Bringing Business Back to FECs
Having weathered temporary closures and operational changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, family entertainment centers (FECs) around the world have opened their doors and are getting back into the swing of things—welcoming guests, growing their businesses, and generating revenue. Four FEC companies share with Funworld how they managed to survive pandemic-related restrictions and what they are doing to engage with guests and invite them back into their facilities.
Staying Afloat During COVID-19
For FECs across the globe, keeping the business alive during government-imposed shutdowns in 2020 and 2021 was a tremendous challenge.
“We literally were ordered to shut it all down,” says Philip N. Kaplan, chairman and CEO of GameWorks, which operates several U.S. locations. “To survive, we had to cut back to essentially nothing.”
Fortunately, “our business is very esports-centric,” Kaplan tells Funworld. “So we coped by ramping up our online esports tournaments and then brought some of them back into our FECs when we were able to reopen.” Today, GameWorks offers “hybrid esports events,” where guests can play on premise and online.
Government grants and loans helped many FECs to endure the shutdowns. In the U.S., “the Paycheck Protection Program (small-business loans administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration as part of the federal coronavirus rescue plan) and other government assistance were critical for FECs, restaurants, and so many other small businesses,” says Brad Jashinsky, director of marketing and sales at John’s Incredible Pizza Co., with more than 10 U.S. FEC locations. “In addition, we worked closely with landlords and vendors on payment terms. Across departments, we took a fresh zero-based budgeting approach to everything in the company to become more efficient during closure and also for reopening.”
At GlowZone 360, a pair of Toronto-based FECs, “we did everything we could to protect our investment,” says Ryan Vande Vooren, GlowZone 360 co-owner/operator. “This included applying for all the government grants, loans, and wage subsidies that we were eligible for, plus dipping into our own pockets as well.”
Headquartered in Singapore, The Entertainment and Education Group (TEEG) operates Timezone FECs in Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and India. “Given that TEEG operates over 300 venues in seven different countries in the Asia-Pacific region with varied COVID-19 impacts, we had the flexibility to manage our cashflow effectively,” explains TEEG Group CEO Sonaal Chopra. “We then invested in our 5,200 people through retraining programs and in honing our processes in preparation for reopening so that we’d be back bigger, stronger, and more than ready to give our guests the fun experiences they’ve been patiently waiting for.”
Increasing Visitor Numbers
Now that COVID-19 shutdowns have eased, FEC owners are facing a new dilemma: How do they convince customers to come back to their facilities?
For GameWorks, announcing publicly that its FECs are back in business proved enough to encourage customers to return. “After spending more than a year of sitting at home, people are completely ready to get out,” Kaplan says. “So we didn’t have to do any special promotions—we just let people know that we’ve reopened and are ready to help them have fun.”
John’s Incredible Pizza Co. is leveraging the public’s desire for a good time by anchoring its reopening messaging to the positive theme of family fun. “We chose to highlight our food, rides, and games instead of focusing on the negatives,” says Jashinsky. “Information about our enhanced COVID-19 safety protocols is easily accessible for guests to find, but it is not the main focus of the advertising.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, health and safety are “the most important things to our guests,” says Chopra. Therefore, TEEG’s FECs are actively promoting their COVID-19 safety measures. “Guests need to know that we are paying careful attention to safe management and hygiene practices and that we are genuine about that, from our high standard of cleaning and disinfecting to our strict safety measures and our now famous ‘Hygiene Heroes,’” he says.
The Canadian market is similarly safety-conscious, a fact that has significantly influenced GlowZone 360’s reopening messaging. “We’re making sure that they know that we’re a safe place to come to and have fun,” says Vande Vooren. “This is why we created a YouTube video that shows the precautions we’ve put in place, from physical barriers and everyone wearing masks to capacity restrictions and the frequency of cleaning/sanitizing our equipment.”
Promotions to Sweeten the Deal
Many FECs, including John’s Incredible Pizza Co., have launched special promotional campaigns to make their venues even more alluring to fun-starved customers.
“During the closure, our team developed our first free loyalty program called My John’s Rewards,” Jashinsky says. “We have since been focused on growing the number of members in that program while rewarding multiple visits with a discounted Summer Fun Pass offering.” Out in cyberspace, “we have partnered with Groupon to promote our reopenings, along with online advertising and some targeted direct mail.”
At TEEG, “our promotions and campaigns focus on maximizing on the fun our guests may have been missing due to closures and restrictions,” says Chopra. “They’re great value and emphasize getting back together to have fun with friends and family again, which are the memories we all miss.”
As for GlowZone 360’s reopening promotions? “We’ve put some incentives on a few existing deals,” Vande Vooren says. “For instance, we’ve extended our standard Summer Memberships to end in December rather than September due to our reopening in July.”
Promotions, targeted messaging, and other proactive actions being taken by reopened FECs reflect what they’ve learned from surviving the pandemic shutdowns. These lessons include stepping back from day-to-day operations to see how they could improve FEC operations and staffing assignments, limiting guest capacity to soothe worried consumers, beefing up health protections, and providing incentives to staff to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.
“At GameWorks, we give a $50 gift certificate to any employee who shows us their vaccination card,” says Kaplan. “We’re now running a contest to get the whole company up to an 80% documented vaccine rate.”
The bottom line: FECs have made adjustments to survive the pandemic, and they intend to persevere until they’ve reached the light at the end of the tunnel.
- James Careless is a Canada-based writer who covers the attractions industry for Funworld.
Coming to IAAPA Expo 2021:
FEC: Experts Weigh in on Esports
Monday, Nov. 15, 10 – 11:30 a.m.
Hear from GameWorks’ Philip N. Kaplan and more FEC leaders as they discuss the future of esports and how operators can incorporate this competitive feature into their facilities as an additional revenue stream. Learn more at IAAPA.org/IAAPAExpo.