Kids have a ball with moving game center
In Southwest Florida, it sometimes seems as though a children's birthday party can't commence without a bounce house.
But bounce house, you might be on notice.
Two weeks ago, Naples resident Peter St. Germain opened a local Games2U franchise. Essentially a sort of traveling party parlor, the concept combines high-tech amusements as well as few tried-and-true favorites, and aims to make "the average kid feel like a rock star," St. Germain said.
"It's always an adventure," he said.
Inside St. Germain's Games2U trailer, there's a miniature, air-conditioned 4-D theatre, complete with surround sound and 3-D glasses. Outside, there's a small screen for parents to watch as their children enjoy the theatre's animated alien safari, space exploration or other videos.
The trailer also holds a gaming theatre with Wii and Xbox games.
On Thursday, June 3, St. Germain brought his Games2U truck and trailer to Fleischmann Park in Naples, where youngsters from the nearby River Park Community Center and the after-school program at Fleischmann gathered for a bit of fun.
In addition to the video offerings, St. Germain and his assistants – or "coaches" in Games2U parlance – unloaded activities such as a giant inflatable human hamster ball, laser tag course and the rather terrifying-sounding Booger Wars.
The purpose of the latter was for two teams of children to dig green Velcro beanbags out of giant plastic noses and hurl them at each other. As 9-year-olds Steven Guevara and Reef Dellanos noted, Booger Wars shared certain similarities to that old recess standard, dodgeball.
"I think the game's fun," Reef said of Booger Wars. "It's fun to throw and you have to dodge the boogers. It's actually really hard."
"I like it," Steven added. "It's cool."
A former commercial Realtor, St. Germain began to seek new business opportunities as an alternative to working in the sluggish real estate market. Games2U attracted him because it was a promising novelty.
"It's a really up-and-coming franchise," he said. "It's a really good business, even in a bad economy, because people will still do things for their kids."
Founded in 2007 by Texas brothers Brothers Stuart and David Pikoff, Games2U sold its first franchise in 2008. Since then, almost 100 franchises in 20 states have been sold, according to the company's website. The site also notes that Inc. Magazine recently selected the Games2U as one of the "top 10 hottest franchises" in the United States.
"It's new, exciting, very little competition," St. Germain said of his reasons for choosing the franchise. "We can work any event out there, any age from 5 years old to 55 years old."
As part of their party packages, St. Germain and his assistants arrive and arrange the games. They coach the kids, provide support if children are unsure and strike the setup afterward, he said. Party packages begin at $250 for one hour.
"Basically, mom and dad can kick back," he said.
But it's not all for children, St. Germain explained.
Corporate team building events are one market where St. Germain believes the Game2U concept will be successful. The U:Bot – a 7-foot, hard-sided robot-shaped shell complete with colored lights and voice synthesizer – is suitable for adults. The giant hamster ball, he noted, can easily and safely hold someone up to 6 feet.
At the Fleischmann Park event, though, it was the littlest rollers who loved it.
"It was fun," said Andrew Bolden, 6. "I got to go in it and run and walk."
"It feels like you are a hamster," noted Angelica Scalroa, 7.
Still, in an era when most children have everyday access to high-tech entertainment, the allure of video games and laser tag is nothing new. The attraction, said Games2U coach Nick Murawski, is the appeal of enjoying it together.
"All these kids get to do it with a large group of friends at the same time," he said. "It's a lot of fun."
St. Germain likened Games2U to a mobile Universal Studios. Jake Jenkins and Alec Roedig, both 10, did the same. They also compared it to King Richard's Family Fun Park in North Naples and Sea World.
"It's amazing," Jake said. "I love it."
Alec waited to reserve such liberal praise. An experienced laser tag player, he felt there were some flaws in the laser tag game's design.
"It's OK," he said. "The laser tag so far was sort of iffy."
But after a few minutes weaving between airborne boogers, Alec considered himself a convert.
"Now I've changed my mind," he said. "This is awesome. I love this. And it's hilarious, too."