On Wednesday the 6th of July, Pokémon Go was released in Australia. Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game for mobile devices. The game takes advantage of the mobile device’s GPS function, leading players out into the ‘real world’ to work as individuals or as teams to battle and train virtual creatures called ‘Pokémon’, who appear on the screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player.

On the Sunday evening after the Australian launch of the game, ‘The Empire Coffee’ coffee shop owner Glen Fredericks posted an event on the Facebook page for their Star Wars inspired cafe located in the Australian city of Newcastle.  

The event ended up drawing a crowd of over 1,500 people to the cafe – and continues to bring back repeat business.  Hotelintel.co spoke with Glen about how he tapped into not only the trend of ‘Pokémon’, but the trend of ‘fans’ and ‘cosplay’ in general.  Whether it’s Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter or Pokémon, fans are a demographic that can be found all over the globe and they are willing to sink real money into their costume clad fantasies. With Pokémon still to launch in many markets, maybe it’s a good time to think about how you and your business might ride the ‘Poké-wave’.

Glen’s Story

Glen shared with us:

“The Empire Coffee Co is a Star Wars inspired cafe, that started June 1st 2015. It quickly outgrew its first location and moved to a larger premises with a wider pavement, in Newcastle’s CBD (Newcastle is situated 2 hours north of Sydney and is Australia’s seventh largest city).

I use the word ‘inspired’  because on display inside the shop is toys, memorabilia, collectibles, flags on the walls, embroidered patches, trading cards, comics… for a ‘themed’ cafe or restaurant I believe you need to look as if you’re IN that world (or galaxy or universe). But we do have events involving the 501st Legion (a worldwide Star Wars costuming group, which I am a part) as well as surprise visits from my fellow members when they feel like coming in with their gear and kitting up and standing outside on the pavement and have photos taken with people passing by. We have a movie cinema a stone’s throw away, so it feels like a slice of Hollywood when we have a few costumed characters outside.

Since moving to this larger location, with indoor seating, we’ve hosted Star Wars trivia nights. Then the opportunity came up to display a life sized Dalek from Dr Who, a local fan named Ian Dixon owned one and we had it in the shop for 3 weeks. This attracted the attention of Dr Who fans, aka Whovians. So we hosted a Dr Who Trivia Night to a full house.

One of my stormtrooper buddies mentioned that his eldest daughter (13) was getting right into the Harry Potter novels, so if we had a Harry Potter night, he would bring her. That conversation took place on the Friday. On the Tuesday we created a Facebook Event for an evening of trivia, starting with a dinner. Within 45 minutes we booked out 32 seats for dinner (4 groups of tables of 8 people) on a Friday night about 3 weeks away. Straight after that we posted another facebook event, and that filled in under an hour for the Saturday. We still had more interest and didn’t advertise the Sunday, we just used the overflow to fill the third consecutive night.

At this point we realised that we aren’t just a Star Wars inspired cafe appealing to Star Wars fans, but fandom in general be it sci-fi, fantasy or superhero.

As a result we have encouraged fans of other genres, who like to cosplay (dress up in costume) to come to the cafe on weekends. As a result we’ve had Ghostbusters, Captain America, Trekkies and all manner of interesting costumed characters turn up. This excites the general public. Having photos taken with people who look like they’ve walked off the set of a movie is exciting for both kids and adults. Keep in mind that I’m not just talking about customers. But people who are passing by with other places to go. These photos are posted on social media. On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… and their friends, family and followers are asking them where these photos are being taken. We’ve often had people come in saying that their friends have been to the shop, or have passed by the shop.

The words to best describe the type of business we are in, other than being a cafe, is “pop culture” or “geek”. Pokemon falls within that genre.

It wasn’t a stretch to find a way that Pokémon Go could work within our marketing plans. It fit like a glove.

We had already done a promotion involving the release of the new Star Wars Lego game with Sticky Trigger, a games review web magazine. Nick, it’s editor, has made the cafe his second home. He grew up on Pokemon as a child and the release of Pokemon Go excited him. So when he asked if the cafe could be a starting point, a place for “Pokemon trainers” to meet up before going on walks together in groups, we didn’t hesitate to say yes to such proposal.

The Facebook Event for it went up 8pm Sunday night, by the morning we had hundreds join the event. We were off to a flying start, with the event scheduled for the Friday. because of the big response local media got interested and there was a mention in the newspaper, and a radio interview.

A local cosplayer in a larger than life sized Pikachu costume asked if she could come early on the night in case people wanted photos taken with her. It was like she was reading my mind. I was going to find out if there was anyone with such a costume, and here I was being contacted by someone excited to be part of the event.

An hour and a half before the event was due to start we already had people turning up. People flocked to the site. And the cross section of the community was unbelievable. Twenty-somethings seemed to be the largest demographic but kids through to parents and grandparents came too. Over 1,200 people. They were lined up around the block.

The line up for coffee and food went out the door. But the numbers far outweighed our ability to serve them all. Because we figured that a large crowd was coming (the fb event showed 1.5k joined and another 3k interested) we let the pie shop around the corner know, and they stayed open late, instead of closing at their normal 4pm time.

We had volunteer guides take large groups of people on plotted walks around the city, hitting poké-stops and collecting Pokémon. There were at least 8 groups, with around 150 people per group. They set off in 15 minute intervals.

Revenue was of course up. And our exposure, to the type of audience that we feel relates to us, exploded. A lot of people had a great night and a positive experience.

We got a lot of feedback and plenty of people asking when we were going to be organising the next one.

Pokemon is a game that can be played alone, even if this new version has you out in the real world. But people are connecting with each other, with a common interest. Even for a person who doesn’t play the game (which includes me by the way) there was a vibe, a beautiful positive vibe, that ran through the crowd as they congregated out the front of the cafe, filling the wide pavement, almost spilling onto the one way street.

We followed it up with a second organised walk event two weeks later, and we got around 3/4 the size of the crowd that we had last time. But let me tell you, if it was only a quarter of the size it would still be a result to brag about for an evening in the middle of winter. The night pretty much played out like it did last time, and it was a combination of new faces as well as people returning for a second time.

We are making plans for a third. And after that we’ll wait to see what new developments they introduce to the game, such as trading, which will give it a new spin, and a different reason for people to congregate and interact with each other even more.

It would be easy for a business to want to jump on the bandwagon and try and cash in on the game – but people aren’t stupid. They can see through that sort of thing. The best approach a business can take is to have a fan figure out how best it would suit the target audience. Not trying to shoehorn it into what the boss/marketing manager thinks it should be. While I don’t personally play the game, I understand its appeal, and I respect the people who play it. It won’t be around forever and at some point the numbers will fall off, but in the meantime it’s giving a lot of joy to those that play it.

Right next door to us is a pub, and they have a specific kind of customer they service. They have poker nights. We have a different type of customer, and we have pokemon nights.”