Road kill stew

Birthday University guru Frank Price penned an article about how copycat concepts are doomed to failure. It was so good we got permission to share it with you. Learn from this globally respected colleague's words of wisdom.

We have great respect for our location-based leisure industry colleague Frank Price, best known as the birthday party guru of Birthday University. No one in the world knows as much about commercial birthday parties and how to run them successfully as Frank. We recommend all our clients attend Birthday University.

Frank also publishes a BU enewsletter that is very informative. In the last issue he ran a story he called ONE LAST TIME... "COPY-CAT concepts don't work. In the story he speaks of the previous prediction of one highly noted consultant in the industry of major "Road kill. That consultant was our CEO, Randy White, who predicted the demise of the children's soft-modular-play pay-for-play centers back in the 1990s. Frank, in his story, talks about what he sees as a 2007 Road Kill Stew. We thought the story was so good, we obtained Frank's permission to reprint it here. Of course, we have retitled his story Road kill stew.

Road kill stew, by Frank Price

"Another FunExpo passes by and I feel compelled to remind you again. If your plan is to copy another concept, especially one in your market that you think is successful based on observation, you're destined for Doomsville.

Do you think your version of the new family entertainment center or party center is going to succeed because it's bigger or better run than the one you're copying? Do you think you're going to pull off what even "hall of fame operators have not been able to accomplish as of yet? Will your new facility work just because there's nothing else for kids in your town? For those of us who have been in this industry for many years... it's doubtful. Most have failed, and if you do not learn from those past failures, you will too.

Research the defunct Discovery Zone concept of the 1990s. They had over 300 locations, the backing of a huge financial conglomerate and the first major presence of the out of the home birthday party. Many saw them and their business concept as the stepping-stone to early retirement. They built similar businesses all over the United States, hoping to be first in their markets. Most copied the DZ concept, added a name, a slightly different look and their secret formula to make this version better. Some just filmed a DZ and duplicated it in their town, because there wasn't anything else for kids to do. It was common to find 8 to 12 of the same general concept businesses competing in the same market. At the height of the shakeout, DZ closed all but a very few of their locations, as well as the countless hope-to-be-retired-early entrepreneurs and Mom and Pop investors. (If you would like more on my version of why this happened, email me at

I remind you of this because it's a sure fire recipe for what I remember one highly noted consultant in the industry predicted, and titled "Road kill. Beware the monoculture play facility that looks and acts like all the others like it. Beware the temptation to copy the fast-growing concepts based on observation. You are only observing the exterior. They may not even know why they do what they do. This is especially true in the inflatable party facilities. You look, sound and feel just like a 2007 version of Road kill Stew.

Thanks, Frank, for your take on the copycats. One of the concepts Frank was referring to in the story is the inflatable birthday party centers cropping up everywhere and the many inflatable birthday party center franchisors who claim the centers are the next big thing - a story we were hearing in the days of Discovery Zone.

You can learn about Frank Price's consulting services, Birthday University, and sign up for his enewsletter at Frank also runs a Remarkable guest experiences . . . everyday" workshop that is worth checking out.