated part of Finland, and our park is open 361 days a year, so the maximum number of people can make a day trip here,” says Pulkki.

Pulkki expects Funpark to attract 500,000 customers in its first full operating year. “In three years we will top a million customers per year,” he says. Tickets cost €18 (US$22.5) and include all activities, except games. Typically, people spend 3-4 hours visiting.

The park occupies 10,000 square meters (108,000 square feet) indoors and 5,000 square meters (54,000 square feet) outdoors. Daily capacity is 5,000 visitors. Pulkki believes it is likely that the company could build a 10,000 square meter extension beneath Ideapark in the future.

In addition to the sporting activities that HopLop has become known for, Funpark features high-tech offerings. Attractions include Triotech’s 8-seat 7Di Interactive XD Dark Ride. Two MaxFlight FS-VC Dual System simulators allow guests to experience different aircraft and roller coasters, or explore oceans and space scenarios. There are traditional amusement rides like SBF-Visa Group’s Family Dragon Coaster, Mini Pirate Ship, and Jungle Swing. Joining them are two laser tag arenas and FEC areas designed for younger and older children.

“People haven’t seen simulators and interactive theaters before in Finland. Guests are saying that we have enough activities for a whole day’s stay,” says Pulkki. Parents are enjoying the convenience of Funpark’s location at the mall, which houses almost 200 stores and restaurants under one roof: “There are good cafés, and adults have the opportunity to visit different kinds of shops while their children have fun. The summer went well, and attendances are ahead of our expectations,” he says.

Looking ahead, Pulkki wants to ensure the attraction is seen as a comfortable and modern environment, one that benefits from ongoing investment: “Funpark will be renewed every six months,” he says. “It’s been inspiring to bring a new indoor amusement park concept to Finland. Our goal now is to make consumers aware of the amusement activities that are available here in the winter.”

http://funpark.fi/ and www.hoplop.fi

360 Play, United Kingdom
With two 360 Play centers already open in the United Kingdom, Duncan Phillips, director of DP Leisure and strategic leisure consultancy DP Associates, is preparing for the launch of the third site in Leicester at the end of 2012.

360 Play first opened three years ago. Phillips—one of the founders of Gulliver’s Theme Parks—had spotted a gap in the market for a high-quality, affordable, regional family entertainment center: “Theme parks were becoming more sophisticated and expensive. Dwell times were getting longer—lasting maybe one or two days with an overnight stay. With cost and time requirements going up, you might be making fewer trips to a theme park a year,” he says.

“Meanwhile, as the UK theme park sector had grown and become saturated, the soft play market hadn’t changed a lot in 15 years. Many operators still have an industrial building with some soft play and a café,” he says.  

Phillips’ solution was a hybrid product: “360 is halfway between a theme park and an indoor soft play center. It’s local, but it’s enough of a destination that people will want to go for a day.” His goal is to provide a seamless visitor experience for families with children from 12 months to 10 years old. The concept blends creative play, physical play, and skills-based play with rides and attractions.

Phillips began rolling out the 360 Play concept at the company’s first site, in Milton Keynes, in 2009. A second site followed at Stevenage in December 2011. The Leicester site at the Meridian Leisure Park evolves the 360 formula again. It has a larger outdoor play area, called Club 360 (12,000 square feet), in addition to 18,000 square feet of indoor space. Stevenage covers 20,000 square feet indoors, while Milton Keynes has 18,000 square feet indoors (8,000 square feet outdoors).

“We’re not an outdoor venue, but there’s enough outside that if you visit on one of those classic English summer days, when you get a couple of hours of dry weather, you can play—or sit and enjoy a coffee—in the sun. Most people will play indoors for 80 percent of the time and spend 20 percent outdoors,” says Phillips.

He believes the product is helped by its brand name, 360, “which doesn’t give anything away and isn’t tied to the content inside,” says Phillips. It took 18 months from 360’s debut for people to recognize the brand as “the best play center you’ve ever been to,” says Phillips. He remembers it as “one of the biggest moments for everybody,” adding, “we hope the same brand understanding will be there when we open in Leicester.”

The centerpiece of each FEC is a 360 Street where children can adopt roles like a veterinarian or firefighter and work with others to achieve tasks in a play street setting. The beauty of 360 Street is that it can be changed, providing children with new opportunities to use their imaginations: “You may find there’s a supermarket and a pizza parlor there now. Next time you might find a phone shop and other stores and attractions in the street. I’ve developed 360 with constant evolution in mind. We want to keep people excited, surprised, and coming back,” says Phillips.

Despite opening during a recession, 360 achieved profitability within the first 12 months in terms of its operating costs. Memberships are increasing, and ticket prices range from £2.99 (US$4.76) for adults to £5.99 (US$9.50) for ¬≠children 1-3 and £7.99 (US$12.70) for children 4-12. Children under 1 go free, and there are reduced after-school rates during term time.

Knowing your market is crucial to success, Phillips believes: “Most failed FECs that we’ve looked at have done so because people went in with the attitude ‘I love that,’ rather than ‘I know that.’ Spend some money with a leisure specialist who is going to show you, warts and all, how the business works before you build it. So many problems can be solved if you take good advice early on.” 

www.360play.uk.com

Contact Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling at julianagilling@gmail.com.