New and Innovative FEC Additions
From fresh spins on old classics to brand-new rides and attractions, family entertainment centers (FECs) can capitalize on novel additions to their parks. Here’s a look at what additions facilities and companies have made to elevate the guest experience and drive profits.
No snap decisions go into picking the new rides and attractions to fill the 90,000-square-foot Jake’s Unlimited. Jeremy Hoyum, the owner/operator of the FEC in Mesa, Arizona, runs through a long checklist before making any commitments. Among the boxes he must tick: throughput, target demographics, maintenance, cost, industry trends, and competition.
“I don’t want to get the same stuff that everyone else has,” explains Hoyum. “I’m trying to create an experience that will make us unique.”
Hoyum has stayed busy lately, adding multiple new attractions that have quickly become guest favorites, including six mini-bowling lanes, a dual-level laser tag arena, and the “Radius.”
“It’s a people eater,” he says of the Tornado-model ride made by Wisdom Rides. “We can run hundreds of guests through in an hour.” The indoor ride also elevates the thrill factor of Jake’s Unlimited, according to Hoyum. Plus, the bright lighting package of “Radius” creates a great visual, Hoyum says. “When we did our remodel, we focused on making our facility as Instagrammable as possible. We want people to specifically look at our revenue-generating things.”
Along with the thrill ride, Jake’s Unlimited—the reigning IAAPA Brass Ring Award winner for Top FEC of the World—finally entered the virtual reality (VR) universe with the addition of “Virtual Rabbids.”
“We’ve been cautious with how we approach VR,” Hoyum acknowledges. “It’s been tapping at the door of the FEC community for 10 years now. They’re now just getting to the point where it’s affordable for FECs.”
Being attendant-free and having enough renewable content to prevent staleness also let him feel confident in his decision, which ended up being the right one. The piece frequently attracts long lines, and he plans to add a larger VR attraction in the next year or so.
Finally, Hoyum reinvented the FEC’s midway area. The previous incarnation featured manned games, but the transformed midway works off of a ticket system, with two people playing at once. One guest wins a ticket every time; a single ticket earns a small plush, and 15 tickets net a jumbo plush.
“It creates a clear path to success,” Hoyum says. “After two months, we’ve already hit last year’s revenue on it.”
Everything is bigger in Texas, including foosball.
In the typical game, two people or pairs go head-to-head, but not at Pinstack. Up to 16 players can compete at once here, knocking around multiple balls on its giant foosball table, which measures 16.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide, and 38 inches high.
“It definitely attracts a lot of attention,” says Mark Moore, president and CEO of Entertainment Properties Group Inc., which operates the three bowling-centric Pinstack locations in Texas. “Guests love to share photos of the table on social media.”
The piece has become a favorite among the FEC’s corporate and group clients, he says. However, customers—who rent the table by the hour—sometimes recruit random onlookers to help fill out a game, adding to the camaraderie of the oversized attraction.
Be Inside the Game
Urban Air Adventure Park’s new “Immersive Reality Arena” in Southlake, Texas, engages the bodies and imaginations of customers. It works like this: Images get projected onto the walls and floors of the trampoline arena, and guests then interact with the projections—for example, using dodgeballs to splatter a wall with paint or destroy alien spaceships.
“Who wouldn’t love to be inside a game?” says Michael Browning, Urban Air Adventure Park CEO, inspired by the fireworks and projection mapping shows found at Orlando’s theme parks, as well as the popularity of the children’s movie “Wreck-It Ralph.”
With a variety of gaming options, the attraction can accommodate up to 30 guests at once and has no age limit. Players use a radio-frequency identification (RFID) armband to earn points that can be redeemed for prizes at the park. The patented technology, which took nine months to develop, doesn’t require glasses or goggles.
“Whether you have a kid who likes video games or wants to be active, the ‘Immersive Reality Arena’ appeals to both,” says Browning.
Based on the success at its Texas location, Urban Air plans to roll out the attraction nationwide.
In the Fast Lane
Five years in the making, the newly opened Supercharged Entertainment in Wrentham, Massachusetts, bills itself as running one of the world’s largest indoor, multilevel go-kart tracks.
The 125,000-square-foot FEC features two separate quarter-mile tracks, which run over and under each other, but they can connect to create one “mind-blowing” half-mile track, says Olivia Bouchard, the venue’s chief marketing officer. “It draws people here. It’s a great marketing tool.”
Supercharged owns 61 electric go-karts, with 16 on each track when separate and 28 when combined.
In addition, drawing from the popular TV show “American Ninja Warrior,” the facility built the “Ninja Wipeout Arena” with obstacles such as warped walls, monkey rings, a trapeze, spinning logs, a spider wall, and rope runner.
What common mistake do FECs make when adding new rides and attractions?
“Sometimes, facilities will acquire a new attraction and then realize the manpower required to operate the attraction isn’t feasible. As a result, venues either underutilize the attraction or max out their staff to keep up with both the new attraction and its other entertainment amenities.”
—Mark Moore, President and CEO of Entertainment Properties Group Inc.
“When you walk into the arena, you literally look like you’re in the show,” says Bouchard, noting the management team played an active role in designing the layout.
The team developed each obstacle to encourage progression of skill, making it possible for beginners and elite athletes to tackle the same course at different levels of difficulty.
Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, where Vitosha mountain towers just a 20-minute drive away, Borislav Georgiev developed a love for climbing at an early age.
“I couldn’t wait to spend the weekends there with my parents,” he recalls. “The idea of Ropeland is just a continuation of my healthy way of living and climbing passion.”
Completely handmade from technical polyester, Ropeland can’t be simply described as a swing, ladder, trampoline, tunnel, climbing wall, or labyrinth, the owner says. “It’s all in one. Every step of it.”
Each unique crocheted piece generally takes two or three months to produce. Ropeland can withstand typical rain, cold, and heat, but in places with extreme weather conditions, like Russia, Georgiev recommends taking it down for the winter. (Heavy snow may cause some net stretching.)
Georgiev, who purposely sought to avoid using hard plastic in the construction, says Ropeland works to develop kids’ imagination.
“It encourages children to cross various levels, tunnels, and playground areas while looking for the right path,” he says. “And they learn balance by jumping on upper levels, swinging on the balls, climbing, or just rolling in the soft mesh.”