Mobile gaming upstart caters to children's parties
McALLEN — When school lets out, Rey Puente drives his black van around the parking lot looking for children.
Puente has a teaching degree but he doesn’t offer candy, a ride, the toys he has inside or even say hello. He hopes that someone will notice and tell their parents about the oversized Mercedes Benz with Super Mario painted on the side.
The school parking lot outings are guerrilla marketing for the franchise the 23-year-old Puente launched in June, Games2U. Puente doesn’t have a store; he has the van, which is a veritable party on wheels that can be rented for birthdays and even corporate outings.
“I can always go back into teaching,” Puente said. “I’m going to try and gamble and make some money young.”
When parked, panels along the side open to reveal flat screen televisions and video game systems. Inside the van, there are more televisions, more games, a comfortable couch and a built-in sound system.
The van is also packed with laser tag guns and vests and now a man-sized hamster ball to roll around in.
“Kids get in, roll around. Put them on a hill. Throw them off,” he joked.
Launched in Austin in October 2006, Games2U began franchising in March 2008. The company has since added 79 franchises and likely would have added more if not for the recession, said David Pikoff, who founded the company with his brother.
About one out of three people interested in opening a franchise was able to qualify for a loan, he said.
“We would be much bigger, much quicker if we didn’t have the challenge,” he said. “The franchises are all doing well.”
The common wisdom is with rising joblessness and tightened credit, parents would be spending less on entertainment for their children. And at $200 an hour and $99 for every hour after that, it could be a pocket book dent.
Pikoff said, at least for his company that simply isn’t true.
“When you’re talking about children’s birthday parties, it’s one of the coveted things,” he said. “You’re not going to cheat your kids out of a memory for a couple of hundred dollars. That is what we’ve clung to.”
To keep things fresh, the company plans to roll out new entertainment options every six to nine months.
Puente started with company working with an Austin franchise while he attended St. Edward’s University. He moved to McAllen earlier this year to launch his own after reading how the area was something of a haven from the recession.
“I could have gotten a franchise anywhere,” said Puente, who grew up in Port Isabel. “I like the Valley and I figured I’d bring something new, something exciting down here.”
Still, he’s had to alter his plans because of the credit crunch. His parents provided some of the capital to buy the franchise. He had originally planned to buy a larger trailer and hitch it to a truck, but ultimately opted against it because the bigger trailer is better suited for larger cities.
In his first few months, he’s done better than he expected. Now that’s school starting, he expects business to increase.
“I’m going to schools pretending like I’m dropping off my own kids,” he said. “All they have to do is say, ‘Hey there’s the game van.’ And mom goes home and wonders, ‘What’s the game van?’”