How to Become Top FEC of the World in 2020

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What does it take to be the #1 FEC in the World?


Are you always on the lookout for things that will make your FEC better, bolder, and brighter?


During the time leading up to the IAAPA Expo, you’re likely to see updates about the IAAPA Brass Ring Top FEC of the World Award, and you may be wondering about the benefits of this recognition and just what it takes to be standing on the winners’ podium.


What is it?

Founded in 1918, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) is the global trade association for the attractions industry.

The organization represents more than 6,000 facilities, suppliers, and individual members from more than 100 countries.

The annual IAAPA Brass Ring Awards recognize amusement parks, water parks, zoos, aquariums, museums, family entertainment centers (FECs), and suppliers from around the world for excellence in food and beverage, games and retail, human resources, live entertainment, marketing, new products, and exhibits.

The Academy Awards of the amusement industry, the IAAPA Brass Ring Awards mark excellence among such distinguished names as Disneyland, SeaWorld, Dollywood, Six Flags and more.

Recognized as the pinnacle of success in the FEC industry, the IAAPA Brass Ring Top FEC of the World Award is, without doubt, a symbol of achievement and quality – and a source of motivation.


Why does it matter?

Well-stablished business awards like this can be a great boost to your business, both in terms of growth and exposure, giving you a huge advantage over your competitors.  They can also give team morale a boost by highlighting team and individual achievements.

If you’re a young company, winning awards can signal to the world that you’ve arrived and help to cement your credibility. For more established players, the recognition not only honors your legacy but also proves you’re still dynamic and innovative.

Being recognized as the #1 Family Entertainment Center is a reflection of the people, culture and community engagement efforts at Big Thrill Factory,” says Darrel Blomberg, General Manager of Big Thrill Factory, named Top FEC of the World in 2017.


But what makes a Family Entertainment Center the top location in the world?

To find out, we asked industry experts and thought leaders to share their insights on what are the keys to becoming the best FEC of the World these days. Here’s hoping they help get your FEC to stand out as well as the big brands in 2020.


Stand Out Through Your Team

All our experts agree the #1 key to stand out from the crowd is to have a rockstar team that buys into your vision.

Employees that see, understand, and buy into the company’s core values will enjoy their jobs more, perform better, and truly drive the company’s success.

As Sherry Howell, Brand Engagement Director at CenterEdge Software, explains:

Of course, it’s important to give guests unique and exciting experiences with carefully planned attractions, program offerings, and food and beverage options. But those are the rules of the game. More than that, though, it’s about the people making those experiences magical every single shift of every single day and the best leaders are disciplined enough to pour their energy into their staff on a consistent basis.”

As a leader, you need to make sure to utilize each of their unique personalities, stories, and talents to stand out above your competition.

The greatest leaders care about team member happiness and strive to help each staff member grow and develop. They listen, give and, perhaps more importantly take feedback well, and foster an environment where staff feel a sense of pride in their jobs and the company. But in truth, none of that is possible unless facility leadership is clear about their purpose in the world, and the legacy they want their business to leave behind. And that they are able to articulate this purpose through not only their words but also their actions in every interaction with staff and guests. When you can be part of something bigger than yourself, that’s when the magic can truly take place. It won’t be easy. But it’s worth it.”

The Big Thrill Factory team won the Top FEC of the World Award at IAAPA 2017.

On the same note, Danny Gruening, VP of Marketing for Creative Works, highlights that engaged employees and customer service are vital elements of business operations that can impact your bottom line and affect how your company is viewed in the public eye.  “It’s easy to claim you have good customer service, but it’s harder to follow through with the right hiring and training practices. Staff training isn’t a one-time event. It should be continual and ongoing. You want your staff to understand and align with your mission and culture. So give them the tools and training to succeed and they will go the extra mile for your customers.”


Stand Out Through Your Facility

As both Barry Zelickson, Owner of the Big Thrill Factory, and our own CEO, Mark Easte, pointed out, “having clean and vibrant/modern facilities is without question one of the key elements for an FEC to succeed and stand out.”

You must change up your attraction mix frequently.  People have too many choices and don’t want to do the same thing twice,” adds Bob Cooney, location-based entertainment thought leader and VR expert.

