A new family entertainment center featuring bowling with lane-side sofas opens this month in west Omaha, adding competition to a crowded industry at a time when established entertainment centers say they're just overcoming the effects of the recession.
“I personally predict that somebody will close in the next year or two,” said Tony Farrington, co-owner of Family Fun Center XL, which dates to 1982. “It's already a tight market as it is. It's going to be tough for somebody.”
The latest challenger is unconcerned.
An entertainment center called The V will open June 14 near Oak View Mall with 20 lanes of bowling, laser tag, an arcade, a climbing wall, a VIP suite and a restaurant with entrees from a $9 burger to a $25 filet mignon.
Former Kiewit senior manager Mike Zabawa started planning the project in 2006, after taking his family bowling only to find a long wait for a lane. Local bowling alleys give prime time slots to leagues, and their atmosphere leaves customers “underwhelmed,” he said, where The V will cater to casual bowlers, including families, corporate events and parties.
“The V is designed to capture a vastly underserved market,” Zabawa said.
The center has a 20-year lease on the former Linens 'N Things building at 3375 Oak View Drive.
The center might have opened several years ago if not for the recession that started in 2008. Zabawa told The World-Herald in 2010 he had trouble getting banks and investors to commit to the project, despite projected revenue of $4.3 million the first year.
Today, The V has secured $7 million in financing, a combination of investment from area entrepreneurs and a $5 million SBA-backed bank loan. It turns out the wait had a “silver lining,” Zabawa said. Construction, leasing and other costs were more affordable than he anticipated, and consumer spending now is on the rise.
The $9.3 billion family entertainment center industry is projected to grow at an annual rate of 0.8 percent through 2017, up from 0.3 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to market research firm IBISWorld. Revenue declined during the recession when families cut their discretionary entertainment spending.
However, while consumer spending is again on the rise, people have less time to spend on leisure activity as they return to the work force, IBISWorld said. Time spent on leisure and sports is expected to fall 0.4 percent a year through 2017.
Zabawa will be competing for people's leisure dollars in a market where experienced operators survived the recession by fine-tuning their offerings to appeal to families and party planners on a budget.
The Amazing Pizza Machine at 139th Street and S Plaza opened in 2006 and had just a few years of operation before recession hit.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Vice President Allen Wachter said. “We are 'fun money.' When families need to tighten their belts, we understood that dynamic.”
The center responded by creating a less expensive introductory birthday party package, accomplished by reducing the minimum number of guests and the number of rides included. It created daily features like discounts for military members on Mondays, or for high school and college students on Thursdays. This year, it started offering a “play late” special, with a drink and game tickets at a lower price than other packages that require customers to buy a pass to the pizza buffet.
Wachter said he and his partners will “proceed smartly and cautiously ahead,” and have started to see crowds and revenues returning.
Papio Fun Park, 210 E. Lincoln St. in Papillion, also has used deals to attract families. This year, the center introduced an unlimited-use summer season pass and, on Wednesdays, a half-price all-access wristband, owner Margaret White said.
“You just have to get more creative in what you do. Making it affordable for everyone, or most people, to come, that's really the key,” she said. That's how the park has weathered economic ups and downs since it opened in 1990.
“In the tougher years you just had to have a little bit deeper pockets and more creativity to survive, and those that couldn't, didn't,” she said.
Family Fun Center stayed competitive by moving its whole operation from 72nd and Dodge Streets into a new center at 108th and L Streets and renaming it Family Fun Center XL last year.
The old facility was “worn” after 30 years, Farrington said, and the new center is bigger with more attractions. It also serves a different part of the city, moving west to take advantage of demographic shifts: “We are seeing a huge increase in west Omaha traffic.”
Signs of a return of consumer spending, he said, include some record days, such as the highest revenue in a single day, set in March, and the biggest Saturday in August, last summer.
To stay competitive, Family Fun Center XL will add a pizza buffet this summer. A lack of food service, other than some concessions, was hurting business during meal times. “We think that will drive traffic for people who wonder, what do we want to do for dinner tonight?” Farrington said.
Farrington said there has been a “rash” of new entertainment centers opening starting in about 2005, several of which have come and gone, and he expects competitors will always come and go.
Pump it Up inflatable gym, popular for birthday parties, is also seeing business return, manager Alex Liekhus said. The business at 960 S. 72nd St. opened in 2008.
