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» Film-Tech Forum   » Operations   » Ground Level   » How many cars per week can you expect at a drive-in? (Page 1)

 
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Author Topic: How many cars per week can you expect at a drive-in?
John Hegel
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 166
From: Lake Mills, Iowa
Registered: Sep 2000


 - posted 09-18-2005 09:47 PM      Profile for John Hegel   Author's Homepage   Email John Hegel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Hello all,

I'm looking at building a new drive-in theater here in Northern Iowa. The location I have my eye on is highly visible from interstate 35 and is soon going to have other major high traffic business popping up in the area.

My question is:

With a population of 67,000 people in a 30 mile radius and interstate frontage will it be possible to attract 500 cars per week - 25 weeks a year?

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Jack Ondracek
Film God

Posts: 2246
From: Port Orchard, WA, USA
Registered: Oct 2002


 - posted 09-19-2005 02:33 AM      Profile for Jack Ondracek   Author's Homepage   Email Jack Ondracek   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
You could, but it might be wise for you to check out other drive-ins in your region to see how they generally fare.

There's a drive-in in a nearby county of 16,000, which regularly fills its 150 car lot, but it only runs from mid-June until Labor Day. You can do the math from there.

Whatever car count you're looking for, keep in mind that most drive-ins in the NorthWest are seasonal. Many of them only operate weekends from somewere between March and May until school ends in June. Some will expand to a 7-day week from there until school starts again... usually right after the Labor Day weekend... then back to weekend operation until weather, lack of decent film or school activities make the place too expensive to run. To get the numbers you're looking for, you might have to adjust upward during the Summer, and back down for the early and late seasons. Our counts triple during the Summer, then duck back down to 1/3 of that at the end of the year. It's a pretty dependable pattern out here.

It'll also take your community a while to fit you into their entertainment life... and it'll take you a while to figure out what films they'll turn out for over the long haul. You might find that you'll do better after you've been at it for a couple of years.

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Monte L Fullmer
Film God

Posts: 8161
From: Nampa, Idaho, USA
Registered: Nov 2004


 - posted 09-19-2005 03:35 AM      Profile for Monte L Fullmer   Email Monte L Fullmer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
It actually depends on the demand and appeal of the locale and customer base if they are willing to support a drive-in theatre in this day and age. Yet, I've heard that the drive-in is making a sort of comeback in Texas - where they were huge in the first place.

Just like anything else, the first step is going to be the hardest to take. But, with that populous area that you're in, plus the competition around you, make sure that you're a good 5 plus miles away from the nearest theatre - due to booking range, then you can book movies that the first runs are playing two or more weeks after the inital opening day.

thx-Monte

[ 09-19-2005, 04:55 AM: Message edited by: Monte L Fullmer ]

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Sam Graham
AKA: "The Evil Sam Graham". Wackiness ensues.

Posts: 1293
From: Waukee, IA
Registered: Dec 2004


 - posted 09-21-2005 07:54 PM      Profile for Sam Graham   Author's Homepage   Email Sam Graham   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I'm going to take a guess and say you're planning to put this thing somewhere around the Hwy 27 exit, or whatever exit the visitor's center and eventually coming casino are going to be...and do a "Midway" operation between Albert Lea and Mason City?

I'd say MAYBE 500 a week June-July-August. I wouldn't count on half that April-May, September-October.

When the Mason City Drive-In was still around (I lived there a little while), I'd be one of a half dozen cars full of patrons on weeknights. Some weekends I counted barely a hundred cars. Granted, they had a pretty poor reputation in town, but they weren't that bad an operation.

But you would be the only drive-in operating for about a hundred miles in any direction, and CEC doesn't exactly have any remarkable operations up there for patrons to be devoted to. The interstate frontage certainly would help, though you'll also have a noise issue there. Seemingly ever car who drives by the Valle in Newton during the show feels compelled to blast their horn. Imagine that with interstate traffic.

I'll show up...but only if you let me photograph it for Brad and Adam's sites. [Wink]

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John Hegel
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 166
From: Lake Mills, Iowa
Registered: Sep 2000


 - posted 09-21-2005 11:14 PM      Profile for John Hegel   Author's Homepage   Email John Hegel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Sam,

I'll be more then willing to let you take all the pictures you want. Your right on the location, I wish I would have bought the land a year ago.

