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Social Entertainment – Disrupting the Hospitality and Leisure Market

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

Over the past five years there has been a significant swing in popularity of social entertainment venues across the country. The range of activities now available is truly astonishing. From childhood favourites such as bowling, table tennis and crazy golf to darts, bingo and shuffleboard, all updated for the millennial generation with quirky design features or technological twists. This innovative approach to ‘competitive socialising’, coupled with a choice of exciting F&B options, is being driven by a lifestyle-led audience, keen to capture and promote their experiences on social media.

Traditionally, if you wanted a meal you’d go to a restaurant, if you wanted a drink you’d go to a pub, and if you wanted an activity you’d go to a (generally) remote venue on the fringe of a town.

With over 450 pubs closing in the first half of 2018, and over a thousand restaurants going into insolvency between September this year and last, it’s clear that demand in the hospitality sector has shifted, with customers wanting more than just a pint and a packet of crisps or a slap-up meal. Although pubs and restaurants aren’t being replaced on a one-for-one basis, these innovative venues offering food, drink and activity, all under one roof, are disrupting the traditional hospitality and leisure model.

This section of the market will continue to grow, especially if Adam Breeden has anything to do with it. Breeden, back in 2006 started All Star Lanes in Holborn, a ten-pin bowling alley far removed from the sticky carpets and smelly bowling shoes you remember. Breeden wanted to “bring the Notting Hill premium cocktail experience and high heel glamour to bowling” and since then has co-founded ping pong venue Bounce, darts hall Flight Club, mini-golf bar Puttshack and is developing the bingo hall Hijingo. Within the next five years he wants to have 75 venues across his Social Entertainment Ventures brand, including sites across the Atlantic. 

Vendors opening the next big thing in social entertainment are finding themselves in the driving seat when it comes to site location, thanks of course to the struggling high street. Swingers, a crazy golf bar, capitalised on the closure of BHS’s flagship store on Oxford Street, offering the landlords an alternative tenant for their hard-to-rent 21,000 sq-ft retail space. The London Shuffle Club, the shuffleboard pioneers will operate from a likely-to-be-vacant 7000 sq-ft venue just off of Shoreditch High Street. Operators, like Adventure Golf are also looking to benefit on the increased number of vacant lots within shopping centres, with the additional bargaining chip that their operation will drive much needed additional footfall into the landlords’ complex.

This abundant supply of venues is offering entrepreneurs an opportunity, however what they aren’t able to avoid are business rates, taxes and wage costs. On top of this, of course, are their initial fit out costs which aren’t cheap, especially when you see the investments made by some of these venues to create truly memorable experiences, like Flight Club who developed the world’s first auto-scoring dart board (with the help of a Nasa contact!) or the two 9 hole crazy-golf courses Swingers installed at both its venues. 

One option available to companies and entrepreneurs is to fund the requisite fit out costs or software and hardware purchases through asset finance. Asset finance, in the form of a lease agreement allows vendors to avoid hefty upfront costs and spread the cost across a fixed term so as to not cut into the working capital of a new venture. At GSM Finance we are able to arrange finance from £10k to £5m across two to five year terms. With 21 years hospitality and leisure experience coupled with our board of over 30 lenders we can arrange finance solutions best tailored to your specific needs.

So as long as these social entertainment innovators continue to develop these immersive playgrounds, then this trend will only be limited by imagination and the perfect funding partner. The question is what will the next big competitive social activity be? Seeing as it’s nearly Christmas, our bet is curling on a temporary ice rink, with festive fare and cocktails, as well as the obligatory festive jumper! Watch this space...!

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