Guide to Starting a Family Entertainment Center

Table of Contents

The evolution of family centers has become greater than anyone could have ever imagined. From arcades and playgrounds to laser tag, mini golf courses and trampoline parks, family entertainment centers have gone from occasional stops along the way to must-see destinations.

This highly profitable industry has continued to grow over the last few years, even with advancements and access to technology. With smartphones and computers solidifying their presence in everyday life, the need for quality time within families is growing stronger by the day. Creating a family entertainment center is a fun and timeless way to make a profit while giving back to your community.

What is a family entertainment center?

What Is a Family Entertainment Center?

Many structures fall under the category, but few people understand what a family entertainment center truly is and how it can bring massive value.

A family entertainment center (FEC) is a small-scale amusement park, typically indoors, that combines traditional playground elements with innovative and creative structures that every kid dreams of. FECs incorporate elements that challenge kids mentally and physically with multiple levels, tunnels, ropes, water and other design components that tap into a kid’s imagination. These centers are often stand-alone structures or expansions on existing ones.

Apart from the physical construction, an FEC is an investment with several targets, including childhood development, financial gains, community presence, branding and family. With engaging layouts for family members of all ages, FECs meet many consumer wants and needs within a comfortable and fun environment. Parents are actively searching for ways to reconnect with their kids and limit screen exposure with stimulating activities.

Family entertainment centers meet this need by:

  • Offering hands-on learning opportunities
  • Developing gross motor skills
  • Encouraging problem-solving
  • Having a safe space for spontaneous creative play
  • Encouraging social development
  • Providing a space for healthy exercise
  • Inspiring imaginations

Children's discovery centers

Types of FECs

Although you may not have heard the specific terminology “family entertainment center” before, you have seen and played in them your entire life. Mini golf courses, laser tag centers, go-kart tracks, zip lines and bowling alleys are all examples of different FECs. Spaces have evolved into greater, exciting experiences that have elevated the entertainment industry. With modern designs and innovative concepts, there is so much more to consider when you want to create an FEC. Possible entertainment center options include:

  • Children’s museums: With interactive designs, children’s museums can encourage kids to explore and learn in location-based centers.
  • Trampoline parks: As one of the newest advancements in FEC evolution, trampoline parks offer a way to exercise while improving balance and concentration.
  • Arcades: Kickback to the classics with this age-old FEC. An environment full of games encourages social engagement and active play for the whole family.
  • Inflatable centers: Inflatable centers are one of the easiest structures to add to any indoor or outdoor environment. With soft-sculpted foam play areas, you can offer obstacle courses and games within a creative play space.
  • Children’s discovery centers: This inquiry-based environment can encourage independent discovery, exploration, hands-on learning, collaboration and problem-solving. These elements are the main attractions for children’s discovery entertainment centers.

Tips for Starting a Family Entertainment Center

Just like any other industry, family-oriented entertainment comes with its own benefits and considerations. Fortunately, there are specific tips and tricks that will help your visions come to life. Now that you know the basics of the industry and your creative wheels are spinning, let’s dive into the best ways to start your FEC.

Do your research

Do Your Research

While this tip may sound like a no-brainer, many business owners in the family entertainment industry fall short with the minor details. Research begins with identifying your target audience and creating an in-depth analysis of their interests and ends with finding financial backers and attaining construction permits.

Here are some key factors that require additional thought and research:

  • Target demographic: If your high ropes adventure course is targeted toward teens and young adults, you don’t want to build it in a neighborhood predominantly made up of seniors in retirement homes. Consider the surrounding area of potential locations and whether it consists of your target audience.
  • Location: States and cities have varying construction codes and regulations that can hinder or assist your mission to build the ultimate FEC. Indoor play areas will require different permissions than outdoor structures, for instance.
  • Workforce: How many employees are you willing or able to hire once construction is finished? Many FECs can be supported with small staff sizes so you can see a greater return on investment (ROI) sooner.

Offer a Unique Selling Point

A unique selling point will define your business’s position among your competitors while also solidifying a crucial component of your brand. Establishing a unique position in the marketplace will set you up with the advantage of creating price power while catering to your clientele. Customers are given a number of options to choose from within any industry. This variety can make it difficult for them to decide when and how to spend their time and money.

Your job is to help them make their decision with a one-of-a-kind experience they’ll always remember. FECs come in many forms, but yours can stand out by:

  • Incorporating modern technology, like interactive light shows.
  • Offering thoughtful food and beverage options that cater to kids and adults.
  • Working with experienced designers who specialize in custom attractions.

Build a Presence in Your Community

The deciding factor of your FEC’s success will be in the strength of your surrounding community. Trust, reliability and a supreme customer experience are crucial in building a strong relationship with your clientele. Achieve this by focusing on local marketing efforts, offering special discounts and partnering with other businesses and schools to sponsor neighborhood events and clubs. Another great way to build a lasting presence in your area is by hosting special events like birthday parties and school trips.

The possibilities for involving your neighbors are endless. But one thing is for sure — if you’re investing in your neighborhood, the people will invest in your business.