I was fairly young when they tore the Mason City drive-in down (before I could drive anyway) and the image that always stood out in my mind was that it simply looked run-down.

I'm thinking that the only way this thing is going to attract 500 cars per week is offering something more then a movie. I'm banking a lot of my repeat business on the food side of things. I.e. people come to me for the food and then the movies will sell themselves.

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David Kilderry
Master Film Handler

Posts: 355
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: Sep 1999


 - posted 09-24-2005 11:29 AM      Profile for David Kilderry   Author's Homepage   Email David Kilderry   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
John, Jack is correct, talk to other drive-in owners in similar areas. I still don't know how you guys can justify it with only half year operation. Here in Melbourne Australia we operate our drive-in every night of the year. In fact our busiest day and busiest week have both been out of Summer. Daylight saving in Summer stops us from running our Earlybird sessions.

We spoke to as many drive-in operators as we could find to see how business was before we re-opened ours 3 years ago. We do OK, but then again we are one of only 3 drive-ins drawing from a city and surrounds of almost 4 million people.

Most drive-ins in small towns here have closed, unless they are near beach side areas or larger population.

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Steve Scott
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1300
From: Minneapolis, MN
Registered: Sep 2000


 - posted 09-30-2005 01:30 PM      Profile for Steve Scott   Email Steve Scott   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
John, I'd make the trip down there too. It'd be nice to see any landmark within that stretch of highway.

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Peter Berrett
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 602
From: Victoria, Australia
Registered: Nov 2000


 - posted 11-05-2005 07:30 AM      Profile for Peter Berrett   Author's Homepage   Email Peter Berrett   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
John

A couple of questions for you which might raise some issues.

1. How many screens are you proposing? (i.e. how much choice will be available to your customers?)

2. Will you use the drive-in for a weekend flea market?

3. During the day in weekdays what other sources of revenue will you have? Is there some way, by clever design, that your car park could earn additional revenue during the days e.g. as a car park for onsite daytime shops or some other valuable service? This seems to me to be the key to being successful as a drive in owner in the twenty first century - work out a way to make your drive-in generate $$$ during the day (and every day). Mind you non-one's figured out how to have matinee sessions yet. [Eek!] [Wink]

cheers Peter

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John Hegel
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 166
From: Lake Mills, Iowa
Registered: Sep 2000


 - posted 11-06-2005 01:35 AM      Profile for John Hegel   Author's Homepage   Email John Hegel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I was hoping to test the water with a single screen and have enough land available for possible expansion in its 3rd season. I might be completely off by thinking this, but I don't think I’m going to be selling a movie as much as I’m going to be selling the drive-in experience.

I don't think the flea market will do well in this location so I am looking into other possible revenue sources. Currently the property has an abandon farm house and barn on it. I'm looking into what it would take to stabilize the barn and turn it into a dance hall/bar/restaurant.

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Jack Ondracek
Film God

Posts: 2246
From: Port Orchard, WA, USA
Registered: Oct 2002


 - posted 11-06-2005 10:45 AM      Profile for Jack Ondracek   Author's Homepage   Email Jack Ondracek   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I'd say you may be piling on a lot of unnecessary risk to your project before you get started.

The business model for single-screen ANYTHING is extremely limited in this country. Some people have hammered out a niche in their towns, but for most of them it was a matter of survival. A few have made it work, but more have either had to move into their theatres or find something else to do.

Take a look at the new drive-ins that have been built over the past 5 or 6 years. Only one of them was built as a single, and he got another screen up just as fast as he could (doubled his business when he did it, too).

Your clientele will not be happy that you don't have new films for them to see on a regular basis. However, you won't make enough to survive if you can't hold your shows over long enough to get the percentages down. The answer to this is having at least two screens, so you can move things around and bring in fresh material, while keeping the stuff that's getting cheaper but still bringing in the crowds. As a rule... 2 weeks is about all you'll get from one screen. If you don't have anything new for your customers to watch, they won't be back in the next week or so, and may not remember to check your schedule when you do book a new show. On the other hand, we have 3 screens here. That's usually enough for us, though we normally have about 3 weeks in the Summer when we could use 6. By shuffling the lineup and bringing in one or two new titles a week we can get as much as 5 or 6 weeks out of a really good show.

