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07.13.09
Odd venues spark, inspire business meetings

Odd venues spark, inspire business meetings

By Stacy Wescoe, Business Journal Staff

Entertainment venues are to some degree recession proof, “or at least semi-recession proof,” according to Gary Seibert, owner of Ozzy’s Family Fun Center in Leesport.

“People want to find something that takes their mind off their woes, whether it’s a recession, a depression or a time of war,” he said.

He noted that Walt Disney was in his heyday during WWII, a time when the public was looking for a little escapism.

Still, Seibert said his business is off by about 3 percent to 5 percent.  To counter the decline, Ozzy’s like many entertainment venues, has been concentrating on the corporate world to help bring in revenue.  He said being an off-site venue for corporate retreats, leadership training or team building is a growth area for entertainment facilities.

Mike McCreary, co-owner of the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, an indoor cart racing facility in Allentown, said that being a fun and unique venue helps to lure in those corporate clients.

“Not all companies are doing poorly right now,” he noted.  The economy has actually opened the market up for us.  People are trying to be more creative with what they’re offering.”

Crystal Seitz, president of the Greater Reading Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed that creativity is key for off-site meeting venues.

Sietz said the whole reason that companies have off-site meetings and retreats is to get employees to come up with new ideas in a fresh arena.

“Since they’re out of the office they can’t say, ‘I’l be back in 10 minutes; I want to go check my e-mail,’ because they can’t do that,” she said.

Still, she said if the meeting-or venue- is boring, people may try to sneak out.

“People like adventure and excitement.  If you can offer that, they’re more likely to pay attention and stay involved,” she said.

As more companies seek out creative retreats for team-building venues, McCreary said the Grand Prix is growing partnerships with firms that facilitate such training opportunities.  He said the Grand Prix is currently putting together an agreement with Dale Carnegie Training, Allentown, to offer corporate training classes at the site and already has an agreement with Matt Daniel’s Business Battlefield for the military-themed corporate leaderships training it offers.

McCreary said the Grand Prix also has it own in-house corporate teambuilding program, which he said is a good value even in a weak economy at $1,000 for up to 10 people.  The facility also offers meeting space, food and three races for $69 a head for business retreats.

For about seven years, Seibert’s entertainment center in Leesport has been successfully selling itself as a venue for corporate team building.  Indeed, team building became such a large part of the business that he even established a new business division, the Mid-Atlantic Training and Development Center, and brought in degreed professionals to help corporate clients with such issues as communication and leadership.

Still , both Ozzy’s and the Grand Prix said the economy has impacted the growth of the corporate end of business.

“By this point our goal was to have (corporate events) be 70 percent of our business,” said McCreary of the Grand Prix, which opened in August of 2007.  “It’s actually about 50 percent as compared to our amusement side because the economy has made it more challenging.”

Ozzy’s has also adapted to tighter corporate budgets.

This year the entertainment center revamped its programming to offer “fun building” in addition to its traditional “team building.”

“Team building sounds so serious.  Fun building sounds cool and offers a totally different set of activities,” said Seibert.

Besides attracting a different set of clients, which might not need full-fledged team building, he said fun building offers a more value-priced option as compared to a full day of team building.

He said business can come to Ozzy’s meeting facilities and get any business done, using the rooms large screen for Power Point or other presentations.  After the meetings ends, staffers can participate in different activities that offer competition and team cheering opportunities, like go-cart racing.

Seibert said Sovereign bank was a recent client for its corporate retreat at Ozzy’s.  He said he had over 125 bank employees come in for a meeting and then a little fun time.

“It’s a different environment.  It’s not going into a giant classroom that still looks like the workplace,” said Seibert.

Nonprofit venues are also looking to grab up some of the corporate retreat business.

The America on Wheels National Transportation Museum, which opened last year in Allentown, is among the venues looking to the corporate world to bring in revenue.

Because the facility has a variety of meeting rooms, Linda Merkel, executive director, said the museum can target businesses and events of different sizes.

Also, because of the weak economy, Merkel said she is going after the corporate business world by offering what she sees as a value-priced meeting site option.

“We charge $250 for a meeting room,” she said.  “Some museums are double that.”

Merkel noted that after the meetings are over, participants can tour the museum.  She said that many of the facility’s tour guides are volunteers, and this helps in keeping the cost down.

Also, because more companies and professionals are looking to boost their business during the recession, networking events have become popular, said Merkel.

She said the mixers are the strongest growth area for the museum.

Because of that, the museum is putting a strong emphasis on billing itself as a venue for mixers and business card exchanges.

“We serve hors d’oeuvres on hubcaps, and we have things like spin wheel sandwiches that make it a little different and a little special, and people seem to like it,” said Merkel.

Even the IronPigs are going after business meetings.  The AAA minor league ball team, which plays out of Coca-Cola Park, in Allentown, has meeting rooms available starting at $400 with catering also available.

Soliciting corporate business for off-site meetings or team building hasn’t led to success for every venue that’s tried it.

Consider two businesses that opened in late 2008 on West Broad Street in Bethlehem, a video gaming center called Lazarus’ Den and a candy store, The Candy Factory.  Both establishements said they intended to use their extra space to attract corporate clients.  While both businesses said they had received some inquiries for team building or corporate retreats, the interest apparently wasn’t great enough, and each establishment has closed.  The owners could not be reached for comment.

Still, the overall market for unique meeting space remains strong.

“A lot of companies are struggling to keep morale up,” said Ozzy’s Seibert.  “Maybe they’ve had to give up some perks like the annual big company picnic.  When that happens people start to worry about their jobs.”

Seibert said a retreat to a place like Ozzy’s is a way for company officials to show they still care and to boost morale.

“We’re like the Rolaids to employee stress,” Seibert said.

Source: Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal

 

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