I had an email from a newer center that is struggling to get over that first hump. Here is some things I sent back to him and suggested from what has worked at eBash in the past:
Keep in mind that a LOT of success in this business (and most businesses) is surviving through the first two years. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
When we opened 10 years ago, we attracted players because we had faster computers, faster internet, etc. Then when HD came out in 2006-7 we got 32″ flat screens ($800 back then!) and players came because we had Xbox 360 and PS3 with HD. Now that stuff is way cheaper and players have it at home.
So we have really focused on making sure we do a LOT of special events. Not tournaments only, many players are “arm chair warriors” and don’t want to compete seriously. Here are some of the things that are really big for us:
- Birthday Parties – These really grow over time as more kids get invited they want to hold their party at the store
- Lock-ins – We started doing one per month… then we started doing two per month… then finally we figured out that doing them every weekend was best because gamers and parents didn’t have to remember WHEN we were having them. We went from having 20-30 players at one lock-in per month to 80-90 players every Friday night and 40-50 players every Saturday night.
- Tournaments – We try to do serious ones that cost big $$ to join with big $$ prizes but we also do free events for fun prizes like game time and snacks.
For marketing, here are some things that have worked well for us:
- Thursdays each week is Church Youth Night. We let middle school and high school students with a bulletin/program from their church that week play for free from 4 PM until 10 PM.
- We made business cards that give a person a free hour, printed like 5000 of them and took stacks to all of the local schools, elementary, middle and high schools. We give each one around 50 or 100 cards and tell them to use them for rewards for attendance, grades or anything they want. You can also give these out to anyone at the store anytime. Drive around to local businesses and invite them, their kids, their friends to come by with those cards.
- Get some press coverage. Write up your own press release and email it to all of the local newspapers and televisions. I am surprised when we do this how many times at least a few of them pick up the story and just put it on their website exactly as I wrote it. Write it from an outside perspective and put quotes from yourself in there. I attached an example of one I recently wrote and sent out, feel free to use that template to write your own.
- Dedicate a day/night each weekday to a couple of games. That way players who like Call of Duty know when to come to meet other Call of Duty players. You can even make it a discount to play ONLY that game ONLY on that day. Easy way to make a cheaper product without lowering your main prices.
I hope some of those ideas can help! It is all about making it through the first couple of years. The ones that make it are the ones that never stop pushing their business. The ones that fail usually are excited and work hard the first couple of months but then just get lazy and sit around.