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Leaders Share What’s Now, What’s Next In Family Entertainment

Family entertainment centers are gathering places, but in February leaders in the industry will have a gathering of their own. “Most conferences are really aimed at people starting an FEC business but no quality forum exists currently focused on leadership. This conference is for decision makers,” shares George Smith, a co-founder of Face 2 Face Entertainment Conference (F2FEC).

“Four years ago, two friends and I first got the idea to bring the best of the best together because by sharing information we can improve the business both in political and financial arenas. There have been very few innovations in the FEC business for decades. Much of it is derivative of early progenitors such as Chuck E. Cheese and what worked in the entertainment marketplace.

“The FEC business is unique. We want to create a forum where experienced owners and operators can share best practices and have face-to-face interaction to keep up with the challenges of the industry.”

The inaugural Face 2 Face Entertainment Conference is scheduled for Feb. 24-26 at the Point Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort in Phoenix. It is designed as an educational conference to benefit all family entertainment center professionals, including manufacturers, suppliers and operators in all segments of the industry including bowling centers, traditional family entertainment centers, roller and ice skating rinks, trampoline parks, water parks, hybrid parks and specialty entertainment center attractions.

Family entertainment center industry veterans Rick Iceberg, Ben Jones, and George Smith—known as The Three Amigos—have teamed up to stage a comprehensive FEC conference experience.The trio are veteran operators industry supporters and active volunteers with 95 years combined experience in family entertainment. Iceberg is owner and president of C.J. Barrymore’s, a large amusement center with indoor and outdoor attractions, with a strong corporate event and party base, in Clinton Township, MI (Detroit) for 40 years. Jones, with 20 years as an FEC owner/operator, also has experience with 18 startups and 27 years as an entrepreneur, and is currently an FEC Specialist and Senior Lender at Live Oak Bank headquartered in Wilmington, NC. He is an experienced trainer, speaker and event planner.

With more than 30 years experience in the entertainment and amusement business, Smith is president of Family Entertainment Group, Barrington, IL, a coin-operated games and attraction operator with more than 90 locations in 14 states. When asked about the relationship of The Three Amigos, Ben Jones answered, “We have tremendous respect for each other’s talents and we really enjoy working together.” Smith added, “Our approach is different, our styles are different, our industry experiences different, and yet we align on the basics and come together on common goals, big ideals and hopes for the entertainment industry.”

The three men spearheaded the 2013 FEC Phoenix Conference under the auspices of IAAPA, but “we feel that we only got it 70% right,” reflects Rick Iceberg. “We can do better, do more, and we can create a better experience and value for everyone attending.”

After their success there, the three decided to create their own independent, stand-alone FEC conference event and return to Phoenix for its debut. “Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort has great venues and the right mix of amenities which are so important for stimulating great conversations, and we have the space with freedom and flexibility to hold meetings, social functions and bar time in multiple locations, both indoors and outside,” shared Jones.

The three planners are pledging that the new FEC event will be “Bigger, badder, bolder, better and different.”

Jones notes, “To us, bigger doesn’t mean numbers. Bigger for us is bigger centers and a bigger breadth of genres. The point of differentiation for F2FEC is that we are designing the conference for leaders in the industry. We will have new speakers, new topics and new perspectives.” Iceberg adds, “The F2FEC is all about building relationships in a casual setting. Sessions will be short and to-the-point by industry experts. We will not have any long, boring speeches that don’t have relevance to our industry. It will be about industry people sharing among industry people and finding ways to grow the business.”

Sessions at F2FEC will be presented in 17-minute stints similar to “TED-style” presentations inspired by the Sapling Foundation’s popular technology, entertainment and design conferences. Sessions will focus on best practices and trends. Complementing the TED-style talks, table talks and “group think” open forums will sustain a highly engaging atmosphere. Keynotes and debates will alternate with group meals, entertainment, receptions, and prizes to enliven the conference.

