Laser Tag, Must Be Run Like A Business
ASI 2002 Seminar
Laser Tag, Must Be Run Like A Business
Jim Kessler (r) of LASERTRON with Greg Watches and Jeff Leach.
Both the laser tag novice and the experienced professional benefited from the session titled "Laser Tag for the New Millennium," presented by Jim Kessler, CEO of LASERTRON Inc. Kessler pointed out that what's interesting about this industry is that you not only have to provide the basics for the novice, but also advise them about what it takes to stay in business for the long term.
Kessler is in a unique position since his company operates the longest continually running laser tag facility in North America, the 14,000-square-foot LASERTRON Entertainment Center in Buffalo, N.Y., which features a 6,800-square-foot single level laser tag arena, arcade with 35 games, snack bar, and birthday party room that can seat 120 at a time.
The center opened 13 years ago and has followed a program of continual upgrades. This summer will see the addition of a 3,200-square-foot multilevel laser tag arena. In addition, the company manages two other interactive entertainment centers, one in Memphis, Tenn., and one in Dania Beach, Fla.
A firm believer in hands-on management and reinvestment, Kessler said, "You can't ever say, 'We've got it all right' or 'We know what we're doing,' because that's when you start to become a dinosaur and someone else figures out how to do it better. You have to keep making mistakes in order to find the successes."
Kessler likens laser tag to a movie theater that brings in all the people, with the arcade like the snack bar of the theater. If you didn't have that snack bar you would be out of business tomorrow, he maintains. You can't have one without the other. One of the reasons why the arcade is successful is the quality of the attractions around the arcade. All the elements in an entertainment center complement each other.
Seven major recommendations emerged from the session:
1. Run it like a business. You can't add laser tag like you add another game; you have to run it like a business. The focus must be on key areas such as management systems and processes.
2. Training, training, and when we think we know everything, more training. The worst-case scenario is having an 18-year-old who missed the initial training running the attraction. The best/worst case scenario is having a highly trained general manager running it because if he leaves, you don't have anyone who knows how to manage the attraction. It's best to train the owner or general manager and the assistant manager, to have some backup.
3. Marketing and promotion. When you open the attraction, it's not like you build it and they will come. You have to market and promote it and you need people in place to do that.
4. Birthday and group sales. This area can make or break a long-term laser tag facility. Laser tag is one of the fastest indoor high-tech attractions that a group can enjoy.
Have a standard process for booking parties and group events. It must be customer-friendly and personal, no answering machines or voice systems. People make decisions when they talk to a human being. The goal is to pick up the phone within three rings.
Gather basic information about your players and use it in a birthday party promotion. Contact customers four weeks before their birthday to help get mothers and children to book their birthday party at your facility. It's worth the investment because of the groups that come out for birthday parties.
5. Preventative maintenance. Make sure everything is working. Complete a weekly quality control report that basically goes through and tests every single feature on the laser tag vest, for example. This will take from one to two hours, depending on the system, but it assures customer satisfaction at a high level because when they get the vest everything works.
6. Quality control and facility maintenance. Remember, the people who make most of the decisions on which centers to attend for parties or group events are female. The last thing you want is a messy bathroom. No matter what your budget, devote a large share of it to cleanliness, more specifically your bathrooms. Maintenance is one of the determining factors in choosing a facility.
7. Reinvestment. You know what that means when you run an arcade. When you buy an attraction it does not run forever years without change. Every five to six years you are going to have to reinvest in the playing field (arena).
Kessler concluded: "The technology and the new things you learn about how to design an attraction really does drive the business. Any business looks like a fad if you don't run it right. It's the same thing with laser tag. You need to reinvest in your system."
Reprinted with permission of Play Meter Magazine.
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