How Funlab became Australia's greatest entertainer, 'par none'

By Justin Ware. Published at Feb 21, 2019, in Features

Founded in 2001, Funlab Group has become one of the premier entertainment providers in Australia.

A company that has fun at its heart, it exists to facilitate the creation, development and delivery of must see attractions.

Under its umbrella includes the highly renowned Holey Moley Golf Club, Australia’s best mini golf course ‘par none’ and the Strike Bowling Bar franchise. Other brands include Sky Zone Australia, Archie Brothers Cirque Electriq and its latest edition: B. Lucky & Sons.

With 32 venues now across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, Funlab has established itself as the king of stupendous social experiences, notching $100 million in revenue for 2018.

Justin Ware recently sat down with Funlab CEO Michael Schreiber to discuss its strong performance in 2018, future expansion plans and more.

Justin Ware: Afternoon Michael, thanks for joining me.

Michael Schreiber: A pleasure.

JW: The most successful businesses these days seem to be the ones that offer the best experiences to customers, employees, stakeholders etc... why is experience so important in the modern workforce?

MS: I believe there is a growing disconnect between people.

Even though we’re connected more than ever through social and digital media, there’s a loneliness epidemic playing out: we pine for physical interactions which cannot be delivered by social media.

This happens at work too, we’re constantly glued to our screens and we aren’t getting the social fixes we need.

That’s why we really focus on building entertainment experiences. We’re all human beings and we feel good when we are around others. It’s so important to give customers those moments, bringing them together to engage in something that’s beyond a material acquisition.

Whether that’s mini golf, trampoline madness or karaoke, it’s a strategy that led to us generating $100 million in revenue last year.

JW: An amazing result for sure. Do you think it’s that underpinning connection between each brand (socialising) that makes them so popular?

MS: Absolutely.

If you look at the retail landscape there’s been a gradual shift away from bricks and mortar to the online world. We don’t want entertainment to go that way and that’s why we exist.

We currently have five brands, which I’m sure many people are familiar with: Strike, Sky Zone, Holey Moley, Archie Brothers and B. Lucky & Sons.

While it’s a full suite of different experiences the central focus remains the same.

In saying that, we don’t want to make become flippant and think we’ve got it all figured out. That’s why we’re constantly reassessing and innovating what we do (what the customer journey is, how food and beverage could be improved etc.).

JW: Your last point is a nice segue into my next question: what has been the catalyst for companies adopting experiential practices and what does it do for their brand? What are some things you have implemented from this process?

MS: That’s a good question, I’m not sure there’s been one thing in particular. To me it’s about being tuned in to societal trends and then having the ability to observe and act as needed.

It sounds simple but it’s surprising how many companies and organisations fail to identify trends and movements.

If you can do this as a company it allows you to remain pretty flexible – it’s one of the ways we’ve been able to ‘bolt on’ different extensions and concepts onto well-established brands.

JW: What’s your one piece of advice to anyone looking to bring a new brand to market?

MS: Research. Research. Research.

Data is everything and it’s readily available. Take the time to validate your idea and its legitimacy. If it’s authentic and is a strong value proposition, you can go a long way. I have seen and read too many stories about ventures that didn’t take enough time during this step of the journey and the results usually speak for themselves.

JW: Last year you opened 8 new venues and launched two new brands, what is the key to a successful brand launch and why have you been able to expand so rapidly?

MS: For me it’s three things – some of which I touched on above: research, flexibility and creating a great team.

Taking time to authenticate the concept is a must.

Staying fluid within the context of the business and not limit yourself within a small framework is important too. It’s always wise to temper expectations but don’t do so at the expense of pursuing new avenues that could be lucrative.

We haven’t settled and we haven’t stagnated. We’ve stayed agile and continued to refine what we do.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have assembled a great team. We have a talented group of people running the show.

When you create a company that exceptional people want to work for, the results will follow. Take care of your employees and they will take care of you.

JW: Nice touch about looking after your employees, you celebrated hitting $100 million in revenue by giving away a car to a random team member, what do actions like these do for morale?

MS: That was a great initiative. It does amazing things for morale – what negative could come out of it? Who doesn’t want a brand new Volkswagen Polo?

After much anticipation, I flew out to Sydney to inform the winner (a kitchen hand in one of our franchises) that they had won the prize. Ironically, they informed me they didn’t even have a car licence! Nevertheless, they were blown away by the action and generosity shown by the company.

Aside from the brand new Polo (valued at $40k), we also dispersed a variety of nice cash and coupon prizes to our franchises. Many decided to use these on nice Christmas functions, the choice was theirs.

It was an inclusive experience that made sure our employees knew that without them, we would not have achieved what we did in 2018.

Credit: Funlab

JW: This year the expansion looks to be heading overseas, how are you navigating this change and what are your expectations for overseas markets?

MS: We recently opened our largest Holey Moley to date at Clarke Quay in Singapore, we’ve also launched Holey Moley in New Zealand and we’re looking to roll out Archie Brothers there as well.

Singapore is an ideal proving ground for us – it’s Asia, but it’s a small decisive entry point. For now we’re using it as a vehicle and springboard to test concepts, and from there future plans will be formulated.

B. Lucky & Sons could be a strong performer in this market, as a lot of millennials in Asian countries have grown up with gaming and technology. It’s a seamless logical fit.

When it comes to expansion some adjustment is usually required, but it pays to be mindful of cultural differences. I try to avoid taking a concept or brand to a market where extensive education is required.

For now we’ll wait and see how Clarke Quay performs, but long term we’re really confident we have what it takes to perform strongly on the global stage.

JW: Finally, you’re also part of the Docklands rebrand in Melbourne, what are your views on the rebrand and what do you hope to offer?

MS: I’m excited about this. Docklands has always had something of a ‘smelly’ legacy. It’s struggled to fit into Melbourne and hasn’t found its true identity.

Bad reputations can be hard to change, but not impossible. Locality wise Docklands is an amazing location, it’s connectivity to public transport and close proximity to the CBD is an amazing selling point.

CostCo has been a mainstay in the area so it’s possible to have success there. My role has been to really spice up the entertainment side of things in the village and provide people with a reason to go to Docklands.

To date we’ve made a lot of progress. Last December HOYTS opened its eight auditorium facility in Docklands, which is the most technologically advanced in the country.

In addition to the above, Funlab recently opened Archie Brothers Cirque Electriq there – and a host of other food and drink options have kicked off (including a microbrewery).

Simply put, the region has too much going for it to not be a success and be embraced moving forward. We’re well on our way to making that a reality.

JW: I can’t wait to see how the rebrand turns out – thank you for your time. All the best with the Singapore launch.

MS: You’re welcome, any time!

You can read more about the Docklands rebrand here.

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