“By combining genres and sectors, and fostering camaraderie and idea-sharing among high-level professionals, F2FEC will be able to drive business growth and needed change,” stated Jones. “Someone who isn’t current, who doesn’t hit the ‘refresh’ button, is hurting the industry. We want to develop leadership qualities in our attendees. This conference is not for everyone. We can be exclusionary to the benefit of the attendees. We want senior level professionals to talk about some of the things that are never discussed at other FEC conferences.”

“The F2FEC will be a gathering of the best operators in the country,” promises Iceberg. “We have one goal—make more money. We will share knowledge and experience.”

F2FEC is an independent, philanthropically-produced conference open to all entertainment industry supporters. Membership or affiliation with specific organizations or trade associations is not required for attendance, exhibition, or sponsorships.

“There is no other event for experienced FEC professionals, and to keep it independent of any organizations we are subsidizing the F2FEC out of our own pockets,” Smith comments.

Iceberg is excited about bringing different genres of the industry together to create more innovation. “Bowling is what totally changed my complex. Without bowling my center wouldn’t be anything what it is now. Bowling is a great industry to add to an entertainment center.”

For more information about F2FEC, contact the organizers Rick Iceberg at (810) 444-2222, mail@cjbarrymores.com; Ben Jones at

(248) 371-0700, benrjones@comcast.net; or George Smith, (630) 240- 8261, geosmith4756@gmail.com.

For more information about Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort, go to http://www.tapatiocliffshilton.com.

To download a copy of this article, click here: Let’s Talk FEC

Smiles Are Contagious

FEC Specialist, Live Oak Bank

Create Smiles Everyday…this is the mantra of my dear friend Michael Getlan.  Smiles are simply at their core, an expression of positive attitude. We can all create and deliver smiles everyday by simply deciding to be nice and project a positive attitude.  It’s easy, simply wake up and look at yourself in the mirror with a positive mindset of being happy…then SMILE. Done. Easy.  But now I want you to share your smile with your company and in life.

Action equals reaction and the smile we share is returned as a reward for our gift of giving.  This means that the smile we create every day can be given to others which means it’s communicable and if someone can receive it, it’s catchable and if it’s catchable, it’s teachable. Here are a few teaching steps toward sharing a smile in your organization.

1) People have voices, listen to them.  Listen, give credit and implement the ideas and suggested changes of your staff. Even if your style is enlightened dictatorship finding collaborative opportunities is morale building.

2) Create Paths. People value the feeling of progress.  Create paths that allow your people to grow in multiple directions.

3) Title and Structure can be Fun.  I used to share a title with Michael Getlan, Director of Enthusiasm & Opportunity. My former partner was Queen of Fun and Laughter. Hard not to smile at either of these titles.

4) Walk the Talk: As your firm’s leader you must play by the same rules and at the same time you must maintain your leadership role which places you at multiple levels. This is the smile of respect.

5) Recognize and Reward: This is simply part of the value equation for all people. Celebrate your employees, your teams and their respective successes. Personal praise via companywide email or chatter is great but old fashioned handwritten notes create that unexpected smile!

6) Create Traditions: Outings, breaks and shared experiences that become traditions form corner stones in a company’s foundation and those shared experiences become anticipated events. This is the ‘I can’t wait smile’.

7) Manage to Have Fun: The pun here is intended – manage for fun and then manage to have fun with your staff and team. Whimsy and spontaneity are the key ingredients to generating the unexpected smile.

Ultimately smiling is a choice and everyday each of us has the opportunity to choose to smile. We can share that smile many ways: non-verbal, big and loud, written words, gifts, images or in pictures. Remember that a smile is an expression of who we are that day.  We make the choice to smile every single day.  I chose happy and the reflection of that choice is the smile on my face.  Join me!


FEC Financing: Olympic Teams and You

Greetings Bay Tek readers, Ben Jones here.  Very pleased to be contributing to the industry alongside my friends at Bay Tek.  As some of you know, I am a former FEC owner/operator of 21 years and recently completed a wonderful tenure with IAAPA: 20 years as a volunteer and as a FEC Specialist, where I coordinated FEC programming and counseled FEC members on business planning and best practices. I am now an enthusiastic member of Live Oak Bank as its FEC Domain Expert, a new role for me and a crazy exciting opportunity for our industry – access to capital and long-term project financing!