10 Steps to Starting a Family Entertainment Center

With 68% of parents visiting family entertainment attractions in recent years, the industry has never been more viable. If you believe you have the passion and drive to jump into this exciting market, this step-by-step guide will teach you how to start a family entertainment center.

1. Identify Your Market

The first step towards building an FEC is defining your market. Will you market specifically to kids, teens, adults or the entire family? Once you have identified your audience, you can pinpoint your competitors and see what they are offering to your demographic. Once you have this information, you can decide what attractions your business can feature to stand out and draw the crowd.

2. Brainstorm and Draft

Now you can let your creativity fly! Connect with your inner kid and imagine what your dream playground would be like. Is it entirely made up of trampolines? Or maybe it’s a cool clubhouse up in the sky. This phase of the process allows you to think big and visualize what your FEC could be.

Some components you’ll need to identify are:

  • Do you want to feature one big structure or multiple elements to reach more customers?
  • Do you want to have an indoor or outdoor FEC?
  • How much funding will you need to bring your vision to life?
  • What are your expectations for the lifetime of your FEC?

Scout locations

3. Scout Locations

Where you choose to build your family entertainment center will have the most significant impact on the ease of construction, attaining investors, maintaining a budget and turning a profit. When it comes to finding the right spot to house your FEC, you shouldn’t pinch pennies. More often than not, the more expensive the site is, the more likely it is to turn a profit faster.

The location of your business needs to:

  • Be easily accessible to visitors
  • Be in a safe, well-lit neighborhood
  • Have options for parking or room for constructing a parking garage
  • Support heavy foot traffic inside and moderate vehicle traffic outside
  • Be large and open enough to house multi-level structures, additions and large crowds

Working with a commercial real estate agent or a partner who knows the requirements within the family entertainment industry can help you find the perfect location for your FEC. Knowing the local laws and limits when working with a commercial storefront will make the process of finding the right location that much easier. Be prepared to research and work within the constraints of local ordinances and other considerations, such as:

  • Property values
  • Insurance rates
  • State and local incentives and taxes
  • Minimum wage laws
  • Utility costs
  • Zoning laws
  • Construction licenses and fees

4. Construct a Business Plan

With your key demographic and potential site for an FEC in mind, it’s time to put pen to paper. Devising a business plan will make the process of planning your FEC easy from start to finish. The elements of a well-constructed business plan will help support your ideas and advertising campaigns and prepare you for pitching potential investors.

When you are ready to create a business plan, follow this layout:

  • Executive summary: This introduces your FEC structure and mission in a company overview.
  • Company analysis: This portion includes your business’s structure and an overview of what services you’ll offer.
  • Market analysis: Display your research of the market, as well as an analysis of your target customers and competitors.
  • Operations and management: This covers the logistics of running an FEC. Detail the roles within the company and the legal structure you intend to adopt.
  • Marketing and sales: Establish an advertising strategy to promote your FEC within your local region and beyond.

5. Attain Funding

Now comes the major part — funding your FEC venture. Funding options are based on your plans and personal assets. Start by assembling a budget that is as detailed as possible. Include startup costs, staff training, operation and maintenance costs to guarantee that your budget covers everything your FEC will need. You can gain funding through:

  • Investors: Many business owners can secure venture capital from investors in exchange for equity in the FEC. This option protects your personal finances at the expense of losing sole ownership.
  • A small business loan: This option will allow you to retain total control and ownership of your FEC without using your personal bank account. Include your business plan or anticipated projects when presenting to a lender.

6. Find Experts

Next, you should engage with experts who know the industry, starting with finding a contractor and designer. An experienced designer or distributor will know what layouts and elements will work best with your budget and space. An expert contractor can then advise you on how to acquire permits and construct your FEC with accuracy and efficiency. The best part of working with a contractor is that they work and communicate with plumbers, electricians, carpenters and other workers who are essential to the construction process.

7. Begin Construction

It’s finally time to break ground on your FEC. At this point, the most important thing you can do is simply be present. You are the head of the operation and should always be available to give the final say. After all, this is your passion project! No one knows your vision better than you, so your workers will be reliant on your knowledge and insight.

Build excitement

8. Build Excitement

Your involvement with your surrounding community is what will bring longevity and traffic to your business. As construction continues, get your audience excited for all the fun that’s about to come! In just a short time, families will have a place to gather together and create memories that will last a lifetime. Use social media, local advertising and word of mouth to draw attention to your upcoming FEC.

9. Build Business to Business Rapport

As you make your grand entrance into the neighborhood, reach out and establish a relationship with other business owners. Who else knows the challenges and wins that come with running a business better than entrepreneurs with a mindset just like yours? As the new company in town, you need to show clientele that you care about their personal experiences and becoming an established business they can count on. Relationships with local businesses open the door for partnership opportunities and greater community involvement.

10. Have a Grand Opening!

It’s finally time to open the doors and show the world what your FEC brings to the table! A grand opening comes with raising awareness, special promotions and even involvement from local officials to demonstrate their support and excitement. After all of your hard work and research, you can finally see the positive impact your FEC will make on the world. And that’s exactly what families need.

