This year, NATO of Georgia’s ShowSouth event is blending seamlessly with Variety – The Children’s Charity of Georgia’s 50th annual Golf Tournament. Before the tournament, Variety will hold its “Big Heart” Award Dinner & Live Auction on August 21. The deserving recipient of this year’s Variety’s Mac McAfee “Big Heart” Award is Craig Chapin, former president and CEO of Allure Global Solutions and onetime chief barker of Variety’s Tent 21.
Interviewed by phone, Chapin is humble about the honor. “To be honest, this is one of those awards I did not want to accept. I always feel unworthy, and this isn’t why I do it. But I also recognize that these awards help people get exposure to people inside and outside the industry and raise money for the kids. One of the things we are always about at Variety Tent 21 as we put in the long hours is that we do it for the kids. That’s why we’re here, and that’s what I love about the theater industry: Everybody recognizes that when we support Variety, we’re doing it for the kids. It’s amazing how people who may fight in the marketplace regularly can come together and stand united and help these kids that just need a little bit of support, a little bit of lift-up, a little bit of love. And before you know it, you can really move the needle. That’s exciting.”
Chapin says he values the personal satisfaction he gets from his charity work. “It’s hard not to get excited and passionate about the impact that you have on these children and families. When you think about [Variety’s] core mission of helping those with mobility and other developmental issues, to be able to [offer] the gift of a special bike, you literally can change the family’s experience and its ability to have more normalization of their children and what they participate in. These kids may have disabilities or disadvantages, yet they’re great kids that want to go ride bikes. I’ve seen more than a few siblings cry because the new bike allows them to go ride bikes together. Part of the pleasure of being involved with Variety is that there’s really no one in the theater space who doesn’t share a passion for its mission and been supportive of its initiatives.”
In addition to his work for Variety, Chapin also teaches Sunday school at the high school level and supports the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Young Life, an organization that sends needy kids to camp. He is also the co-author (with Jennifer Schuchmann) of Your Unforgettable Life: Only You Can Choose the Legacy You Leave, an inspirational book about how the choices we make impact the legacies we leave behind.
Chapin began his career working in sales and P.R. at White Water Park in Atlanta, followed by a stint at Chick-fil-A. Later on, he became a consultant for PrysmTech, a theater point-of-sale company that was subsequently sold to Radiant Systems in 1996. Chapin served as head of Radiant’s entertainment business activities until 2000. In 2002, Chapin and a partner launched EntTek, a POS technology company whose clients included Regal Entertainment Group. EntTek acquired Allure Digital Media and renamed it Allure Global Solutions, and Chapin served as president until his departure in January of this year. Chapin currently works as a strategic planning and M&A consultant, and clients include people in the virtual reality and financial technology arenas.
As someone with a long career in POS, Chapin has seen dramatic changes. “When I entered the space in 1996, the company that I joined at the time had the first touch screen point-of-sale system. Everything before that had been [simple] terminals and roll tickets. And so we went from initially just printing out the ticket electronically and keeping track of it, more of a simple database/cash register. It really evolved into a whole data analytics metrics tool, including massive conversion-of-payment methodology starting in probably 1997 or ’98, the year we started to adapt the credit card. Ultimately, the transaction processing itself has become more of a commodity. What has really evolved and taken off is the ability to use the data in making more congruent and better business decisions, everything from pricing to reconciliation to inventory purchasing.
“In my early days in the amusement park business,” Chapin notes, “we had a struggle where the majority of our attendance came in a two-hour window in the morning. We would have staff for that surge, but you didn’t really need that number for the rest of the day. That was kind of an aha moment for me, recognizing how we could leverage technology to deliver a quality quick-service experience when you couldn’t afford to staff at the appropriate levels for only two hours. Data analytics changed the way that we all thought about POS, the transaction business, and even signage, how it’s all really integrated into one ecosystem.”
Chaplin says he feels the business is currently evolving toward what he calls “digital signage 2.0.” As he explains, “That’s the conversion over to what you might think of as smart signage, signage that changes based upon data in real time, not based upon manual input.”
Though Allure catered to many different kinds of businesses, “the theater business was our bread and butter,” Chapin says. “It made up a sizeable chunk of our revenues throughout our history. It’s a contagious, fun industry that’s fun to be part of. It always draws you back.”
Chapin says he’s an “avid” moviegoer who will go to the cinema “once a week if there’s enough content out there.” One of his all-time favorite films is the Denzel Washington high school football drama Remember the Titans. “It’s hard to walk past the T.V. and not pause and quote a line or two.”
But he’d much rather watch a movie on the big screen. “Nothing beats the communal experience of seeing a great film. I can’t remember ever being in someone’s home where people burst out clapping at the end of a flick. Yet that happens frequently when you see a great movie inside a theater.”
He’s also a fan of today’s cutting-edge cinemas. “I think the reclining seats are fantastic, but I also think giving a little bit of extra space between people allows you to have a sense of more privacy while at the same time having a communal experience. And if you go from the reclining auditorium back to a traditional slope or floor auditorium or even one of the initial stadium-seating theaters, you feel a bit violated. It really is the equivalent of flying coach versus first class.”
Chapin also challenges those who complain about today’s movie ticket prices. “The entertainment dollar, two hours’ bang for the buck—I think the movie theater experience beats everything else. Hands down.”