Next time you're in a group of adults, there's this exercise you can conduct that will make them think you're very smart. First, ask them to count, in their minds, the number of windows their home has. Then turn your back to the audience. Now ask those who counted the windows from the outside of the house, and then those who counted from the inside, to raise their hands. To gasps and screams from your amazed audience, announce that the vast majority who counted the windows from the outside of the house were men and those who counted from the inside were women.
This exercise has a point besides enlivening boring meetings. This next step is just for you. I want you to think of all the location-based leisure (LBLs) and FECs you have visited. Thinking? Good. Now, how many of them have interiors that look like streetscapes or outdoor locations with replicas or murals of the exterior of buildings? A lot, right? Now guess how many architects and LBL owners are men. If you said "most," I owe you a rubber chicken.
Yes, there is a definite gender bias in design. The architects and LBL owners select designs that appeal to them. Perfectly understandable. But here's the news flash: 80 percent or more of the time, the people who decide where the family goes for leisure are women. This means that the design of most LBLs is targeted to the wrong customer, with a sometimes disastrous impact on profitability.
While most of us have figured out that women and men differ in important ways, few of the men who own LBLs take those differences into account when designing and operating their businesses. This is especially troublesome for the community-based segment of the LBL industry, like FECs, bowling centers, and many eatertainment-oriented restaurants, which depends on high repeat business rather than tourists or on annual or less-frequent visits by local residents. Most of these capture about 80 percent of their business from residents living within a 20-minute drive and who visit anywhere from four to 30 times a year.
Just about everyone knows that it costs five to seven times as much to get a new customer as to keep an existing one. Research also has found a five-to-one net revenue advantage to retaining loyal customers; the impact of increasing customer retention by 2 percent is equivalent to cutting operating costs by 10 percent. What most LBL owners DON'T know relates to customer loyalty and defections. Our company's studies show that if they did, they would be shocked to learn how many of their customers never return. In fact, 20 to 40 percent of LBL customers defect each year, EVEN WHEN THOSE CUSTOMERS SAY THEY ARE SATISFIED.
What's going on? I mean, they SAID they were SATISFIED. Problem is, people these days EXPECT to be satisfied. They expect to be treated courteously, they expect the person they're talking to be able and willing to solve their problems and meet their expectations. Since satisfaction now represents an acceptable minimum, a satisfied customer is as likely to defect as one that is dissatisfied.
So who's left besides your mother? Those who stick around are the customers who say they are completely satisfied or delighted. In one company's study, customers who rated the business as outstanding were four times less likely to defect than those who rated it satisfactory, neutral, or unsatisfactory. And keep in mind that customers do not judge satisfaction compared to just other LBLs. Their expectations are formed based upon every other location-based facility they have visited, including stores, malls, restaurants, casinos, cruise ships and resorts.
To win in today's competitive environment means moving beyond customer satisfaction toward customer loyalty, toward making an LBL so outstanding that a customer would risk his or her credibility by recommending it to a friend. In the case of LBLs, the people you most want to surprise and delight are women. Next are children, who definitely have a voice in where the family does NOT go. In a family of four, the dad is way outvoted.
The first step is to understand the unique wants and needs of women and children. This is difficult for most LBL owners and managers because most of them are men and it's standard operating procedure for human beings to see the world from their own points of view. But the male bias in design and operations is not limited to LBL owners and managers. It extends to most of the professionals involved in the design of LBLs, including architects and landscape architects, as well as game, ride and event designers, most of whom, again, are men. The majority of built environments, including most LBLs, are androcentric, and discriminate against both female and child users by design. More bad news - the same is true of how LBLs are managed and operated.
Women and children think, feel, process their senses, act and perceive the world and their experiences differently than each other and much differently than men. Their brains are wired differently, both by nature and nurture, and they have different skills. These differences are only starting to be understood and explained as genetically evolutionary in nature by evolutionary psychologists and biologists.
Let's look at how some of those differences play out inside an LBL.
You can't escape competition at most LBLs. Competitive video games, laser tag or motor sport activities like go-karts and ride simulators dominate LBL events. Males are motivated by a goal, with deadlines and punishment (up to and including virtual death), while women prefer rewards and the chance to share a moment with others. Men live for competition; women avoid it.
Female play tends to be orderly and not bound by rules. It is likely to focus on caregiving and nurturing and avoids aggressive physical contact or domination. Women don't like the time limits of competitive games, preferring to explore at their leisure, and they prefer nurturance instead of control and mastery. Women like collaborative activities and opportunities for social interaction; they prefer Win/Win scenarios while men prefer I Win scenarios. And pity the poor adolescent girl - if she loses a game to her boyfriend, she feels like a fool; if she wins, she fears losing the boyfriend by damaging his fragile ego.
Women are social animals. (They even go to the restroom in groups, something that horrifies most guys.) While men like standing alone in front of a video game, women don't like being isolated. They prefer cooperative activities, shared experiences, and communication - including gossip, which is one way of building a sense of community.
Most LBLs offer only entertainment and amusements. Women prefer a mix that also offers learning. They are interested in enriching experiences for their children, and if it can be enriching for them as well, so much the better. Our company's focus group research shows that children, too, prefer fun enriching experiences over pure amusements.
