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Millsaps class finishes up Fondren theater market research project

Dark since the 1980s, the Millsaps College study shows that the old Capri theater could get new life — and be successful.

Dark since the 1980s, the Millsaps College study shows that the old Capri theater could get new life — and be successful.

The developers of a proposed dine-in theater in Fondren will soon have some market research to serve as a guide moving forward.

A marketing class at Millsaps College wrapped earlier this week a survey designed to gauge overall demand and consumer interest in certain parts the theater, which is being developed by Jackson attorneys Jason Watkins and David Pharr.

The Pix/Capri Theater stopped showing films in the late 1980s, and has sat mostly vacant since, with the exception of temporary tenants.

Watkins and Pharr intend to restore it to its original use. Knowing that, Millsaps marketing professor Dr. Penny Prenshaw decided that quantifying potential interest in the theater would be a good project for one of her graduate-level marketing classes.

Students broken into groups set up websites that asked basic demand questions — like how likely a respondent would be to patronize the theater — and more in-depth diagnostic questions, such as their interest in certain food and beverage offerings and their price points.

“They also did a pretty thorough external analysis of the movie theater industry, and then the sub-sector of the dine-ins,” Prenshaw said. “There’s a significant number of models out there. The big corporate players have their own version, and then you’ve got some of the private, smaller type cinemas.”

The difference in the two is pretty basic, Crenshaw said. The corporate models generally show first-run films; the stand-alone, privately owned models show what’s called “second-run” films. For example, the award-winning “Argo,” which left theaters late last year, would be considered a second-run. Independent dine-ins also regularly show foreign films, classic films and documentaries, to go with serving as host for community-wide events like concerts and art showings. Another thing that separates independent theaters like the Pix/Capri is their customers.

Corporate theaters that show strictly first-run films generally cater to traditional movie-goers — teenagers. A lot of independents, which are likely to serve alcoholic beverages, restrict anyone under the age of 18 years.

“So it’s an interesting business model in that they’re purposely not allowing the heavy user,” Prenshaw said. “Nevertheless, you still have a group of heavy users that are older, in that 21 to 32 age range, who will probably be the primary target for this dine-in concept.”

Prenshaw said it was likely that her class’ survey was the first of its kind that was geared specifically toward the Pix/Capri.

“I would think maybe at some point people have thought about refurbishing the Capri for theater space, but certainly to our knowledge, this is the first that is looking at the dine-in concept.”

The surveys’ results were presented in class last Monday night, and will be shared with Watkins and Pharr around semester’s end, Prenshaw said. Otherwise, they will remain confidential. The project is unique as far as market research, Prenshaw said, because the data collection process was done in two weeks, which is “incredibly fast from a market research standpoint. But this is a class, so we have primarily as a goal to learn about what affects consumer behavior. We only had two weeks and it was likely that the majority of the collection would be via social media platforms. So I purposely designed the teams to facilitate the most diverse membership thinking that would allow for diversity in responses.”

The response to the survey exceeded expectations, Prenshaw said. One received over 1,000 responses.

“The Metro Jackson area is definitely engaged in this idea and I think it has a lot of potential.”

Watkins and Pharr hope the surveys’ results will give them an idea of how much demand exists for the Pix/Capri and exactly what kind of amenities their customer base will want the most.

Pharr, a Millsaps alumnus, approached the college with the idea.

“I just had in mind when Jason invited me to join this group that this would be a good idea to ask for their help,” he said. “I also had a hunch that it would be a project that would appeal to that kind of student. I can’t imagine a more fun concept to work on as a project.”

Processing the results will take a few months, Watkins said. Then he and Pharr can finalize a lot of the theater’s details. Other than short briefings, they know little about what the results will be.

Beginning renovation work on the 10,0000 square-foot building is at least a year away, Watkins said.

For now, Pharr has his law office in a small corner of the building. He moved it there last November.

“I’m anxious to evict myself,” he said. “I love being here but I’m ready to get going with the renovations.”



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