Nothin’ but Nerf
After more than 40 years of working behind the scenes, Singapore-headquartered Kingsmen Creatives is stepping directly into the consumer space, with the launch of its first family entertainment center (FEC), Nerf Action Xperience. The 18,000-square-foot facility in a shopping center in Singapore’s central business district is also the world’s first Nerf-themed attraction.
“We were looking to extend our business areas into something we could own, or co-own, as well as manage,” Andrew Cheng, Kingsmen Creatives’ group CEO, tells Funworld before picking up an array of Nerf blasters to shoot animatronic zombies in one of the FEC’s team games, “Zombie City.” (Tip for future zombie hunters: Smaller blasters are more accurate; larger Nerf guns, like the Elite SurgeFire, are better suited to “Camp Dune,” an adaptation of the summer camp staple “Capture the Flag.”)
At the same time Kingsmen was exploring ways to enter the FEC space, Hasbro, the maker of Nerf, was also looking to expand. “We went in through our creative team,” Cheng continues, “collaborated with them and came up with the concept for Nerf Action Xperience. That’s how the relationship started. It’s really an extension of our core business.”
Kingsmen opened its doors in 1976, designing window displays for retailers. Today, the company has offices in more than 20 cities and employs 1,800 people. With subsidiaries that manage sporting events, run conferences, and work in custom publishing, Kingsmen booked revenue of more than SG$360 million in 2018. The growth was gradual. First, it moved into exhibitions, then began creating experiences for museums and visitor galleries. Kingsmen broke into the theme park space in 2008 when it landed a contract with Universal Studios Singapore.
“Ever since we have had experiences with theme parks and attractions, we began to realize that is something that we could do ourselves. It was just a question of getting the right partner and the right IP (intellectual property),” says Cheng’s colleague, Anthony Chong, group managing director for Kingsmen Exhibits. “Our core expertise is really in designing and building for clients. We have a very, very strong design team. That has helped to short-circuit the learning process. More importantly, it gave us that level of confidence that this is something we could do.”
The first step in the process was to set up a subsidiary in the United States that could broach partnerships with IP
owners. To do this, Kingsmen teamed up with a Hollywood veteran named Cory Redmond, who has extensive contacts with movie studios, sports networks, and toy companies, among others.
Kingsmen’s own contacts in the retail space—dating back to the earliest days of the company—have paid off as well. “Mall developers and owners are looking for immersive experiences to go into the malls. They came to us looking for different IPs and concepts,” Chong says.
Nerf Action Xperience expects to welcome more than 200,000 visitors in its first year, providing Kingsmen with a proof of concept for the brand’s expansion in Asia and North America. It already has a contract to open at least seven Nerf FECs in Asia, starting with one in Chongqing, China, that should open in 2021. Kingsmen has also bought the rights for North America and expects to launch a Nerf-themed attraction on the West Coast of the United States in the second or third quarter next year.
“Outside of Singapore, everything else will be a licensee model” says Cheng, who worked in the finance industry until joining the company 12 years ago. “In addition to royalties, Kingsmen will benefit from several additional revenue streams, including fees to design, develop, build, and manage the attractions. “It could work into quite a substantial percentage of bottom line for the group moving forward.”
And if all goes according to plan, the partnership with Hasbro will be just the beginning. Profits from franchises will be used to acquire, and even create, more IP brands.
“The whole idea is for us to be able to provide management and design consultancy services that tie into our core business,” says Chong. “Of course, whenever we sign up an IP, or create a new attraction, we will try to invest in it as a flagship. As in this case, Nerf Action Xperience is 100% owned by us in Singapore. It’s a showpiece.”
Leverage Your Strengths
Five tips from Kingsmen Creatives to create a globally branded FEC:
- Set up a U.S. office to source for intellectual property.
- Commission external research to define market segments.
- Minimize risk by assembling a strong, experienced team.
- Develop and manage a prototype.
- Franchise to generate new revenue streams.
From Football and Blasters to Themed Attractions
- More than 1 billion Nerf blasters have been sold worldwide.
- There are 18 different Nerf blaster product lines.
- Nerf Action Xperience in Singapore is the world’s first Nerf-themed attraction.
- Kingsmen Creatives has committed to open at least seven more Nerf attractions in the Asia-Pacific Region.
- The first Nerf-themed attraction in China is slated to open in Chongqing next year.
- Kingsmen also has the Nerf attraction rights for North America and plans to launch Nerf Action Xperience on the West Coast of the U.S. in the second or third quarter of 2021.
Nerf Action Experience: The Prototype
A young boy, wearing goggles, clear plastic gloves and a yellow poncho, extends his arms at full length, taking aim at a white T-shirt hanging from a grating against the cement wall several feet in front of him. He holds a Nerf Super Soaker in his right hand. The cement and brick walls around him are covered with red, yellow, and blue splotches. A sign to the boy’s side reads “Do Not Disturb: Art in Progress.”
The Nerf soaker is not filled with water, but with colored fabric dye. It’s an innovative application for a toy that is normally an outdoor summertime favorite. Here, instead of squirting each other, children and adults place stencils on tote bags and T-shirts, take aim, and create bespoke wearables and accessories. Welcome to the Create zone of the Nerf Action Xperience, one of four activity zones in the attraction.
The Compete zone features two team-based games: “Zombie City” and “Camp Dune.” In both games, teams compete against each other, using Nerf blasters. In the former, players shoot animatronic zombies, while searching for hidden vaccines to aid against a zombie apocalypse. In the latter, players fire at one another in a game similar to “Capture the Flag.” The queueing and staging areas are akin to a theme park, with lots of theming and videos setting out the storylines.
Kingsmen Creatives designed the shoe-free Challenge zone for children who are between the ages of 3 and 6 and are accompanied by a parent. Among the activities, there’s a miniature rope course and a pint-sized race track. In “The Engine,” children “climb through the inner workings of a blaster,” then throw themselves into a pool of giant Nerf balls.
The fourth zone, Conquer, features a ropes course, climbing wall, and steep slide. This is the only part of the FEC that is not Nerf-based, though Anthony Chong, group managing director for Kingsmen Exhibits, says the activities still link back to the Nerf brand. “Nerf is about action, active play, and fun. So, besides the blasters, we thought it would be nice to have something that is more challenging, where people could conquer their fears and build confidence.” This zone is popular with corporate events, as well as individual visitors.
In addition to the play areas, there are private event spaces for birthday parties and corporate team-building activities. The retail store features a broad range of Nerf blasters and customized Nerf products.
Nerf Action Xperience Singapore is 18,000 square feet. Kingsmen says future venues will ideally be between 20,000 and 25,000. The company will also customize the FEC attractions, depending on the location. In the United States, for example, Nerf Action Xperience is likely to have more sports-themed Nerf attractions.
Entrance is time-based. A two-hour ticket to play in three of the four zones costs SG$39. Guests can pay by the hour to stay longer.