Landmark Pointers: Bill Walker and Paul Wigginton watch over operations and finances

Cinemas Features

“An enjoyable night starts with great service.” Landmark Cinemas’ chief operating officer, Bill Walker, gets right to the point. “Going to one of our locations and seeing the lineups being managed, the lobby clean, and friendly concessions staff leads to an enjoyable experience. Those first impressions can change a guest’s mood going into a movie and will ultimately affect how they feel about the overall experience.”

In Walker’s view, “great management and cast members” are the most important elements to secure a smoothly running theatre. “With the variety of locations we operate,” he elaborates, “we really require our management teams to take ownership of the building and be engaged in the financial success of that location. When our management teams are engaged, they attract passionate cast members, and the guest will enjoy a great experience.”

As the circuit’s chief financial officer, Paul Wigginton knows a thing or two about financial ownership. “Landmark has always been a privately held company. Over the years it has grown by both acquisitions and organic, greenfield development. To facilitate the acquisition of the Empire assets, the shareholders partnered with TriWest Capital Partners,” he says, giving credit to the Calgary, Alberta-based private-equity firm. “This strategic opportunity allowed Landmark to solidify the position of the number-two exhibitor in Canada, expand its presence into the Ontario market, and acquire locations in Western Canada complementary to its existing locations.” Going forward as well, “there is opportunity to grow through greenfield developments and strategic acquisitions. There are still regions of the country which are underserved and provide the opportunity for organic growth.”

This dual strategy has provided Landmark with an “eclectic” mix of cinemas, Walker proudly acknowledges. “We have evolved from the history of Canadian exhibition and that leaves us with a wide variety of assets” that ranges from two 24-screen, former AMC Megaplexes in Whitby and Kanata, Ontario, to still operating “a few single-screen locations that have been cinemas for well over 50 years,” he says. “In our newer locations built with Landmark or acquired from Empire, our look and feel is clean, bright and inviting. The seat and the screen are critical. All exhibitors pride themselves on the experience we create in our lobbies and washrooms, but at the end of the day it is all about a comfortable seat and great onscreen presentation.”

Further delving into that presentation, “I enjoy HFR [High Frame Rate].” Walker is “interested to see more films utilize this technology. We upgraded over half of our locations to be HFR-enabled so when the product arrives, we will be ready. We are also testing a variety of reserved-seating concepts in our locations that are well received by our guests.” Exemplary amenities and key services notwithstanding, what would a movie be without popcorn and soda?

“The spend-per-guest varies widely based on regional differences,” Walker contends. “These differences could be economic or cultural, but we are constantly looking at opportunities to better serve our guests. We have a unique concessions strategy that is different than most other exhibitors,” he says, providing one example. “We have structured our combos with a tremendous amount of flexibility and are working towards never saying ‘NO’ to our guests. Whatever combination of items we have for sale, if they ask, we can accommodate that in a combo and provide the guest some savings.”

With that, “our core concessions offer is consistent across all locations,” he elaborates. “We selected our product mix based on Canadian market research and we continue to evolve the offering based on results. With regards to hot food offerings, we are much less consistent. Our offer varies based on attendance level and the space available in some locations. The biggest challenge in this area is developing programs and sourcing products that can be executed consistently across the circuit. We are very cognizant not to implement programs that will create logistical challenges for our support center and execution issues in our theatres.”

Landmark Cinemas is not only implementing new programs to enhance the guest experience but also investing substantial amounts into creating its moviegoing environment. In other companies that could be considered being at odds with the bottom line. “People will continue to pay for an experience which provides value,” Wigginton begs to differ. “Cinema is far from dead–much different than the predictions of 20 to 30 years ago when the VCR was launched, and TV before that. We are an out-of-home experience. As people continue to have more options at home, our experience must evolve to remain relevant to our guests. Not to reinvest is very short-sighted.”

So, the future remains bright for moviegoing, even from a financial standpoint? “People will always want to participate in an out-of-home experience shared with others. So long as the content is relevant and the value proposition is maintained, theatrical moviegoing will remain popular and profitable.”