Matt Bell – Focal Point Cinemas – CEO Business Marketing Interview 22

Matt talks about how they select the right movies to keep cinema go-ers coming back, how Focal Point Cinemas utilises newspaper advertising for community familiarity, how new digital cinema advertising options have created exclusive opportunities for business owners, and the journey Matt & Julie have been on to create an enhanced cinema experience through cafe & catering bundling…. and their goal of opening their 4th and 5th cinemas by 2020!

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Ryan: This is the Ryan Marketing Show, and you’re listening to episode 22 of 100. Today I’m at Focal Point Cinema, in Hastings, Hawke’s Bay with Matt Bell who is co-owner with Julie Bell and we’re going to be talking all things stories, and movies, and experience. Talk us through how you got into cinema to start with Matt, like what was the point where you went, actually, I want to be behind the business not just in the seat watching the movie?

Matt: Be probably fair to say, naivety. We’re not pure film buffs by any stretch of the imagination, we got into a business cause’ we saw an opportunity and it was business that we got into more so than cinema and so we set off in Fielding, where we lived, and we built Focal Point Cinema in Fielding. I guess we were probably a classic ma and pa start up business where we had an idea, created a business and effectively put a noose around our neck and created a low paying job. Which was, I guess a similar story to many business’ but I guess then we evolved.

We realised that to create wealth and security we needed to grow and an opportunity came up to – Fielding was going quite well – but an opportunity came along to re-create it in Levin at an existing site and that involved a major refurbishment with the owners who happened to be the district council, and that’s proved to be a real success. Then the Hastings opportunity came up so it’s kind of – terms of getting into the movie industry, or the movie exhibition business – it’s a beneficial part of just getting into business and that’s the business we chose. Having said that, now that we’re in it it’s really a lot of fun to be in a business that the whole purpose of it is to provide entertainment for people, create enjoyment, which is pretty infectious so it’s a business we really like being in, but it wasn’t cinema, it wasn’t the pure attraction, it was opportunity to create a business in our home town which happened to be Fielding. A lot in a way when we think back as to what we learnt in the last nine years, it’s pretty exponential what we have learnt.


Ryan: So just on that, because that’s obviously been a huge learning journey from 2007 through to now, what are some of the things that you’ve learnt from building a cinema in Fielding, then to doing the renovation Levin, what are some of those lessons learnt there that you knew exactly what you wanted to do when you came into the Focal Point Cinema here in Hastings?

Matt: I suppose it’s like most new business theres a certain amount of trial and error, like if I look back at our business plan for Fielding when we started it’s quite laughable to what we’re doing now, Although I guess –

Ryan: In size or more in strategy?

Matt: Probably our offering, like what we thought our offering would be that the public would like was quite under done compared to what we are doing now. So I guess we learnt from what our customers wanted as to what to provide them. Where we started off we thought we would be a boutique cinema with a bar attached to it so it would sort of lie like after work drinks and movies but we’ve found that actually the whole cafe aspect with the cinema was really important, having proper cafe restaurant type meals with a movie was important because there’s no way you can rely on other restaurants getting people to the movies on time because they don’t want people to leave their place. So it’s evolved and so our whole food side of things, I guess in the early days we saw food as a necessary evil for liquor licence but actually it’s a huge part of what we do.

Coffee is a huge part of what we do and it’s such a great mix because when I think about going to the movies if you didn’t have nice coffee or nice wine for beer or nice food to have with your movie it would be – for a lot of people, not for everyone – a far lesser offering so that’s kind of what we’re focusing on. Certainly in Hastings and Levin we offer the popcorn and ice creams as well and the post mix drinks, so I guess we’re trying to have an offering for everyone.


Ryan: Right so you’ve really changed that cinema experience from just being, go to watch the film to being a whole day of night out for a family of a couple?

