Sunday, November 26, 2006

Co-ops and Numbers

So a quick update -- over the last three months, I have: quit my job at Google, Spent approximately 1.25 months on vacation in Europe, moved to Hawaii, interned with the Hawaii International Film Festival, started working on a construction site as a laborer, and finally done the thing I came here to do... I've worked two nights as an employee of a real, live, multiplex.

The Ko'olau 10, to be exact.

And for a while, I thought, I'd be too busy with my 3 jobs to contribute anything meaningful to my blog of blogs. BUT after two nights at the job I've always wanted, I had to post about two things I was thinking about.

1.) I think movie theaters would support a FANTASTIC co-op variant. Maybe.

I've probably mentioned the idea of a co-op movie theater before, because it tends agree with my liberal communist slant :). But my current vision of it is really just an incremental change to the current system that would benefit two parties that really have a stake in the movie theater's success.

So, after 2 days of working in the concessions booth, I have to say, I'm blown away by the beauty of the efficiency machine that sits behind the counter. There's never any downtime, there's always cleaning, sweeping or restocking to be done. When the rush comes, people are working in super-adjustable, minimal bureaucracy style to pump orders out efficiently and accurately. And the whole theater is like this. More importantly, it has to be this way, because it's the only way, the operation is able to turn a profit. Concessions have to sell. They have to sell in volume, and they have to sell for large profit margins.

As an employee of Consolidated Theaters, the benefits are a frequent movie-goer's dream (I should know). Free Movies for you and up to 3 friends and HALF off concessions!

This got me to thinking, wouldn't it be rather natural to have people that come to the movies every week, work and multiply their productivity in the amazing movie theater machine, rather than pay the marginally helpful ticket fee every week? The benefits are numerous

- it could help keep operations costs down if people could play a limited role and only receive movie benefits
- the community as a whole would have a better understanding of and relationship with the operation of the theater which, I hypothesize, would increase either loyalty or attendance
- the full time, or more permanent employees, would have more meaningful work as managers, and coordinators of the benefits-only employees, and would spend their time retuning the machine, while...
- ...spreading around the occasional tedium of operating the machine
- solutions to problems would have a natural customer service orientation since they would all be customers
-there's a growth track for both employees of the theater and patrons of the theater (who can grow into benefit-employees, and even full time employees if they want). Allowing for growth seems to be a good key for customer retention.

I actually came across this idea while discussing the Hawaii International Film Festival operation. We were talking about volunteer shortages, and it had been suggested that we take volunteers from the people standing in line. I had already thought converting patrons into volunteers would help add a new and interesting dynamic for the long time festival supporters that would also help them understand our problems.

Same kind of thing here, but in a lot of ways, even better. People like me, who go to the movies a lot, eventually start looking for ways to cut costs. One can't sustain 10 dollar movies, 10 dollar snacks 2 or three times a week on normal working class salary. So things like theater hopping, sneaking food in, etc all start becoming the only way to deepen (so to speak) and add sophisticatication one's relationship with the theater.

The only problem would be to enforce the quality standards, training, and incentives that are inherent in a paying employee contractual relationship. But that's where you can turn to the beauty of the corporate number crunching machine. If the machine is just modified to suit this purpose, I think it could easily accomodate benefits-only employees.

It might only be me, and in reality, there may be very few people who are actually interested in saving 15 dollars a week by putting in an hour at the concessions stand. But it may open up a whole new market of customers who have outgrown the theater or are just tired of paying the money and have found ways like netflix to cut costs.

Philosophically, I also think it's important for businesses to run like this. Eventually, the ones running the places, shouldn't be the ones who do it for the money, but the ones who actually like doing it. This is a good way to start bridging the gap for the movie-lovers to make their way over to becoming movie operators.

2.) In a previous blog entry, I speculated about some keeping set of statistical measurements much like the ones John Hollinger of ESPN keeps for NBA players. Well, I found out that multiplexes DO in fact keep awesome numbers like this. They record fascinating things like, the number of patrons that show up per employee hour worked, concession sales per ticket sold, etc. All rather logical things from the perspective of running an efficient business, and all rather effective in incentivizing the things that will make the theater use it's resources efficiently to turn the largest profit.

What was missing (at least from what I've seen so far) are the counterbalancing statistics. The ones that focus on the customer satisfaction side, and prevent unfettered pursuit of the profit calculating numbers. Stuff like, amount of time a customer spent waiting in line. Accuracy of order. Satisfaction with purchase, etc. With the right set of numbers, you could just start optimizing the hell out of them with the operation, and still get all the important things right. Keeping the business alive, while still fulfilling the purpose of having the service in the first place.