This is the first in a series of features focused specifically on operating and growing your business. What most of you may not know is that I was an accomplished athlete and competed at the highest junior, collegiate and professional levels in multiple sports. I am also a fan of sport and the Olympic spirit grabs me emotionally with each summer and winter rotation.  In honor of the countries, the athletes and the games, I present a team metaphor for this first feature.

Family, fraternity, little league, volunteer, workplace or sport each are teams with beliefs, ideals, values, traditions, goals and sacrifice. Whether you are coming together for Olympic glory, a family or high school reunion, to collaborate on a project, as mentor or coach or wedded partners, everyone belongs or has belonged to a team.

At the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, Canadian freestyle skier Alex Bilodeau won gold in the mogul competition. There are many emotional and compelling stories about Alex and his brother Frederic; the kind that bring tears of joy and feelings of respect and connection. But I want to focus on two statements made by Alex immediately after winning gold, after making history, after laying down an incredible run under pressure, after becoming the first freestyle skier to win back-to-back Olympic titles in one discipline and after many other Olympic and personal “firsts”. About his brother Alex exclaimed, “Out of respect for my brother I have to go after these dreams and to do all within my power to try to make it happen. He is my motivation. I share this with Frederic.” Of his teammates, “I am a gold medalist because of them. They push me to work harder and we push each other to be better skiers.” What I love is that neither of these remarks are about Alex.

World-class snow skiers generally do not train together. They work out in their respective home towns or ski towns and come together at various intervals for team training and national, international and World Cup competition.  What they each bring to a group dynamic is their individual routine, work ethic, technique, strengths, and what they surrender is a small piece of themselves for the benefit of their teammates and the greater good of the team. Through a surrender process, what they openly share their teammates grab onto and gain.  What is important about surrendering is that the individual does not lose what they share, “it” is always within; by sharing, you have simply enabled others to excel based on your contribution.  A true win/win. The great NBA coach Phil Jackson said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

All of us have teams that support us. Whether our pursuits are individual and personal or in the group context of work and sport, we have Olympic size teams behind us. Here are three selected elements that sport and world class competition has taught me and that I’ve tried to instill in my teams:

Believe in the impossible. Establish big goals. Nothing else needs to be said.

Cheer your heart out. Surround your team with positive energy and be a coach, role model and unwavering supporter.

Everyone has a voice and a role.  Give equal time to both the stars and the supporting cast.  It might be your second string or number two who have the next great idea or lead you to victory.  The Olympic Motto is “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” The Latin words mean “Swifter, Higher, Stronger.” Apply these strategies to your life, to your organization and you just might have your own Olympic moment to share.

Lasertron hosts conference

Lasertron, provider of high-end laser tag equipment, arenas, and center management systems, is hosting its second Entertainment Center Conference of 2014 on May 20-21 in Buffalo, N.Y., held at the longest running laser tag facility in North America. The focus will be on management leadership systems and operational systems.

Notable speakers will include Michael Getlan of Amusement Consultants, Ben Jones of Live Oak Bank, Scott Gilmore and Dave Reiners of Betson Enterprises, and Jason Mitchell of Intercard Inc. Getlan and Jones will present a session titled, “Customer Service and the Intangibles of Business.” Jim Kessler of Lasertron will also have a Fireside Chat with Jones. The next conference is slated for August 5-6. For more information, visit (www.laser-tron.com).

As seen in Play Meter’s eNewsletter

RePlay Article: FEC Financing

If finding your mission in life involves locating the intersection of your talents with the world’s needs, then family entertainment pro Ben Jones has found his sweet spot. Jones, a former hotel and FEC operator who most recently headed up IAAPA’s outreach to family entertainment facilities, has teamed up with Wilmington-based Live Oak Bank to provide capital to existing operators looking to grow their businesses.

