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Newsletter #1024: The “Lessons from a Movie Theater that’s Still Got It” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

In an era of Netflix, Redbox, and homebody culture, Alamo Drafthouse is completely reinventing the movie theater experience. They serve awesome food and beer, have comfy seats and affordable tickets, and they’ll kick your ass out if you talk or text during the movie. But it’s more than just food, beer, and a strict talking policy that make the Alamo so beloved and successful.

Here are a few lessons from a remarkable movie theater franchise:

1. Your customers’ experiences make you different
2. Make quality a priority
3. Do what no one else will do
4. Cater to a special audience
5. Check it out: Alamo Drafthouse “No Talking” PSAs

1. Your customers’ experiences make you different

Before every movie at the Alamo Drafthouse, they show 30 minutes of clips related to the film. For example, if you’re going to see Rocky IV, they’ll show retro Dolph Lundgren fitness videos, clips from Cold War propaganda, and 1980’s boxing matches. They also do interactive screenings of cult classics each month called “Action Packs.” At this month’s The Princess Bride quote-along, they handed out inflatable swords, played “save the princess” before the show, and sold poison-themed drinks.

The lesson: In a time when most people would rather watch Netflix from the comfort of their own couch, movie theaters like Alamo Drafthouse stay relevant by stepping up the experience.

Learn more: Alamo Drafthouse

2. Make quality a priority

Aside from kicking people out who talk and text during the movie, Alamo Drafthouse also lets you reserve seats, and they don’t allow late-comers. That way nobody’s awkwardly wandering around the theater in the dark looking for seats after the movie’s started. Want to order something from their full kitchen? Just write it on a piece of paper and stick it in the slot in front of you. You don’t have to flag down your waiter or talk at all.

The lesson: Even if every theater in town is playing the same movie, you know that when you go to the Alamo Drafthouse, you don’t have to worry about the usual annoyances you run into at every other theater because they care about details like these.

3. Do what no one else will do

Last year, when Sony decided to cancel the release of The Interview after threats from North Korean hackers, a lot of people were disappointed — even President Obama. But Alamo Drafthouse’s CEO, Tim League, took the opportunity to work with 250 other independently owned theaters to create a petition and convince Sony to change their minds. When Sony did finally decide to release it, Tim was credited with the persuasion, and the Alamo screened The Interview at all 19 of their locations.

The lesson: When opportunities to be different come up, take them. Alamo Drafthouse shows that you don’t have to be the loudest or most-funded voice to make a change.

Learn more: The Daily Beast

4. Cater to a special audience

Each summer, the Alamo Drafthouse hosts Kids Camp where they show free kid-friendly movies every Friday morning. They also have Baby Days for parents with infants to come watch movies on a quieter volume in a slightly brighter theater (so you can actually see into that diaper bag).

The lesson: For a theater so invested in distraction-free movies, you would think that kids and babies aren’t welcome at the Alamo Drafthouse. But by making special days for kids, they avoid alienating parents without sacrificing their business model.

Learn more: Alamo Drafthouse Blog

5. Check it out: Alamo Drafthouse “No Talking” PSAs

Before every screening, Alamo Drafthouse shares a “no talking” PSA. Some of their guests over the years have included Patton Oswalt, Danny DeVito, Will Ferrell, and Ann Richards.

Here’s a collection of their best ones: YouTube

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  1. Tobias Schremmer February 12, 2015 at 10:30 pm #

    As a fellow Austinite and lover of Alamo, I really enjoyed your take, applying these principles to broader business & marketing community.

    Quick correction, I think you meant to say the DO take reservations, which supports your point about not wandering around in the dark. I can’t even deal with a traditional theater anymore that still requires you to hunt in the dark for seats.

    Also, have you noticed that ever since that guy shot someone in a theater last year for talking that Alamo has way toned down the No Talking PSAs? My guess is that was in direct response to the sad event… which is another lesson for us, namely it’s great to be edgy and a little wild to reinforce your culture or rules, but when you realize your zany antics are inadvertently occurring in real life to violent or tragic ends, don’t hesitate to change, and change quickly.

  2. Dured Shaba March 2, 2015 at 4:38 am #

    You can learn lot of small things from every business chain, It could be anything but useful.

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