North Central NATO Keynote Address: Sheraton Minneapolis West Hotel, May 16, 2017 by Dan Klusmann
Over half a century ago… in a place called Billings Montana... I went to pick up my high school friend from the theatre where he worked.
When I walked into that theatre something dawned on me… The girls there were REALLY cute!
Free movies and working with cute girls sounded so much better than my job at the grocery store, that I asked my friend if he could get me hired.
So started my show biz career as relief marquee changer working for a dollar an hour.
About a year later, after several promotions, I was the theatre’s manager, and several years after that.... I was engaged to one of those candy girls.
As I go through this speech tonight I will try and relate some of the lessons I’ve learned in those 50+ years in this business.
Who knows, for some of you younger managers out there, maybe my discoveries, will help you in YOUR theatre careers.
So, lesson #1: Watch out for candy girls! (I can say that because my wife did not accompany me on this trip.)
In fact I asked for her advice on this talk and all she said was “Well whatever you do, don’t try to sound smart.. or funny.. or charming... Just be yourself.” So here it goes...
Back in those early years it was easy for me to develop a passion for both marketing and showmanship, which go hand-in-hand.
You see, our theatre had just one screen.
Our competition was a large national chain, so they got most of the big films.
When we’d get a good movie, we couldn’t afford just to unlock the doors and see who showed up.
We went out and promoted the film with stunts, media attention, big out-of-theatre displays, and tie-ins with other businesses and organizations.
We were SHOWMEN, which meant that our marketing efforts had a positive impact on the number of people coming to our movies!
The fact that has not changed through the years is our Lesson #2.
Today’s theatre managers can have a significant impact on the business your theatres generate.
It, however requires marketing and showmanship.
Showmanship separates you, the theatre manager, from the managers of say McDonalds, J.C. Penney, or Ace Hardware.
Through the Independent Marketing Edge and then ShowTime we’ve awarded almost half a million dollars to theatre managers through the years to encourage and reward showmanship.
And yet showmanship is dying.
Maybe I’m “old school” and times are changing. I definitely felt “old school” as I cut out photos and taped them to poster board for this easil. Dummy, I thought, a modern marketer would have featured these lessons in a Power Point presentation with a computer and big screen behind me. Then, again, a real showman might have had ring girls in bathing suits holding the boards - anything to grab your attention!
Showmanship is noticed and it is appreciated!
I was reminded of this most recently at CinemaCon this year.
Despite all the movie stars on hand, it was Chris Aronson, president of 20th Century Fox, who impressed me the most as he made a grand entrance and performed as part of a dance group sporting neon lights on their clothing.
Or as Harry Houdini once said: “The secret of showmanship consists not of what you really do, but what the mystery-loving public thinks you do.”
And we ARE, after all, in a business of make believe!
Marketing is an attitude, not a department.
The only purpose of any business is to bring in a customer, and there are really only two ways to do it – through marketing or innovation!
If you think that marketing is someone else’s job then you are missing out on the pride and satisfaction of knowing that you can impact the business your theatre generates.
Others, however, will recognize this and someday they will likely be your boss!
I remember reading years ago where American Airlines calculated that if they had one more customer on each flight in a given year, the difference in revenue would have been about $114 million.
How much is just one more customer every showing worth to your theatre?
When I was still a young manager and also attending college, our theatre owners decided to lease a Billings drive in, so they brought in a YOUNG city manager from Butte Montana to supervise our two theatres.
He had just graduated from Western Montana College with a teaching degree.
We worked together for over 20 years and helped build TOI Theatres into a 6 state regional circuit.
Later he went on to head up NATO of California and Nevada, and build ShoWest into the largest theatre convention in the world, and then he helped build Cinemark into the most successful international theatre circuit in history.
Not bad for a kid from Butte Montana.
My friend, Tim Warner, just retired as Cinemark’s CEO.
I, and many others, learned a lot from him through the years, but this Lesson #3 about achieving success is one of the most important.
There is a LOT of incompetence in this world, and in our industry.
By constantly educating yourself, competing on all levels, having a positive attitude, truly caring about people, seeking out and emulating mentors, surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, being honest, and always having confidence in yourself and your abilities, you WILL succeed.
No one is better than you if you give it your all.
Look in the mirror. That’s the competition you CAN control, not the other guy.
Be better today than you were yesterday.
A few years after graduating from college and putting in a stint in the Army, I rejoined TOI and opened a twin theatre in Helena Montana.
There, I started a children’s matinee series and convinced the parent teacher organizations in all the grade schools to sell series tickets to the kids.
It took a little time and effort, but by the third year of the series we were selling out two afternoon showings a day, three days a week, in both 300 seat auditoriums.
