“If you don’t change, you fade away.”
That simple phrase drives Doug Pellock’s work with Marcus Theatres. Pellock is vice president of construction and purchasing for the company, which is part of the Marcus Corporation and owns or manages more than 680 screens in more than 50 locations throughout seven states. In the past three years, the company has completed over 50 remodels and opened two new locations. Each Marcus Theatres space is getting a mix of the best in new amenities, features, and technologies, including massive screens, swanky lounges, and in-theater dining.
It’s a significant investment to make during a versatile time for movie-goers. Sure, 2015 saw blockbusters such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens shatter sales records. During those same 12 months though, the actual number of tickets sold plummeted. If consumers are tempted to stay home and binge-watch a streaming service, Marcus Theatres has to lure them back with the best in atmosphere, value adds, and service. Real profits, however, come when the consumer re-enters the theater and makes food and drink purchases.
Pellock, who grew up in construction and worked for large general contractors, joined Marcus in 2014. He says the upgrades and new projects are a natural evolution for his new company, as Marcus was among the first to provide stadium seating and digital-projection cinema.
“Marcus Corporation has been a leader throughout its long history,” he says. “We’re changing again to provide what the public is calling for. We’re enhancing the theater-going experience.”
In 2013, Marcus began adding several new features which have since become standard design elements, such as DreamLounger recliners that have twice the leg room between rows, in addition to enhanced screen and sound options. Dolby Atmos sound systems provide an immersive, multidimensional experience while UltraScreens, UltraScreen DLXs, and SuperScreen DLXs span up to 75 feet wide and extend up to three stories tall.
Marcus is adding these amenities to existing facilities and two new standalone buildings. Soon, every seat in the house will fully recline. To get there, Pellock and his colleagues will remove about half of the seats from each auditorium. Although the move decreases capacity, it increases usage.
Movie fans will soon have multiple dining options as well. Pellock says Marcus is introducing several new concession options at various locations. At theaters that have a Big Screen Bistro, customers can order and dine without ever leaving their seat. Select auditoriums provide full-service dining complete with wait staff. Food arrives just as the movie begins, and refills (or dessert) come with the push of a button. Popular menu items include a bacon flight, chicken tenders and waffles, and a salted-caramel popcorn sundae.
Not every Marcus location has a Big Screen Bistro. Instead, some locations have a combination of other options, including a Big Screen Bistro Express, a 1950s diner concept known as Reel Sizzle, a Take Five casual dining lounge, Zaffiro’s full-service pizzeria, or a Zaffiro’s Express. Some locations, such as the Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, are fully loaded with nearly every possible upgrade, amenity, and dining option. The new facility boasts 12 DreamLounger auditoriums, two UltraScreen DLX auditoriums, Dolby Atmos sound, a Take Five Lounge, a Zaffiro’s Express, and four Big Screen Bistro auditoriums.
When Doug Pellock joined Marcus Theaters in 2014, he brought with him his reputation as a laser-focused, no-nonsense, results-oriented leader. The company was satisfied with the quality provided by its legacy contractor, but Pellock wanted to trim the fat off of schedules and budgets by reintroducing healthy competition.
To accomplish this goal, he switched Marcus from a contract model to a bid process. Since that change, new builds and renovations are coming in both on time and on budget. The company’s legacy partner still wins about half of Marcus Theatres’ work, and the new process helps keep all approved contractors delivering the best product and the best price.
As the company rolls out these upgrades, Pellock prioritizes markets where upgrades are already needed or where competitors are making similar moves. His biggest challenges involve scheduling, as he must work without interrupting business. Secondly, most municipalities are moving slower than in recent years.
“We have to plan ahead more because there is a lot of construction going on right now and the market is active,” Pellock says, and adds that he has to plan accordingly to keep Marcus’ projects on task. He needs all auditoriums running at full capacity when the biggest blockbusters hit the screen.
Pellock and Marcus Theatres show no signs of letting up. In 2016, the company announced plans to open an all dine-in theater in mid-to-late 2017. The new location won’t have a traditional concession stand. Instead, customers will order from a full wait staff and sit at their seats with dining tables.
“We’re always looking to do something different,” he says. “Going to the movies is supposed to be fun.”
So far, the feedback has been positive. The company provides arts and culture experiences such as its Bollywood Showcase and special or seasonal programming such as Retro 1980s series where audiences will be able to watch Batman, Back to the Future, Top Gun, and Beverly Hills Cop for $5 each, or October Flick or Treat nights.
“People are amazed because we’re giving good value and great amenities,” Pellock says. “We’re bringing people back to the movie theater.”