Johnny Brenden: My Past, Present, and Future
The movie exhibition business is in my blood. I grew up in a family of movie industry pioneers. When I was young, my father passed away, so I went to live with my mother’s father, my grandfather, Mr. Ted Mann, who was then the sole owner of the Mann Theatre Circuit during the 1970’s and 1980’s, who built Mann Theatres into the eighth largest movie theatre chain in the nation. My grandmother is Hollywood Star, Mrs. Rhonda Fleming-Mann.
As a kid I used to go and tear tickets for him at a theater in Rochester, Minnesota. I used to have to step on a stool to be tall enough to go over the podium to rip the tickets. So, I really started at a young age. As a young teenager, while I went to school in Boston, every holiday and summer vacation I came home to work in my grandfather’s theaters as a cashier and usher and working World Film Premieres at the Mann’s Chinese Theatre and prestigious Westwood Theatres. It’s in the blood and I love doing it. So I grew up around the movie business most of my life.
Later I moved into the corporate side of the business in film buying and theatre operations. After my grandfather sold the Mann Theatre Circuit, in 1990, I had the opportunity to begin my dream of starting my own theatre company in Northern California in the City of Pittsburg, near Walnut Creek. Everything I saved from that one theatre, my grandfather tripled and put the money in investments. From that multi-screen theatre, I expanded, opening theatres in the California cities of Concord, Vacaville and Modesto and most recently Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada. Now there are a total of seven theatres including an IMAX® Theatre I own and operate.
I really believe in a participatory style of management. I surround myself with very capable, knowledgeable, experienced and competent executives who run the day-to-day operations of the company. I believe in them a great deal and trust them without question that they will look out for the best interests of the company and subsequently mine. As a sole proprietor I also have a very hands-on approach; however, and am involved with every major decision from operations to marketing to strategic development. I am personally involved with the design and construction of all the properties. On a daily basis, I look at box office reports and concession receipts and review all expenditures. I work with my management team to develop strategies that will maximize revenues and net profits. And, I do a lot of public relations meeting with studio representatives, media representatives and other individuals who can help further the company’s goals.
While profits are very important in measuring a company’s success, I also measure success in other ways. Providing a great movie going experience is extremely important to me. Customer service is most important, presentation, integrity, honesty and loyalty come next. It is also very important to me that our employees and management are happy. I want Brenden Theatres to be a place where people want to work. We take pride in offering a safe, pleasant, and enjoyable work environment for all our employees. And, we teach and encourage a Teamwork Ethic, value hard work, and appreciate excellence. Our employees do work hard, but most of all, they have FUN!
So, I believe that what makes our company successful is that we care deeply about the entertainment experience for our guests, we value and are committed to our staff members and at the end of the day we are able to pay all our bills and make some money as well.
I surround myself with very competent people and one of the best ways to motivate these type of people is to give them a job and let them do it. They take personal pride in what they do. At the same time, they need to be fairly compensated both with monetary and non-monetary consideration. They do need to be paid well, but money isn’t the only thing that motivates them. They are driven by a sense of accomplishment. So, I give them the tools they need to succeed plus the freedom and support to do what they are trained and experienced to do. For my executive staff, they don’t need much supervision. They need good direction and leadership that are motivation tools in and of themselves. They need to know what the company goals are and what part they play in achieving those goals. They don’t need constant praise, but like everyone they like being recognized and appreciated. For my general managers, I give them the chance to run their own business. I empower them to make important decisions and reward them with meaningful bonuses and recognition for meeting their budget goals. Plus I am very liberal in rewarding them with experiences that they individually enjoy such as attending industry events or recreational or entertainment events such as concerts, sporting events and so forth.
At the executive and general manager level, I love to hire people who are passionate about the business and what they do. Most of our executives and managers have been in the movie entertainment industry all their careers. While I allow individual general managers to hire staff on the theatre level, in general, we look to hire courteous, energetic, and efficient persons. We like people with a positive work ethnic and who are enthusiastic about working in the theatre environment. The work can be tough at times, but it can also be a lot of fun.
As a sole proprietorship of a small company, my business methods are not as formalized as more developed and larger corporations. I meet and talk frequently with my key executives and discuss strategies in all areas: film allocations, operations, finance, strategic development, expenditures, marketing, promotions and so forth.
In the movie exhibition business, we work on a quarterly basis and look ahead to the film product that will be forthcoming. While we do financial budgets on a yearly basis our business is really product driven and this will determine financial expenditures, staffing levels, marketing plans and so forth. Traditionally, the summer months are the busiest for the business with the late Winter and early Spring slower times. So, we look to do theatre maintenance and upgrades during the slower times and gear up with staffing, inventory, training and so forth for the busy summer months. Unlike some industries, because of the product driven nature of the industry, it is more difficult to create traditional marketing plans as an example. However, a lot of the operation can be standardized such as recruitment (we are constantly hiring as an example), training, daily operations, maintenance, and so forth. My key executives run the business on a daily basis, but I am in regular conversation with them discussing box office and concession receipts. We have a variety of documents such as a Daily Box Office Report which I see each day to see how we are performing. We have weekly and year-to-date reports that tell me at a glance exactly how we are doing compared to the overall industry and company wide. This lets me know if I need to make any adjustments (such as adding to our marketing efforts) or if there are any problems in a certain areas. These reports can help us identify strengths or weaknesses to our existing programs or procedures.
