Dave & Buster’s strides into Canada

Dave & Buster's, a Dallas, Tex.-based chain of massive restaurant and entertainment complexes, will open its flagship Canadian facility in May, thanks to a Canadian licensee. The 65,000-square-foot complex in a busy suburban area just north of Toronto will follow a...

Dave & Buster’s, a Dallas, Tex.-based chain of massive restaurant and entertainment complexes, will open its flagship Canadian facility in May, thanks to a Canadian licensee.

The 65,000-square-foot complex in a busy suburban area just north of Toronto will follow a model that has proven successful throughout most of the company’s 18-year history. It features a full-service restaurant, a 40-foot bar and an entertainment ‘midway’ that mixes video and virtual reality games with simulators, billiards and carnival games in an environment that its owners say resembles a Las Vegas-style casino. Many of the games will reward players with tickets that can be redeemed for prizes ranging from Frisbees to TVs and VCRs.

Dave & Buster’s aims for an older, more prosperous clientele than, say Playdium, which tends to target teens and young adults.

Fixtures in Dave & Buster’s private billiards rooms, for example, are made of rosewood, mahogany and brass, and the menu includes chichi dishes such as grilled mahi mahi.

It’s a concept that Michael Mandel is sure will go over well in Canada. The first time he visited a Dave & Buster’s location in Florida four years ago, he was sold on the idea. His company, Toronto-based Funtime Hospitality Corp., which had its roots in building and developing casinos in Ontario, immediately began negotiations to buy the licensing rights for the chain in Canada.

The agreement guarantees that at least five full-sized facilities will be opened in Canada over the next four years, which Mandel says will max out their potential. But Funtime also has plans to open four smaller-scale, 37,000-square-foot locations in markets with a surrounding population of at least 500,000, such as Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Hamilton/ Burlington, Ont.

An aggressive ad campaign will launch in April, using direct mail, billboards, radio and television. The campaign, being developed by Toronto’s NextMedia, will target 21- to 49-year-olds and will commence with teasers to pique curiosity. That will be followed closely by giveaways and other promotions to get people through the doors.

‘Once we get them in the door, with our service, with our quality, product and ambience and atmosphere, I don’t have to worry about people coming back,’ Mandel says. ‘Nobody leaves without a smile on their face.’

If all goes well, the company expects to draw between 750,000 and one million people through the doors of its flagship location every year. According to Mandel, Dave & Buster’s revenues are typically split 50/50 between the restaurant and the midway.

A separate direct mail campaign will focus on corporate clients, which Mandel expects will comprise about 15% of his business. The facility can accommodate groups of up to 2,400 and has full-service meeting rooms wired for sound, with video projection, screens and stages.

Apart from the midway, one feature that sets it aside from a hotel conference facility is the three-person event planning staff who tailor team-building ‘challenges’ to suit corporate goals, and keep its facilities full during slower mid-week periods.

In the U.S., Dave & Buster’s counts 21 facilities in its chain, which has been profitable since its 1982 inception, and has grown rapidly over the last five years. Revenue rose to US$152 million in 1998, up from US$53 million in 1995. But poor performance at a couple of new facilities in California took a chunk last year from the bottom line.

Mandel concedes the U.S.-based company stretched its managerial resources too thin and expanded too quickly after going public in 1995. He says that the conservative growth plans for Canada will prevent the same mistake from being made here.

Ailene MacDougall, vice-president with the foodservice information group at Toronto-based research and consulting firm NPD, says that while she thinks Dave & Buster’s could do well in Canada because there’s nothing like it targeted at adults, it’s unlikely the restaurant will be the primary draw.

‘Unless they advertise and promote each separately, it will initially be viewed as the midway only.

‘My concern would be the average cost of the whole evening. You’d really have to market it as an event…kind of like dinner theatre, maybe.’

For his part, Mandel says Dave & Buster’s tried-and-true strategy of situating its facilities in high-traffic suburban locales allows it to pick up local, repeat business. ‘I’m not going to be bringing people from downtown,’ he says. ‘It’s not a tourist-type environment.’

Corner Officer Shifts: Martin Fecko leaves Tangerine

Plus, PointsBet Canada and Thinkific name new marketing leaders as Lole gets a new ecommerce VP.
Corner Office

Martin Fecko departs Tangerine 

After roughly two years of serving as Tangerine’s chief marketing officer, Martin Fecko has a new gig. And this time, the financial services vet will apply his marketing leadership to a new sector, having been named CMO of Dentalcorp.

Fecko will lead the dental network’s end-to-end patient journey, support its overall growth, and work to maximize patient experiences across every touchpoint, the company said in a release.

“Martin’s in-depth expertise in engaging and retaining customers through a digitally enabled experience will be valuable in realizing our vision to be Canada’s most trusted healthcare network,” said Dentalcorp president Guy Amini.

Prior to joining Scotiabank’s digital-only banking brand in late-2019, Fecko was country manager for Intuit Canada and spent 10 years at American Express in consumer and digital marketing.

PointsBet Canada nabs former Bell marketer as it pursues expansion

Dave Rivers has joined PointsBet, an online gaming and sports betting operator, as Canadian VP of marketing.

Rivers joins from Bell, where he was most recently director of brand marketing and sponsorship, responsible for driving the company’s national sponsorship strategy and portfolio. He will report to PointsBet Canada chief commercial officer Nic Sulsky.

According to Sulsky, Rivers will “play a key role as we prepare to launch a business that is unique to our roots here in Canada.”

PointsBet has a significant presence in Australia, where it was founded, and in the U.S. In July, it named Scott Vanderwel, a former SVP at Rogers, as CEO of its Canadian subsidiary, one of several hires aimed at establishing the company’s presence locally.

Thinkific names first CMO among other executive appointments

Vancouver’s Thinkific, a platform for creating, marketing and selling online courses, has appointed Henk Campher as its first chief marketing officer as it invests in marketing to support its growth plans. It has also upped Chris McGuire to the role of chief technology officer and moved former CTO and co-founder Matt Payne into the new role of SVP of innovation.

Co-founder and CEO Greg Smith said Campher and McGuire “will play key roles building high-functioning teams around them and optimizing investment as we continue to carve out an increasingly prominent and differentiated position in the global market.”

Campher joins from Hootsuite, where he was VP of corporate marketing. Before that, he was VP of brand and communications at CRM giant Salesforce.

Lolë names new VP of digital omni-commerce as parent company exits bankruptcy protection

The Montreal-based athletic apparel and accessories retailer has appointed Rob French as VP of digital omni-commerce.

French will lead Lolë’s efforts in consumer insights, supply chain-to-consumer models and online customer journeys. In what is a new role for the company, he will also work to grow the company’s retail brand. He arrives with sixteen years experience in ecommerce, having spent the last few years as chief digital commerce officer at sporting goods retailer Decathlon.

In May 2020, Lolë parent Coalision Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection, citing several years of losses as a result of a downturn in the retail clothing market, increased competition and excess inventory – problems exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the filing, Coalision was seeking an investor or purchaser of its assets.

It successfully exited bankruptcy protection last year and is currently rebuilding its executive team, according to a spokesperson.