DALLAS -- It often is not enough to do all the right things. What's needed is to do the right things better than everyone else. This is the objective pursued by Main Event Entertainment, a Dallas-based family entertainment center operator. Its plan to double its operation over the next three years is an ambitious goal, but the company seems well on its way to achieving it. The firm, which opened a location in Katy, TX, in December, is preparing to cut the ribbon at a new location in Houston's metropolitan area this spring. This will increase the company's Lone Star State locations to an even dozen.
Main Event, founded in 1998, sees an opportunity for continued growth with the formula it's established for high-volume FECs, which typically profile at anywhere from 50,000 to 75,000 square feet. The concept is simple: eat, bowl and play, to paraphrase its slogan. The execution is a bit more complicated.
"All Main Event locations have bowling, billiards and laser tag, and our newer locations have Gravity (an elevated ropes course)," said Main Event chief executive Charlie Keegan [pictured above]. "We have experimented with golf, bocce and rock climbing, but those attractions are not part of our format going forward."
Next up on the list for Main Event is a location in Stafford, in the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area. Located in the popular Fountain on the Lake shopping center off U.S. Highway 59 and South Kirkwood Rd., the facility will mark a departure for the growing FEC operation. The biggest change: It will move away from its traditional anchor model by "infusing" design elements, unlike any of the other sites in its portfolio.
"We designed a new prototype that will be the basis of our development strategy. Stafford is an existing retail space and, therefore, we had to design around that space," said Keegan. "It has all the elements of our [new] prototype, but with a modified layout." The large-scale facility will feature entertainment options for all ages, including laser tag, built in between state-of-the-art bowling lanes, billiard tables, an indoor ropes course and more than 100 virtual and interactive games, as well as a host of dining options and full-service bars.
The company has also updated the design and styling to be more contemporary and high-tech. For instance, the new location will feature LED projection on the masking units above the lanes, and Main Event is currently experimenting with interactive floor displays.
In short, Main Event is creating a multimedia environment that complements gameplay and creates excitement. This is similar to the strategy used by the bowling centers that turned somewhat sleepy alleys into attractions for a new generation of players.
And it seems to be working. Main Event has experienced three consecutive years of improved sales and profits, no easy feat in the current economic environment. Keegan chalks up the continued success to a combination of investment in infrastructure and knowledge of the core customer demographic.
What does this kind of planning look like? Not surprisingly, more than 40% of the equipment mix is made up of redemption. That's not a whole lot different from most FECs, though Main Event has migrated from the standard counter format to a "store format" for the merchandise.
Main Event locations also employ a stored-value card system from Intercard Inc. Keegan observed that this allows management to closely monitor gameplay.
And the company also aggressively promotes group sales, specifically birthday parties and corporate events. "The way we look at it, group business is a large part of what we do, and birthday parties are a large part of group business," Keegan explained. "Birthday parties tend to be compressed into Saturdays, already a peak day for us, so choreographing parties in a way that drives throughput while maintaining high levels of satisfaction is paramount, and always a focus for our team."
The firm also has established a track record of hosting corporate events, including activities such as team-building outings, employee appreciation galas, holiday parties, meetings and "rent the events," for which a group can reserve the entire facility for its private use.
The company has also been a proactive innovator in online promotion. "We've been utilizing an online presence for more than 10 years," Keegan said. "And we've been using Facebook and Twitter for several years to engage with customers directly regarding our promotions and customer service inquiries, as well as building brand loyalty. Our website offers our customers direct access to current promotions, answers sales questions and provides information regarding each of our current locations." The company plans its promotions carefully, timing them throughout the year with heavy concentration on holidays and school breaks.
The promotions dovetail nicely with Main Event's community partnerships. It's a longstanding sponsor of the Dallas Mavericks, which recently hosted the team's holiday camp at Main Event's Plano location. This private party was held in conjunction with the company's philanthropic partner, Variety, the Children's Charity of Texas.
And there are even more high-profile functions. "For more than a decade, Main Event has partnered with the Cotton Bowl," Keegan said. "Each year, participating football teams have the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely private night of fun in one of two centers that we close to the public. And for several years, we've hosted numerous celebrity bowling tournaments including the Sam Hornish, Jr. Celebrity Bowl in partnership with Texas Motor Speedway, not to mention many exciting celebrity events related to the 2011 Super Bowl."
What's next? "We have said publicly that we are going to double the size of the business in the next three years, with our sights set on spreading the 'Eat. Bowl. Play.' experience beyond Texas," explained Keegan. "The Sunbelt is the logical next chapter for us, but we are constantly looking at our development strategy and hopefully, if we execute well, the Sunbelt will not be the final chapter."