At a time when some better-known brands are opting to close some of their bingo clubs, south coast independent, Leo Leisure is bucking the trend with an individual and headline grabbing take on out of home entertainment. Coinslot spoke to Leo Leisure’s Michael Shepherd about how the family-owned business is establishing a blended bingo, cinema, tanning, virtual reality and soft play offering, and how its most recent application in Weymouth is causing a bit of a stir in the genteel Dorset town!
Firstly, can you outline the Leo Leisure offering?
Michael Shepherd: We have three bingo clubs, in Ryde, Eastleigh and Eastbourne and we have also applied for a Bingo Licence in Weymouth. We like coastal towns. It gives us an opportunity to reach local residents and reach out to holiday makers too. That’s really important this year, with many people opting for staycations. In Eastbourne we operate a children’s soft play area and in Ryde we have a cinema.
Has the Weymouth application been heard and what plans are there for further expansion?
Michael Shepherd: The Weymouth application is going through at the moment. In fact, we hit the front page of the local paper this week. We often have cabaret in our bingo clubs, it adds an extra dimension to party nights and celebrations. One of our most successful has been our ‘Ladies Night’. We hold one or two a year at each club. It’s like one big hen night really. Male strippers, drag queens, butlers in the buff, that sort of thing. The Dorset Echo heard of this and the headline ‘Stripper Plan At Bingo Hall’ was their lead story! It gave us a bit of a chuckle. The only thing being stripped in there at the moment is the wallpaper!
We’re making a few alterations to the Weymouth club. It will be our first club with a ‘noisy’ area so customers can chat whilst bingo is being played. We’ve also agreed to take over the building next to the bingo club to use as a car park, and we are hoping to add an outdoor smoking area in the future. These will be totally new features for the club, improving the offer for returning customers and bringing in new ones.
In addition to Weymouth, we will be opening a bingo club in Southampton later in 2021. Our soft play area in Eastbourne will be upgraded which will include a Virtual Reality gaming area. We will also be opening our first tanning and personal care salon in the town.
Communicating all of this will be key to our continuing success. We are in the process of developing an app and updating our website, making it more interactive and bringing it bang up to date to include all of our new ventures.
There’s a strong emphasis on value for money – is that the business model?
Michael Shepherd: Yes, it absolutely is. We’re proud to be a family owned and family run business and we’re passionate about giving the best value that we can. In fact, value for money is our strapline for the Leo Brand. We know it works. The site in Eastbourne was closed by the previous operator, averaging 300 admissions a week. The club was closed for two years until we acquired it in 2012. Under Leo Leisure, using our value for money approach the club now achieves at least 1,200 admissions – and that’s on a bad week. We’re confident we can achieve similar results at Weymouth.
As we move into the post lock down world, offering a great leisure experience with a low and fair cost of entry will be essential for individuals and families, many of whom have been living on significantly reduced incomes. Of course, not everyone has seen their income decline during lock down so we will have some premium offers available too.
What’s the relationship between the bingo club and the cinema offering?
Michael Shepherd: The Commodore cinema in Ryde is the only cinema we operate at the moment. Besides the obvious physical link with both venues being in the same complex, the cinema gives our customers more choice of how to spend their leisure time. The cinema was almost derelict when we took it over. Now, with three 188 – seater screens in the cinema we have plenty of scope to show films that cater to all audiences, from the latest blockbusters to traditional family favourites. So, this is something the whole family can enjoy.
Whilst bingo is just for the adults, both venues offer value for money entertainment. How does it work – is it in the same space or is there a dedicated cinema area?
Michael Shepherd: Whilst the Bingo and Cinema offerings are in the same complex, they are separate entities in themselves. Bingo is a sociable pastime but requires a degree of quiet whilst it is in play. I can’t imagine our bingo players being too happy with the latest James Bond action sequence playing out as the numbers are being called!
Is there a cross-over between customers or is it a different clientele?
Michael Shepherd: There is definitely a cross over with our adult customers. As a responsible operator we have to keep in mind that Bingo is an age restricted product. Children and young people visit the cinema in Ryde and soft play in Eastbourne so we make sure our bingo offers and bingo advertising do not target them or entice them in any way.
It seems an imaginative use of space/resources rather than simply having a single offer?
Michael Shepherd: Thank you! It works for us because it adds value to our business. It works for our customers because they have a choice of leisure options. It works for our colleagues because they learn new skills, increase job security and they can also benefit from using the facilities themselves. There are so many positives to it.