Two years ago, Rick Barsness embarked on a major survey of his audience. The founder and CEO of America’s Incredible Pizza Company expected rosy results, with guests feverishly noting their love of the family entertainment center (FEC).
Instead, some data which he describes as “heart-wrenching” revealed otherwise.
“They did not perceive us to be a good value,” says the 41-year industry veteran. “I called them personally to find out more. They said, ‘Your rides and attractions eat up our dollars so fast. If you don’t change it, we’re going to one of your competitors.’ You just have to swallow your pride. Those were very tough conversations. We had no idea our customers felt that way.”
The FEC chain with six U.S. locations recalibrated its pricing structure, focusing on value and new packages to entice its customers to stay longer and spend more.
Barsness, along with Brandon Wooldridge, the owner of Big Play Entertainment Center in Biloxi, Mississippi, give a behind-the-scenes look on how they develop the best pricing structures and deals for their audiences.
After analyzing the survey results, Barsness and his leadership team immediately planned more value-driven packages. For example, an eat-and-play promo at its Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, spot includes unlimited buffet and drinks, two hours of video game play, a $10 game card, and six activities. The deal runs $34.99, saving customers $49 off the regular à la carte prices.
“They absolutely love it, and there’s little cost on our side,” Barsness says. “It’s a win-win.”
However, the package features a couple of important restrictions. It does not cover the go-karts (because of high maintenance costs) and redemption games.
“You can’t give away an hour’s worth of redemption,” he says. “Some games take just 30 seconds to play, and they can win 500 tickets at a time.”
Pro Tip: Protect your redemption stock. Never give away free plays on redemption games with large ticket payouts.
Increasing Repeat Business
Packages don’t necessarily jibe for all FECs, though. When Wooldridge opened Big Play in 2010, the facility offered a handful of them. However, once the FEC started to grow and add new attractions, he felt the variety of deals became too unwieldy, with guests wanting every combination possible.
Instead, he now focuses on tiered incentives with the game cards. Guests earn a 10% bonus on a $10 card, 20% on a $20 card, 35% on a $50 card, and 50% on a $100 card. While Wooldridge doesn’t include attractions on the card, he does allow a family or group to divvy up one card—a differentiating factor from some competitors.
“We try to cater to many locals, and we want families to get a lot of value here,” says Wooldridge, noting the FEC doesn’t charge for go-kart passengers either. “Some places might be a once-a-year or every-six-months birthday-party experience. We’re trying to get people in every few weeks, and we don’t want people to feel like we’re gouging them. Our philosophy is that we might get a little less each visit, but we will get you to come back more frequently.”
Deals like the buy $100, get $50 also avoids people believing they got nickel-and-dimed on their trip out.
“They only go into their pocket once,” he says. “If they have to pull out $10 each time, it seems like they’re getting hit over and over again.”
Pro Tip: Add value, make it convenient, and eliminate the friction in the sales process.
Deals change throughout the year at America’s Incredible Pizza. The FEC’s promos won’t be as sweet in season versus out of season, for instance.
“When the fish are biting, you don’t have to put as much bait on,” Barsness says. “In the offseason, we’re just looking for every dollar we can get. We will do Groupon just to drive customers in the door.”
Big Play does dynamic pricing as well, with a go-kart ride costing $6 during the week and $8 on the weekend.
And sometimes, you just have to give it away.
“We don’t have problems on the weekends,” Wooldridge says. “We have Monday-to-Thursday troubles.”
Through a periodic email campaign, he may offer a free $5 card for visiting. Or if Big Play’s bumper cars or mini-golf sales appear shaky during the week, Wooldridge will send an email to his list that pitches a free ride or round on these low-cost-to-operate attractions.
“What are the chances they will just play the $5 and walk out?” he asks. “Ideally, they will spend more money when they’re here.”
Pro Tip: Plainly state in an email subject line “Free $5 Game Card.” A clear promo usually leads to a high open rate where an FEC can also plug upcoming events and news.
Listen to the Customers
Even though America’s Incredible Pizza conducted an exhaustive customer survey just two years ago, another one is in the works, Barsness says. “You have to keep probing. Don’t rely on just a gut feeling.”
The FEC’s new survey asks about the types of attractions guests would like to see and how much they would be willing to spend on a visit.
“You might be leaving money on the table,” Barsness explains. “Get to a package that goes to the $100 point if that’s what they’re willing to pay.”
FECs also should be ready to bail quickly on a dud package, he advises. For a brief moment, America’s Incredible Pizza lumped redemption into an all-you-can-play deal. The catch? Guests wouldn’t receive any tickets on the games.
Pro Tip: Take time to listen to customers. Digest what they’re saying.
“We explained it very clearly, but, oh my, it just didn’t work,” says Barsness with a laugh. “When you get 40 or 50 complaints in two weeks, it’s time to quit and try something else. You’re making them mad.”
Contact Funworld Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at [email protected]