Types of Equipment for Family Entertainment Centers

With your plan for starting a family entertainment center in mind, you need to consider what type of equipment you’ll outfit it with. The indoor and outdoor equipment you choose for your entertainment center will depend on what you want to market yourself as but can include:

Adventure Experiences

Outdoor and indoor adventure experiences are fun for the whole family. By incorporating multiple levels with varying difficulties, high ropes course challenges will engage kids and adults who seek adventure.

belayed high ropes adventure course features custom designs that make your FEC a unique destination. A belayed course offers a wide range of difficulty levels, lower operating and maintenance costs and a one-of-a-kind experience for your guests.

non-belayed high adventure course eliminates the need for harnesses while offering the same amount of fun and thrills. The non-belayed option promotes free play with varying challenge levels and can sustain high capacities and throughput rates. Both adventure experiences can be used in indoor and outdoor locations.

Classic Playgrounds

Tried-and-true playgrounds are classics for a reason. They are timeless kid-tested systems that provide everything a kid needs to ignite their imagination and engage in spontaneous play. With layouts that can be purchased as rendered or customized to your needs, a classic playground made with softer materials is a desirable draw for families with kids of all ages.

Elementz benefits

Elementz

If you’re working with a small indoor space but want to provide a safe and comfortable area for families with small children to enjoy, Elementz from Soft Play® may be the right option for you.

Elementz simplifies the active play experience with effective designs and colors that are still fun and engaging. Every parent knows kids want to move around and be free to explore. Elementz features soft-sculpted foam slides, tunnels, ramps and low-profile climbers.

With each piece available as an individual structure, any small space can transform into a play area. Elementz components are ideal for hospitals, cruise ships, museums, restaurants, hotels and daycares. Use them in your FEC to appeal to families with younger kids and offer even more play and entertainment opportunities.

Interactive Challenge Courses

Building an interactive challenge course will engage older audiences while setting your business apart from the competition. This type of family entertainment center is different from the others because it offers the thrill of an adventure course while staying within a contained play area. A structure like The Hive uses obstacle-based challenges with a friendly competitive edge for teens and young adults. Other layouts like adventure spheres use climbing patterns, interactive light shows and colorful designs to immerse younger guests.

Pick & Play options

Pick & Play™ Options

Can’t decide on just one theme? There’s a solution for that! Pick & Play™ allows you to build an FEC that incorporates five themes for kids to exercise and play in.

This alternative accommodates kids within varying stages of development while encouraging improvement of gross motor skills, confidence and spatial relationships. It’s an ideal option for businesses who want to specifically cater to younger audience members. With low-profile climbers, tunnels, ramps and recognizable themes and characters, Pick & Play™ offers personalization while staying within a budget.

Themed attractions

Themed Attractions

Transport your guests to a tropical rainforest or historical castle with an immersive themed family entertainment center. Inspired by the clubhouse you wished you had when you were a kid, indoor themed structures open the world for exciting exploration. Creating a personalized space that complements your established color scheme or theme will provide your clientele with a unique experience they’ll never forget.

Themed attractions can also be customized to accommodate any age group or space so your business is easily identifiable as a family-friendly environment. For instance, if you have a natural history museum, your themed playground can feature dinosaurs, oceanography, environmental issues and anthropology elements. From Candyland to nature-inspired designs, themed attractions can be as imaginative and colorful as you want while allowing your brand to shine through.

Costs of a Family Entertainment Center

How much money do you need to start your own family entertainment center? A lot of the costs depend on the size of your location and the type of equipment you want to use. A large FEC will cost more than a condensed center in terms of construction and operation. The price mainly comes down to your business goals and budget.

Answering the following questions will help you come up with a realistic expectation for costs of construction and management:

  • What is the maximum capacity your FEC will hold? FECs are often high in foot traffic, with hundreds of visitors each day.
  • How many games, courses or attractions do you want to have?
  • Will you have a dining element featured in your business plan?

Land costs alone will be a significant part of your FEC’s budget. Once you start including the attraction elements and construction fees, the price tag will climb. Since you already know how to choose the best location for your FEC, the variable expenses to consider are equipment and dining.

With FECs, you can always start small and expand later. Being smart with your equipment choices will allow your FEC to feature unique experiences and play areas while staying under a price cap.

You’ll also need to evaluate the costs versus rewards of offering dining options. The startup costs of a small pizza shop can add up to $200,000 or more. But with consistent performance and quality, you can see a return on your profits in your overall revenue for your FEC.

Learn how to grow your FEC

Grow Your FEC With Play That Works

Starting an FEC is a smart and profitable business investment — we should know! Soft Play is the expert when it comes to family entertainment. Our designs are bold, colorful and state-of-the-art so they quickly catch attention and spark intrigue. As a leader in indoor and outdoor playground equipment, we are committed to providing exceptional customer service, quality materials and unique designs to drive your business.

With installations in more than 60 countries, we know how to attract families to your destinations and grow your business with play that works. We promote active play for all ages and abilities through our immersive and one-of-a-kind designs. Contact our design specialists to start planning your family entertainment center today.

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