Joyful Geneva: Midwestern exhibitors share tricks of the trade in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Cinemas Features

Running an independent movie theatre is no easy task. Resources are often low, and competition for moviegoers’ attention is often high. “In our industry, independents feel each other’s pain,” says George Rouman. “They recognize what it takes to operate a movie theatre—the challenges they face—so they’re willing to help each other out. There’s a lot of pressure on independent theatre owners around the country.”

On deck to relieve some of that pressure is the Geneva Convention, co-chaired by Rouman and John Scaletta and running this year Sept. 12-14. Though the Geneva Convention caters to theatres of all sizes, including national and regional chains, Scaletta notes that “the majority of our attendees are independent theatres.” And for all those theatres, the Geneva Convention provides a real boon: an opportunity to absorb practical, actionable information about the exhibition industry in an environment conducive to casual, one-on-one discussion.

The Geneva Convention returns this year to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin’s Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, where, per Scaletta, “there’s all kinds of places to sit down and talk with other exhibitors. You’ll find that someone from Wisconsin is talking to someone from Illinois. Someone from Indiana is talking to someone from Iowa. You get a great mix.” Add to the list of Midwestern states attendees from New York, Florida, Texas, California and more. “When they know they’re not competitors, they’re very willing to share their experiences and their success,” continues Rouman. “Independents do like to help one another, because they want to see other independents succeed.”

Among the topics up for discussion this year are expanded menu options, the subject of a Wednesday seminar. “Today’s moviegoers want more than just popcorn and nachos,” Rouman says. “So we’re going to dive into the opportunities that theatres have to add to their offerings of food and beverage without having the full kitchen. We’re going to be working with vendors that provide food that is shareable, appetizer-style.”

“To have a full kitchen in a movie theatre is quite costly” and is sometimes made impossible by space restrictions, adds Scaletta. “So what we want to do is provide opportunities for people to learn more about ways to increase their menu offerings without breaking the bank.”

That’s the key at Geneva: introducing attendees to ideas and products that will either, says Scaletta, “increase their income or decrease their expenses.” Scaletta and Rouman both acknowledge that there’s no one way to do that. “You can have three managers come to a seminar and sit through it and all leave with a similar perspective, but with different knowledge that they plan to implement, because of the personality of the theatre and the staff. Some theatres are more complicated to operate than others, because of locations, because of patrons. So everybody comes back with something different,” says Rouman. But, coming back from Geneva, each attendee will be armed with specific information that they can adapt into a plan to optimize their business.

Explains Scaletta, “when George and I became volunteers at the convention, both coming from an independent theatre background”—Scaletta is the vice president of F&F Management, which handles management and consultation for independent movie theatres and shopping centers, and Rouman is the vice president of the family-owned theatre circuit Rouman Amusement Company—“we agreed that our goal was to make sure that when we put on this convention all of the panels and all of the seminars need to be relatable to theatre managers.” After all, it’s the managers who have the most boots-on-the-ground knowledge about what their patrons want. Managers “may not be the decision-makers,” says Rouman, but “they can learn all this information and can go back and talk with the owner and say, ‘I think this is something we can do. This is how I think we can do it.’”

The Geneva Convention’s manageable scale, argues Rouman, makes it a more valuable convention for managers than a more glitz-laden affair like CinemaCon. “They go to Vegas, they’re going to be completely wowed. ‘Oh my God, this industry is so big.’ It’s not going to be an effective convention for them. But when they come to Lake Geneva, they can talk to all the vendors. And they can have one-on-one conversations. They meet the exhibitor-relations reps that they talk to on the phone once a week, trying to get materials for their theatre, and now all of a sudden they can put a face with the name.” Representatives from all the major studios, Rouman notes, will be in attendance this year.

“You have to put together seminars and panels [on] topics that are going to be important to independent theatre owners that have one or two screens [as well as to] somebody that works for a regional or national chain. We have to be all things to all people,” notes Rouman. To that end, another of this year’s seminars will be on the topic of analytics, an increasingly important tool for theatres to suss out audience demographics and preferences. “How do you use analytics and stay current on industry trends?” asks Rouman. “That’s really going to be important to the success of theatre owners across America. The trends are constantly changing.”

In addition to the menu and analytics panels, the Geneva Convention will play host to the expected range of studio marketing presentations, parties and—a Geneva standard—a walk around picturesque Lake Geneva. At the awards dinner, honorees will include Screenvision Media (Vendor of the Year), Southern Theatres president and COO Ron Krueger II (Larry D. Hanson Award) and Promotion In Motion president and CEO Michael G. Rosenberg (Paul J. Rogers Award).

Says Scaletta, “Michael Rosenberg has been an innovator in our industry since the inception of Promotion In Motion,” which manufactures and markets popular candy and snack brands like Welch’s Fruit Snacks and Fruit Rolls, Sour Jacks and Sun-Maid Milk Chocolate Raisins. “He’s always looking for ways to adapt to new technologies… He’s been a leader in our industry and in the candy industry for many years” and is thus the perfect choice for the Paul J. Rogers Award’s inaugural year.

As for Krueger, Rouman was introduced to the man by the Larry D. Hanson Award’s namesake himself. “Ron’s somebody I met in the early 2000s, at a national board meeting for NATO. Larry introduced me to him and told me a little about his background, and how Ron was always adamant about making sure that, as an industry, we always support the independent theatre owners, and how NATO is a really important part of that. Ron is well-respected by the studios and well-respected in general in the industry. He has such a positive attitude. It made a lot of sense for him to receive the Larry D. Hanson Award.”

Speaking of being respected by studios…the Geneva Convention itself has earned that respect, in large part due to its dedication to charities like the Will Rogers Foundation and Variety the Children’s Charity. The show gets “a significant amount of support from the studios,” says Scaletta. “Aside from them realizing how important this regional convention is to the Midwest, they also appreciate the fact that the proceeds of our convention are donated to charity. I can tell you that one of the reasons that I have stayed on as co-chairman is that I appreciate working with a great partner like George, because we balance each other out. And because the hard work we do benefits charity makes it more special.”