As many of you know or many of you will see, there are many obstacles that you will need to address in running a family entertainment center. As operators, we realize the challenge and have discussed some missed, yet valuable, insights that could help you in running a more profitable business:
1) Find the right space, negotiate the best lease! Leases, without help, can cause significant unnecessary spending. Offer a low ball letter of intent to start and work upward. The landlord has his/her best interest in mind ONLY. Of course they want you to succeed but a personal guarantee (if not limited) will require you to pay whether your business is there or not!
2) Hire the right team! Do your homework! There are many architects, general contractors, consultants, and vendors in the market. Some are great…some aren’t. Get referrals!
3) Add a penalty clause to your general contractor agreement. Without it, you will run over. Remember, every day you aren’t open, you are losing revenues! Time is money! Be fully vested in the oversight of your design build to make sure your team is on target and change orders can be instant. The right architect can minimize the change orders needed but they will happen. Be ready to answer questions expeditiously to keep the ball rolling!
4) Open when your brand and team are ready only! You spent 6 months to a year to get all your ducks in a row. You can see a light at the end of the tunnel….STOP! Are you ready? A few thoughts:
a) Hire your management team AT LEAST a month ahead of time. Hire your general manager, kitchen manager and event staff MUCH, MUCH earlier!
b) Make sure your management team is trained and understand 100% of their department before orientation. Your new hourly staff will look for guidance. If you aren’t ready or your manager doesn’t understand their department, your staff will quit! Consistency is the king of stability. Holding someone accountable is based on you knowing it inside and out.
c) Be 100% set up and ready BEFORE training starts. Not 80%…Not 90%…100%!!! To train your staff effectively, you need to be solid in your brand. This will allow for you to manage through expectations vs creating expectations on a fly. Employees look for guidance. If there is none, you will suffer the consequences with inferior operations. This will dilute your brand significantly!
d) Train your staff on hospitality FIRST. THE GUEST PAYS YOUR BILLS, BE NICE AND ACCOMMODATING TO THEIR NEEDS!
e) Do at least 3 days of dry runs (beta testing) to insure you are maintaining timing and standards with real people. Follow beta testing with friends and family night and then VIP before opening. The 5 days of free fun will go a long way in working out the kinks before you open!
5) Attraction mix – Of course everyone wants to offer something for all guests no matter the age but is this realistic? No!. There are many ways to target the appropriate audience but in most cases, you cannot build something for everyone. Kids will go where adults play but adults will not go where kids play (unless they have to!). Create a mix to appeal to the audience you want to attract. Typically there are 3 targets:
a) Children – Ages 0-7
b) Preteens and teens – Ages 7-15
c) Teens and Adults – Ages 16-65
It is true that you can mix a and b somewhat but mixing a or b with c will limit revenues considerably. The best opportunity, in our opinion, is to target C in aesthetic appeal. This would allow for a and b to come in during various day parts yet leave the opportunity for adults to mingle for corporate events and late-night opportunities when a and b are in bed or in school.
6) Upgraded food and beverage are essential to long-term sustainability – The growth of dining out or delivery has grown considerably over the last 10 years. Everyone has to eat! Everyone does not have to play. Many families, due to lack of time, use the disposable income for dining out. If you can incorporate a modernized food menu, you now have the opportunity to appeal to this audience as well. Without good food and beverage, your brand will miss appeal to many families and groups alike.
*Hint – Food operations are much easier than you would think.
7) Linen contracts – Need floor mats? kitchen towels? Aprons? Mop heads? etc….Linen contracts come in many forms and are written 100% in favor of the linen company. There are 4 types of contracts. Guess what? Without knowing, you will get the worst for your business AND you will typically need to sign a 3-5 year deal! Ask for a usage or replacement contract only! A usage contract will allow you to be charged for used products only and save you up to 75% of a bill!
8) Credit Card Commissions – Everyone has to pay them. There is no escape! The typical contract is 25 pages long and lawyers cannot even understand them.
Believe it or not, there are many companies out there. Some charge ridiculous fees and some even charge more fees than what the contract states. With the wrong contract, you will pay up to 300 times than the cheapest company! Do your homework!
9) Kitchen equipment companies – Need equipment? Probably…..There are many groups that will design your kitchen for you if you buy the equipment from them. Sound too good to be true? It is! They will charge you up to 200% more than what you can buy online. Look at webstaurantstore.com or Supplies on a Fly (Sysco food purveyor clients only) for the best prices available. You will be shocked at the difference!
10) Have bowling? Getting bowling? It’s well worth it! Bowling is the only attraction that will appeal to ages 6 to 65! Most people are as bad as me too! That’s what makes it fun! In the industry, you will see many traditional centers closing or empty. Although this is true, the new, modern bowling centers are within an FEC and are doing EXCEPTIONALLY well. As well, you can sign up with the Bowling Proprietors Association of America (www.bpaa.com) and save SIGNIFICANT dollars on weekly usage items such as Sysco, Pepsi, ASCAP licensing, and more! Well worth the money!
These are just a few of the many challenges of opening a center. Without the right representation, many things can happen. Some can even be long-term costs that can lead up to over $100,000+ annually in expenses that could go directly in your pocket, where it belongs!