“I love what I am doing. I like the people, the bank and the culture,” said an effusive Jones when we caught up with him last month. “I think they have a good reason for lending money. We have an overriding objective of fostering safety and soundness, and we want to help people grow their business. I joined the bank because I felt I could make a difference. It’s not just making loans but enhancing the industry that attracts me.”

In his new role at Live Oak, Jones will essentially create an FEC division. He connected with the bank through former IAAPA Chairman Bob Rippey, who was familiar with the financial institution and knew they were looking at new markets. Live Oak specializes in providing financial resources to niche industries including dental care, pharmacists, veterinarians, investment advisors and even
chicken farmers.

Read the full article here: FEC Financing

RTown Webinar focuses on FECs

Redemption Plus recently launched Rtown Academy, its new educational resource, and kicked it off on Jan. 15 with the first in a series of four Webinars.   The Webinar was titled, “Three Wise Men Discuss Hot Topics in Family Entertainment Center (FEC) Operations”.

The moderator was George McAuliffe of Pinnacle Entertainment Advisors; presenters included Rick Iceberg of CJ Barrymore’s in Michigan; Ben Jones, Senior Lender and FEC Domain Expert for Live Oak Bank; and George Smith, President of Family Entertainment Group.

Play Meter attended the Webinar; below is a sampling of the sage advice from this trio of experts.

Iceberg said CJ Barrymore’s has undergone tremendous expansion since it opened in 1974 to now offer more than 15 different attractions. He has followed a path of continued improvements, most recently adding full-scale bowling, which he said “turned out to be dynamite,” also mini bowling, with the combination being “a home run for us.”

He said, “When we committed to bowling we flew all over the country to research bowling. We spent a considerable amount of money in this effort but it was the best money we ever spent to get our own design down pat. If you are going to spend big, invest in research.”

Along with the investment in bowling came massive remodeling to accommodate bowling and upgrade other areas including the party rooms and the arcade, which was also outfitted with more new equipment. All this happened when the recession hit. Iceberg said, “Growing creates excitement. If we had stopped growing when the recession hit we would have been in trouble.”

Jones said that Live Oak Bank, the second largest originator of Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, is making a big push into the FEC market. He said the FEC industry has often been “overlooked and misunderstood” by lenders. He provided guidelines for dealing with a lender when you want to develop, refinance, or expand an FEC.

Jones said that Live Oak Bank is “streamlined and transparent” and brings a business advisory team to each project. Eligibility for loan consideration requires that the applicant be in the FEC business for three to five years and have FEC or related experience. Jones said the first step when dealing with a lender is to discuss your dreams and goals and what you want to accomplish.

Live Oak will do loans for expansions, remodeling, acquisitions, equipment, succession financing, and refinancing. Jones said, “A full-blown expansion is right in our wheelhouse.”

Smith said, “The overwhelming evidence I have seen in the last 15 years, and especially the last five years, is that quality is the hallmark for equipment.  “In the last few years it has been hard enough to sell a good game but you can’t sell a mediocre game. This applies to capital decisions for new and used equipment. Games that look good and operate simply are usually the best.”

Regarding equipment legality questions, he said, “We want skill-only pieces instead of programmable, percent aging pieces. We want something that will be around for the next five or 10 years and not challenged by local government.”

Smith said it used to be that video games and novelty games represented nearly 90 percent of equipment in a game room. Now, on average, the mix is 65 to 70 percent redemption, 15 to 20 percent instant win cranes that give a prize directly, and the other 10 percent video and novelty (and declining). In conclusion, he said, “I have never seen a better lineup of equipment than we have today. The proof is in the cash box.”

Two Webinars were conducted in February, one on profitable parties and one on top toy trends. The last of the series is set for March 20, noon (CST), on technical issues in the redemption game room (gotomeeting.com/register/144789954). For more information, visit (www.rtownacademy.com)

Download the full article from Play MeterRTown Webinar focuses on FECs