The police department had to come and direct traffic because the theatre was so busy with parents dropping off over 3,000 children a week.
It was cool because sometimes I would be out in the public and a little kid would point me out to their parents and say “Look, there’s the movie man.”
So... Lesson #4: Don’t forget the kids.
They are our teen and adult patrons of tomorrow. Turn them into movie-lovers!
Building any specialty film series is a great way to increase business.
Whether it’s a children’s matinees, late shows for teens, afternoon showings for seniors, art films, or operas, you can increase business by establishing a film series, building it, and pleasing your customers.
Movie-going is a habit that can be nourished through these series, so don’t forget this lesson #5. Build upon your successes and make them bigger and better!
If you have a good Facebook page, or loyalty club, or relationships with businesses, organizations or media, build on them, strengthen them, and improve them each and every year! .... Don’t ever take them for granted.
In 1988, when we sold our company to Excellence Theatres, I was taking their executives around to our theatres in Bozeman Montana.
It was a cold, snowy Tuesday night and we arrived at one of our older single screen theatres.
A smile crossed my face when we arrived and found taped to the box office window a sign that said “Sorry, .....Sold Out!”
The film was part of an art show series I had started.
The next day, Larry Hanson, who was one of the executives with Excellence at the time, told me that he checked the grosses for the previous night and that our lowly Rialto Theatre in Bozeman Montana had the biggest gross of all Excellence Theatres in 17 states.
So, whether it was the children’s series in Helena or the art film series in Bozeman, success came not from starting from scratch each year, but rather, building on our successes and making them bigger and better each succeeding year.
At the time of the sale of TOI to Excellence I was Vice President and Director of Marketing.
I got the job as director of marketing because I won most of the manager contests our company ran.
My early training in showmanship helped me win the film promotion contests.
When it came to winning concession contests I discovered our Lesson #6. Other businesses WANT to work with us on promotions, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them.
The movie business is glamorous and appealing to them.
They also want access to our customers.
I won those concession contests by using the Value Added Concept.
We could get more patrons to purchase our popcorn/drink combos by offering them an additional $10 in discounts and/or free items from other businesses with their purchase.
Per caps went up, customers were thrilled that they actually got a great deal at our concession stand, our staff enjoyed having an effective sales pitch, and the participating businesses were pleased with the exposure and new customers they generated from the promotion.
Using the value-added concept is just one example of always exceeding customer expectations which is Lesson #7.
One night at our theatre, it dumped a foot and a half of snow in less than two hours.
There were maybe 20 cars in our parking lot so a half hour before the final show let out I grabbed a push broom and cleaned the snow off of all the car windows in the lot.
The next day I received a phone call from a patron thanking me, and later we received a nice thank you note from another customer.
Exceeding expectations pleased customers and made me feel good.
Even a simple “Thanks for coming” as customers left the theatre showed our appreciation and was noticed.
Success is a given when you constantly strive to exceed customer expectations, show appreciation and deliver a great movie-going experience.
Sales go up and down, but service stays forever, and people always remember how you made them feel!
Lesson 8 deals with giving back and obtaining some balance in our lives.
It’s clear that this 70 year old body up here has traveled a long way,.... and some of the roads weren’t paved, ... but inside it is that same young energetic kid wanting to work with pretty girls.
Despite my wife constantly telling me to grow up, the mind hasn’t gotten old.
The years will fly by, so make the most of them and during that journey, constantly be seeking ways to give back to your family, your employees, your industry, charities & your community.
Someday, you too will be old, and you will want to look back on your life with pride and feel good about how you gave back and helped others.
Or, as a philosopher once said, “What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.”
You have a couple of great examples here at this convention.
Exhibitors across the nation are aware of how hard Jeff Logan has worked in NATO to benefit independent theatre owners.
Dale Haider has better things to do with his time than put on this convention, but he too appreciates the satisfaction of giving back.
Speaking of conventions, I used to chair the Rocky Mountain Theatre Convention and grew to understand how much work it was to put on a great event EVERY year.
Larry Hanson was instrumental in starting the Geneva Convention, so he and I hatched a plan to combine the two conventions and alternate locations each year, so each would only have to put on a convention every other year. We called it the Great States Convention.
I was to chair the second one out West, so I wanted to make it the best theatre convention ever, and definitely better than Geneva the previous year.
I spent an entire year planning out every minute of a 4-day convention and put together great panels, speakers, screenings, studio presentations, a sold out trade show, and one of the first demonstrations of a digital projector for our industry.
Day 1 started with a golf tournament.
Before leaving for the tournament that morning I turned on the TV, and was devastated by the site of the the World Trade Tours burning.
It was Sept. 11, 2001.
