In Chris Morris’ first 60 days as CEO of the combined Dave & Buster’s and Main Event entity, he’s turned his attention toward three near-term priorities.
The first has been performing a deep dive into store operations, which brought forth good news in the second quarter ending July 31. Dave & Buster’s same-store sales grew 9.6 percent versus 2019, and walk-in sales lifted 13 percent. Main Event’s comps grew 29.7 percent, and walk-in sales jumped 34.9 percent. The overall company recorded $468.4 million in revenue, good for a 35.9 percent increase versus three years ago. The mark is a second-quarter record, thanks to $51.4 million from Main Event. Adjusted EBITDA was a record, as well, at $119.6 million, or 39 percent better than 2019.
Matters have improved even further in Q3. Combined same-store sales have increased 22.1 percent quarter-to-date against 2019 comparisons, including a 17.6 percent rise at Dave & Buster’s and a 42.3 percent uptick at Main Event. Dave & Buster’s walk-in sales have grown 20 percent in the initial part of Q3. Main Event has experienced a 48.9 percent increase in walk-in figures.
Dave & Buster’s finalized its $835 million purchase of Main Event in June.
“We’re incredibly enthusiastic about the momentum that we’re seeing in both businesses, and really the strength of that momentum over a long period of time,” Morris said during the company’s Q2 earnings call. “So we’re very optimistic about the direction of those brands. The acceleration of the comp store sales going from Q2 to Q3, there is really not one single thing that we can point to, but what I’ll tell you is we’re seeing that lift, that acceleration, across the entire portfolio. So it’s not centered at one particular region of the country. There is not one particular market initiative, there is no mismatch that’s really driving that—it’s just simply an acceleration across both brands that we’re feeling at this point in time.”
The CEO has also been interested in learning more about each chains’ guest profiles. Both brands cast a wide net, but sell experiences in different manners. Main Event’s personality is viewed as family-friendly, while Dave & Buster’s caters more toward young adult males. However, Morris noted that Dave & Buster’s still gets plenty of family occasions, and the same is true for Main Event when it comes to the younger demographic. Both concepts—housed in Texas—have been in similar markets and thrived in the past several years, the CEO said.
Morris, who previously was CEO of Main Event, hinted the new company will share more about bigger strategic opportunities at its Investor Day in the first quarter, but he did call out Dave & Buster’s strength with customer loyalty. After launching in November 2021, the D&B Rewards Program now has 4 million members and mixes 5 percent. Year-to-date, loyalty brings higher frequency; members visit two times per Power Card, and non-members visit 1.3 times per Power Card. Additionally, loyalty customers spend 33 percent more.
Morris envisions a time in which Main Event and Dave & Buster’s could use a loyalty program to target guests across both brands.
“Building an effective engagement platform and entertainment-driven businesses has its own set of challenges just because we’re a low frequency occasion,” Morris said. “Our average frequency is less than two times a year. But to the extent that we’re able to stay engaged with our guests and maintain a dialog and gather insights into their particular behaviors, their pattern of behaviors, just gives us an enormous opportunity to segment our messages and retarget them in different ways and ideally get them to stay more engaged with the brand to increase frequency over time and grow check and the process.”
“On the Main Event side, Main Event is lagging D&B on this particular platform,” he added. “And so I think this is an area where strategically we will be able to get Main Event where we want to be faster as a result of this merger integration.”
Morris’ third and final priority has been driving integration between the two concepts, and the company is already ahead of schedule. The group has seen more than $11.5 million in annualized synergies to-date, and increased its total goal to $25 million, up from $20 million. To gain a greater understanding of Dave & Buster’s, Morris and COO Tony Wehner completed a listening tour in which both executives visited 30-plus stores, met with more than 300 workers, and spoke with every general manager and sales manager in the system.
On this listening tour, the leaders heard about challenges, but also opportunities. One of the biggest being the special events business. For Dave & Buster’s, the sales channel decreased 23.1 percent versus 2019 in the second quarter. Although the segment hasn’t fully recovered to pre-COVID levels, there have been meaningful improvements in booking trends. Through the first five weeks of the third quarter, special event sales have improved to a decline of 11.9 percent compared to 2019. Morris is confident Dave & Buster’s—in addition to Main Event—will see the business turn positive in the back half of this year.
“Banquets is the near-term priority,” Morris said. “That’s a big sales driver in the fourth quarter. We feel like there’s a very strong chance that we’re going to be at or above pre-pandemic levels this banquets season. And so we’re spending time to capitalize on that opportunity. So we’ve got our entire sales team out completely focused on making this a banner year. Most of those booking start to occur in early October. And so, it’s really important that we get our teams dialed into that at this point in time so we can start signing up those bookings and then getting our operating teams staffed and ready to go to be able to execute those bookings in the fourth quarter.”
As of July 31, there were 148 Dave & Buster’s stores, 49 Main Event units, and three The Summit locations (an eatertainment chain owned by Main Event). Dave & Buster’s estimates 10–12 openings in the next 12–18 months and is looking to expand with new, smaller prototypes that range from 15,000–25,000 square feet. The company is also looking to spend $1-3 million to remodel 90 outlets in the next two to two-and-a-half years. This year, 11 units will undergo the refresh. Main Event has a roughly 50,000-square-foot model, and is targeting six to eight openings in the following year to year and a half.