Summertime Promotions at FECs
Summer is typically a slower time for indoor family entertainment centers (FECs), as guests take advantage of outdoor entertainment and recreation options. FEC operators have multiple sales and marketing strategies to keep customers coming through the doors in the warmer months.
Bill Balfour, general manager of EnterTRAINment Junction, a train-themed FEC in West Chester, Ohio, United States, says his team markets to the entire family—including grandparents—in the summer.
“Pulling people in at the beginning of summer is tough,” he says. The facility offers a different monthly theme and relevant promotion throughout the summer—a “Summer Fun Event” in June, where guests get a free ice cream cone with the purchase of a “Do It All” ticket; a monthlong “Christmas in July” event; and an “Everything Thomas the Tank Engine” theme for younger guests in August, the time that older children prepare to go back to school. Balfour says that although the FEC has something for guests of all ages, it has seen success with two key demographics: young kids who are fans of “Thomas the Tank Engine” and train enthusiasts who want to see the facility’s train displays. “Someone flew in from San Diego for two days because they’d heard about our display,” he adds.
Tracy Bates, chief operating officer of HeyDay Entertainment—which has locations in Oklahoma City and Norman, Oklahoma, as well Denison, Texas, U.S.—says HeyDay’s team has created four-person family packages, which are only released during the holidays.
“Our hope [for the summer] is that families will begin to anticipate the great deal and plan to visit us during their staycations,” Bates says. Additionally, HeyDay offers food and drink specials that highlight different aspects of its facility.
“For example, our ‘Sunday Funday’ features half-priced lanes in our 21-plus lounge, Revolutions, which makes for an affordable and relaxing afternoon for adult guests to enjoy the day,” Bates explains. The venue also features free “Interactive Nights,” where the staff engages with guests. It’s an affordable option for guests who want to do more than eat but are being cost-conscious. “You might catch a bartender playing a quick game of cards or our owner hosting trivia,” Bates says.
Other FECs strive to increase their marketing to stay top of mind as summer fun destinations. Glen Vilio, owner of Central City Fun Park in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, says summer is the facility’s busiest season. It is open every day (typically closed Monday and Tuesday in the fall and winter) with extended hours.
“Although we are fairly busy throughout the day, evenings are when it really picks up,” he says. “Word of mouth is always the best advertising, but it helps that we triple our marketing budget during the summer months.” Central City Fun Park expands its marketing beyond the immediate area to reach folks who are willing to travel longer distances for something to do during the summer. Its additional marketing mix includes radio spots and, this year, transit advertising.
Balfour says the EnterTRAINment Junction team focuses on encouraging repeat business, rather than offering one-time deals. “We change our promotions monthly to get people to come in throughout the summer,” he says. They promote their facility through a mix of digital and traditional media. “The main stuff has been Google ads, email blasts, and Facebook, [which] has worked pretty well for us. Because of the trains, we also advertise in the visitors bureau guide and on their website.”
At HeyDay, Bates says the team is utilizing technology to capture digital markets, as well as giving employees tools to promote HeyDay on their own social media accounts. Additionally, the facility has a strong presence in its community. The HeyDay mascot, a bowling pin aptly named Pinny, loves going out and meeting new people.
“Much of our marketing budget is being used to support local organizations through sponsorships and participation in local expos where Pinny makes special photo-op appearances,” Bates says.
Birthday parties, another common revenue generator for FECs, are typically less profitable in the summer. With kids out of school, they lose the daily connection with friends and classmates to invite them to parties.
Balfour says EnterTRAINment Junction sees most of its party business in the fall and winter.
“Our best guess why we have less party business in the summer is because you can’t have an outdoor party in Ohio in February,” he says. With more options for outdoor parties in the summer, EnterTRAINment gets less party business.
After 25 years in the FEC business, Vilio of Central City Fun Park says, “We learned it is really a waste of our marketing budget trying to promote birthday parties during the summer months.” Instead, his goal is to draw drop-in traffic and return to promoting the party business when students go back to school.
“Our party business is strongest during the school year, while our walk-in business builds during the summer,” Bates says. “This provides for an awesome balance where we get to focus on the different needs of the customers.”
Despite more competition from outdoor attractions in the warmer weather, FEC operators continue to evolve their marketing and promotions to bring business indoors.