In the family entertainment business, industry trends are always evolving. And in the last few years, family entertainment center (FEC) owners have seen a lot more competitors enter their markets. Complacency can present problems for FECs. By not staying up to date with the market, entertainment centers risk losing customers and money. Renovating current attractions, or expanding with new attractions, is a great way to keep interested customers coming back.
Background of Coconut Bowl
In 2018, Coconut Bowl at Wild Island in Sparks, NV found itself in this situation. With big name companies such as Apple and Google arriving, the Reno and Sparks area of Nevada was booming. For years, Coconut Bowl had a strong grip on their market. However, once the town blew up, they knew that competitors would try to establish themselves in the flourishing area.
“We had already had a pretty good corner on the market, but we knew people were going to start pecking at us. So being locally owned, we wanted to be fairly aggressive,” explained Craig Buster, General Manager of Coconut Bowl.
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To stay ahead of the curve and maintain their status as the premier FEC in their area, Buster decided on a 50,000 square foot expansion to his existing 75,000 square foot facility.
It was important for Coconut Bowl to find the right mix of attractions to fill such a large space. Buster wanted to install attractions that appealed to the growing group of millennials that had just moved to the area. He saw the economic potential of this demographic because of how highly they value experiences. “I just think they want those classy, immersive experiences…They have some discretionary income. You have to go after them.”
Beyond targeting specific demographics, Buster wanted attractions that encouraged people to have social experiences together. “Every attraction we have here, including laser tag, I want people to put down their phones and enjoy each other and just truly be immersed in whatever experience it might be.”
Choosing a Laser Tag Vendor
Buster sent members of his team to LaserTAG360, a 2.5 day educational seminar where they learned a wide variety of business-building entertainment topics. The Coconut Bowl team became familiar with Creative Works at the event and quickly realized that laser tag had to be part of the new attraction mix.
Coconut Bowl was looking for a reliable and durable laser tag attraction. They started touring existing Creative Works laser tag arenas in different markets. Every member of Buster’s team had at least ten years of experience in the industry, so they understood the importance of quality. “I wanted something that was robust…I think that’s important, I don’t need a high maintenance attraction.”
After touring several arenas, the group saw the sturdy durability of Creative Works’ attractions. They decided to move forward with Creative Works to design and install a snake temple laser tag theme. “It was a no brainer. I think the product is a notch above everybody else; I really do. I think it’s the look, the artists that came in and painted, the props, and just how robust it is. It’s bulletproof.”
The laser tag attraction was only a small part of the Coconut Bowl expansion, and Buster used it as a complementary piece to the attraction mix. He also added black light go-karts, a 100 game arcade, private event rooms, a patio with a food truck and fire pits, and a big mezzanine for private events.
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The expansion has led to impressive results for Coconut Bowl. The facility has seen an increase in per-cap (revenue per capita), and food and beverage spending. Their laser tag attraction has been popular and is trending to see an ROI (return on investment) in less than a year from opening. The average length of stay for guests has increased by about 57% and the total annual visitor count is expected to double.
Revenue numbers are important, but this industry represents so much more. It’s about memories with friends and family. It’s about emotions. “When I watch people walking out of our laser tag exits, there’s never people walking out of there all sad. I mean everybody is hootin’ and hollerin’ and ready to look at the scoreboard.”
Coconut Bowl’s successful expansion is a great example of how laser tag does not always have to be a primary attraction; it functions well as a complementary attraction too. Adding laser tag to an existing FEC can diversify an attraction mix and see a quick ROI.
Buster’s Advice to You
Buster advises new owners to take advantage of valuable information and networking opportunities at trade shows and conventions. “I’m a firm believer in getting educated in this industry. If you don’t attend [events like] IAAPA, Bowl Expo, LaserTAG360…you’re just not relevant.”
“I’m a firm believer in getting educated in this industry.”
In an industry that’s always changing, it’s important to constantly visit other FECs. “Go visit the facilities. Go sit down and get that face to face relationship with somebody. And see [not only] what their product is, but actually go out and travel and visit facilities and be a customer and find out what you want.”
Buster took this interactive research approach to attractions when he was first opening Coconut Bowl. “I look back to when we opened the original Coconut Bowl in 2001…I literally was just flying all over the country visiting facilities and taking pictures of cables, and labels, and attractions, and flooring, and goofy stuff. But that’s how you find out what’s going on.”
The Coconut Bowl expansion was a long 14 month process, but the results were worth the effort. In fact, Buster was overcome with emotions when the first guests arrived for the grand re-opening. “Well, I’ll be honest with you. When they walked in, I cried.”
Expanding or renovating an existing FEC is not an easy process. It requires a lot of time and emotional energy. Operators must research the market, attend industry events, select the attraction mix, undergo construction, and manage timelines. However, as Coconut Bowl proved, the results can help operators deliver more memorable experiences, dominate their market, and increase revenue.
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