San Antonio, TX. Brandon Arceneaux and Chris Hoegemeyer, owners of the successful City Base Cinema, were looking for a way to bring even more excitement to the re-developing South Side San Antonio area. Their 10-screen trendy, niche theater offers inexpensive movie tickets, premium concessions, alcohol, and state of the art amenities, including wall-to-wall/ceiling-to-floor screens, Sony 4K digital surround sound, premium oversized rocking leather seating, and CBX extreme experience. They had access to 21,500 sq. ft. of available space adjoining the Cinema, but what was the best use for this space for a growing urban and suburban market population that would complement the Cinema?
Watching the streams of families walk through their CB Cinema doors daily, Brandon and Chris had an idea to bring in additional entertainment. What elements to add was the hard question? Bowling? Rock Climbing? Arcade games? A new restaurant? That’s when it hit them, why not add it all and more? As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas!
They wanted an entertainment facility that families could visit either before the movie to eat and play or after the movie to release all the pent up energy families gained during the movie. Their first step was to pick attractions so they visited many family entertainment centers. There were so many choices. The problem they faced was there weren’t many existing movie theater-entertainment centers to learn from. Additional questions arose: What type of food & beverage to offer? Could a snack bar with less expensive offerings than the one in the Cinema work? Could an entertainment center draw suburban customers to the South Side? Would the two businesses compete or complement each other? They understood that their family entertainment center could not charge premium prices for snacks and sodas like the Cinema, but kept questioning how to incorporate the F&B at the entertainment center without directly competing against their strong concession sales at the Cinema.
THE CONCEPT MOVES FORWARD
With the vision in place, still many unanswered questions, and with no entertainment center background, Brandon and Chris decided to hire Amusement Entertainment Management (AEM), a company that came highly recommended by both several movie theater groups and many amusement entertainment center industry suppliers, to conduct a feasibility study that would provide all of the answers to what entertainment and services would be the best fit and provide the best return on investment. AEM had experience in recently developing successful movie theater entertainment projects that included Valley Cinemas, Emagine Entertainment, Cine Birstro, and Fox Theaters.
The project was fast tracked, as Brandon and Chris wanted to open within a 12 month period. The cost of the project was calculated by AEM to be $3 million dollars. Construction began in June 2014. Game On opened their doors in March of 2015. Amazingly, with multiple construction struggles, including the strikes at California ports, the Game On team completed the center within 9 months and within the AEM budget.
Game On General Manager, Mike Witkowsky reports, “AEM was a very big part of the process from the beginning through the grand opening and beyond. Jerry Merola [AEM Managing Partner] was the only connection we had with the amusement and attraction side of the entertainment industry until I came on board late in the construction phase. Having Jerry was a big plus. We could not have gotten that far that fast without him.” Mike has 20 years of FEC experience.
Game On is comprised of a multi-level 4050 sq. ft. laser tag (Zone Laser Tag), Spin Zone bumper cars-2200 sq. ft. (Amusement Products), Ballocity 3-level play unit (White Water Attractions), 4 lanes of Highway 66 mini-bowling (Qubica AMF), 7 stations of Clip and Climb, 60 amusement games, including retro video classics (Alpha-Omega Sales), Atomic Rush (Creative Works), 3 large party rooms, and ‘The 13th Step Bar & Grill’ that seats 95 people. The attractions and games use the EMBED debit card system and the Redemption Store uses Center Edge Software. Both systems are completely integrated. The high quality food includes homemade chips, fresh cut French fries, and hand tossed pizza. The full bar is a hit with the adults, many coming to relax watching their beloved San Antonio Spurs while their kids enjoy the games and attractions.
OPERATING GAME ON AND CITY BASE CINEMA
Brandon and Chris knew there would be a large learning curve combining a FEC with their established Cinema. One of the ideas they incorporated was a direct, accessible walkway from the Cinema to Game On. The walkway has been a huge success.
According to Mike, “The crossover foot traffic is strong and growing daily. Game On actually has less operating hours than the Cinema. We try to open Game On as early as the first movie time, but close earlier than when the last movie lets out (normally late at night).”
During the first month Game On did not run any cross promotions. The idea was to wait and track the amount of traffic and per capita revenue Game On would get from casual walk-ins versus Cinema crossover. Both trackings were strong. It was quickly decided to begin cross promotions within both centers and ramp up individual Game On promotions.
