Expanding and branding
Expanding and branding
Foxwoods' eighth major expansion adds Hard Rock, other noted names
The Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., already considered the world's largest hotel-casino complex, is growing even bigger.
Since opening in 1992 with roughly 150 table games-it added a couple thousand slot machines a year later-Foxwoods has seen seven significant expansions in its 12-year existence. The latest expansion-its eighth-is a $300 million endeavor that includes the recently opened Hard Rock Cafe, the new 20,000 square-foot Rainmaker Casino with 750 slot machines and a 2,100 space parking garage.
The phased expansion is more than halfway completed. Its final piece will be its 36-hole Lake of the Isles golf course designed by architect Reese Jones, which is slated to open this spring.
The expansion, Foxwoods officials said, is aimed at bringing in branded, recognizable names to the resort such as the Hard Rock and giving East Coast gamblers more options.
"Foxwoods strives to provide the ultimate gaming, entertainment and hospitality experience, while always offering something new and memorable," said Bill Sherlock, the property's president and chief executive officer.
The additions should also help Foxwoods establish itself as a must-see property-an increasingly more important status to have given how competitors like Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. and The Borgata in Atlantic City have grown their own operations, and how legalized gambling could become a reality in nearby states.
"There is some thought to building additional critical mass at Foxwoods, which is going to make it more difficult for anyone to challenge us as the market and inventory of casinos grows," said Bob Sheldon, Foxwoods chief operating officer. "The better our product is and the more complete our product is, the more difficult it will be for someone else to get into the game."
Sheldon calls the Hard Rock addition the "centerpiece" of Foxwoods' latest expansion, noting that the popularity of the brand has already paid off by driving revenue to other areas of the resort as well.
"We're really seeing the customers voting with their dollars. We just recently had our most successful August and September ever as far as slot revenue is concerned," he said.
Sheldon said the Foxwoods' Hard Rock is the only one between New York City and Boston and is among the top five Hard Rocks in the world in terms of business.
"(The) Hard Rock Café provides a perfect complement to our overall guest experience at Foxwoods," Sherlock said.
But the Hard Rock isn't the only familiar name customers will see. New eateries such as New York City-based stalwarts Carnegie Deli and Nathan's Hot Dogs join other familiar names like Pizzeria Uno and Subway.
"We're adding a soul food restaurant, which will probably be the first of its kind in any gaming operation. It's a very famous operator from Harlem. The restaurant is called Amy Ruth's Homestyle Southern Cuisine," Sheldon said.
The expansion has also added new retail shops to Foxwoods, including Nike Activa, Scenses, Storytellers and Satchels, featuring top-line and high-end retail items. Foxwoods' own jewelry store has also become a licensed Rolex dealer.
Sheldon said a new bookstore and a gourmet coffee and espresso outlet called Douwe Egberts have also proven popular.
"It's a famous European coffee brand that is coming to the United States and we're one of the first retail outlets for them here," he said.
Sheldon said "significant capital dollars are being spent" remodeling existing areas of Foxwoods as well. Among them: a $500,000 revamp of its popular Al Dente gourmet Italian restaurant and the repositioning of its Fox Harbor seafood restaurant into the Elements Restaurant and Ultra Lounge, a steak, seafood and sushi restaurant with a much more high energy and contemporary feel to it. Elements is scheduled to open around the first of the year.
Another theme of the new expansion-and a strategy for the entire resort-is seeking the younger, more "hip" crowds.
"With the explosion of poker, which has been felt probably more here at Foxwoods than any casino in the country-Foxwoods has one of the largest, if not the largest poker rooms in the country with over 80 tables-our poker business has exploded. With that has come a much younger crowd," Sheldon said. "The introduction of the B.B. King nightclub and other amenities over the last couple of years has attracted a much younger clientele. We see that as an area for Foxwoods to grow its market segment."
Sheldon said that in years past, Foxwoods' key demographic has been customers between the ages of 40 and 55. The resort has also enjoyed a solid senior citizen demographic as well. The property operates a highly successful bus program to bring seniors to Foxwoods from cities like New York and Boston.
But the 25 to 35-year old demo-graphic has boomed for Foxwoods. Adding offerings like the Hard Rock and appealing to their tastes and desires is key to maintaining their loyalty, Sheldon said.
"We want to do things that make that group want to come to Foxwoods," he said. "It's a growing market segment for us and as an industry."
Sheldon admits part of Foxwoods' strategy with expansion is to get a leg up before gaming as a whole expands. In several Foxwoods feeder markets legalized gaming, or expansion of gaming, has been discussed.
"The high-volume customers we like to say are within a tank of gas away from Foxwoods. That's typically from North Jersey to lower Maine," he said. "We feel the market in our region-New York to Boston-has a lot of room for growth. We haven't even penetrated 50 percent of what it can hold yet.
"Rhode Island certainly would impact us. That state is one of the largest sources of business for us. But talk of casinos there has been sort of put on the back burner for now. We don't know when that will come up again. Massachusetts as well is a source of business for us, but I don't see anything happening on the horizon from a legalization of gaming standpoint."
While Sheldon said Pennsylvania is somewhat in Foxwoods market reach, it's not a large source of its customers and would likely not have a large impact on business even if the full 61,000 slots are approved at tracks and casinos there. Likewise, VLTs at New York racetracks have had little impact thus far, he said.
"But at such point in time as gaming in the Catskills area comes into play, we do see somewhat of an impact happening with that."
That's why Foxwoods' philosophy has been to continue to grow and meet demands of its customers. Most of the changes or additions made to the
property over the years have been the direct result of extensive surveys Foxwoods conducts with its customers.
"We use those to help us identify the key experiences our customers want. We strive to exceed what our customers' expectations are," he said.
And by growing, Foxwoods is able to differentiate itself from competition. The addition of its Lake of the Isles golf course is key to that strategy, Sheldon said.
"We'll be, I believe, the only casino on the East Coast to have world-class golf offered on-site. Atlantic City has some nice golf courses that are affiliated with the casinos, but they are off-property. For us to add these two world-class courses, it adds a new segment of business for us that
really includes gaming clientele. Golfers are traditionally gamblers at heart. It also improves our conventions and meetings business as well, which is a good part of our hotel business here and adds a lot of mid-week revenue," he said.
Shopping for rewards
Expanded rewards store gives customers more options
As part of its $300 million expansion, Foxwoods has enlarged its on-site Wampum Rewards store, creating a one-stop shopping venue where customers can pick their rewards right off the shelf.
"Since the early days of Foxwoods, we've had a Wampum Rewards Store, geared specifically toward customers that want to redeem their points. But it was a small store and couldn't carry a lot of inventory," said Foxwoods Chief Operating Officer Bob Sheldon.
In its new form, Sheldon said the Wampum Rewards Store now resembles big ticket retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City or department stores like Target. The store has several "mini-departments," where rewards seekers can redeem points for items ranging from electronics to home appliances to lawn and garden.
Brand names of rewards offered in the store range include Sony, Panasonic, Whirlpool, Kitchen Aid, Craftsman and John Deere. Foxwoods has partnerships with some of the companies. In other cases, Foxwoods simply purchases rewards its customers say they want and offers them in the Wampum Rewards Mega Store.
The store changes its items seasonally as well to better match customer desires.
"We even have a snowmobile," Sheldon said. "By expanding, we are able to offer a much broader range. The great thing about it is you can go in, use your points to buy these items and take them home today. Whereas before, if a customer bought a TV, we'd have to tell them we'd ship it to their home later because we wouldn't have them in stock."