Be careful about the notion you can run old films. "OLD" these days means 3 or 4 weeks out. Run anything that's hit the video stores and you'll quickly find out how much value there is in the "drive-in experience". If you build near an established indoor company and get yourself "cleared", you may not be able to get a print until it's already tapped out in your market. The drive-in experience will be a novelty for a while, but eventually the show will become a major element in whether your "regulars" go to your place or somewhere else.

The best bet is still to explore the area you're considering serving, especially if there's a drive-in within a couple of hours of where you're thinkng of building. Drive-ins don't follow the 'cookie cutter' model that indoor houses do for a lot of good reasons, which means you really have to know the community or have the financial resources to keep things running while you figure out what they'll respond to over a 4 or 5 season period. What's the demographic makeup of your area? What's the prevailing industry (farm towns might not be profitable if everyone hits the sack early). Bible belt? Expect some early pressure over the kind of films you book... especially if your screen is visible from ANY outside road.

I'm not sure whether the interstate frontage would be a major benefit for you. You probably won't get enough people to pull off the highway and rent a room for the night so they can go to the drive-in, which means you probably need to concentrate on the locals. You'd probably do at least as well with a more-rural piece of property that would be less expensive, have less trouble with ambient light and be less attractive to a developer looking for that drive-by traffic.

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John Wilson
Film God

Posts: 5431
From: Sydney, Australia.
Registered: Dec 1999


 - posted 11-06-2005 05:31 PM      Profile for John Wilson   Email John Wilson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
If you're going to build from scratch...then I would bite the bullet and borrow a bit more in the beginning and have at LEAST 2 screens...ideally 3 would be better. With a single you will restrict your trade so much you may not make it to a third season. 2 screens minimum from the outset...you won't regret the slight addition to the initial costs.

John

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Barry Floyd
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1037
From: Lebanon, Tennessee, USA
Registered: Mar 2000


 - posted 11-07-2005 01:34 AM      Profile for Barry Floyd   Author's Homepage   Email Barry Floyd   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I think Jack may have been referring to me. We built our single screen drive-in in 2003, and added the second screen in September of this year.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't even think of opening a drive-in without a minimum of 2 screens. Unless money is no issue, the income generated from a single screen barely covers the costs of the operation and leaves nothing to take home. By adding our second screen, we've actually DOUBLED our income for the first month or so, but the costs associated with running that extra screen are minimal. We're actually thinking that maybe by this time next year, we might turn a pretty decent profit.

We're showing first run product, and with one screen we were keeping stuff for 2 weeks and then going to something else. When you get stuck playing something for 3 weeks, it reaaly kills you (at least it did for us). With our second screen up and running, we've been able to open a new film every weekend.

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Peter Berrett
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 602
From: Victoria, Australia
Registered: Nov 2000


 - posted 11-07-2005 02:29 AM      Profile for Peter Berrett   Author's Homepage   Email Peter Berrett   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I agree with the idea of going to 3 or 4 screens.

I get frustrated with my 3 local drive-ins (all triples) sometimes because they all show pretty much the same films as each other all the time. If there was more variety I'd go to the drive-ins twice as often.

cheers Peter

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Jack Ondracek
Film God

Posts: 2246
From: Port Orchard, WA, USA
Registered: Oct 2002


 - posted 11-07-2005 02:06 PM      Profile for Jack Ondracek   Author's Homepage   Email Jack Ondracek   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Barry Floyd
I think Jack may have been referring to me.
Yep! [Smile]

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David Kilderry
Master Film Handler

Posts: 355
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: Sep 1999


 - posted 11-11-2005 06:38 PM      Profile for David Kilderry   Author's Homepage   Email David Kilderry   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
We opened with two screens (well after a one week delay anyway) and added the third after one year. You simply have to run first release film or you will not survive. With three screens we still run into problems especially over the peak Summer period.

Peter raises a good point (and we are one of the three drive-ins he refers to!) we would love to offer more variety, but with restictive film policies from distributors we have little flexibility. Our audience loves action, comedy and horror and if we stray from that our end of night clean-up is very quick!

There are several single screen drive-ins that survive here, but they constantly miss big films and would benefit enormously from at least a 2nd screen.

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