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Biz Buzz: Luxury Loungers coming to Lakes 12

A view of the new theater seating in the Mann Theatres' Champlin location, which was recently retrofitted with luxury loungers. From Mann Theatres Facebook

The movie-going experience is about to get an upgrade.

Mann Theaters, owners of the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter, recently announced it is upgrading all its auditoriums—two at a time—to Mann Luxury Loungers.

The loungers, with roomier seating, allow customers to watch films in a recliner with their feet up with the touch of a button.

Renovations begin Monday, Sept. 10.

The theater will remain open during renovations.

Movie auditoriums with recliners have been a trend across the industry, giving the moviegoer more seating room, more relaxing seating and, often an ability to reserve or choose seats—before the movie—either when buying the tickets at the theater or online.

Mann Theatres President Steve Mann said starting Monday Lakes 12 will shut down its two largest auditoriums, which were part of the 2012 expansion and addition of stadium seating. The addition of the loungers, first at high-end movie theaters, has expanded in recent years.

Mann noted the move to the loungers began a few years ago and continues to expand but isn't universal. Because of the expanded spacing between seats, all the stadium risers will have to be converted to allow for the significantly increased distance—42 inches from back-to-back for the seats will now expand to 7 feet. In addition to the space, each recliner needs to be individually wired to accommodate its touch controls.

Once the two largest auditoriums are complete—estimated to take about seven to eight weeks—work will begin on three of the smaller auditoriums. Mann said they'll then keep going until they've completed the entire theater with its 12 movie screens. They expect the entire job to be completed in February or March of 2019.

"It's a long process, it really is," Mann said.

The new seating comes at a cost.

Each seat costs about $700 and adding the loungers will eliminate about 60 percent of the current seating. Mann said Lakes 12 currently seats 1,471 and they will lose about 800 seats with the renovation.

This is the sixth cinema Mann Theatres has converted to the luxury seating in its stable, but just the second one outside the metro area. The other one was in Alexandria.

To make up for the lost seats, Mann said they've added movie showing times—some starting as early as 9 a.m. in the Twin Cities and going later into the night. Mann said they aren't sure yet what the Brainerd lakes area schedule will be as far as movie times. Brainerd is unusual compared to other cities in the theater's chain because of its strong tourism base.

For regular moviegoers that means matinee times are more limited midweek once the summer season ends.In the meantime, they will stick to the existing schedule.

"We run all day on Fridays. We run all day on Tuesdays and of course the weekend so we're going to experiment with that too," Mann said. "That's what we do with every complex we go through and convert."

Mann said they'll experiment with the schedule and give options a good test of six to eight weeks to see what will work here.

As for the overall economy for movie houses, Mann said it's been a good year with a lot of good films so summer was up 15 percent compared to last year. Mann said fall looks good as does the holiday season with upcoming films.

"Our industry is like every other industry, we have to continue to improve and upgrade," Mann said.

Mann was an early convert to the idea of the luxury loungers noting he had the only theater on the westside of Minneapolis with them at one point but more and more are converting.

Mann said he believes the upgrade will do well in the Brainerd lakes area as so many people here have ties to the Twin Cities. Once people are accustomed to the recliner seating option, it can be hard to go back. Some moviegoing patrons at other theaters noted they would save the recliner seats for last when going to double-features as it was hard to go back to the regular seating.

In addition to the recliners, Lakes 12 is getting a sound upgrade with better quality and more surround speakers. Mann said when they go in with the seating upgrade they typically upgrade the sound. It will be a noticeable difference, he said.

With the luxury loungers, moviegoers will also get reserve seating in all the theaters. That means ticket buyers will be able to pick their seats when they buy tickets on the day or many days or weeks in advance of the showtime. The seats may be picked at the theater box office, at a kiosk at the theater or on a home computer or smartphone.

Mann said 99 percent of the public love reserve seating.

The beauty of it, Mann said, is moviegoers can decide today they want to go to the movie next Friday.

"You can go online and pick your seats," he said. "You know exactly where you'll be sitting. You can show up five minutes before the movie starts because you know where your seat is and it's reserved for you. So there are many, many advantages."

On a busy weekend, Mann said, people can show up for a movie and perhaps end up sitting in a seat they like or maybe the less desirable front row. Reserve seating removes all doubt. For impulse moviegoers or those who buy their ticket at the theater, a touchscreen reserve seating chart will allow them to do that at the box office. For those buying ahead of time they can choose seats from a home computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

In addition, Mann said they are working on a membership option they plan to unveil in four to six months. It's a popular option, he said, and allows the theater to better communicate with customers, send them offers and let them earn points as regular customers.

With all the upgrades, Mann said there is no plan to increase movie prices.

Mann Theatres operates 11 locations representing 94 screens. The company was founded in 1935 by Marvin and Ted Mann.

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