That was New York though, and I was in Montana surrounded by the beauty of Glacier National Park, so it shouldn’t impact me.
Well, when I returned from the golf course the hotel had 75 messages for me from speakers and other program participants whose flights had been grounded so they would be unable to attend.
My year of planning came crashing down with those towers 2000 miles away.
The digital projector arrived, but the technician who knew how to assemble it was stuck in California.
Many of the other events had to be changed as I literally had to wing it.
The convention, however, is one that none of us will ever forget.
Our final night banquet was held outdoors on a beautiful Montana night.
Attendees could fish for trout, shoot skeet, or just marvel at the elk that wandered around the rod and gun club that hosted us.
As bus loads of slightly inebriated attendees returned to the hotel that night they were singing patriotic songs like “God Bless America.”
That week we all gave something back to each other and appreciated how lucky we were.
So.... Lesson #9: Always be prepared for the unexpected.
In my years as a manager I dealt with drunks, robbery, being assaulted, the death of an employee, lost children, electrical outages, falls, equipment breakdowns, customer heart attacks, choking victims, violent storms, flooding, and more.
When unexpected events happen, and they will, you will be tested.
Be prepared for the unexpected, be calm, and make sure that you and your team know the right things to do.
With little warning you can be a hero or the fall guy.
Lesson #10 centers on building a great team.
Theatre managers have an opportunity and responsibility, in that many of our employees are young and impressionable and they will look to you for leadership.
As you lead, make sure you show your employees that they are appreciated.
Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?
When a team develops a culture of supporting each other, hard work, customer service, excellence, and learning, its members can translate both their victories and failures into input for continuous growth and improvement.
This will allow your team to achieve extraordinary results with increased frequency, thus becoming an extraordinary team.
And, in building that team, get good at delegating.
Yes, you can do just about everything better than your employees, but you will never be a great leader if you fail to delegate.
“Good" leaders inspire people to have confidence in them, but “GREAT" leaders inspire people to have confidence in themselves!
Steve Jobs said it best: “My model for business is The Beatles. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a TEAM of people.”
And don’t forget that building a great team starts in the hiring process. In addition to the normal questions about work history and the like, don’t forget to factor in a great smile, personality, and their desire to serve and please people. Success is not just what you accomplish in YOUR life, it is also about what you inspire others to do.
Increasing theatre attendance is our priority #1, so, how many of you know the very best way to increase theatre attendance?
The answer is Lesson #11. Hands down, Gift Cards are your most important marketing program:
NOTHING can increase your theatre attendance more than a great gift card program, and yet most theatre managers do a poor job at it.
During November and December each year we have an opportunity in that the public goes into a buying frenzy as they search for holiday gifts to give family, friends, co-workers, customers, and service providers.
This is the one time of year where the public is hyper receptive to our marketing message.
Therefore it is critical to deliver that message to as many people as possible and as many times as possible.
Gift card signs hanging in your theatre lobby don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the potential for sales.
Some of the people who will receive this gift of movies rarely or never attend your theatre now, so you end up developing NEW customers.
When a movie gift card is burning a hole in a recipient’s wallet or purse, they will go to MORE movies.
It also doesn’t hurt that the income is received in advance, or that some of it is 100% profit because gift cards are sometimes lost or forgotten about.
Or, that as your gift cards can also be redeemed at the concession stand, they increase concession sales.
Look for all sorts of ways to get the word out and then make them VERY easy and convenient to purchase via your Website, the theatre, by phone, by mail, and at locations in busy shopping areas.
Work at developing and preparing this year's Gift Card program throughout September and October so it’s ready to turn big numbers for you in November and December.
I’ve also suggested to NATO that a national campaign in November and December promoting movie gift cards would be the smartest investment our industry could make.
In our ShowTime magazine we have been featuring “Show People” interviews with industry leaders.
One of the questions we ask is about their concerns for the future of our industry.
Therefore, I’d like to take this opportunity to share a couple of my concerns with you in the hope that possibly you might contribute to finding solutions.
The studios, in effect, are helping push us away from serving the masses like we once did.
Amenities such as food, alcohol, luxury recliners, reserved seating, and 3D are all steadily increasing the cost of movie-going.
While all these things are great, and allow us to serve patrons better, the studios think it’s more efficient to make their product available to the masses in their homes at a fraction of the price we charge.
As home viewing technology gets better and more convenient, that huge growing price differential between seeing a movie at a theatre and seeing it at home will result in us continuing to lose customers.
We often tout the COMMUNAL experience of seeing a film with an audience, and yet I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many times this past year I’ve watched a movie in my local theatre with NO one else in the auditorium.
On those occasions I'm actually LONELY in a theatre, and THAT has me worried!
