Competitive socialising - trend or fad?

What's the big deal with 'competitive socialising'?

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Whether it’s crazy golf, darts, ping-pong, escape rooms, shuffle-boards or even axe-throwing, Competitive Socialising – the newly coined phrase for activity based hospitality - is a rapidly growing sub-sector of the UK leisure market. Whilst we can say with some certainty that in 5 or even 10 years from now, UK consumers will continue to eat steak and drink wine in restaurants and bars after work or at the weekends, it’s not clear whether Competitive Socialising will have become a mainstay of the UK hospitality scene. Moreover, it’s even less clear whether the current crop of operators will continue to rein supreme and will have demonstrated sustainability in their respective business models. 

At Imbiba we have participated in many debates with operators, investors, advisers and commentators from our great sector on whether Competitive Socialising is ‘fad or future’. Opinion is often divided and whilst many traditional operators are running hard to stand still in a tough market, what is irrefutable is the level of financial performance being delivered by many of the businesses in this segment of the market. Many are delivering some big numbers and on a consistent basis. An enviable position, one that many ‘sustainable’ businesses would die for!

 Swingers 

Swingers 

 Flight Club 

Flight Club 

 Rebel Bingo

Rebel Bingo

 Bounce 

Bounce 

So, let's consider both the bull and the bear case for the future of Competitive Socialising:

The Bull
- Experiential is the future. Consumers want to ‘go home interesting.’ Dinner and/or drinks is for many no longer interesting enough!

- Competitive Socialising provides original content to Instagram hungry Millennials and Generation Z

- Big appeal to high spending corporates looking for innovative and experiential venues to host team and client events

- Accessible price points and game playability ensures all demographics can participate both in terms of age and socio-economic status

- Reduced disruption for the erratic British weather. If you and friends have booked and paid to play, it’s likely you’ll turn up irrespective of rain or shine 

 

The Bear
- How often are customers willing to return? The first time is a lot of fun, but how good is the fourth time?

- Big sites with big fixed overheads are often required. If revenues start to decline, the benefits of operational gearing are lost and profits fall faster. What then?

- If an exit is the ultimate objective of the founders, who buys these businesses? It seems an unlikely purchase for traditional hospitality trade acquirers. A risky strategy relying solely on private equity for an exit. 

 

So where does this leave us?
We at Imbiba are believers. Competitive Socialising is here to stay within the broad church of experiential leisure; a growing an exciting segment. As ever, the much harder question is who will be the winners and losers. What we can say with some certainty there will be both!

So, what’s the next Competitive Socialising concept to hit the market with a permanent London venue? Who knows for sure, but everyone’s watching.
Eyes down…

 

Fraser Bradshaw