Franchisor stays on course
At a time when the cost of a movie ticket can be pretty scary, a pastime like putting with monsters has small-town appeal.
Christina Vitagliano gave up life as an auctioneer five years ago and ven-tured into a world filled with monsters.
Christina Vitagliano and her husband Pat are using monsters to lure kids into playing mini-golf.
Vitagliano and husband, Pat, opened their first 18-hole, monster-themed, glow-in-the-dark, miniature golf course in 2004. Monster Mini Golf, which started with a location in Danielson, Connecticut, has become somewhat of a small-town phenomenon.
The indoor course opened in an 800-square-foot building that had housed antiques from Vitagliano's previous life. After being open almost a year, the twosome was ready to talk franchising – even though they didn't know how. "I knew that McDonald's was a franchise, but that was the extent of it," says Vitagliano.
They quickly got up to speed on the intricacies of franchising and grew to 14 locations in five years. Eight more are scheduled to open by the end of the year, Vitagliano says. Locations range from California to Florida, and are generally located 10 miles outside of major metropolitan areas, in the suburbs.
Every course incorporates area-specific trademarks and themes. The monsters are unique to that Monster Mini Golf course and all the artwork is original. The only consistent features in each franchise are the "Enter at Your Own Risk" sign that hangs above the cast-iron gated entrance to the "cemetery," and the trademark clown statue that escorts customers out after the last hole.
Black lights and theatrical visual effects set the monster mood. Bright colors and individually crafted monster images splash the walls. Three-dimensional set designs, with props like life-like possessed trees, fog and lasers fill the course, and a DJ provides music and gives away prizes while people golf.
At a glance
Franchise Fee: $30,000
Initial Investment: $288,000 to $346,500
Royalty: 8 percent
Ad Fund: 1 percent
Halloween is busy, but not as busy as most weekends. Two private party rooms can accommodate back-to-back parties – as many as nine on a typical day, Vitagliano says. Company events are hosted in the high-end, monster-themed party rooms. Required staff never exceeds more than half a dozen, including the franchisee.
What does Pat do? "I carry the heavy things," he said. But it's his expertise in lighting and set design that made his wife's initial idea a reality. Each franchise is complete with original visual effects, sound, flashy lighting and over-the-top props.
It's an inexpensive alternative to the movies, Vitagliano claims, and with a dragging economy, the $5 cost for 18 holes looks better than $10 for a movie ticket.
Vitagliano admits she could not remember the last time she went mini-golfing before starting her company, but said it was not about the mini golf, but rather the concept, the cost and the idea to sell fun and to have fun all day. Now, they have played every course.
"And the monsters," said Pat, "The monsters are definitely the best part."