As we walked in we were handed a small bell, bubbles and a blow-up sword. Were we at a children’s birthday party? A Halloween party? Hardly. We were about to encounter a business’s dedicated cadre of loyal, involved – maybe even manic – customers. That’s right. Are your customers – assuming you don’t run a Chuck E. Cheese’s – so dedicated they would basically feel free to act like kids on a sugar high?
Customers at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema are. Alamo Drafthouse is an Austin-based movie theater chain that is, truthfully, so much more. I had been talked into joining in at what Alamo Drafthouse calls a “quote-along,” where the Drafthouse invites movie fans to speak along with their favorite characters onscreen. This phenomenon seems to have its roots in the midnight showings of the campy Rocky Horror Picture Show from my college daze. Then, we used to throw toast and rice at the screen at the long-gone 7th Street Theatre. In this case the movie was Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, a quirky movie from 1987 that zigs and zags through different genres like a driverless truck on a four-lane highway. It is described as a “romantic comedy fantasy adventure film” by Wikipedia and that seems about as close as one can get.
With the small bell in hand, we were instructed to ring it whenever characters started talking about “true love.” That happens a lot. The bubbles were for the wedding scene and the sword was to be used to fight your neighbor whenever there was a sword fight. That happens a lot, too. Most swordfights involve a young Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, who is out to find the six-fingered man who killed his father. His “quote-along” line? “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” This is followed by furious sword-fighting both onscreen and in the audience. The “quote-alongs” at the Alamo Drafthouse are primarily customer driven. “As you wish,” a line spoken often by the main character, could also apply to how the Alamo Drafthouse decides these unique offerings.
Using the Web and social media, Alamo Drafthouse responds to customer requests for movies that would make suitable “quote-along” candidates. They then get the film and add the quotes onscreen much like closed-captioning. They also provide some added value to the experience by running old trailers for the film and, in this case, showing bits of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which also featured Princess Bride star Cary Elwes. Attending a film at Alamo Drafthouse is more like going to movies in the 1940s than now. There’s a lot of variety.
How successful is this attention to detail? The show I attended was sold out. Like many movie theaters, Alamo Drafthouse offers food and drinks, so the enjoyable time was not cheap. “As you wish,” indeed, but when I left no one was talking about the price. They were talking about what the next movie “quote along” was going to be. Alamo Drafthouse officials emphasize that this is a “quote along” not a “quote before” or a “quote after.” The chain makes a big deal of anyone who talks or doesn’t silence their phones during a film. They’re not even afraid to take on the High Sheriff on that score. Attorney General Greg Abbott is currently running an ad in several theaters that shows the GOP gubernatorial nominee sitting in a crowded movie theater talking to the camera about the race and asking viewers to text their support. Alamo Drafthouse has its own response to that ad.
“The only thing worse than talking in a theater is a politician talking in a theater telling you to text,” said Alamo Drafthouse Founder and CEO Tim League in a news release. “This isn’t about where you sit on the political debate it’s about when you sit in a movie theater. At the Alamo Drafthouse, we believe in two things: freedom and quiet cinemas.” So what can a businessperson learn from Alamo Drafthouse? A lot, I think. First of all, they listen to their customers and give them not only what they want, but let the customers help decide and design the product they are offering. Second, they stand for something. It’s pretty easy to sit at home watching a 52-inch television screen with surround sound. But going to the Alamo Drafthouse is an experience you won’t forget, and company officials believe strongly in your right to have the best experience possible. Alamo Drafthouse currently has locations in Dallas and Richardson, but has nothing in our area. If you’re interested in having them here, you might drop them a line. They’re pretty good at responding to customers. “As you wish,” you might say.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press