By LISA MONTI
Moviegoers want more for their ticket price than a blockbuster drama or comedy.
They want gourmet snack food, a superior sound system, high-tech screens and a plush seat like the one back at home in front of their giant TV screen.
In other words, they want the whole movie-viewing experience.
That’s exactly what Stephen Simons and VIP Cinema Seating in New Albany help to create all over the world.
“It’s all about the experience,” Simons said.
“The seating, concessions, sound, screen quality. Not all of that was available just a few years ago. Everything is changing. It’s a much more stepped up experience now.”
Simons formed his movie theater seating company in 2008 when seats were “pretty much a basic, no-frills seating experience,” he said.
“We felt with home theater coming on so strong, with plusher recliner premium seats, that there was an opportunity there.”
For the first couple of years, Simons said his seats couldn’t get much attention from cinema owners and developers. But around 2010, VIP Cinema Seating got some traction.
“It started to percolate and we started to get popular with the large theater owners. It’s really taken off in the last two years.”
Simons’ original concept was to introduce the comfort of home with the technology of the cinema.
“We created the premium seating category for the cinema industry,” he said.
Now that basic concept has matured. “We’ve gotten a lot more solution-oriented to customers in movie theaters,” he said.
VIP Cinema Seating offers 15 or so different styles of premium seating.
“We created an appetite for a different level comfort and a much better seating experience,” he said. “That allows the owner to step up the concession selection and appeal to a much different audience than they had previously.”
Today more and more cinemas feature restaurants and lounges, with food and drink service delivered by preordering or with the push of a button at the customer’s seat. “It’s much different from the days popcorn and Coke,” he said.
Simons said VIP Cinema Seating is strictly a made-in-the-United-States business that even cuts and sews its own fabrics. Workers currently produce more than 700 chairs a day. Most of the plush products are replacements for older seats in theaters.
Its sales team has relationships with major movie theater companies in the United States and abroad. They have sold products to exhibitors in South Korea, the United Kingdom and Australia.
“We do business with nine of the 10 largest exhibitors in the world,” he said.
VIP Cinema Seating outgrew its 50,000-square-foot facility where 40 employees worked. A new expansion to a nearby building adds 160,000 square feet for a total of 400,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
The project received support from the Mississippi Development Authority, Union County and New Albany. “It allows us to double our capacity,” Simons said of the expansion. “We will be up to 350 employees shortly.”
The New Albany location places the company in the heart of the furniture manufacturing industry in northeast Mississippi. “The benefit is, we take advantage of the skilled labor pool, but we build a much different product,” said Simons, whose background is in furniture manufacturing and retail.
Simons said there is “a huge degree of customization in each chair we make.” Features include adaptations for call systems and light activators and multiple seat depths. “We call ourselves an oversized custom shop,” he said.
BEFORE YOU GO…
… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.
If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.Click for more info