Breaking into new territory, Wal-Mart has just signed a 50/50 joint venture with Carmike Cinemas of Columbus, Georgia, to open three family entertainment centers called The Hollywood Connection.
Carmike will manage the centers, while the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer will supply and oversee the real estate. Wal-Mart has an inventory of more than 200 sites these are stores now vacant after Wal-Mart opened its own superstore nearby.
The first Hollywood Connection is planned to open in Goshen, Indiana, this summer, followed by a center in Valparaiso, Indiana, this fall, and another in Dekalb, Illinois, in spring 1998. ‘We’re doing three tests, and if that works, we’ll do three more tests,’ says Fred VanNoy, vice president and general manager of Carmike. If the centers are a success, ‘we plan to move forward aggressively. The sky’s the limit.’
The move isn’t at all out of step for Wal-Mart, says company spokesperson Daphne Davis. ‘We’re always considering new markets.’
Over the years, Wal-mart has opened 354 supercenters. When the retailer is unable to expand a standard Wal-Mart store, some buildings have to be vacated, explains Davis. Some of these buildings are turned into Bud’s Discount City stores, a warehouse chain owned by Wal-Mart, while others are leased to local businesses. ‘We try to find something that contributes to the community,’ she says, noting that The Hollywood Connection will give Wal-Mart another opportunity to reach families.
Each of the entertainment centers will include a movie theater, which, says VanNoy, will likely sell Carmike branded products at the concession stands, a roller skating rink, an arcade and a restaurant, whose brand name, if it is a national marketer, is yet to be determined. The location sizes range from 91,000 square feet for the Valparaiso center to about 69,000 square feet for the Goshen space.
Davis says it’s too early to confirm whether the Wal-Mart brand name will be used at The Hollywood Connection, or if the retailer will market the family centers in its stores.
An early indicator of the centers’ potential for success, though, will be how many people flock to The Hollywood Connection that Carmike opened in Columbus, Georgia, in May. Owned and operated entirely by Carmike, the complex, while larger and more ambitious than the joint venture stores, carries many of the same attractions. It’s 125,000 square feet, and includes an 18-hole miniature golf course called The Caddy Shack, in keeping with the popular Chevy Chase movie, a ’50s-style restaurant, bumper cars, several motorized rides, a laser tag arena, a soft play structure for young children and themed party rooms.
Not only is Carmike heavily playing up theme attractions, but it’s also serious about drawing crowds, evidenced by its kickoff event, which featured the screening of The Lost World: Jurassic Park on every screen in the 10-theater Columbus complex.