Article Courtesy of IAPPA.org
Both Matt Stearn and Rod Towery acknowledge they don’t have decades of go-kart experience. “We’re businessmen. We come from corporate America,” says Towery, chief operating officer of Driven Raceway LLC. “We want to have the capability to measure every single part of our business.”
For that reason, the thought of anonymous guests pushing in tokens makes them wince, he says. A card reader system plays a crucial role at their two California locations, where video games and mini-bowling serve as an important secondary revenue stream while guests wait to race.
“The calculations for our ROI are much more detailed and reliable,” adds Stearn, Driven’s chief executive officer. “We can tell which games are performing and which ones aren’t.” Stearn and Towery represent a growing group of family entertainment center (FEC) owners embracing technology to further their businesses, explains Merrik Keller, Embed USA LLC’s sales manager for North America, manufacturer of debit card and point of sale systems.
“Rewind five-plus years ago, it was only for the big-box operators,” he notes. “Over the past two years, we’ve started to see the shift toward smaller facilities.”
All-time low costs have helped fuel this change, Keller says. However, potential customers still frequently ask him: “How big do I have to be and how many games do I need?”
He suggests looking at your game room revenue as a good indicator but also be logical about the decision. “Does it make sense for someone with two or three games?” Keller says. “No.”
Flexibility, Marketing Capabilities
The guys at Driven, which owns more than 60 games between the two spots, use the back-end and data capturing reports to understand how people play each machine. In addition to total revenue, they can see what hour and day the game makes the most money, and even the demographics of the guests playing the game.
They also can change prices on the fly to stimulate business. For example, they could offer a special of 10-cent video games from3 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, or do unlimited play on certain game types for an hour. “People aren’t tied into a coin,” says Keller, adding guests often disassociate spending with the swipe of a card. On the other hand, they may struggle to throw in 12 tokens to ride a simulator.
On the marketing side, Roger Camp, owner of Z-Bowl Family Entertainment Center in Mebane, North Carolina, found the cards to be a huge plus when the facility opened in May. Camp went out to area college campuses armed with $5 pre-charged cards, which could be used for bowling, pool, food, or the arcade.
“I don’t think we would be doing nearly as well as we are if we hadn’t been able to use those cards as aggressively as we had,” he says.
For a time, Garrick Weaver’s staff would receive up to a hundred calls a day about birthdays. Many questions (options, pricing, etc.) could be easily answered by simply looking online, but employees always took the time to address the queries, says Weaver, co-owner of Boomers Laser Tag and Moonbounce Adventures, both in Pennsylvania.
This sort of patient customer service took up a tremendous number staff hours. So to alleviate this employee drain, Weaver recommended to his partners the companies switch to online birthday party booking. Three years ago, both locations moved to the software, which accounts for more than 40 percent of bookings at peak time.
Along the way, Weaver discovered another big perk with software: Guests will upsell themselves when planning a party. Without any sales pressure, they will routinely add on goodie bags and extra food through the booking system.
“Most of our clients see a drastic increase in revenue because of the software,” says Scott Drummond, president of Party Center Software in Cameron Park, California. As a former small-FEC owner, Drummond created the software with a cost-conscious mom-and-pop facility in mind. A monthly subscription to his technology runs about half the cost of a typical party package. (Roughly 80 percent to 90 percent of clients are between 5,000 and 25,000 square feet.)
Some additional software features include the tracking of marketing efforts, the ability to assign employees to a party based on their availability, and e-mail invoices. Thanks to that last option, Weaver, who uses Drummond’s software, eliminated the need to send paper party confirmations. He estimates he saves close to $50 a month in postage and three hours of labor.
While e-booking offers huge advantages, management experienced some initial trepidation that the human element would be removed from the birthday process. They counteracted that worry by having staff following up after a guest books a party, a step Drummond wholeheartedly supports.
“People worry they’re going to lose that personal touch. Absolutely not.” Drummond says. “We encourage people to call back. It’s a secondary option to sell them more product, and it actually improves your customer service. You tell them you got their order, you can’t wait to see them, and ask if they have any questions.”
Card readers have spread beyond smaller FECs. Untraditional venues, like hotel game rooms and cruise ships, now are moving toward the technology, says E. Brooks Lilly, director of development for CORE Cashless Inc., in Lenexa, Kansas.
Typically, these arenas shied away from redemption areas. The costs, coupled with a small footprint, didn’t make it practical, he says. However, attitudes have changed due to new technologies that reduce labor issues.
Guests can purchase a card from an automatic kiosk, play games, and head over to an eticket-to-prize machine to collect their hardearned merchandise. With such a setup, there’s minimal staffing and employee theft and “customer satisfaction shoots up,” Lilly says. “Now, (these venues) can not only afford it, they can succeed at it.”