Women detest two elements that are found in most LBLs - violence and stereotyping. Most video and virtual reality games and laser tag deal with destruction and killing. While men find the threat of death to be highly motivating, women find it discouraging. Women and girls don't resolve conflict through violence, and mothers don't want to expose their children to games that promote violence. Women likewise find gender and racial/ethnic stereotyping extremely distasteful.
A ride or game that a male will find pleasantly harrowing will make a woman sick, literally. Females have wider peripheral vision than men, which may explain why females often feel ill and generally don't enjoy many of the rides, motion simulators and virtual reality games that males love.
Atmospherics deals with the psychological impact of the designed environment on humans. Atmospherics can be very subtle, and most guests are not even consciously aware of the impact the physical environment has on their experience and feelings. The atmospherics of most LBLs appeal to men. They're cavernous with high ceilings, have hard and flashy interiors, and are dark with no natural daylight or views of the outdoors. That's because males prefer hard, shiny, smooth surfaces, high contrasts and high-tech slick, with 90-degree corners and boxy designs. Women, on the other hand, prefer textured and soft tactile surfaces, with curvilinear soft designs and shapes. Children, younger ones especially, prefer homey, intimate sized spaces. Both women and children prefer well-lighted spaces with natural daylight and outdoor views.
Most FECs and game rooms have constant sound levels over 85 dB - equivalent to a jackhammer. Males find loud sounds stimulating, or at least tolerate high decibel thresholds and can ignore such distractions when playing a game. Males prefer higher frequencies, while women prefer lower frequencies. Females, including children, are more sensitive to loud and repetitive noises, and are agitated and stressed by the overpowering racket of most LBLs. Furthermore, noisy environments are not conducive to conversation, a favorite activity of women.
Mothers are oriented towards caring for their children. As a result, family leisure may be experienced by women as work rather than relaxation (a characteristic that is becoming increasingly true for fathers, too). And LBLs rarely make life easier for mothers. Most LBLs lack family restrooms, areas for nursing, spots to sit and monitor their children, ramps for strollers, and places for the vast amounts of paraphernalia that parents must haul around with younger children.
It doesn't have to be like this. It is possible to combine the work-related tasks of mothers with an environment where children can play while the mother can socialize with friends. This requires a different layout approach than most LBLs, where the parents have to walk around with the children while the children go from one event to another. Does this approach work? Just check out a Chuck E. Cheese mid-day during the work week. A national independent consumer survey found that 20 percent of Chuck E. Cheese customers return more than 20 times a year. One reason is that groups of women can sit and socialize in booths while watching their children play.
Fear is a way of life for women. Females, at least in most Western societies, are extremely sensitive to safety and security, for themselves and also for their children. Well-lighted facilities and parking areas, open visibility, single monitored entrances and a high presence of staff are factors that make women more comfortable, but which are not often present in LBLs. Women are alarmed by security guards dressed like police and carrying guns, and uncomfortable around groups of teenagers, the typical target market of many LBLs.
Other than the absence of urinals, women's restrooms are usually designed just like men's. No surprise that they fall short of delighting women, for whom the design and cleanliness of the restrooms is one of the primary factors by which they judge a facility.
Women want proper light for checking their make-up. They need dry places to set their purses when they are at the sink. They need stalls large enough so they can take a toddler in with them. And to avoid lines, they need a lot more fixtures than men, often more than even updated plumbing codes require. They (and fathers as well) need permanent changing areas with places for the baby bag, an adjoining sink and a diaper disposal container.
Women are concerned about the cleanliness and sanitation of restrooms, food preparation and eating areas, and the play areas and equipment for their children. Our company's studies show that along with restrooms, cleanliness is a top consideration with women. Sanitation is even more important to mothers of infant and toddlers, at that age when they put just about everything they come in contact with in their mouths. Note that the now-defunct Discovery Zone was unaffectionately nicknamed 'disease zone' by many mothers.
Anthropometrics deals with sizing the environment to fit the user. Imagine what LBLs would be like if you were half your size, and you can understand why LBLs are not user-friendly for preschool and early primary children. The ceilings seems like you are in Grand Central Station. There are simulator games where your feet don't reach the floor pedals, chairs where your feet don't reach the ground, counters you can't see over, signs you can't read, sinks you can't reach, windows (if there are any) you can't see out of, and many other things you can't do or that require an adult's help. Not exactly empowering and fun.
Men prefer to dominate nature, while women see themselves as a part of nature. Thus, women perceive the outdoors through their rhythms and styles, including the elements of nurturing, caring, community and sustenance. These differences probably explain why so many LBLs designed by men follow the entertainment paradigm of creating an indoor "black box" and have no outdoor landscaped areas or views of the outdoors. In rare occasions where they do, the outdoor LBL areas are usually concrete deserts rather than lush natural areas.
It's not just how you design an LBL that matters to women, it's also in many of the details of how your staff and business interacts with them. And, again, there are major differences between males and females. Men usually just want to get the transaction over with while women want to have a relationship. Women's desire to form a relationship is not limited to individual transactions. It can be strengthened in the marketing of the LBL, in the advertising copy or through developing a newsletter.
So the moral should be clear. If you follow the industry paradigm of creating and operating an LBL that pleases men, you've missed the target. If, however, you create an LBL that surprises and delights women and children, you're well on your way to profitability.