Matt: Yeah actually quite early on we hit on the concept of that whole night out experience where people – a group of friends or family can meet up at the cinema, have a couple of drinks, have a meal, watch a movie, maybe a coffee afterwards or a bit of cake. Not necessarily in that order but that whole, and with that they’ve got say 2 hours of entertainment for the movie, an hour or so for the meal, so it’s kind of you can have a pleasant night out and you’ve also had some entertainment as well and it’s – still obviously cost money but it’s reasonably affordable to do all that for that amount of time, so that’s kind of certainly what we’ve evolved to and now our whole vision now is based around, obviously movies a big part of it but for each of the three sides it’s – our vision is to create a meeting place that the locals are proud of, the community is proud of. It’s so important for us that the community that we’re in embraces their cinema, or their cinema cafe so it’s that loyalty.

For us it’s nothing, no better compliment in seeing a local that we might know bringing through some visitors showing their visitors their cinema, and to me that’s like the ultimate pat of the back for us. It’s like wow they like this place so much that they are bringing their friends through to show them what they’ve got.


Ryan: So how do you go about doing that in a, the last ten years has seen huge changes in technology or screens or even the ability to kind of fit out your home as a cinema. So how do you create such an amazing experience here that someone who has some friends visiting, wants to pull them away from their own lounge and pull them into here for that experience?

Matt: You’re dead right, it’s quite easy, well I guess it’s pretty affordable nowadays to create a really good movie watching environment at home, you know T.V.s are massive, sound systems are pretty good, access whether by fair means or foul means to film product is pretty accessible, but I think it’s still not the same as going out and catching up with people. It’s similar to what’s happening at the Common Room where, people can drink at home, they can do all that but it’s not the same, you don’t get the atmosphere, you don’t get – certainly not for us –  the scale. I’m still yet to find someone with a 12 metre wide screen in their lounge.

Ryan: 12 metres?

Matt: Yeah 12 metres is our biggest one, yeah and sound that – if you really wanted to you could crank it up – can just about take the meat of your bones but and also certainly the Hastings side here we’ve got technology that as far as I know no one else in Australia and New Zealand have got and thats seat actuator which is a really hard concept to get out there but effectively it’s a really low frequency speaker that sits underneath the seat that emits sound but it’s sound that as humans, we can’t hear but we can feel. So if there’s a big explosion or a train going past, you feel it right up through your seat and it’s actually so much that in the early days we probably had it turned up a bit too much and we were shaking drinks off the tablets so it took a little while to get the level quite right because you don’t want it to be over bearing but you want it to just add to that whole feeling and sense of being part of a great experience and I think that’s our whole thing we’re trying create is that great experience so it’s that scale of watching a movie in the cinema, in a dark room and preferably with lots of other people.

Being able to do it with a nice wine or beer or coffee, or a bit of cake or, big thing of popcorn and a big sugary drink and, or an ice cream. I suppose for us it’s, what we try and create is the offerings say, a classic family unit, mum and dad and two kids can come in. Mum and dad can order their drinks while the kids are choosing popcorn and ice creams and that, it’s all there and they can go and enjoy the movie together and that’s a great experience. To me, your mainstream, straight out popcorn and ice cream and fizzy drink type offering is, it’s okay and has it’s place but you can just do so much better.

Ryan: Okay so you’ve really taken the cinema as kind of a gateway into moving into the cafe experience or moving into solving the whole problem of going out by having the restaurant, and the entertainment and maybe some desert afterwards all in the one area, and doing that in a way where it’s going to be a technically, superior experience because of the seat actuators and the bigger screen. So what’s on at the moment, like, if someone hasn’t been to the cinema for awhile and is kind of listening to this thinking, oh maybe I’ll go back, what now attracts people in, is it the old franchises, coming new like Ghostbusters or is it some of the new technology stuff like Ice Age? What gets this place packed out?

Matt: It’s probably a fair mixture to be honest like obviously we’re in school holidays at the moment so some good quality children movies like Finding Dory, the BFG, they’re movies that are pulling in some good numbers. They’re quality movies. In the evenings, I think every cinema operator in the country had a great run out of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I’ve actually bought it back for a couple weeks just for an evening session again it’s still pulling quite good numbers in, it’s just a good fun movie.

Ryan: And that’s a New Zealand movie.

