CARLSTADT, NJ - Citing market research, its own business negotiations, and the latest generation of touchscreen countertop videos, executives of Betson Enterprises, headquartered here, assert that the amusements industry is finally ready to place equipment in some 25,000 liquor-licensed, branded restaurant chains like Applebee's, Bennigan's and T.G.I. Friday's.
Brian Fitzpatrick, Betson Enterprises vice-president of business development and international operations, hosted an operator telephone conference on the subject Feb. 11. Planned as the first in a series of such events, the inaugural edition of "Betson by Phone" featured some lively discussion between Fitzpatrick and operators regarding the nature of today's chains. One or two participants politely questioned whether these chains actually do represent ripe opportunities, and if so, which element of the coin-op industry can best persuade them to get aboard.
Chain restaurants with liquor licenses represent "a very significant opportunity for all of us'not that different from the core market we serve, which is bars and taverns," said Fitzpatrick. He admitted that in the past, such chains had "traditionally shied away" from games because they were perceived as unsuitable for family environments, were perceived to attract "the wrong crowd," lacked restaurant branding, and often had no rationale other than coin drop. "We are now changing a good portion of that," Fitzpatrick said.
Betson's research shows more than 37,000 casual dining restaurants have liquor licenses, he said. Of these, he continued, Betson estimates that 27,000 would be suitable for countertops and other games, and of these "only about 5% have been penetrated by some type of coin-op device." Therefore, he asserted, some 25,000 potential new locations comprise a ready market for countertops. And, he added, many of these location owners are favorably aware of today's coin-op products.
Pointing to Merit's "MegaTouch" line and the new "Vibe" flat screen unit in particular, Fitzpatrick said today's coin-op products offer many new benefits for the chains. These benefits include competitive differentiation from other chains; attraction of new customers; wide demographic appeal; the ability to keep existing customers in the bar area longer (resulting in higher profits); and improvement of same-store sales by boosting per-capita income.
Fitzpatrick offered the following example of how the installation of a touchscreen game could improve chain restaurant revenues. If just 20 customers per night stayed a few minutes longer, say, in the Applebee's bar, and if each of these customers spent an additional $7.50 per night on a drink or appetizer, a restaurant could enjoy $150 of additional revenue per night, which amounts to more than $54,000 of increased food and beverage revenue in that one location alone. Replicating these results across the entire Applebee's chains would add more than $70 million to the national operation.
The presence of games in the bar helps reduce the number of customers who walk away rather than wait for a table at peak hours, Fitzpatrick said. In addition, touchscreen games can help restaurants gather data on customers by enticing them to enter name, address, and demographic profiles. Finally, custom advertising on countertop screens can reinforce a chain's national advertising and reinforce the store's brand identity, he said.
Operators, he asserted, must realize that this nexus of location opportunities and new equipment creates a significant opportunities. He cited the possibilities of long-term contracts, expanded operator real estate, and an expanded player base. Betson is now aggressively addressing this market by working with operators and Merit staff to approach chain store management at the national, regional, and local levels, Fitzpatrick said.
When the floor was opened to questions, one operator said: "You are preaching to the choir'But my experience is that local chain corporate stores are ready to go, as soon as national management gives the go-ahead. Are you talking to them?" The operator suggested that manufacturers should persuade the national chains' management to approve placement of equipment, then come to the operators with a list of available local locations.
Betson is pursuing this strategy in some cases, replied Fitzpatrick. "It is something we are dong right now," he said. "However, we believe there is as much or more value in moving from the ground floor up, as there is from the top floor down." He cited Buffalo Wild Wings as an example of a chain that installs coin-op games as a strategic centerpiece. In this, the BWW chain was prompted by an operator who proposed a monthly Merit "TournaMAXX" promotion, the Betson official explained. Coin-op games contributed more than $750,000 of profit to the BWW chain last year, and amusement equipment is now included in floor plans for new Wild Wings stores, he said.
In another example cited by Fitzgerald, each amusement machine in 30 locations of one local chain is earning more than $130 per week with touchscreen equipment.
The industry still has some educational work to do where many locations are concerned. One operator who participated in the Feb. 11 edition of "Betson By Phone" told of a restaurant chain whose local manager refused to consider coin-operated equipment. Why? Simply because he didn't have a clue as to the nature of the industry or the typical operator's business arrangement.
"We explained that we, the operators, would take care of the cost of investment to place the equipment," the operator recounted. "Then the light came on and the store management said okay."
As an incentive to encourage operators to place more Merit equipment, Betson offered a $100 discount on Merit purchases to operators who participated in the "Betson By Phone" teleconference. More information is available online at betson.com.