In the movie industry, bigger is usually better, and that’s true of Carmike Cinemas Inc.’s BigD large-screens. They have screens measuring up to 78 feet wide by 3 stories tall, provide luxury seating and stunning surround sound and are being rolled out nationwide. BigD theaters – the ‘D’ stands for dimensional sight, dynamic sound and deluxe seating – are in 14 markets, but in terms of the regions in which Carmike locates its cinemas, small to mid-size is typically better.
“Our sweet spot is medium and smaller communities,” Director of Marketing Terrell Mayton explains. “If you look at large cities, you’ll find multiple large-format locations. It just doesn’t make sense for us to go head-to-head like that.”
Instead, Carmike’s strategy is to focus on America’s hometown communities and offer them a great guest experience with cutting-edge exhibition technology.
“It has just really worked well for us,” Mayton emphasizes. “It gives us sizzle. We’ve consistently outperformed the industry on attendance over the past year. Even when attendance in the industry has been down, we’ve been up. That tells us we’re doing things right. A big part of what we’re known for is our superior guest experience, how friendly our associates are and how engaged we are in the areas we serve through Carmike Cares and community-based things, like supporting food banks, United Way, and The Children’s Miracle Network.”
“Offering the ultimate entertainment experience and quality presentation, all that comes together and drives loyalty, repeat business and viral word-of-mouth endorsements from friends, family and acquaintances that visit our theaters” he continues. “We strive to be your hometown theater versus just another place down the street showing movies, and this is a huge advantage for us.”
With food options at many entertainment venues broadening – sushi at the ballpark, for example – movie theaters are providing a similar variety. At Carmike Cinemas, besides the ever-popular, traditional refreshments of popcorn, drinks and candy, many of the theaters also provide nachos, hot dogs, pizza and regional specialties like cotton candy, pickles or pastries, and coffee and tea for special fine arts events like opera and ballet presentations.
“Carmike has been very successful in growing the per-person expenditures for concessions, and we have been an industry leader in this regard in recent quarters,” Mayton emphasizes. At its Ovation Club in the Chattanooga, Tenn., Majestic 12, hors d’ouevres and sandwiches are provided in an elegant, intimate theater of approximately 56 seats. Another Ovation Club is under construction in Sandestin, Fla.
Carmike features popcorn and drinks on Stimulus Tuesday for only $1.50 each and sells a popcorn bucket for $17.50 annually that can be refilled on an unlimited number of visits for $3.50 for an entire calendar year. “It’s just another one of those things where you’re providing guests with added value and giving them another reason to come back,” Mayton says. He adds that frequently customers in line with their buckets encourage those without them to participate in the program, which he points out is a priceless endorsement by the patrons themselves.
Besides having its VIP Ovation Club and BigD auditoriums, Carmike’s 2,500-seat Majestic 12 location in Chattanooga also is certified LEED Gold, a unique green environmental designation. Built in 2009, it collects rainwater and condensation from rooftop mechanical units in a 10,000-gallon tank that provides water to the bathrooms. The theater is built with curtain wall glass at the entrance for large amounts of lobby daylight, uses efficient LED lighting and has occupancy sensors throughout the building and restrooms that can result in a 75 percent savings in lighting energy costs.
Carbon dioxide sensors reduce fresh air exchange requirements, and the building uses high levels of exterior insulation, both of which were designed to save approximately $15,000 in electricity costs annually. More than 90 percent of the construction waste was recycled, and concrete blocks were made from 60 percent recycled content.
The company also has a number of other entertainment options in addition to its theaters. Locations in Columbus, Ga., and Salt Lake City have skating rinks, laser tag or miniature golf. “Many of our theaters also have videogame arcades, but our major concentration is on-screen entertainment,” Mayton adds.
A new innovation Carmike is experimenting with is one-stop ticketing and concessions, in which the box office is eliminated and tickets and concessions are purchased at the same location. It also offers a smart phone app for purchasing tickets in advance. “We’re always looking for unique and different ways to make the guest experience as smooth and easy as possible,” Mayton asserts.
Besides movies, Carmike Cinemas also features special event presentations, such as opera and ballet films, as well as many concerts. A growing number of broadcasts of sporting events like prizefights or mixed martial arts events can be viewed at the theaters on special occasions.
“We have many theaters across the country where churches and other organizations also use our theaters for their services and meetings,” Mayton notes. “We have a very broad spectrum of other content, and that’s a quick-growing segment for us. Because we view our theaters as locations where our guests can be entertained, it’s not just a movie theater – it’s an entertainment complex. At the end of the day, we are focused on providing a wide variety of choices that meet the needs of everyone.”
When promoting the latest superhero extravaganza, Carmike Cinemas flexes its marketing muscle. “We’re very engaged in social media,” Mayton says. This includes the company’s Twitter feed and its Facebook page with games and exclusive movie previews. “We work hard on our social media stream to be both conversational and relational,” he adds. “We really pride ourselves on being best-in-class.”