The real impact of go-karts on your bottom line -- and how to improve it!

Eager to attract more customers to your family entertainment center and boost your revenue big-time? Adding go-karts to your facility will put you in the driver's seat in the race for business success! Learn everything you need to know in our guest article by the country's top expert on go-karts.

by Peter F. Olesen

We invited go-kart guru Peter Olesen to contribute this article.
Go-karts are among the most popular attractions at family entertainment centers (FECs) that feature them. Yet many people don't recognize the real impact go-karts can have on the bottom line.

An attraction with broad-ranging appeal, the go-kart track lures not just boys and girls, but men and women, with fans from 9 to 90 and beyond. As such, it enables a facility to better attract families and adults.

Without go-karts, there would be far fewer guests attending your facility. Go-karts have consistently proven to attract guests from 35 miles or more away. Other attractions in a typical mix bring guests from only up to 15 miles away.

The guests coming to ride go-karts may include individuals who would never go to a miniature golf course, a bumper boat pond or a game room. Once they are exposed to these activities during their visit, most will also utilize one or more other attractions while there. Having a larger mix of attractions will also increase the number of individuals willing to travel to your site, justifying a 30-to-40 minute drive.

The availability of go-karts also will convert many fans of miniature golf, game rooms, laser tag and other attractions into kart riders. The result will be increased attendance, higher per capita sales and higher guest satisfaction. The total benefit of adding karts must be measured against the total sales of the facility. Having go-karts brings in more guests, whose spending will be reflected in increased sales for all other attractions. Adding go-karts also increases the number of corporate and group events your facility can attract.

Offering more variety in your attractions increases your guests' time of stay. Increasing the length of each visit results in greater food sales and an overall increase in revenues.

All go-kart tracks, however, are not equal. Some are designed to offer more exciting and challenging configurations that still can be maneuvered by inexperienced drivers. This is accomplished by using the latest concepts, such as dual pitting, reversible track configurations, creative geometrics and grade changes, as well as by matching karts to specific tracks. Operators that avail themselves of the latest design concepts benefit from increased repeat rides, higher guest satisfaction and increased attendance and revenues. Those that fail to recognize the importance of being better than the competition are destined to lower attendance and lower revenues.

The days of the public accepting beaten-up karts, ramshackle tracks and lousy building conditions have long passed. People now expect family entertainment facilities to be clean, bright, well-configured and equipped with modern, well-maintained attractions and amenities.

Not every kart will perform equally on all tracks. There are large karts that require more creative track geometrics and grades in order to maximize their appeal. Most of these larger karts simulate stock cars, sprint cars, formula or Indy racers and require their own set of geometrics and track configurations. These karts will be successful on tracks that make use of their best features. They more realistically approach full-scale racing vehicles, so the track configurations are usually similar to those of full-scale tracks. All the features of full-sized tracks can be incorporated into the reduced designs. (The exception is the length of the straight elements, as the go-karts' relatively slow speeds would make them appear to be crawling along the straight sections.)

Go-kart track at Paradise Park Family Fun Center in Lee's Summit, MO features both family two-seater and rookie size karts. The center was designed and produced by the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. Peter F. Olesen and Associates designed the go-kart track.

The more conventional concession go-karts are slightly smaller and operate successfully on road courses, slick adult road courses, ovals and various indoor track configurations. Oval tracks are not very popular, as they quickly become boring and offer greater temptations for driver misbehavior.

The incorporation of banked turns, short straight sections, right and left turns, varying degrees of consecutive track curves and careful use of grade changes all serve to create an illusion of speed while still holding speeds to safe levels. For most tracks, the maximum speeds permitted by your insurance carrier or local jurisdiction will dictate your speed of operation. The type of track barriers will also dictate maximum speeds, as many of the systems in use today are not safe at higher speeds. In terms of impact attenuation and redirection of karts in the direction they were traveling, nothing currently comes close to the performance of the old standby barrier curb, automobile tire and steel barrier rail system. There are many improvements in the curb/tire/rail system that further improves the system's performance. These include heavier rail elements, lower rail clearance, safer gate systems and related changes.

The advent of more reliable batteries, dependable chargers and controllers have combined to bring electric go-karts to the forefront for indoor karting. They also permit the use of karts in jurisdictions with specific ordinances prohibiting gasoline karts. The ability to change the operating speed of the entire fleet of karts by pressing of a single button on a controller permits the track operator to offer a range of kart speeds that can serve their entire mix of guests, from slow birthday party operations to junior high, family and testosterone speeds as best suits the need of any specific market.

