Interview with Ron Krueger, President and COO, Southern Theatres
How is 2017 shaping up for Southern Theatres?
Lots of activity here. We’re teeing up some expansion. We have at least two new Movie Tavern locations opening in the first part of 2018. We continue to refine and grow the overall organization. On the conventional side, we’re doing our fair share of recliner retrofits, as well as expansion of food and liquor, beer and wine to locations where it makes sense for the market. Providing additional services and great amenities for our guests and raising the moviegoing experience.
Amenities have played a central role for movie theaters in recent years. Do you think that poses a challenge to consumers when it comes to communicating pricing and trying to get more of an interest in the moviegoing experience?
I think it’s down to differences in service models. What we offer in a Movie Tavern environment is a great moviegoing experience in comfortable recliner seats, and best-in-class presentation and sound. Then we enhance that with great food and beverage service at your seat, with great selections from our full menu and full bar. From a price point perspective, we are very comparable and competitive. We position ourselves more as a great way of extending your night out with us, making it enjoyable and affordable.
What challenges and opportunities do you believe this industry is facing in the coming years?
My great-grandfather started his circuit back in 1906, so as a fourth-generation guy with 30 years of experience, I’m comfortable saying that the industry’s always had its fair share of predicted declines and interruptions, but we have always found ways to keep moviegoing alive and relevant in the public eye, whether that’s improvements in sound, seating, stadium seating, recliners, and now in-theater dining.
I’ve seen those cycles, and influential people in my business career have given it context as well, and reminded me that we need to be in a continuous improvement process to stay relevant. We’re working on that at Southern with what [founder and chairman] George Solomon has put forward, and our new CEO, John Caparella. I think as long as we do that, there’s going to be an ongoing need for people to go out and have some sort of entertaining experience. We just want to be on top of people’s minds as that option.
Of all the new innovations out there meant to enhance the theatrical experience, which stands out to you as the one that can make the biggest impact in the industry?
There’s a fair bit out there. We’re comfortable working the niche we have and growing the Movie Tavern. There are opportunities across the country to expand our brand and capture a different type of guest who’s looking for an entertainment experience. So that has opportunities to be built out quite a bit over the next couple of years.
There’s also been notable innovation at concessions stands across the nation. What are your thoughts on the current evolution of food and beverage service at U.S. cinemas?
There were innovators, if you will, in terms of expanded concessions even 15 or 20 years ago, getting beyond popcorn and soda. When it came to liquor, beer, and wine, I think it was a matter of getting the studios as well as local and state regulatory folks comfortable with the fact of allowing alcohol in a moviegoing experience that has historically been viewed as family-friendly.
There’s been an evolution. It’s still working on the overall model to be able to serve a quality meal in a reasonable period of time to a guest in the in-theater dining world. Or in the case of, say, some of our traditional theaters, we have a separate concession stand café for our more expanded food and beverage options. Because there’s a different time and preparation expectation there, we didn’t want to slow down the speed of service related to popcorn, soda, hot dogs that come out of the main stand. So things have evolved over time. As technology has improved, regulatory loosening has changed and the opportunities have presented themselves.
Do you remember attending the Geneva Convention in the past?
I look forward to spending some time up there with a lot of friends. I’ve been in the industry for years and I’m honored. As I recall, I attended the first Geneva Convention back when I was with Wehrenberg [Theaters]. I went up there to represent Wehrenberg as my great-grandfather was inducted into their Hall of Fame. It’s a great regional convention that serves the Midwest and Upper Midwest. It is still a wonderful opportunity to be recognized by John and George and the team running that convention. I’m truly honored to be thought of in the same light as Larry Hanson. He was an amazing individual we lost way too early, but truly dedicated to the industry and the association.