I recently had the pleasure of getting to know George and Howard McAuliffe. George and Howard are experts in the bowling and Family Entertainment Business. These are indoor facilities that incorporate play formats like bowling, go karts, arcade games and more. In most of these facilities, customers can earn tickets that allow them to purchase toys and other products. I had a chance to visit a center with George and Howard and as a result learned about where opportunities lie for both those in the toy and Family Entertainment Center businesses.
George interviewed me for International Bowling Industry magazine. Here is the interview:
George: Tell us about your business.
Richard: I like to say that the toy business is a 19th century business desperately trying to break into the 21st century. We are making progress with more digital and robotics products as well as some VR and AR, but we have a long way to go. Still, business is good — the industry was up 6% last year. We just have to weather some major adjustments in the bricks and mortar retail world.
George: How did you get your start in the toy business?
Richard: I was going to be an English professor and write novels, but, as we all know too well, life rarely goes where we intend it to go. I love working in the business of play, consulting with toy companies all over the world, speaking at conferences, and writing about the industry. Who knows, someday I may write a novel about the toy industry.
George: What’s kept you at it through the years?
Richard: I enjoy solving problems, particularly the good kind. The business of play, I am sure you and your readers can attest to, is constantly providing us with challenges that most people cannot even comprehend. I also like the people and the global nature of the business. Working in play has provided me with some pretty exotic experiences and has brought me in touch with some extremely interesting people. I love it.
George: We ask all of our interviewees: If you had to boil it down to the top three reasons for your success, what would they be?
Richard: I am a student of the business. Things change so fast today that I have to stay hungry for knowledge and accept that what I knew yesterday may have no application for today. I show up. I make sure to be present and socialize at trade shows and conferences. It’s the best way to keep up with what is happening and to constantly add to my contact list. I try to help wherever I am able. I give free advice to people when I can and find that it feels good to give. It also helps when they end up being successful and remember me.
George: Your roots are in toys. How do you see your world connecting with the world of bowling and family entertainment attractions?
Richard: I have always preached that I want to be selling toys wherever people congregate. For example, someone may only visit a toy store once a month, but they may be in the bowling alley every week. Also, all of entertainment — digital play, toys, and play centers—are converging. I think that there are opportunities for play centers to be active in the world of toys and vice versa.
George: What do you like about the BEC (Bowling Entertainment Center) model?
Richard: I like that it provides high value entertainment for the entire family and that each member of the family can enjoy themselves to their own level of skill and expertise. I also like that the games allow for players to increase their skill levels, so that they can gain an expertise and feel greater self-esteem. All that moving is good for your health, too.
George: From a play perspective, what is important for center owners to know?
Richard: That they can potentially add profit centers by licensing their IP into the toy industry and entertainment channels. They can also sell more toys than they think, adding a whole new profit center.
George: Toys R Us just announced a Chapter 11 filing, a reminder that retail in general is under threat. What does that mean for toy manufacturers and the general health of the toy business?
Richard: It is of course destabilizing, but Toys R Us’ challenges do not derive from a lack of interest in play but simply from the company having way too much debt, some heavy duty competition from Amazon and Walmart, and an in-store experience that is less than inspiring. They need capital to make changes, so it is hoped that by selling off some assets and restructuring some debt, they can get back to being successful.
George: Any specific threats or opportunities toy retail developments may pose to the bowling/family entertainment industry?
Richard: If there is a toy store in the same area as an entertainment center and the toy store closes up, it creates a toy vacuum. I think the bowling/family entertainment industry should be looking at how to use an entertainment/toy store synergy to increase revenues and profits.
George: Your vision for the toy industry in the next five years?
Richard: In this day and age, five years is too far out. Having said that, I look for more synergies between play and entertainment, more robotics, more artificial intelligence, and some new, e-commerce toy providers
George: Any other wisdom you care to share with our readers?
Richard: Don’t think of yourself as being in the bowling or FEC (Family Entertainment Center) business. That is too narrow a vision in today’s world. You are in the business of play and entertainment, and you compete with any other business that sells play and entertainment. In today’s world, the competition is for time and attention rather than revenue. If you can get a consumer to give you more time and more space in their brain, the revenue will follow.