The addition of electric go-kart tracks in indoor FECs is definitely a way to boost attendance and revenues. It's important to remember go-karts will increase the radius of attraction, resulting in greater attendance and higher per capita spending, as discussed above. Go-karts increase the FEC's appeal to older teens and adults when the tracks are configured to provide a more challenging driving experience, enhanced by slightly higher speeds as permitted by liability insurance carriers and state regulations.

Purchasing two sets of electric karts to address the demands of peak-hour operations (and a dual pit operation to accommodate them) is partially offset by the ability to accommodate 60% higher peak-hour volumes than the more prevalent single pit configurations found at conventional gasoline powered go-kart tracks. It should be noted that the same increase in track capacity could be gained for gasoline powered kart tracks.

Don't be drawn in by the offer of free track plans if you purchase your karts from a go-kart manufacturer. An experienced design firm with many more years of track design experience will create a track design far better suited to your individual site. The plans will incorporate the latest in track configurations and construction specifications, resulting in superior driving experiences, a better physical plant, increased safety and lower maintenance costs.

In go-kart track plan designs, as in life, there's no such thing as a "free lunch." The manufacturer either has to give you a stock plan or include the cost of designing your track in his kart price. Negotiate a better price for the karts without the "free plans," and hire professionals to give you a superior track. This will pay ongoing dividends in terms of greater attendance, lower maintenance costs and a longer lasting track.

If your existing track doesn't have the greatest alignment, contains mediocre barrier systems, poor lighting, pits that don't provide good throughput and unkempt safety fences and/or pit canopy – you're losing guests, whether or not you realize it. Parents especially are turned off by decrepit-looking facilities. Your repeat visits will drop as a result. If there is another go-kart venue within your target market that has a more modern facility, you will undoubtedly lose business to it.

Are you willing to give up potential business just because you may have to reinvest in your physical plant? There are steps you can take to improve your facility's appeal without having to start all over. In some cases, the primary step is to clean up the appearance of your facility. Police the area, repair fences, replace bad sections of pavement and paint the go-karts. Repair bent or broken elements on the karts, barrier rails and related elements. Upgrade your signage. This applies to your buildings, parking lot, adjacent attractions and related elements.

A place that looks like a dump is a dump. People have options as to how to utilize their disposable time and to spend their disposable income. Clean up your act. You can have the greatest location, but if it doesn't have "curb appeal," you will lose not only your regular guests, but more importantly, the impulse guests that are the life blood of almost every facility.

Impulse guests can become regulars, increasing your total number of guests and your bottom line. They also provide replacements for existing guests that "age out" or find other venues at which to spend their disposable income. Standing pat is inviting future failure.

If your track requires upgrading, don't automatically assume it has to be torn out. Check your options. If you have space, perhaps changing a portion of the track geometry and upgrading pavement and barriers will result in a better driving experience for your guests and an increase in rides. Some facilities may only require redoing the barrier system, while others may actually require a complete replacement. Carefully consider your options by reviewing them with a track and facility specialist.

Some facilities may be successful in terms of attracting guests but not have the capacity to keep waiting lines short enough to avoid losing guests, as well as revenue. Consider modifying your pits to provide double pitting and purchasing extra karts. This can increase peak-hour capacity by up to 60% without having to build a complete track to accommodate your market. If you have this capability, talk to a design specialist with experience, as this may be a viable option. If your karts are underpowered for your specific track configuration, consider the possibility of replacing the existing engines with new ones having higher horsepower.

Remember, the single most important element in your total operation is YOU. Your attitude, motivation and drive all contribute to the potential success of your operation. Keep up with trends in the industry, read the publications that address the industry, attend seminars, network with other operators and don't be afraid of consultants specializing in the industry. Lastly, instill in your staff the motto: "You only get one chance to make a good first impression."

Peter Olesen is a registered professional engineer in eight states and president of Peter F. Olesen and Associates, Inc. His firm has more than 24 years of experience in designing family entertainment centers, stand-alone go-kart tracks, miniature golf courses, bumper boat ponds and related attractions. The firm has been at the industry forefront of design, pioneering many innovations in safety, geometrics, design and construction methods now widely emulated throughout the industry. He is a faculty member of Foundations Entertainment University, has presented seminars at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions annual trade show, FunExpo, Kart Expo and Leisure Expo. Olesen also has written many articles for magazines and Internet newsletters. For more information, contact him at 847-253-1515 or, or visit his firm's Web site at