TULSA, Okla. -- An elaborate children's play area was incorporated into the video rental department of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter that opened here last month. The 2,100-square-foot leased department includes 3,500 rental videos and a play area similar to the maze-like recreational structures found in many McDonald's restaurants and Discovery Zone FunCenters. The play area is supervised so parents can drop off their children while shopping the store, said Terry Monroe, president of Entertainment One, Effingham, Ill., which operates the department. "The rules are that the parent must stay within the Wal-Mart facility. They have to stay inside there and shop," he said. It's an ordeal for parents to shop with children, especially in a 180,000-square-foot store, he said. "It's like a city. This allows the
parents the convenience of shopping longer and hopefully purchasing more products," he said. "We see this as a coming thing and we look forward to working with supermarkets on it." The area, called Adventure Video and Playland, will probably be put into more Wal-Mart stores, he said. "The great thing about Playland and video rentals is that we are noncompetitive to the products and services that Wal-Mart presently carries. We like to think that it is an enhancement," he said. Wal-Mart executives did not return phone calls.
Neither Monroe nor Des Walsh, vice president of Supercenter Entertainment Departments, which also operates video rental departments in Wal-Mart Supercenters, would say how many Wal-Mart Supercenters have video rentals. But industry sources estimate there are now more than 30 and Wal-Mart has become increasingly committed to putting video rental in its new supercenters. Entertainment One charges $1.95 for a child age five or over to play for one hour, and $2.95 for two hours, he said. Parents play free when accompanied by a child, he said. Besides the maze-like structure, the department includes game machines like skee ball that children can play to earn tickets redeemable for small prizes. "This is a state-of-the-art unit and we packed it with as much play adventure as we could," said Monroe. The concept is similar to Discovery Zone, which is partly owned by Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., Fort Lauderdale, he said. Discovery Zone operates 12,000-to-15,000-square-foot children's indoor recreation areas. "We are doing basically the same thing, except we are cramming it into 2,100 square feet," Monroe said. The company took advantage of the supercenter's 20-foot ceilings and built the play area up and over the video display racks. "Kids can sit up there and watch the TV monitors, or watch their parents shop," he said. "The response has been tremendous," said Monroe. "We have two businesses under one roof. We feel it is very much of a positive." People can hold birthday parties in the area, he said. "We cross-promote with the McDonalds located inside the store on that (birthday parties). It just makes it more of a destination for the shoppers." The play area will make the store more appealing to the children of shoppers who have many choices of where to shop. "Children control where we eat, where we shop and the destinations we go to," Monroe said. But the appeal of the play area is not limited to children, he said. "The store is located across the street from Oral Roberts University and students there have asked us to block out time in the evening so they can have (private) parties in there," he said. Security is tightly controlled, Monroe said. "It's all computerized. We know how many children are in there at all times. We know how long they have been in there. We know how to identify the right children with the right parents," he said. "The parents have to feel comfortable that their children are being taken care of and are secure in there," he said. Entertainment One employees are cross-trained to staff the video rental department or supervise the play area, he said. "We have our counselors get in there and play with the kids." While the main store is open 24 hours, the Entertainment One department is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, said Monroe. Monroe had tested combining a play area with video rental in one of the specialty stores he owns. "We know what we are doing," he noted. The addition of the play area to a video department is an expansion of the entertainment concept, he said. "The business we are in is being an entertainment provider to mass merchandisers and grocery stores," he said. That is one of the reasons Monroe's company changed its corporate name from C&M Video to Entertainment One in June. The company is one of two that operate video rental departments in Wal-Mart Supercenters. The other is Supercenter Entertainment Departments, Dallas, which recently changed its name from Cevaxs U.S., a sister company of pay-per-rental, shared-revenue supplier Supercomm. While Supercenter Entertainment Departments uses Supercomm, Monroe's company recently went with competitor Rentrak Corp., Portland, Ore. "We had researched it for quite a period of time and I think it is going to be nothing but good," he said. Wal-Mart announced plans this month to double the number of supercenters during 1995. It has been reported that Wal-Mart may have as many as 138 supercenters in operation by the end of this year. It opened 12 the same day the Tulsa store opened. The Tulsa supercenter is a special store that allows vendors a freer hand in the design and test of displays and departments.