Originally Published: April 6, 2015 6 a.m.
Chad Cook and his wife Brenda, who have been married for almost 32 years, have operated a number of businesses together.
Starting with a hardware store in the valley, they then went into the quick lube business and also owned a brake and muffler shop.
Once they started having children, they opted to sell out and move up to Prescott Valley in 1991.
In 1992, they built Castle Golf near where the Crossroads development now sits and ran that for 12 years before deciding to move the family business in 2004 to what was then the recently-built entertainment district - which Harkins Theatre is the epicenter of.
In June of 2005, Chad and Brenda opened Freedom Station and have been there since. It will be the family entertainment center's 10th anniversary in June.
Sitting in the surprisingly comfortable booths inside the fun center, Chad talked about the entertainment business and how he has managed to keep his place going as long as it has.
DC: How is the business doing?
CC: Industry wide, there has been some definite advancement. Movies are getting better and better with 3D, 4D, whatever, and family entertainment businesses are doing the same thing. We refer to it as a high fidelity experience. As a general rule, a lot of businesses such as bookstores and video rental stores have gone out, and that has been a result of the digital age and what we can now do with our smart phones and whatnot. At the root of a family entertainment center, however, is just a simple social environment, which people need. You can't have a birthday party over smart phones; or a family reunion; or go on a proper date.
DC: What do you mean when you say you try to provide a high fidelity experience for your customers?
CC: The success of the industry is based on that interaction we have with customers, it's the high fidelity. Our birthday party program is a good example. We interview the child; we interview the parent or parents; we customize each party and make it very special. Whether it's trivia or skee-ball tournaments with the general public, we tend to focus on what would make a person come back, what creates that memory. Our industry, since the recession, has really dug in deep and gone that direction. We started doing that even before the recession.
DC: Were there no family entertainment centers in the quad city area before you opened Castle Golf?
CC: No. Even today, we kind of stand alone as a one-off you might call it. In Northern Arizona there are no other family entertainment centers. There has been some come and go. To be a direct competitor I guess for a family entertainment center, with multiple attractions and the food offering and so forth, we don't have direct competition. Of course, we have plenty of indirect competition, in forms of, you know, we have a glow golf course up here, batting cages, bowling alleys, movie theaters, lots of wonderful offerings, but nothing specific to what we do.
DC: I've seen a lot of family entertainment businesses throughout the country open and close quickly, so I can't imagine it being an easy business to make money in. What is the attraction to opening one of these up when the track record for success seems to be quite poor?
CC: I'll be the first one to admit it; it's a very complicated business. For a lack of a better term, we're spinning a lot plates. I've worked as a consultant for this business for many years. I think what we see often is people see it as a fun business, which it is. It has a lot of sex appeal to people looking to get out of corporate America and open their own business. When they get into it, and they find out that, boy, now all of a sudden I'm like a pre-school. I'm watching over these kids even though we don't say 'leave your kids here', but even when the parents are here we still have to watch over them. You're in the food service business, so it's just like owning and operating a restaurant as well. You're in the retail and merchandizing business because of all the prizes and stuff for the games. All the games are very technologically advanced and run off of high-end computers and stuff. And there's a constant mix of attractions, so you have to keep things fresh by changing things around.
DC: What are some of the newer additions and changes you have made to the entertainment center?
CC: Probably the newest edition is our laser tag outside. We're always buying and selling games. There are a number of new pieces in here, I just got back from AMOA (Amusement and Music Operators Association) game show, which was last week in Las Vegas. What I do is I go to the show and I stand back-and I've been doing this for so many years - and watch what games have a line the second day; because everyone talks about them and the next day everybody goes to those games and there will be like three or four games that have a really long line and I'll be like, okay, I'll buy one of those, I'll buy one of those. I used to bring my kids and have them play the games because everything is on free play. You get good feedback that way.
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