Earlier this year, Boxoffice Pro partnered with Celluloid Junkie to present the fourth annual list of Top Women in Global Exhibition, published in our CinemaCon issue. Throughout 2019, Boxoffice Pro continues to pay tribute to the women who have an immeasurable impact on the exhibition industry with a series of in-depth profiles.
Anyone who works in the exhibition industry will tell you: Customer experience has never been more important than it is right now. The film is still the thing, but amenities are of increasing importance to the discerning modern moviegoer. And there’s one thing that all those amenities, whether a customized marketing email or a cocktail menu, rely on in some way: technology.
“How do you make that experience better?” ponders Kim Lueck, chief information officer for The Marcus Corporation and vice president of technology for Marcus Theatres. “Marketing is trying to do things, and they need technology. And then the film or operational teams are trying to do something different with alternative content so they need I.T. … [When you try] to make yourself stand out or be a little bit different, it takes something cooler on the app, or a neat kiosk when you walk in, or a very different, easy way to order your food anywhere.”
Even customer service is affected, as increasing automation gives employees room to look up from their point-of-sale screens and have more personal interactions with their customers. “You’ve got to make sure you still have great customer service, because you’re losing some of those interactions,” Lueck cautions. “That’s one thing we have to watch out for as an industry as we move more and more to online ticketing.”
A long-time employee of The Marcus Corporation’s theater division, Lueck has personal insight into the ways in which the theater experience has advanced over the years. Lueck joined Marcus Theatres in 1997, coming off a five-year stint working in publishing. (She’s been a fan of movies for much longer—she recalls going to a screening of The Wizard of Oz with her little sister, after which some of the actors who played the Munchkins put in an appearance. “I remember my sister and I getting autographs of the Munchkins. Seeing this very old movie in an old movie theater, and then the Munchkins were there! My sister and I still talk about it once in a while.”)
“I’ve come up through the theater ranks and bounced around, even to our hotels a bit,” Lueck says. “Manager, director, vice president, CIO.” In the run-up to the new century—remember the Y2K craze?—Lueck and others “were brought on to help implement the ‘big data’ warehouse back then as well as get ready for the year 2000.”
It was an exciting time to work in the industry, Lueck recalls. “The industry didn’t change a lot for a long time. … When I came in, basically we had just kicked off changing all our point-of-sale systems in all our theaters. We were starting to collect information. It was the time where we went from old-fashioned ticketing systems to a computerized ticketing system. It was a great time to come onboard, because I got to help roll it out and understand why we were changing. Yet I still knew what the old technology was that was heading out the door.”
As Lueck moved up through the ranks—learning from all three generations of the Marcus family, Ben, Steve, and Greg, along the way—the business of catering to customers kicked into high gear. Before, “you came to a movie, you saw the movie, and you left,” Lueck recalls. “Maybe you had popcorn.” By contrast, “Right when I came in, it’s like it turned on. We went to stadium seating. Then we went to cup holders. Then we went to DreamLoungers. Then we went to lounges. It was interesting how stagnant it had stayed, up until about 20 years ago. Right after the year 2000, I felt like it was the best place to be, because our industry started to evolve and started to really focus on the guests, not just the content on the screen.”
That change is still ongoing. Twenty-two years ago, Marcus was “implementing phone systems” that people could use to get show times, freeing them from musty newspaper listings. Now, there are apps and kiosks, and cell phones, oh my!“We have wireless handhelds for in-seat dining. It’s amazing the amount of tickets purchased before they even get near the theater.” Mobile food ordering, too, is in the works at Marcus: “On the day of your movie, [the app] will pop up and say, ‘Tonight’s your movie. Do you know what you want to eat?’ And you can order it and it’ll be delivered to your seat.”
With these perks (and others—like $5 Movie Tuesdays and the Magical Movie Rewards loyalty program)—Marcus is able to compete with a growing number of chains offering luxury amenities. With all that competition, though, what surprised—and pleased—Lueck when she first entered the exhibition business is “how everybody knows each other. I work with many major circuits on technology advancements and I have friends at all different theater circuits, competitive or not. Normally that’s not how it works!”
That spirit of camaraderie, Lueck notes, extends to the increasing enthusiasm of the exhibition market to extend opportunities to the women of her industry. “At CinemaCon and other trade shows I’ve gone to, [more companies now] highlight the women they have in [executive] roles, where before it might’ve been the same old vice president of operations talking. Now they’re saying, ‘Well, wait, let’s have this lead female get up in front of us and speak.’ And the more people see that, I think that’ll give them the confidence to say, ‘I can get to other levels.’ We have to give these women—and anybody, not just women—opportunities. They may not have the perfect degree, but maybe we give them that opportunity to come in and bring new ideas. Because they’ll have a different perspective. And our audiences are so diverse. We should have a very diverse leadership team, because those are all the people we’re serving. That mix of ideas is what will make you better.”