A game room is a big investment, but as Bernie Robinson, founder of FUNstruction Results, explains in this great interview, there are a few things you can do to keep it fresh and enticing without breaking the bank.  Try changing the layout of your game room periodically.  Relocating games helps to create awareness and get a repeat customer to notice a game they might have missed on a previous visit.  Keeping your games clean and operational at all time is a must, and do stay on top of the latest trends in the field of game development.

A diverse and modern game mix is key to a successful game room.

The best-performing FECs are the ones that have an equipment mix that really transcends different age groups – things that parents can play with their kids, games that teenagers can play together, or games that appeal to millennials or older.”, says Joe McCullagh, former General Manager at Player One Amusement Group.

From a designer’s perspective, Doug Wilkerson of Dynamic Designs also suggests “Incorporating the latest and greatest in technology. This includes guest-controlled technology such as apps as well as interactive/experiential tech that not only tells the guest you are on the cutting edge but also gives them some great fun to boot.”

Your goal is to offer a unique variety of games and attractions that make for an unrivaled in-store experience.  “Having the right product mix to maximize how long guests remain in your venue is essential,” says Mark Easte.

There is a huge variety of exciting games on the market today, from VR experiences and simulators to vintage interactive and video games.  Carefully analyzing all the different options available and adding the types of games that may be missing or light in the mix will create excitement and give customers an experience that increases replay and return visits.


Check out our Top 10 FEC Arcade Game Room Layout Tips article to find out more about how you can maximize your success in your FEC.


Stand Out Through Enhanced Food & Beverage

Providing high-quality food and beverage service at your FEC will go a long way to generating and building a terrific advantage over competitors.

As Danny Gruening describes, “Customers have much higher expectations for food and beverage today, especially among Millennials and Gen Z. The “snack shack” concession stand isn’t enough. The food itself needs to be high quality, and the presentation should be ‘Instagrammable.’ In other words, the food must look good enough that a customer will want to post a picture online.”

FEC Food and Beverages

The Unicorn Cotton Candy Tacos from Jake’s Unlimited won Best New Menu Item at the 2019 IAAPA Brass Ring Awards.


Stand Out by Creating an Engaging Social Experience

The trick when it comes to creating an engaging social experience lies in offering entertainment opportunities which value extends beyond merely playing a game. Instead, you need to “provide fun interactive experiences that create memories which guests can share with others in your community”, explains Barry Zelickson.

If you want to get customers off the couch, you have to provide an amazing experience they can’t get at home. ‘Good enough’ won’t cut it anymore, especially with the advancement of in-home entertainment options and increased competition from other location-based entertainment facilities. Your attractions must be exciting while providing a social atmosphere for your customers,” says Danny Gruening.

Another important element of creating meaningful social experiences is offering a range of activities to choose from. This gives people an opportunity to choose the experience they want, which greatly widens the audience that your facility can attract.

As an additional key element, Doug Wilkerson mentions that “a great FEC needs to be ‘photo-worthy’. Social media dominates the landscape of our society today. How a guest feels they will be perceived in the facility is just as important as what attractions you will be incorporating. The bar has been raised when it comes to facility design. An incredible interior design concept that favors the adult is worth its weight in gold. Also, be sure to include some fun and quirky photo-ops. Guests love photo-ops and free marketing is a nice bonus.”

Virtual Rabbids Experience

Guests’ huge reactions from Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride tend to draw a crowd of onlookers.

For her part, Beth Standlee, Founder and CEO of TrainerTainment, shared her best tips to help operators in the process of entering the IAAPA award program:

#1 – Apply to be the best FEC. The application process takes time. Start early. Get a professional to help you put your center in the very best position to make your center look good with great photographs and video.


#2 – Work diligently with your staff so they deliver a “best in class” guest experience.  If you apply and make the finals, a group of judges will pay your location a visit. You want to show everyone your facility doesn’t just look good, it also provides a top-rate guest experience.


#3 – Cast the vision for yourself and your team that you have the kind of facility that is capable of winning the top FEC of the world!


Whether or not you even hit ‘submit’ on that application, there is so much value to gain from having a long, hard look at your business by applying for this prestigious award.  Jump on the IAAPA website and have a look at the requirements to enter. Fantastic if you win, and if not, the insight and experiences will be well worth it!


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