Matt: Yeah, it’s New Zealand movie and had a really wide appeal and it did a great job of that. It’s been our best movie ever. Yeah it’s beaten Star Wars, but I guess the thing that we sort of really like about this, certainly it’s Julie, regional manager, wife, what she loves about this industry is that there’s always new product coming on and she’s got quite a marketing – marketings her thing so it’s great that every week there’s effectively some new product coming on so it’s ever changing and just looking at the slate going forward we’ve got some great, movies that are probably going to pull a mixture of our target markets. There’s Bad Mums which is a pretty crude R16 but it’s gonna, the amount of young mums that are just going to enjoy it and then there’s Absolutely Fabulous, there’s a crowd that are going to come to that. Jason Born, so that’s a franchise movie that people have been hanging out for so that will pull a certain crowd and the beauty is there’s always product ticking on and some weeks there’s not something for a certain group but other weeks there is.

And we screen movies typically for four weeks so most weeks there should be something for someone but it’s not perfect and somethings fire some things don’t but then again that’s life isn’t it.


Ryan: I guess that’s the nature of the product too, it’s a story telling narrative and, so do you have to do any marketing because these are massive movie companies usually and they have their own marketing strategy around doing the trailers right, the visual design, even down to making sure the right people review it in the right way, how much do you actually have to do locally to get people in to see those movies?

Matt: Julie will kill me if I don’t get this one right.

Ryan: Probably need to ask her.

Matt: Yeah. I guess we’re a little old fashioned that fact that we still put an ad in the newspaper, each week and I know if we didn’t we’d soon hear about it so it’s still a format that people are used to seeing which is good. We’ve certainly got an online presence, we do the Facebook, the Twitter and all that sort of thing too.

Ryan: For the newspaper, do you do that for each of your theatres? The local paper?

Matt: Yeah and we generally try and go with the very local paper in terms of one that arrives in everyones mail box and because we’re week in week out, typically it’s in the same place in the paper and so it’s just that familiarity with it so do that on a very local level and we run a few competitions. Certainly school holidays we’ve got colouring in competitions, we’ve got a Facebook promotion on at the moment, how to win a prize. So there’s always, it’s probably an endless amount that we could do, but hours in the day limit that.

One quirky little thing we’ve just done in Fielding is, there’s a movie coming up next school holidays called The Secret Life of Pets, and I actually seen it and it’s  lot of fun. It’s a children’s movie, well it’s animated movie, and there’s this big cardboard stand the distributors have given us and instead of putting them in the cinemas, because Fielding is tiny, I’ve taken them down to the local vet clinic and it’s all through their sales room.

Ryan: Ah very smart.

Matt: These big cut out pets, it looks really good. It’s cool and quirky things like that, and the other,

Ryan: Well that’s just smart because you’ve taken the product away from where you know people are going to watch movies to somewhere where you know people are going to love the animals.

Matt: Certainly a pet rich environment. That’s how I’d put it.

Ryan: Pet rich, I like it.

Matt: And then another thing we like doing cause’ certainly a big part of our target market is probably females, gotta be careful how I say this, wine drinking females that like to just go out and enjoy some entertainment with like minded people and so we have every now and then when the right movie comes along we do a ladies night and in the past we’ve done Fifty Shades of Grey, that was a big hit. Especially when, unbeknown to anyone that’s coming along in the night we teed up some topless body builders and they just passed the drinks around, they were a massive hit. So it’s just cool to do, not so much quirky things like that but just the ability because we’re not part of a large chain or we’re not being dictated to we can actually make those decisions and do things.


Ryan: Right. Just provide that something that reinforces what the movies all about and provide something, just a little bit more of an experience than what you’d expect.

Matt: And do goodie bags and that, so we’re looking at doing ladies nights for both Absolutely Fabulous and Bad Mums. It’s just a way, and they’ve proved ridiculously popular so it’s all good and it’s, even like we do a lot of fundraiser screenings for groups and that’s a big part of, I suppose being part of the community that we’re in is helping groups fundraise. It’s just good to be part of it like, or even Hastings birthday parties for young kids, you see the excitement and joy on their faces and that’s payment, it makes it really infectious and cool to be part of.

