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It’s time to kill the family entertainment center industry

Now don’t panic. I’m not suggesting we close the centers. What I am suggesting is that it’s time to do away with the inappropriate industry term for the type of venues that the FEC industry claims to represent. Using family entertainment center to apply to centers that do not primarily target the family market is misleading. Children’s entertainment and children’s edutainment centers are not family entertainment centers. Adult venues such as Dave & Buster’s are not family entertainment centers.

Another industry term that needs to be killed is ‘location-based entertainment,’ a term that attempts to describe a broader range of venues including theme parks and tourist attractions.

The problem with both industry terms is the word ‘entertainment.’ By definition, entertainment is a passive activity. Watching a movie is entertainment. Riding go-karts is not entertainment. Nor is bowling, nor soft play structures, nor bumper cars, nor miniature golf, nor riding a roller coaster, nor gamerooms. These are all active, participatory forms of amusement, recreation and play.

My first suggestion is that we start by using a more appropriate and broader term for all these type activities – leisure – and describe the broad variety of out-of-home facilities as location-based leisure (LBL). Then I suggest we categorize the industry based basically on the markets the different types of LBLs cater to:

  1. Community-Based Leisure – these facilities tend to have a 1.5- to 2.5-hour length-of-stays. They attract the bulk of their business from residents in the surrounding community and are highly dependent on repeat business. Examples include cinemas, true family-oriented leisure centers (FECs), bowling centers, skate centers, children’s leisure centers, adult leisure venues such as Dave & Buster’s and bocce centers, and pizza buffet/entertainment centers.
  2. Regional Leisure Attractions – these facilities draw from a regional resident market that might include an entire major metropolitan area or a number of smaller cities and communities and come in two varieties:
  • Ones with a 4+ hour length-of-stay. Examples include theme parks and major waterparks.
  • Cultural facilities such as museums, aquariums and zoos that can have a shorter length-of-stay but still attract a regional resident audience due to their uniqueness.

Tourist Attractions – these venues cater to overnight visitors at tourist-type locations. They include any of the above types of projects, but are dependent on tourists/visitors for their attendance.

There you have it, a new codification framework for the out-of-home, location-based leisure industry with terminology that correctly describes both the industry and its subclasses of venues.

About Randy White

Randy White is CEO and co-founder of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. The 31-year-old company, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, has worked for over 600 clients in 37 countries throughout the world. Projects the company has designed and produced have won seventeen 1st place awards. Randy is considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on feasibility, brand development, design and production of leisure experience destinations including entertainment, eatertainment, edutainment, agritainment/agritourism, play and leisure facilities.

Randy was featured on the Food Network's Unwrapped television show as an eatertainment expert, quoted as an entertainment/edutainment center expert in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Time magazine and received recognition for family-friendly designs by Pizza Today magazine. One of the company's projects was featured as an example of an edutainment project in the book The Experience Economy. Numerous national newspapers have interviewed him as an expert on shopping center and mall entertainment and retail-tainment.

Randy is a graduate of New York University. Prior to repositioning the company in 1989 to work exclusively in the leisure and learning industry, White Hutchinson was active in the retail/commercial real estate industry as a real estate consultancy specializing in workouts/turnarounds of commercial projects. In the late 1960s to early 1980s, Randy managed a diversified real estate development company that developed, owned and managed over 2.0 million square feet of shopping centers and mixed-use projects and 2,000 acres of residential subdivisions. Randy has held the designations of CSM (Certified Shopping Center Manager) and Certified Retail Property Executive (CRX) from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

He has authored over 150 articles that have been published in over 40 leading entertainment/leisure and early childhood education industry magazines and journals and has been a featured speaker and keynoter at over 40 different conventions and trade groups.

Randy is the editor of his company's Leisure eNewsletter, has a blog and posts on Twitter and Linkedin.

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