Movies are one of the only businesses in the world where pricing is rarely used to increase sales and where the price of a Cadillac, such as Star Wars, is the same as a Yugo or a film that went straight to video.
If the studios are going to keep shrinking windows between us and the opportunity to see their product for next to nothing, then they should remove the per caps and let us do more to use price incentives and specials to increase attendance!
Let me share just one example:
On a given Monday through Thursday you will have “X” number of people coming to your theatre and paying full price as a result of normal studio and theatre marketing.
If another local business on a weekend has a lot of people coming to their store, or going to their Website, or checking out their Facebook page, what would happen if THEY invited their customers to “Enjoy a MOVIE this week at YOUR theatres!”
What if they gave THEIR customers a special coupon or code giving them $5 off on adult admissions to any movies that coming Monday through Thursday night?
And what if they took full credit for this gift so it came from them, not us?
Several things will happen.
First off the business will generate great PR with their customers.
Of all the people they give this bonus to, only a small number of them might have come to your theatre on those weekday nights anyway.
But, as a result of their gift, your theatre will enjoy far more additional people coming to the movies as a result of the special discount.
Movie going is often an impulse decision.
When it is suggested, and accompanied with an appealing incentive, the public responds.
By running this promotion with various merchants week to week, and not using the same ones regularly, you would reach new people and add to your attendance.
The net result is satisfied customers, happy marketing partners, a bigger gross on slow weekday nights, and maybe movie lovers like me will actually be able to enjoy that COMMUNAL experience again, and won’t be lonely any more.
A win-win for all involved.
The second of my concerns is our industry’s inability to market some very enjoyable films.
Some of the best movies of the year in terms of audience enjoyment end up doing relatively little business at our theatres.
I’m thinking of films such as Queen of Katwe, The Founder, The Shack, and more recently Gifted.
What might you do to help good, little films gross more?
Consider building a rapport with movie lovers in your town, maybe through your loyalty program, and alert them via email when you have a “Manager’s Pick” as far as a totally enjoyable film that you HIGHLY recommend.
Include some positive reviews, and offer incentives such as “the popcorn is on us” or the value-added bonuses from other merchants that I mentioned earlier.
Maybe even include an offer of a full refund if the film is not totally enjoyable.
If done right, and built upon, you will have the power to please customers and generate more business on little films you are proud to show. (Customers appreciate a heads up on a great movie!)
And now I interrupt this speech for a commercial:
While the young people in my office have dragged me kicking and screaming into the digital age, I AM excited about our new digital ShowTime.
If you have not yet checked it out, you can enjoy it free by registering as a fan at Silver Screen Insider.com.
It is cool and enjoyable to look at, and it will keep you abreast of the marketing of films you will be playing.
Now, back to the lessons: “I” may think the new ShowTime is great, but if YOU don’t, it will fail, so here’s Lesson #12:
Always seek honest feedback from customers and you will become smarter and more successful!
Warning though: While I told you to seek honest feedback from customers, that advise does not always hold true with your spouse.
Mine is always telling me that I’m over the hill and that I should retire.
I can’t do that, however, because I’d miss this industry and all the great people I’ve worked with and met.
I agree with George Burns who said: “Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples.”
Seeking feedback points out another lesson #13 on the importance of being a good listener.
Really listening to customers, employees, other business people, and mentors will pay off in countless ways.
Learn to listen more and talk less.
There was once an experiment conducted where a wife of a businessman accompanied him to a party where she knew none of the guests, and they didn’t know her.
She was instructed simply to listen to what others said, show interest, ask questions, and nod in agreement, but NEVER contribute anything.
The next day, guests at the party were asked for their opinions of her. She was described by them as bright, impressive, interesting, charismatic, and even articulate.
So, if you want to be successful, be a good listener!
Years ago there was a company called National Screen Service.
They handled distribution of trailers, 1-sheets and promotional items for many of the studios.
Each year they sponsored the National Screen Service Marketing Conference where theatre marketing directors met with their counterparts at the studios to discuss the marketing and promotion of upcoming films.
One of the first conferences was in Dallas TX at the Loews Anatole Hotel.
I was wandering the hotel’s halls one evening and made a wrong turn and ended up in the trade show of another industry - FUNERAL HOMES!
As I looked down the aisles of caskets, hearses, and embalming fluid vendors, one final Lesson hit me.
We are very LUCKY to be involved in such a great business.
Be THANKFUL for it..... ENJOY it..... and CELEBRATE it!
And speaking of celebrating… this speech is over, and I like to celebrate endings -
as they hopefully precede new beginnings... and optimism that the best is yet to come!
So, thanks for inviting me!...
One more thing...
PLEASE don’t don’t let my wife know what I said here tonight!