Ryan: And is that something you can higher out? A cinema? I did see on your site you’ve got private bookings. Can you do that for birthdays, corporate launches?

Matt: Absolutely, we host a few, the beauty about the technology nowadays with digital projection equipment and that is, it’s so much easier to plug a laptop in and do a powerpoint and put up on a big screen so a lot of that has got a lot easier. Yeah, in fact we can cater as well, someone can do a presentation, someone can provide finger food for their group, have some drinks or whatever they want to do so it’s customising events for groups and people is another thing that we actually really enjoy.

Ryan: So for a business that wants to provide an experience for customers, staff, or a launch, you’ve got all the tools here and the catering to be able to do it.

Matt: Absolutely with, commercial kitchen we can, and we’ve hosted breakfast meetings and that or breakfast presentation and we can be quite flexible. Whether it’s, like the Hastings Business Awards, it’s an event we’re more than happy to because we’ve got the facility for it.

Ryan: How many can you seat?

Matt: The big cinema seats 225, the two upstairs are 90 and 112. So last years Hastings City Business Awards, I think was pretty close to full and we’re hosting them again this year and again I suppose we take our position in the CBD quite seriously. We see ourselves as one of the anchor tenants I guess, because – hopefully it will stay that way – because there’s only one cinema in town and it’s important that we do our job. We fit into the bigger picture and we do our job well and the rest of CBD we’ll help grow and I think we’ve already seen in the four years we’ve been here that things are moving ahead which is fantastic to see and be part of.

Ryan: There’s certainly a lot in the Heretaunga Street East block, certainly a lot more and different style of business’ that are coming in, and how many of them or business’ in general, I wanted to talk to you about the cinema advertising product, cause I think it’s under utilised. You have 200 plus people in a room, captive market, in that nostalgia experience, open to talking to whoever they’re with about whatever going on the screen prior to the movie. How is that being utilised now by business’?

Matt: It’s been picked up and the good thing about the digital equipment now is the ads are so much better now than they used to be, they used to be mind numbingly basic I suppose you say, in the old days. So now cinemas can be pretty good and just the quality is so much better, they’re not still slides, things are happening. So that’s, for one they’re probably more entertaining in most cases. It’s an area we’re getting a bit of growth, a few more advertisers are getting on board, it takes time. We’ve only been in this refurbished state for 18 months, so we’ve certainly got a bit more coming on board, we’ve got our own policy that we only allow one type of business on screen at once. So if it’s the realestate firm, there’s only one firm represented on the screen and once, we’re kind of selective.

Ryan: You’ve always got that exclusive video around per industry, per niche.

Matt: Yeah.


Ryan: How does cinema advertising work, do you pay per view or per week or, what’s the – for someone listening that could be interested.

Matt: We, for the local ads, we work on being on every screen on every session, and we use Screen Vistas as our advertising agent so they look after the terms of getting the ad onto the screen. So there’s a rate that’s agreed on and that’s paid per month, you’re on the green from there. Probably fairly simple, we screen 105 sessions a week most weeks.

Ryan: Wow.

Matt: So it’s on, but in saying that there’s some sessions there might be two people in it, and other sessions where there might be 200. Over a course of a week, your ad should see plenty of eyes.


Ryan: Do you get to choose which movies you get associated with or if your part of it you go on every session?

Matt: I guess there’s varying levels you come in at in terms of whether you are on one screen, I’m actually probably not the best person to be giving the technical advice on that but it’s certainly, Screen Vistas handle that for us. The likes of the national ads, they tend to be movie orientated so they’ll play on that movie every time it screens so it’s a little bit of variation but typically our advice is to be on every screen of every session of you’re a local ad cause it’s just more exposure. I guess the beauty is if your target market is the same as those that are coming to the cinema, those that want a nice experience and that matches the product you’re offering it probably is a good place to advertise.

