Chuck E. Cheese Entertainment CEO and IAAPA Virtual Conference: The Americas Speaker on Reopening, Leadership, and Evolving the Brand
Chuck E. Cheese, the largest family entertainment center brand in the world, has found innovative ways to adapt its model to the current times, with insight into some changes that might have an impact on future trends. David McKillips, CEO of CEC Entertainment, will explore these concepts during IAAPA Virtual Conference: The Americas, September 2-3, IAAPA’s first exclusively online conference.
Leading into his session, “Emerging Trends," happening next week, David shares some of his insights on leading this legacy brand in a new era:
Like most attractions, your company has faced a pretty difficult year because of the impact of the coronavirus. Your company has had to face the hard decision to voluntarily file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections and close locations. But you’re using these unprecedented times to pivot your company in a new and exciting direction. What areas of growth are you targeting?
David McKillips: CEC Entertainment has taken swift actions to address the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including operating and capital cost reductions as well as reviewing liquidity preservation measures while pivoting the business, near term, to carry-out and third-party delivery. The recent steps CEC Entertainment has taken will strengthen financial flexibility to best position the company to delight families and kids for generations to come.
Below are a few examples of innovative ways CEC Entertainment is pursuing growth.
- The launch of Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings, the delivery-only brand leveraging the operational infrastructure of Chuck E. Cheese kitchens across the nation. Delivered by GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats, this CEC brand offers a premium pizza made with fresh ingredients and is made to appeal to an audience with more mature taste preferences. This strategic move allowed us to maximize the fixed costs of our venues, develop a new customer base, and keep as many of our amazing Cast members working as possible.
- We made the Chuck E. Cheese experience available for an at-home experience with branded birthday party packages for delivery and debuted our Chuck E. Cheese Online Shop, making available some of great merchandise like plush, masks, and toys.
- In the future, CEC is adapting and planning new innovation to enhance the guest experience:
- Mobile ordering—CEC is enhancing the guest experience through convenience and safety. Guests can now order menu items from the palm of their hand right at their table, avoiding having to wait in line.
- E-tickets—Chuck E. Cheese is leveraging technology to enhance the guest experience through the adoption of e-tickets nationally. The CEC arcade rooms have and will continue to be a guest favorite part of the CEC experience and e-tickets are a cost-efficient way to ensure the health and safety of guests through another touchless part of their visit.
Locations are reopening as the United States is recovering. How is guest response and how has your company faced the challenges of reopening?
Chuck E. Cheese has always been the place where a kid can be a kid. The place where families can safely enjoy wholesome entertainment together over tasty food. As we continue to reopen our restaurants and arcade rooms across the country, in accordance with all CDC, federal, state, and local guidelines, we remain committed to making every guest and cast member experience as safe as possible.
We conduct in-market consumer insight testing on a constant bases and we are just starting to see some improvement in consumer sentiment for visiting a family entertainment center. We also measure our effectiveness in delivering a safe experience for our guests and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
To enhance team and guest protection, we have touchless employee and guest temperature checks and touchless payment. Our team members will be wearing face coverings and guests will be strongly encouraged to wear face covers as well. Other enhancements include Kid Check® Selfies instead of hand stamps, guest capacity limits, special hours for parties and more distance in between tables and games. Hand sanitizing stations are located throughout our dining and arcade rooms and we’ve implemented additional cleaning and sanitizing protocols, above and beyond our already rigorous procedures.
In this time, the attractions industry spans both in-person and at-home activity. Is CEC Entertainment evolving with these changes to leisure behavior?
We look forward to safely welcoming families back to Chuck E. Cheese as our locations continue to reopen across the country but are also offering ways for families to stay connected with us while at home. We have introduced birthday parties to-go, plus original daily content on our social channels featuring Chuck E Cheese’s FUNBREAK® and have branded video games on the App Store, plus activity books and toys available at our stores for at-home play.
You have been a leader in the attractions industry for some time and have seen its peaks and valleys. And, you had only started your role as CEO a few months before the pandemic began in North America. How have you found the will to lead bravely in these times?
It's been a privilege to be in this business for so many years and I’m honored to be in a position to lead the CEC Entertainment Company today. First, I am very fortunate to be surrounded by such an excellent management team at our corporate office and at our venues; they have managed through many challenging times over 40 years and understand that we are making decisions to ensure we are able to deliver on our promise and guest experience for another 40 years and beyond! We have had to make very difficult decisions, but communication remains key to success during a challenging time like this—to our guests, to our employees, and to our vendors as well. We are communicating weekly to our employees, setting up virtual Town Halls; we also are measuring guest sentiment pre-visit and post-visit to ensure we get guest feedback for those locations that are open. I’m in constant contact with our teams, guests, partners and other executives in the business—this gives me the strength, knowledge, and motivation to lead in such a tough time. But most of all, the thought of having our families back at Chuck E. Cheese, having a great time, making memories, and celebrating a special moment is what keeps me going every day!
If you had to sum up your advice for fellow IAAPA members navigating these tough times in one sentence, what would it be?
Every challenge brings us a new opportunity; we need to continue adapting, changing, and finding ways to bring our experience safely back to our guests; accept that things are different today and do your best to take care of your guests, employees, and vendors.
To learn more about the future of one of the biggest players in the global attractions industry, register for IAAPA Virtual Conference: The Americas, taking place September 2through September 3. Hear from industry thought leaders from around the world, connect with your peers, and generate ideas that will bring a brighter future for your business, all online.