Game On originally introduced the ‘All You Can Play’ package. This package allows a customer to use any of the attractions and play the video games all day for just one low price. The package was a success and they quickly started a cross promotion with the Cinema. If you brought your Cinema same day ticket stub to Game On, you can purchase the All You Can Play package for a $7 additional discount, about the average cost of the movie ticket. Mike quickly noticed an alarming trend with this package: “Some customers were leaving Game On and giving their All You Can Play card to a friend or family member.” To counteract, Mike implemented a time play to this package, offering the package for up to 4 hours each day. The ‘All You Can Play’ is still the most popular package.
Other successful Game On promotions include:
$30 game card for $15.
Tuesday Night: Purchase a burger/fries & soft drink and get a free $10 game card.
Wednesday Night Groups: With 10 laser tag admissions each player receives a free $5 game card.
CB Cinema has a policy that a customer must be 18+ to attend movies that start after 6 pm. Many adults like this policy but some did not like it because they did not know what to do with their teen age children. Here is where the cross-over really works. The adults get to enjoy an evening at the Cinema, the kids go to Game On, and all meet up at Game On both before after the movie.
LESSONS QUICKLY LEARNED
Who doesn’t enjoy going to the movies and purchasing buttered popcorn and a box of candy? Game On does not sell popcorn but what about candy? Candy is a very popular redemption prize at FEC’s across the world and Game On went with the trend. When Game On opened, the Cinema immediately saw a decrease in their candy sales that week. Mike recalls, “The customers were playing the games, redeeming their points for candy, and then bringing the candy with them to the movies!” Mike immediately began the process of removing the candy inventory items for both the redemption store and merchandise games and finding suitable prize point replacements. One idea AEM presented to Mike was purchasing the EXTRA LARGE candy from Sureshot Redemption. One Sugar Daddy measures up to 3 feet long. No one is hiding that in their pocket/purse and sneaking into the Cinema! The results showed that a successful games operation can be run without have candy prizes.
Food and Beverage pricing is another tricky area. Most FEC’s strive for inexpensive food pricing so customers have more money to spend on the games and attractions. Movie theaters are known to have expensive food pricing. Mike points out, “Really, it’s reversed. At the Cinema, we have higher food costs. Pre-made food equals a higher cost. We call this ‘quick prep’ food. However, at Game On, there is a lower cost in production and the food is a better quality. We can afford to keep our food prices at Game On very reasonable.” For example, a cheese pizza is $3.99 for a 7” and $9.99 for a 14”.
SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY
Some say Texas has the most state pride in all the country and the same goes for Game On and their support within the community. During construction Game On employed close to 100 local residents and since opening they have a staff of 50-75 employees, depending on the time of season. Only a week after opening, when cash flow is key, Game On dedicated an entire day to support the San Antonio Independent School District Foundations, donating 100% of the entertainment revenues.
As in life, you always look back and ask, “What could we have done differently?” One item that stands out the most is bowling. They have seen a huge success with their mini bowling and very little service. When asked what the #1 attraction was, Mike responded, “When you look at the numbers, even though Spin Zone and Laser Tag will show higher revenues, adding the total numbers for mini-bowling together, including time play and the fact there is virtually no labor, mini-bowling is our top net revenue earner. I would like to have about 16 more of these mini-bowling lanes”.
ANALYSING THE PRESENT
Every day is an eventful day for Mike at Game On. Being the only manager with previous FEC experience, he is flooded with questions, concerns and dilemmas. From the owners to the staff, when it comes to any part of the FEC, Mike is involved. Due to this work load, Mike does not always have the time to review every aspect of the data, which is where Alpha Omega Sales and AEM lend a hand. Every month the Alpha-Omega Team reviews the attraction performance, game payouts and game earnings and sends an analysis to Mike. When Mike has a moment to review and analyze, he sends the findings to his Team who resolves any noted problems.
“Alpha-Omega Sales does an outstanding, really a “knockout job.” raves Mike. “Their technicians also have parts sourcing and costs experience and not only helped us transition, but offer continued support. Joseph Camarota is really good at keeping an eye on redemption rates. He is my 2nd set of eyes.”
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD
Even though Game On has only been open for four months, they are already looking toward the future. When asked, Mike states “We are looking to improve with outside features & expand with a new location. We are looking to incorporate regulation bowling into the next location if it is feasible”.
AEM’s Jerry Merola concludes, “The Game On concept provides a new direction for the cinema sector by providing additional revenue sources and entertainment solutions for today’s operators. Chris and Brandon should be commended for being pioneers in what will arguably become the new operating standard for cinemas moving forward.”
For more information go to citybasecinema.com or www.gotogameon.com or alphaomegasales.com
Written by Frank Seninsky, Pres/CEO and Joseph Camarota, Operations VP
Amusement Entertainment Management & Alpha-Omega Amusements & Sales
For Play Meter Magazine