Ryan: That’s why I think it’s under utilised is that, just from what we’ve been talking about you know that there are ladies who go out together in a group to have a great night out, that’s a demographic. You’ve got baby sessions in the afternoon, like if there was someone selling anything to do with that baby environment you’ve got again a captive market, same with the families so I think it’s under utilised because there’s no other place you can get a 12 metre screen that people can’t fast forward, skip the ads, or watch Netflix where there is no ads so I think it’s an interesting place that more business’ should be looking at.

Matt: I agree but I’m probably a little bit biased.

Ryan: You are biased (laughs). You’re supposed to say that. From internationally, what type of new technology or new trends are you seeing, or do you pay attention to and then when do you know it’s right to then bring that into the New Zealand market place?


Matt: I think as far as technology goes we’ve probably had such a massive push and a big shift from 35 millimetre film to digital, we’re probably all recovering form that cause’ behind the scenes that’s a pretty big investment.

Ryan: In the actual screening technology or..

Matt: In the projection technology and that. In terms of, there’s bits and pieces going on all the time theres some work being done on laser projection as apposed to, with the lamp but that’s kind of pretty minor, I know with Peter Jackson and the hobbit movies they were all screen in 48 frames a second as apposed to there standard 24 frames a second. That to me showed some promise but it doesn’t seem to have really been taken up, I just thought the clarity of a 3D image in 48 frames was pretty fantastic really where a busy movie in 3D in 24 frames a second to me it struggles to build the picture fast enough. So I thought they’re sort of heading in the right direction, there’s always talk of standards being lifted in terms of resolution and all that sort of thing so there’s always bits and pieces happening but I think for now I think the major push has been done that shift from, I guess a hundred year old technology to now, it’s all digital and not having any emotional connection to 35 millimetre old film I couldn’t wait for it to happen and I was pleased when it was done.

Ryan: So Hawke’s Bays kind of fortunate because all that technology is available now at Focal Point in Hastings to be able to enjoy movies in the quality and resolution that the directors intended.

Matt: Yeah absolutely, it’s interesting. We screen based on what the director wanted and sometimes it’s a little bit unusual and sometimes we have to tweak things a bit just going on what customers advise us but the beauty about digital to is, if you play it in week one and play it on a week four it will still be the same where 35 millimetre film depending on what happens in that four weeks in between, it can..

Ryan: What does that mean then for the staff part of it, managing the content and making sure the film starts and ends at the right… does that require now different skills or is it all kind of automated?

Matt: It’s actually very automated, our main guy in Levin, schedules all the movies for Levin, Fielding and Hastings from Levin. Everything happens automatically now, the movie starts at a certain time, the lights dim and go up and all that’s quite seemless.

Ryan: So is that what gives you the time, frees up the time now to focus on the experience out the front, the cafe and the coffees?

Matt: Yes and no, it wasn’t probably, even with 35 millimetres film it just involved someone basically running up the projection room and starting it and it was probably more the cumbersome handling. On all our sites, the majority of the staff are involved with the cafe, it’s the cafe environment that creates the most work, the most headache, the most work and thats where the focus is anyway so apart from that there’s only ever been a couple of people that have been involved with the actual film side of things. So now that’s less and then there’s the cleaning of cinemas and that sort of thing, that doesn’t change.

Ryan: Does that then make it easier, this is kind of a loaded question, if you wanted to then open a fourth cinema or a fifth one, now that you’ve got that centralised, would you want to or is this the jewel?

Matt: It’s certainly no secret of five sites by 2020, so only got three, so answer to that question is yes. It certainly does, it’s getting in terms of understanding the format that works, we’ve come a long way so definitely either opening another site or build or taking over another site. I guess we’re far more equipped for it in terms of having the relationships in place with the set suppliers. It’s never easy, like we did a massive refurbishment here in Hastings and every time, normally after we’ve finished, I normally get sick. Through exhaustion I suppose, that’s the easy part, the hardest part is then operation a profitable business, but and after you’ve sort of shaken the dust off you think, I’ll never do that again. Give it 12 months and we’re looking again so its kind of, I suppose it goes all the way back to starting off with a noose around your neck and a low paying job and realising to actually create wealth and security for the future we need to grow it and you step out and start working on the business rather than in it that it’s easier to focus on setting a plan and going for it so it’s kind of where we’ve evolve to now. We know what we’ve done so far this, this what we’re gonna get to, this is what we need to do so it’s kind of, it’s never going to be easy but I’m quite confident that number four should, fingers crossed, touch wood.

