The International Association for the Leisure and Entertainment Industry was originally launched on December 1, 1993, under a different name: the International Association of Family Entertainment Centers. At that time, the association had a very small budget and consisted of a dozen operator and supplier charter members, along with a few volunteers.
In the early days, the IAFEC was a sponsor of Fun Expo, but did not own the show. This new show, created in 1991, focused on family entertainment centers and was owned by Bailey Beekin’s company, Bellwether Expositions.
Fun Expo and IAFEC grew in tandem during an era of explosive growth, when Entrepreneur Magazine named FECs as one of America’s top 10 business opportunities for three years in a row.
Encouraged by this publicity, and aware of the opportunities provided by real estate recession (properties as big as 60,000 sq. ft. were on the market at ridiculously low rents), thousands of wanna-be FEC owners flooded the Fun Expo shows in the early 1990s. Many joined the IAFEC; a respectable number launched FECs.
At that time, market conditions within the traditional amusements industry strongly favored the birth and growth of a new association. But by the mid-1990s, coin-operated video games were already beginning their steep decline. The downloading jukebox was little more than a gleam in the eyes of a few visionaries, and the fortunes of America’s street routes as a whole appeared doubtful.
But the FEC’s star sector was rising fast. Searching for new products, the industry embraced redemption – a category that had previously been primarily restricted to East Coast and West Coast shore arcades and large amusement parks. The redemption boom and the FEC boom were made for each other, and each fed the other.
My company joined the fledgling FEC association as a charter member in 1993. My personal involvement with IAFEC, now IALEI, has been a source of challenge, opportunity, excitement and education.
IAFEC’s early successes included the Silent Auction, spearheaded by Coin Concepts’ president, Gary Warner. Namco America’s George Smith and I also chaired the Silent Auction Committee over the years. The last year that I chaired the event, it peaked with more than $120,000 worth of equipment, donated by manufacturers. The revenues earned from the Silent Auction were critical during those formative years.
Another success was the 1999 launch of IALEI’s insurance program, under Sterling and Sterling Insurance Co. At last count, this program covers more than 400 FECs. About two-thirds of IALEI FEC members participate in the insurance program, making it IALEI’s most popular member benefit.
The idea for this program came from IALEI past president George McAuliffe, now of Pinnacle Entertainment Group (St. Louis, MO), and attorney Tom Fricke. They introduced IALEI to Sterling & Sterling. Ed Pearson – also an IALEI past president – and Harold Skripsky were instrumental, along with attorney Wayne Pierce, in helping craft the agreements.
IALEI past president Gene Hinkle of Hinkle Family Fun Center (Albuquerque, NM) has been involved with the Insurance Committee from the very beginning. He and I worked closely with David Sterling and Ann Frantzen of Sterling and Sterling over the past several years to improve efficiencies in the program.
Fun Expo originally made its name with an impressively comprehensive seminar program for the aspiring and new FEC owners who flooded the industry in the mid-1990s. IAFEC (and later IALEI) adopted an equally strong commitment to education, offering more than 50 seminars at each Fun Expo.
Several years ago, Randy White, of White Hutchison Leisure & Learning, and I introduced and organized the IALEI Rookies & Newcomers program at Fun Expo; we were Education Committee co-chairs. Initially, it was a full one-day session, but has since increased to a day and a half. Past president Phil DeAngelo and Dorothy Lewis have also chaired and co-chaired the Education Committee that is in charge of this great program, with help from Alan Ramsay of Ripley’s Entertainment (Orlando, FL).
Jack Cohen, an IALEI past president who held a staff position as Education Director, moved all of the IALEI seminar programs forward during his tenure, including the introduction of the regional seminar programs.
Over the past decade, IALEI board members worked through councils that focused on various sectors of the industry. They created 20 to 30 detailed manuals to feed the information frenzy of those who sought to enter the FEC business, or improve their fun center operations. As mentioned in the IALEI president’s column, these manuals are now undergoing extensive updates.
I deeply believe in the educational mission of trade associations, and my involvement with educational programs through Fun Expo and IALEI has been gratifying. In the early years, I served on the Fun Expo seminar committee with Bailey Beekin when they owned the event, and later with Reed Expositions. I have given at least one seminar at each year’s Fun Expo, a record that our staff tells me is unmatched. During the peak of the FEC boom in the mid-1990s, our opening sessions regularly drew 400 eager people.
In 1998, Bellwether Expositions sold Fun Expo to the Reed Expositions group. This gave us the opportunity to achieve what many had long sought: a co-location of Fun Expo with the AMOA International Expo, starting in 1999. I am proud of the role I played in helping forge this alliance – including the “jump ship rule” – that remains a major strength of AMOA and IALEI today.
IALEI’s close association with Fun Expo, and its success in promoting Fun Expo’s co-location, laid the groundwork for IALEI’s right of first refusal if Reed ever decided to sell the show. Harold Skripsky was a key factor here as well. Reed put the show up for sale in 2000, the same year that I became president of AMOA.
This confluence of events and opportunities provided the momentum to bring together IALEI, AMOA and AAMA as joint buyers of Fun Expo. If bringing two shows and two associations together for a co-location had proved challenging, then bringing three associations together in an ownership tripartite was exponentially more difficult.
Almost a year of my time was devoted to this project, representing AMOA and AAMA, while Harold Skripsky headed up the IALEI negotiating side of the table. He and I began as industry friends, became adversaries during the negotiation process, and became very close after the deal was done. Between the two of us, we proposed the set-up voting process for the LETS Board.
Good, professional management is crucial to the success of any trade show. William T. Glasgow Inc. had managed the Amusement Showcase International, owned by AAMA, from its inception. When Reed sold Fun Expo to Leisure Entertainment Trade Shows, I was proud to be part of the team that helped AMOA and IALEI to retain the Glasgow organization for the AMOA International Expo and Fun Expo.
William T. Glasgow Inc., along with their associates Brian Glasgow and Judy Novak, have managed all three shows for the past several years. This arrangement has increased efficiency, while consistently saving Fun Expo and AMOA a great deal of money.
Last but not least, it was an honor to serve on the IALEI nominating committee during the early years. Our work helped qualify virtually every board member who went on to be an officer or elected president of the association. It is obvious that each IALEI president has played a huge role in moving IALEI forward, and it is my hope that I have kept this tradition alive.
IALEI is headquartered at IALEI, 10 Briarcrest Sq., Hershey, PA 17033; tel. (888) 464-6498; local tel. (717) 533-0534. Website: ialei.org.
FRANK SENINSKY is president of the Alpha-Omega group of companies, which includes a consultancy agency, Amusement Entertainment Management LLC, and a nationwide revenue-sharing equipment provider, Alpha-BET Entertainment; all are headquartered in East Brunswick, NJ. During his 33 years in coin-op, Seninsky has spoken at nearly 200 seminars and penned more than 750 articles. He served as president of the Amusement and Music Operators Association from 1999 to 2000. Seninsky can be reached at tel. (732) 254-3773 or by emailing email@example.com.