Technologically Savvy: Kim Lueck marshals data at Marcus

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Kim Lueck holds the dual titles of chief information officer for The Marcus Corporation and VP of technology for Marcus Theatres. An 18-year veteran of the company, her duties on the theatre end encompass, in her words, “everything from point-of-sale and digital signage in the theatres to the wide area network that connects us all together, as well as all the functionality needed at the office for processing our sales and doing our reports. We also have a large data warehouse to provide analytical data to our business users.”

Lueck is especially excited about the new opportunities digital technology has opened up for customer research and engagement. “Right after I came on board, we started developing a data warehouse. So we could see every ticket sold to every film, what time it was bought, what movie it was for, whether it was an adult or child. We could see everything about vending, how much popcorn was bought at what time and what it was combined with. All of that was great, but you didn’t know who was doing it… A couple of years ago, we rolled out our Magical Movie Rewards program, and with every transaction the guest swipes their loyalty card and that code comes back. So now we know what types of movies people are coming to see and who they are, and we use that data to market to them specifically. Kind of like the Netflix concept: You saw this, we think you’d like this. Or, you always buy popcorn and soda, here’s two dollars off pretzel bites. Where before it was just a lot of data, now we’re having two-way communication with the guests.”

Another significant technological change is the growth of online ticketing. “It used to be it had to be a blockbuster,” she recalls of Marcus customers’ use of that option. “Now, not only is it blockbusters, but when we’ve gone to reserved seating and our DreamLoungers, when those amenities come into play, there’s a huge jump in online ticketing. Now they know those seats are going to be sold out, and they like using the online ticketing because they have a visual of the auditorium.” For locations without reserved seating, Lueck estimates online tickets at around 20% of total sales. But when reserved seating and other new amenities are established, the share rises to 60% or more, she says.

Lueck’s current goal is “expanding the connectivity of our theatres to make the openings of communications between them as large as possible.” And that expansion will include offering free Wi-Fi to Marcus guests, she adds.

Mark Collins, director of projection technology, oversees technology inside Marcus auditoriums. The 13-year Marcus veteran looks back on the digital transition as “a long process. Our former CIO and myself, I think we got married for a short amount of time, to go through all that due diligence on digital. We are just now closing some of our second-run film theatres. Very shortly, we will not have any film whatsoever left.”

And what about new projection technologies on the horizon? “At the moment, laser projection and high dynamic range are expensive options,” Collins notes. “We’re looking to see what the benefits will be for those technologies. As a pure technology guy, I just love to go buy everything in the store, but you can’t do that when you’re looking at a laser projector that costs a quarter of a million dollars or high dynamic range at almost half a million dollars. Obviously, we’re always looking. We’re going to do a test in Addison with a laser projector from NEC. They have gone down the path of making smaller laser projectors to save on bulb costs, and we’re looking to see if there’s a payback on that type of laser projector. But we’re going to be cautious and see where it fits within our business plan.”

Lueck feels fortunate that her bosses at Marcus are also up on technology. “Working with Greg and Rolando is great, because they have this common focus on being secure and having cool guest-facing technology. Greg Marcus has more technology toys than I do, and Rolando is probably just behind me. I’m very lucky to have two tech-savvy bosses that understand the concepts of staying current and upgrading your systems. They’ll challenge you, because they’re also very technical and they know all the questions to ask, but it’s great to have that support behind you… They want to use technology to enable their people to do their jobs more efficiently. Rolando always says, ‘I want you to be the enabler.’”

Marcus’ technology VP is pleased to be at a company that remains on the cutting edge. “It’s not status quo. We’re always looking for new things. We’ve got a great mix of new talent and old talent. We’re at a point where most companies at 80 years are probably ‘Let’s keep chugging away and be happy with what we’ve got,’ but we’re just the opposite: What can we do tomorrow? What can we change?”