Ryan: Doesn’t sound like it’s too far away.

Matt: Hopefully not. It’s always easy to be positive in pretty good year, we’re experiencing quite a good year this year and that’s across the board. Across cinema in general. It’s always makes me laugh the people predicting the death of cinema cause’ of whether it’s illegal downloading or anything like that, it seems quite unusual when the last two years have been record box office years and now I think this year is shaping up to trump them so..

Ryan: I think people are always going to go out for a great experience and certainly what I’ve learned over the last half an hour in this interview is you’ve focused on creating that experience, not only in the cinema using the technology that’s available but before and after the cinema and thinking about what will be people want to eat or drink, how do you create that whoke solution to having a night or a day out not just the entertainment component?

Matt: Yeah you’re dead right, we can’t do much about what movies are coming our way but we can certainly.

Ryan: Can you say no to them? Like if there’s a movie that you just go, actually that’s not us.

Matt: Oh, all the time. We’ve only got three screens here and the amount of movies that are coming out that I have to be selective and as soon as you say no to a movie, customers ask about it. But it’s simple, I can’t screen everything so you do try and select what you think would be the best fit for our target markets.


Ryan: Are you able to take a risk on, an Indie producer or someone that’s local thats something a little bit more arty or?

Matt: Yeah probably not so much here in Hastings as yet but certainly in our Fielding cinema we’ve got a little 16 seat cinema there that we tend to screen, yeah it’s pretty intimate, somewhere more arty sort of movies but in the end of the day I try and choose the more movies that are probably going to get the best return.

Ryan: Yeah and you’ve got to service a 60 70,000 person population.

Matt: I think probably the other focus that is important to us is a straight cafe type market, it’s important that we do that well enough that people come here as a cafe, not necessarily as a cinema as well. And that’s certainly, it’s definitely growing here in Hastings, but certainly it’s a big part of what we’re doing in both Levin and Fielding.

Ryan: Do they also run Allpress coffee?

Matt: Absolutely, that’s a fantastic fit with us, is Allpress. Everything from even the colour of their branding seems to match what we do but certainly their whole ethos is a great fit with us and not only that but I might be biased again but it’s fantastic coffee, and from someone that can’t make it, our team do a fantastic job of making it.

Ryan: Well that’s what I noticed, even when I walked in here is that the number of people lining up just for a coffee and a bite, I don’t know if there’s a movie coming up or not but seems for a Monday morning, you’ve got quite a buzz going on here.

Matt: Yeah, regulars are certainly important to us but they’re also, the staff get to know the regulars, it’s that interaction and when something is a comfy fit, you’ll stick with it. It’s important that relationship builds and yeah that morning coffee trade is a great place to interact and it’s a great fit, actually tomorrow morning is our $2 Tuesday morning, and that’s, if you want to see busy coffee being made that’s the time to come. The team here have got a great system going where it’s pretty busy, but it’s just good fun. It creates a bit of buzz, everyone enjoys it.

Ryan: It’s been great to hear more about, kind of behind the scenes really of what makes there Hastings cinema tick and to really see this place revitalise. This part of town and you being an anchor tenant, everyone is relying on the cinema doing well and for it to be in great hands and before we did this interview, just going through one of the theatres and seeing the investment that’s gone into the seats and into the sound and the screens, it’s phenomenal, and I think for anyone who’s got a great lounge set up, for those top movies, nothing is going to beat the cinema so I think you’ve done a great job Matt and if Julie was here too I would thank her so, thank you very much fort your time on this 22 episode, and good luck with Focal Point in the future and finding that fourth site.

Matt: It’s alright, thank you.