Play Meter March 2002

FEC Interview

Michael Getlan talks to Jim Kessler about laser tag

Laser tag is an excellent FEC attraction. It functions as an integral part of any birthday party program, as well as a fun alternative for the general public. However, it takes work to run a laser tag arena well.

Editoras note: This is the first in a new series of articles that will focus on various aspects of the FEC business through interviews with knowledgeable industry members.

Jim Kessler is the founder and CEO of LASERTRON Inc., which operates the longest running (over 13 years) laser tag attraction in North America. The attraction is very successful and over the last six years has generated sales in the range of $650,000 to over $700,000 per year and held over 16,000 birthday parties.

What is the most important factor in running a laser tag attraction?

The first and most important area of focus for operating a highly successful laser tag attraction is running it like a business. You canat add laser tag to an FEC like you were adding another arcade game, it is a separate business. The owner or general manager needs to understand this and become hands-on with the attraction. They must learn how to manage and operate the attraction from the ground up. Management controls and processes need to be implemented to identify and maintain the critical areas for long-term success.

Management must focus on key areas, which are management, training, training, and when we think we know everything, more training, marketing and promotions that really work, birthday and group sales (this area makes or breaks your long-term sales growth), preventative maintenance, quality control, and finallya|reinvestment.

Letas talk about these key areas. What about management?

The first key area is management. Management must know the business and the key drivers that make a laser tag facility successful. Management must have hands-on experience and must develop bonus systems that motivate the staff to focus on customer service and to maintain a high quality laser tag experience from start to finish.

I recently visited your Buffalo, N.Y., arena. One of the unique features of your facility is your reservation system. What are the advantages of this system? The reservation system we use is something our company implemented for our laser tag attraction from day one. It has been a significant factor in our attractionas long-term success. First, it maximizes our daily capacity during our peak times on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and for holidays as well. Last March we had our busiest day ever and entertained over 900 players. We were at full capacity for almost 12 hours straight. The only way we could have done this is by using a reservation system.

Second, it allows us to schedule birthdays and groups far in advance. It also helps with the scheduling of our staff, because we can estimate how busy we will be for the upcoming week. Finally, it increases customer satisfaction. By using a reservation system players donat have to worry about standing around waiting to play. They can schedule their time and show up knowing a spot has been saved for them.

One of the operational differences that I observed at your site was the scheduling. My laser tag is operated differently. Why would I want to change to your system?

Well, another unique thing we do is run short multiple games back to back. We do this for a number of reasons. The first and most important reason is that the average player wants to play more than one game. The second reason is that it allowed us to create our standard 30-minute reservation time slots. Taking reservations for a 30-minute time slot is easier to manage. The third reason for short multiple games back to back is what I call the atired = boredom factor.a

Laser tag is a high-energy game, but the level of excitement goes down quickly if the game lasts much longer than 12 minutes without a break. A game that ends before the atired = boredom factora sets in keeps players excited about the next game. We actually run (four) six-minute games back to back in our 30-minute reservation time slots.

And finally, multiple games give each player several opportunities to have a great game and a great time. It is all about giving the customer what they want, how they want it, and when they want it.

One of the problems we face is that players get bored with the game itself. We opened our first laser tag when the technology was new and fresh. Where is the technology going?

The flexibility of your game system is another key component to the long-term success of your laser tag attraction. The ability to add new software over time or time-release your software is critical to maintaining customer excitement for the long-term. The introduction of new hardware features is also important to driving long-term sales growth. It is very important to tie in your game systemas ability to introduce new features with your marketing and promotions program.

In our laser tag facility, when we introduce new game features we promote the introduction 30 to 60 days in advance. This maximizes the impact of our promotions and gives our customers another reason to return to play laser tag.

Make sure you develop a time-release marketing program from day one. In order to do this you must plan out how and when you want to introduce your laser tagsa multiple game features. Reinvesting in a new game system should have a major impact on your sales.

Everyone always focuses on the obvious element, the equipment. I know that arena design is important, but not as obvious. What is your perspective on arena design?

The arena design is a major factor in operating a successful long-term laser tag attraction. I always get asked the question: aWhatas a good size for a laser tag arena?a I usually respond, aDo you want 25 to 30 percent of the market potential or 70 to 100 percent of the market potential?a Everyone always wants the bigger market share. I tell them that the size of the arena is critical to the overall market potential.

If your goal is to dedicate less than 3,000 square feet to the playing arena, your laser tag attraction will only attract young children aged seven to twelve in the long-term. If you dedicate 3,000 square feet or more you will more likely attract teenagers and adults for the long-term. The optimal size for a laser tag arena is probably in the 4,000 to 6,000 square foot range. Our laser tag arena in Buffalo is around 7,000 square feet.

It is important not to ashoehorna your laser tag attraction into your facility. This is probably the number one mistake when it comes to designing a laser tag arena.It can lead to a poor overall experience for the customer and make it difficult to generate long-term sales growth.

How about guest service and the experience of playing laser tag? How do you enhance that experience?

The ultimate goal is to provide the very best customer experience possible. The only way to do this is by striving for what I call athe illusion of perfection.a Nothing is perfect, but you must work very hard at creating the illusion of perfection for your customers. Always be extremely fanatical about the entire customer experience from start to finish. The referees for laser tag are critical to the laser tag game experience. Referees who fail to do a great job can quickly put you out of business.

A good example of the illusion of perfection is how a referee handles an equipment problem at our laser tag attraction. If a player has a problem with his or her equipment we replace it on the fly during the game. The customers at the front counter donat need to know we have a problem. We are constantly working at developing systems that enhance the overall experience for our customers. Like you always say Michael, we are in the business of creating smiles!

Many of the above tips can help you enjoy greater revenues from your arena, but if you need additional help, contact Kessler, (716) 836-0670, fax (716) 836-0535, e-mail (jkessler@lasertron.us); or Getlan, (914) 576-7800, fax (914) 576-6748, e-mail (michaelgetlan@amusementconsultants.com).

Reprinted with permission of Play Meter Magazine.

Be sure to check back for future articles that will help you and your laser tag business be a success.

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