As a sole proprietorship, unlike public companies or even private companies with investors, I don’t have as much responsibilities to shareholders. Still, at the end of the day, it is important to me to make sure we generate enough revenue to pay the bills and be able to grow the company. But, I also regard our patrons as important stakeholders and to them my responsibility is to provide a memorable quality movie entertainment experience at a fair price. To our vendors, it is important to create positive and mutually beneficial relationships and to compensate them in a fair and timely manner. To those that provide valuable services to operate the company, a positive work environment where people enjoy to work and are rewarded accordingly. I don’t want to build the biggest company. Big is not always the best. I enjoy building about a theater a year. But, I’m not building for building’s sake. It has to be the right opportunity. I like the deal we did recently with our theater in Laughlin, Nevada, the Avi Casino Resort. The terms were great and it is the type of project I would like to do more of. We’re looking at other Indian projects like the Avi right now as well as a variety of other projects. We get approached to build theaters all the time, but I need to know it is something we can handle and manage considering the size of the company. Some of our properties are in mature markets and doing consistent business while our newer properties such as Las Vegas and Laughlin still need a little work in developing their markets. We can certainly do better in managing the whole company and I feel we are maturing and heading toward maximizing revenue potential at all our venues.
Choosing a theatre location is different for every project. For the Concord theatre for example it was a competition with a competitor and I wanted to put a theater there. It was a tough competition, but eventually I won. It was a great performing theatre in its early years, before more theatres were built in the area. For our Las Vegas location, George Maloof was looking to put a theater in his new Palms Casino Resort. He called me and within a couple months we had a deal. In Laughlin, we were approached to build a theatre in the Indian owned Avi Resort Casino. We don’t always know the locations will be successful and sometimes things don’t always work out exactly as planned. Las Vegas proved to be a bit more challenging then we originally thought for a couple of reasons. And, the Laughlin location is growing. It is a different market there and we thought it was going to be a little easier to attract people to a new venue. Our Pittsburg theatre is aging and the demographics of the area has changed over the years. So, we are trying some different marketing and promotional approaches. In Concord, we have increased competition. So, we are not performing there as well as we have in past years. The movie exhibition business is dynamic, so we have to be constantly reevaluating each market and work accordingly.
For a long time, we really didn’t feel we had a need to do much in the way of marketing and promotion. We have used traditional print media for our showtime listings and developed a website a few years ago. We would do in-theatre promotions such as lobby displays and some cross promotions with area businesses from time to time. And, we would even do radio station ticket giveaways. But, beyond these basic advertising and promotional methods we didn’t really do too much else. However, with increased competition and especially in our Las Vegas and Laughlin markets, we realized that marketing and promotion were becoming more important than ever before. And, while we continue to utilize traditional methods, we have become more aggressive and now utilize most all marketing methods in one form or another. Our print advertising now includes movie specific ads and promotional tie-ins in addition to movie time listings. Our website continues to expand to include promotional events and soon a method to capture e-mail addresses so we can send regular e-mails messages to our frequent moviegoers. We utilize radio promotions in many of our markets to include ticket giveaways, promotional tie-ins, radio remotes and promotional contests. We work closely with both the Palms Casino Resort and Avi Resort Casino and tie-in promotions whenever we can. We take advantage of whatever internal resources they might have such as in-room displays, signage, marquees, billboards, LED boards, newsletters, e-mails, advertisement tie-ins, and so forth. We do cross promotions with other business such as car dealers, game stores, book stores, retail outlets and so forth. We utilize direct mail, couponing, fliers, and rack cards. We are active in the community and participate in many social and charities programs and do some out of theatre promotions at community events, and sponsor haunted houses and holiday decorations. On occasion, we have utilized television advertising and on-air promotional giveaways. We also put out press releases and contact news sources to generate media coverage. We do many promotions and distribute concession coupons and certificates and giveaway prizes such as movie posters and other items supplied by movie studios and other promotional partners.
Our mission of the company is to provide a memorable quality movie entertainment experience at a fair price and our vision is to continue to grow the company in a planned and systematic manner by seeking and developing projects offering strong potential and opportunity.
I believe it is very important to contribute to the community and to society in general. My grandfather, Ted Mann, had a philanthropic spirit, creating the Ted Mann Foundation which contributed to a variety of charities. He was a founder of the Boy’s Club of Minneapolis and the Landmark West School for children with dyslexia and learning disabilities. I try very hard to follow his example and attempt to give as much to the community as possible. I think the corporation itself plays an important role in the communities in which we have theatres by providing jobs and training opportunities for young people, many for whom it is their very first job. Our theatres contribute movie passes and promotional items to hundreds of charities every year for raffles, silent auctions and other fund-raising activities. I especially enjoy supporting children’s charities such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and programs for disabled and disadvantaged children. In the Southern Nevada area, I enjoy supporting the Candlelighters for Childhood Cancer, Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada, and Variety – The Children’s Charity of Southern Nevada. I open the theatres up to many groups and provide free movies and refreshments often for children who have never been in a movie theatre before. It is such a joy to see their excitement when seeing a movie on a big screen for the very first time.
While seeing a movie might not change their lives or the world in general, I hope the experience will be memorable and life enriching to them.