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Party van delivers the fun


Picture of the side of a Games2U Party Van

Games2U, brings a van of video games to parties. A poster of a gamer, left, entices others to play. Jeff and Sandy Oehler, of Raleigh own the franchise.

Jeff and Sandy Oehler are betting that there's enough demand to build a business based on entertaining birthday partygoers using a van loaded with video games.

The North Raleigh couple last month invested about $140,000 to buy the Triangle rights for Games2U, a company started in Austin, Texas, nearly three years ago that has franchises operating in 23 states. The idea is to deliver video games, laser tag and other activities to birthday parties, corporate functions, street fairs and other gatherings.

In early February, the couple flew to Texas and drove back a souped-up van equipped with big-screen TV screens, video-game consoles, laser lights and a satellite link. Their 13-year-old son JJ played games for most of the 22-hour trip.

The Oehlers were looking for a fun business they could operate as a family. Sandy Oehler had dodged some health problems, including beating lung cancer, and she was tired of her career in retail management.

She runs the Games2U business while Jeff Oehler is keeping his day job in Fidelity Investments' corporate real estate division. All three family members help with some events at night and on weekends. Sandy Oehler is encouraging JJ to play more games so he can be the family's expert.

"Everything is risky in this economy," Jeff Oehler said. "But parents aren't skimping on birthday parties."

In January, Inc. Magazine named Games2U one of the "9 Businesses You Can Start in Your Pajamas in 2010."

During tough economic times, more people look for opportunities to be their own bosses, and franchises can be an attractive lure. But it's also a lot of work, marketing a new business, lining up events and keeping costs down to make money.

One risk is that the Oehlers have to continue to buy the latest and hottest video games to keep up. They now have 75 to choose from, including "Guitar Hero," "Halo 3" and "Call of Duty 2." The van's three inside TV screens are equipped with Xbox 360s and the two outside screens have Wiis, to give players more room to jump around.

Since mid-February, the Oehlers have averaged about one event a day, although some have been freebies for friends and to increase awareness of the brand in this market. The van costs $199 for an hour of video-game time, and $99 for each additional hour. Extra activities such as laser tag tack on $50.

The cost is more than bowling alleys, roller rinks or other traditional children's birthday party spots, but some parents prefer to have the entertainment come to them.

For Carolyn Morton, the $250 she spent in early March was worth it. She was looking for something new and different for her 10-year-old's birthday party and stumbled across Games2U online. Her family is preparing to move from Holly Springs to Richmond, Va., so she wanted to make the party memorable.

"Every single guest who was invited came," she said. "My son and his friends are still talking about it. Now all our neighbors are looking to step up their birthday parties."

In June, the Oehlers will add two activities: "Booger Wars," which involves vests and capturing a flag, and a 7-foot robot that shoots foam balls and makes fog.