They call us family entertainment centers, or “FECs”. That is the designation they use when they lump centers such as Monkey Bizness, roller skating rinks, rock climbing centers, and ropes courses together. Our specific corner of this is kid’s indoor play centers.
This is the part where I would usually go through a history lesson and tell you where the industry started and where it is today. But, to be honest, I don’t know where things started and given the fragmented state of the industry, I would be leery of anyone who says they do. As far as where we are today, it depends on your view. Part of my view shows that there is an issue of matching required investment with return on investment. Whether it be due to a passion of creating great facilities or a lack of strategy, I see a lot of money spent on new “toys” and ask myself, “why?”.
This spring I sat down with a focus group of Monkey Bizness customers. One of the specific questions I asked the group was “how important is it that we continually update and refresh our equipment?”. Mind you, kiddos that come to our facilities are only “customers” for about a 4-5 year period. The response I received was surprising……they said that kids liked consistency so changing everything too often would actually hurt the experience.
In a way, this makes sense. Researchers and planners at Disney have known this for years. Ever wonder why It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight are still there? It’s because Disney knows that customers want to feel comfortable about the experience they can expect. Sure, they need to update and add every so often, but there is a reason they don’t do an “extreme home makeover” of the Magic Kingdom every 5 years.
What do Disney and some of the leaders in our industry know that some others don’t? It is about building the customer experience. Researchers are finding out that millennials care more about customer experience than ever. While facility and equipment are important elements to creating a customer experience, so is customer services, marketing, and business processes. I could write pages on each of these individually (don’t worry, I won’t). While facilities are still an important element, entrepreneurs need to think hard about whether the costs are justified or if they are missing a different element of the overall strategy.
Whether looking into a franchise or going out on your own, you need to think long and hard about the customer experience that your business will create. If you are looking to franchise, take a step back and ask yourself what is the franchisor’s strategy? Often when you are going through the process of looking at a franchise, you get engulfed in the details. However, when you take a step back, things become very clear. Taking a minute to look at the franchisor’s overall strategy and your decision will become much easier.