Community-based entertainment venues in transition

Community-based entertainment venues such as family entertainment centers (FECs), hybrid bowling centers, laser tag centers and many other family- and adult-oriented community entertainment venues are undergoing a major transition.

For decades their economic models were defined by the product - the entertainment attractions and games themselves. For the family entertainment center industry this probably is attributable to having its roots in the carnival and seaside boardwalk models, where it was solely about the entertainment - the rides, attractions and games and little else.

What is now driving success, and will even more so for future profitability, is the quality of the overall experience of visiting a leisure venue. That experience encompasses so much more than the attractions and games. The attractions and games have decreased in importance as only one part of a much more complex holistic mix of essential components to create a synergistic overall experience, one that needs a very high social dimension and one that has to be not only be enjoyable and memorable, but also sharable on social media. Explaining what a contemporary experience needs to be, Brian Solis, author, analyst and anthropologist says, “An experience is something that you feel and sense, but it only counts when it's whole, when its one thing.”

Over the past few decades, society and leisure culture has undergone many significant changes leading to this change from just products to total experience, some of which include:

Growth of out-of-home experiences
Not all that many years ago the number of out-of-home experience options was much more limited. Today, we are seeing a consumer shift to experiences over acquiring stuff. We are truly in the experience economy where every out-of-home option, including retail stores and malls, are moving to or trying to become an experience. Out-of-home experience options have greatly expanded, so it is a much more competitive landscape.

Digital Age
We are now in the digital age with the option of multiple screen-based at-home experiences, with virtual and augmented reality soon to enhance those options. So the entertainment competitive landscape has greatly expanded.

As a result of the expanded at-home options and other factors, we are seeing people venture out less often from their homes. In fact, futurist Faith Popcorn says there is now a new lifestyle trend of people Bunkering, seeking safety and escape from reality by retreating to the seclusion of their homes. The New York Times just ran a story this month titled, Is Staying In the New Going Out? Last year there was a blog on the Huffington Post, Staying in Is the New Going Out: Forget FOMO, which discussed JOMO, the joy of missing out and just staying home.

Shift in market share
Market share for out-of-home leisure experiences has shifted more and more to the higher socioeconomic households as the lower socioeconomic households have shifted a greater share of their leisure time and limited discretionary spending to digital options.

Seeking high fidelity experiences
Those higher socioeconomic households, and the lower ones when they do go out, are seeking quality, high fidelity experiences. It's no longer a price equation, but rather a value for the money equation, with the higher value and more expensive experiences winning.

Foodie culture
We now live in a foodie culture, where the quality and selection of both food and beverages is driving the decision of where to visit for purposes in addition to going out to restaurants. Food and beverage offerings have now moved center stage as a destination determinant. This is even true for where people choose to shop, a type of destination trip you won't think food would hold so much influence over. Research by ECE found that 40% of consumers base their choice of shopping center primarily on the available dining options - and not on the variety of other stores. This is even truer for entertainment venues. Now, in many cases, the food and beverage has become the anchor.

Quality design
A quality out-of-home experience now requires not only exceptional customer service, but also a high quality atmosphere and level of finish throughout the facility. The expectation for quality design has been dramatically raised by all the increased design quality that consumers are experiencing at other retail, restaurant and leisure locations. The bar is now set higher.

Connected social
We now live in a connected society, where “ ... if an experience isn't shared, it didn't happen,” according to Brian Solis. This of course means it has to be great and worth sharing to become part of your social capital. Today, it isn't worth doing or sharing if you can only say you went bowling. But if you can say you went bowling at this really cool place with a great vibe with incredible hand crafted cocktails and incredible food (that you shared on social media), then it is worth doing.

Unfortunately, we continue to see new entertainment venues being opened under the old paradigm of “its all about the product” - the attractions and the games. These will become tomorrow's road kill. Meanwhile, we are seeing very successful new leisure venues being opened and operated under the new quality experience model. They are the ones that are positioned to prosper not only today, but also as a future-proof model.

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