“After the first year it was kind of a struggle to keep people coming back,” she said. Now, “Business is looking up, and we're actually looking to put in some new equipment.”
Competitor Bounce U, also a locally owned franchise, tinkered with prices on birthday party packages during the recession, and now is seeing new sales records, owner Shawn Williams said. The business moved this spring into a new, bigger location, 11144 Q St., but did not raise prices.
“If we provide good value to our customers, they're going to keep coming back,” Williams said.
There are now so many entertainment options, it can be hard to break into the market, said Brett Shunkwiler, manager at Defy Gravity trampoline park in La Vista. He has attended networking events, bought advertising, given away free passes and party packages to non-profit groups, and created daily specials in an attempt to market to families.
“Until you get more awareness and get the word of mouth, it's a challenge for all new businesses,” he said.
Zabawa is unconcerned about a crowded market. He said his target audience is the 220,000 people in a five-mile radius who live in households with combined income of $80,000 and up. The V, he said, is for customers who are looking for a “memorable” outing, “born out of experience with my family.”
Family entertainment center activities
View Area family entertainment centers in a larger map
Parents looking for fun activities for their children this summer — or to do as a family — will find games and activities as well as camps and dining options at the area's family entertainment centers. The options include:
The Amazing Pizza Machine
13955 S Plaza, Omaha
Features: Buffet, arcade, bumper cars, go-carts, bowling, roller-coaster
This year: Added laser tag and new arcade games, eliminated glow-golf. Added “play-late specials” after 8 p.m., starting at $9.99 for a drink and play time, eliminating requirement to pay for food.
Boulder Creek Amusement Park
14208 S St., Omaha
Features: Two outdoor mini-golf courses, batting cages, climbing wall, trampoline ball games
This year: New greens on mini-golf courses. Replaced Coney Stop hot dog stand with live cook-outs.
11144 Q St., Omaha
Features: Inflatable bounce equipment
This year: Bigger location on Q Street. Added weeklong, all-day sessions of “Create and Bounce” art camps.
Chuck E. Cheese's
225 North 76th St., Omaha
Features: Pizza, arcade
Dave & Busters
2502 South 133rd Plaza
Features: Restaurant, bar, games
This year: Eight new games for the summer, live music Fridays and Saturdays, games half-price Wednesdays
10421 Portal Road, LaVista
Features: Indoor trampoline park, laser maze, fitness classes
This year: Three-hour summer camp sessions offered three days a week, including crafts and activities
Family Fun Center XL
10765 M St., Omaha
Features: Three-level laser tag, paintless paintball, nerf-gun paintball, laser maze, rock wall, 18-hole mini glow-golf course
This year: Buffet expected to open in July. First full year in new west Omaha location.
7003 Q St.
Features: Wave pool, river ride, slides, go-karts, and amusement park style rides.
This year: Two weeklong summer camps, starting June 17 and July 15. The park also has extended its hours this summer, to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and to 10 p.m. other days; last summer it closed at 8 p.m.
Jumpin' Jax Bounce & Party Center
1712 Charleston St. (66th Street and Cornhusker Road), Papillion
Features: Inflatable bounce equipment
This year: Summer camps with field trips, swimming, martial arts and fitness classes.
Papio Fun Park
210 E. Lincoln St., Papillion
Features: Mini golf, go carts, laser tag, trampoline games
This year: Summer season pass available for the first time, $79. Half-price all-access “Extreme Wristband” on Wednesdays.
Pump It Up
960 South 72nd St., Omaha
Features: Inflatable bounce equipment
This year: New inflatable equipment, more open-bounce hours
20902 Cumberland Road, Elkhorn
Features: Bowling, go-karts, laser tag, arcade, bar and restaurant, sand volleyball leagues
This year: “Kids bowl free” packages, new bounce houses, teens-only on Tuesday nights, Friday Fest with live bands every Friday this summer.
3616 S. 132nd St., Omaha
Features: Roller skating, laser tag, arcade, bounce house, bumper cars
This year: Part of the Kids Skate Free program, with free passes accepted for children 12 and younger during certain mid-day hours.
3375 Oak View Drive
Features: 16 lanes of bowling, VIP bowling lounge, mini-bowling, arcade, climbing wall, laser tag, Skrach casual American restaurant, Hot Spot coffee bar
This year: The V opens June 14. Packages include birthdays, corporate events and other parties.
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