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Launched in 1997 in Austin, TX – the Southwest’s answer to Portlandia – Alamo Drafthouse has grown from two properties to a national chain. By 2018, Alamo will have 50 locations – from San Francisco to Kalamazoo to Yonkers.

The brand has succeeded by emphasizing service, convenience and an offbeat approach to programming. By combining a movie with drinks and a nice meal, Alamo compresses a five-hour evening into half that time for its busy patrons.

Convenience, Ambience & Service

Its business model emphasizes:

  • Uniqueness
  • Convenience, and
  • A social-media driven approach to marketing

Alamo has become famous for its “no babies/no talking/no texting” etiquette policy, dinner service and a vast selection of beers and wines. About 80% of patrons prebook their seats (and often drink and dinner orders) online, says Tim Reed, Chief Development Officer. “The convenience factor is all encompassing to us.”

The first Alamo was the creation of a Tim and Karrie League, a couple who hated the cookie-cutter, multiplex model, as well as talking patrons and crying babies. Ironically, at that time Reed worked for a chain that controlled the bulk of Austin’s movie screens.

“We’re a unique operation. Most theater owners are commodity operations. They do not control the product, but we offer an unusual experience,” Reed says. “Brand is everything to us.”


Breaking the Mold

Though the bulk of Alamo screenings are first-run films, they’re known for special events, including screenings of mainstream classic films, cult classics, independents and documentaries.

About 10% of revenue is driven by these special screenings, as well as audience participation shows, including sing-alongs and screenings of 1990s action films, sometimes accented by pyrotechnics.

The result is a series of extremely profitable theaters. Reed cites one location, which still generates more than $12 million from just five screens with 580 total seats. “Overall, we average 50% occupancy.”

Taking a Local Brand National

Reed emphasizes that his biggest challenge is making each new Alamo location distinctive. “We struggle with the scalability. My first question when I came onboard was ‘is this scalable?’ (This is a challenge because) in the next 24 months we’ll have over 50 locations.” He continues...

“Our brand is a localized brand, whether its in San Francisco, Denver or Houston. These are movie theaters for a local market; in many cases, we’ll have up to 50 local craft beers available.”

Social media plays a huge roll in promoting the brand and each Alamo features a unique lobby – prime locations for selfies. “Every aspect of our interiors features a photo op for people. In Denver, we have a Yedi coming out of the ceiling,” while another location features space replicating the hotel hallway from The Shining, including a big wheel.

“Our overarching benefit is consistency of brand and convenience to the customer.”

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