Elena and Yuri Abramovich met in Cleveland, Ohio, 21-years-ago while working for a real estate property management company, but it was only last year that their dream of opening a family entertainment center came to fruition. Both came to the U.S. from Ukraine (Yuri from Odessa and Elena from Kharkov) but Elena admits they most likely would have never met if they had stayed in their home country, thus making their Parma, Ohio, Make Believe Family Fun Center just a fantasy.
MAGICAL FAMILY MOMENTS
Their make believe dream began three years ago when the couple, including their two very active kids, Rebecca (then 9) and Sean (then 7), visited the Wow Factory in Boca Raton, Florida, and experienced what Elena refers to as “special, magical family moments.”
It was the first time she had ever played laser tag (she got the highest score) and her first time on a ropes course. She absolutely loved the experience.
Rebecca and Sean tell a slightly different story: “We called mom a ‘chicken’ because she was so scared to play laser tag, and dad suggested we let her shoot us and not shoot back so much.”
Wow Factory’s unique mix of attractions inspired the family to open their own center.
“Most places cater to either young kids or adults, but not both,” Elena says. “We wanted families to experience these special moments like we did. We met the owner, Tom Head, and he was just so helpful when we told him our dream. Tom told us that Jerry Merola of AEM did his feasibility study and helped him put the entire facility together. We contacted Jerry immediately and together with the AEM Team, began making the dream come true.”
PLANNING THE DREAM
The Abramovich family spent the next three years talking to vendors at industry shows, looking at various locations, and researching financing options. Elena and Yuri attended a Foundations Entertainment University program and in 3 Days/2 Evenings learned even more about inner workings of the industry.
The kids were also very involved in the process, testing every attraction, going to vendor meetings, and even attending the municipal zoning hearings. The Abramovich’s chose Parma because it is densely populated and is located in the middle of several Cleveland suburbs. There they found a 27,000-square-foot building with high ceilings and a large parking lot.
“The stars were in alignment when we found this building, and Parma Mayor Tim DeGetter’s help was so amazing, providing guidance throughout the approval processes,” Elena says.
Suppliers of the dream:
- Feasibility & Project Development/Coordination – AEM
- Laser Tag – Zone Laser Tag
- Ropes Course – Ropes Course Inc.
- Mini Bowling – Allied Bowling
- Spin Zone Bumper Cars – Amusement Products
- Ballocity – White Water West
- Rock Walls & Ninja Climbing Wall – Ideas Extremas
- Games/related equipment – Alpha-Omega Sales
- Merchandise Supplier – BMI Merchandise
- Food Vendors – U.S. Foods and Pepsi
- Laser Tag Arena – Creative Works
- Debit Card System – Intercard
MAKE BELIEVE MADE REAL
Make Believe opened Dec. 4, 2016 on target and within its $6 million budget. Gross revenues for year-one are expected to be 99 percent of AEM’s projections. Guest feedback from surveys has been very positive. The most common comments from guests include “super clean” and “your staff is amazing.”
Elena gives total credit to Frank Price of Birthday University for the complementary staff compliments. “Frank trained us on how to do hiring auditions. We hold them every 2 weeks and then select the best of the best of the best!”
Elena’s advice to other aspiring FEC owners: “Listen to the industry experts. Don’t try to recreate the wheel. Yuri and I believed we knew the theory of how to operate an FEC, but until you have closed-loop systems and have policies in place, you will just keep chasing your tail.”
She recommends visiting other FEC locations (the family toured 15) and then comparing the pros and cons of each. Taking advantage of the various educational programs offered in the industry is also paramount to an FEC’s success. And Elena also recommends, “Delegate tasks to your staff and learn how to trust your staff so you do not burn out. After 6 months Yuri and I were mentally exhausted and we started to learn what delegate really means.”
“Partnering up with right companies is critical to your success. Yuri and I learned that at Foundations University. Our birthday program is great because of Frank Price. I lost track of how many times AEM’s Jerry Merola pulled me back off the ledge. Jerry held our hands and explained everything with what I call his ‘voice of reason’.”
“Our bible is our feasibility study,” Elena says. “Without our feasibility study, we would have never gotten funding. The study spelled out everything. Our bankers said they have never seen such a targeted and backed up feasibility study like that. I believe that this the most important first step you can take. I do not understand why people pass on it.”
“The games were delivered, set-up and programmed and the Alpha-Omega Sales Team did such a good job. Out of all of the other vendors, they were ‘seamless’. They came, they set up the games, they taught my staff, and they left the day after we opened-so professional.”
WHAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF
Best Attractions: ‘The Ropes Course is currently our most popular attraction. The concept behind Make Believe is that our guests are entering the world where anything is possible. The Ballocity play unit is shaped and themed like a volcano. Traversing sections of the Ropes Course is like walking the plank of a pirate ship. The carpet pattern was designed to simulate waves. The Ropes Course walks you right into (over) the laser tag area so the guests get to watch the laser tag players from above and then most go directly to play the laser tag. The theme of the laser tag is an enchanted forest. Other attractions include an arcade with more than 60 games and the Treasure Chest redemption prize center, mini bowling, Spin Zone bumper cars, and a rock climbing wall.
For the adults, Make Believe’s Lollipop Bistro Cafe offers wine, more than 80 different selections of beer, and a new dessert, called ‘Dragon’s Breath’. It is made with liquid nitrogen with our own secret formula that includes sweet corn puffs. The guests eat it and have fun breathing out cold air.
Financial Model. Revenues are currently broken down: Food & Beverage- 25%; Attractions 50%; Games 25%. It would appear that as revenues increase, each of these 3 categories will increase and the model will remain basically the same.
Best Packages & Interesting Experiences.
Ultimate Adventure is the top seller – $29.99 for all attractions for 3 hours + $5 games card.
There are 3 party packages:
- Teen Party – $299 – 6 guests get 2 hours of unlimited attractions + $20 games card
- Extreme – $399 – 10 kids get 3 attractions + $10 games card + party hosts are MC of party
- Amazing – $349 – 10 kids get 2 choices of two attractions + $8 games card
Make Believe has a patron capacity of 650 and have had to close the doors on several weekends. To increase weekday attendance balloon artists, a hypnotist, and jewelry making professionals are brought in. Fundraisers are also a big part of weekly events. Make Believe gives a lot back to the community. This is one of the reasons why Make Believe has been included in all ‘Destination Cleveland’ tourism marketing programs. Others include Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, University Circle, Cleveland Orchestra, and Playhouse Square (voted 2nd best theater system in the US).
Jerry Merola: “The Make Believe project panned three years of development, originating with proof of concept and culminating with a distinctly beautiful and thoroughly functional entertainment venue. Despite several challenges in securing the real estate along the way, Elena and Yuri never wavered from their commitment to seeing the project through. Their perseverance and ‘hands-on’ attitude has paid big dividends, as Make Believe has quickly become the market leader throughout greater Cleveland. AEM is fortunate to not only call Elena and Yuri our clients but also our friends.”
Elena Closes. “Yuri and I and my family are very happy to be in this fun industry. We are surrounded by people that are always smiling and having fun. How great is that? Yes, make believe sometimes does come true!”
For more information go to makebelieveparma.com