Southern comfort: ShowSouth convenes at Chateau Elan Winery & Resort


As exhibitors wind down from summer movie season and gear up for the slate of fall releases, they’ll convene at ShowSouth for two whirlwind days of learning, networking and, of course, golf. The 21-year-old convention is undergoing a growth spurt. More than 500 attendees are expected August 20-21 at the Chateau Elan Winery & Resort outside of Atlanta, Georgia, along with 100 booths of vendors. “For a regional show, that’s a big trade show,” notes Robin Miller, president of Southeast NATO and VP of operations at Village Theatres. The convention will also honor longtime exhibitor Robert M. Cobb as 2013’s “Statesman of the Year.”

Kicking off the event will be two timely seminars. The law firm Reynolds & Reynolds will offer a presentation on how Obamacare, scheduled to go into effect for businesses in 2014, will affect theatre owners. There will also be a presentation from Vantiv on gift cards, which can benefit sales in part because they avoid the interchange fees associated with credit cards. That evening, cocktails will bracket the evening’s movie selection, Lionsgate’s You’re Next, a horror feature set to release August 23.

For Miller, these social events are always a highlight. “In hospitality, we’re like a big family. We’ve been together all these years, and it’s great being able to meet back up year after year, and actually have the time to talk with the attendees.”

The following day, national NATO representatives Belinda Judson and David Binet will present the “State of the Industry” address, which will include updates on issues affecting the industry, including the failed ban on large soda sizes in New York City. That afternoon, all the major studios will be present at the exhibitor-relations panel, which will include previews of their upcoming product. One of the benefits of a regional convention like ShowSouth is that “you get to talk to the person who supplies you with promotional materials, put a face to a name, and that adds to the connection,” Miller enthuses.

That evening’s dinner will honor Robert M. Cobb as Statesman of the Year. Cobb is a fourth-generation theatre owner who has worked in the industry for over half a century. His great-grandfather opened an Alabama theatre in 1921, which was passed to his grandmother, and then his father, who built more theatres throughout Alabama. As a kid, Cobb started out working the concession stand in his father’s theatres in the 1950s, and over the decades he has worked in every nook and cranny of the business. Miller believes Cobb’s “years of tenure” make him stand out. “Working for an independent myself, it’s hard to compete with the big boys. For someone to compete that long shows a lot of integrity,” she notes.

Cobb’s time in the industry has included many smart business decisions, including being on the forefront of development of multiplexes in the early 1970s. In 1997, while he was president, Cobb Theatres merged with Regal Cinemas. Just a few years later he returned to found Cobb Theatres III, LLC, what people in his company call “new Cobb.”

When he founded the “new Cobb,” he recalls, “I learned how lucky I was that I’d done a bit of everything, from working in the box office, to concessions, being a manager and district manager, as well as dealing with construction, architects, lawyers and bankers. I realized how much I enjoyed every bit of it.”

For Cobb, his love of the business means retirement is not in his future. He has no plans to spend his days walking 18 holes, laughingly noting, “My golf game is so bad that I just quit playing.” Those who are golf-lovers, however, will stay on the day after the convention for the Variety Golf Fest, which raises money to help children in need, either with disabilities of suffering from the effects of abuse or poverty.

Cobb is unlikely to rest on his laurels as “Statesman of the Year.” He currently presides over 21 locations, a third of which feature the chain’s upscale, in-theatre dining concept CinéBistro. More theatres are in the works, now that construction is picking up again after its nosedive in the recession. “We’re working on a number of deals right now that are real, that we’ll do over the next three years,” he projects. “Building new theatres and new CinéBistros is a lot of fun,” and he can’t imagine doing anything else. “It’s part of my DNA.”
In particular, the smaller size of his luxury CinéBistros fits well with developers’ plans. “We are finding that among developers of shopping centers, many of them do not want the traditional theatre that takes up 65,000 to 80,000 square feet. They like the 30,000 to 35,000-square-feet CinéBistro size, and the idea that we’re bringing adults into shopping centers.”

Even with his years learning all aspects of exhibition, Cobb knows it all hinges on one thing: the guest experience. “Always take care of the guests in the theatres,” he advises. “They’ve come to have a good time, so we try to help them do that.” Sharing business wisdom and honoring the achievements of fellow exhibitors, after all, is what ShowSouth is all about.