Luing Brothers

Janet DeLorenzo

Business Model

Fun House Closes

Corrections or additions?

It’s a Wonder Museum and

Profit Center

This article by Caroline Calogero was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

November 25, 1998. All rights reserved.

What to do with the kids is a question that causes

many normally brave adults to quake with fear. Should it be a plunge

into the frenetic atmosphere of Chuckie Cheese or an enlightening

stroll through the august halls of the Franklin Institute? Instead,

try a visit to one of those new-fangled creations, half-man,

half-beast

— a children’s museum and party place that is run, not by a

non-profit

organization, but by business partners who aim to profit from their

enterprise. The Wonder Museum, located at 385 Route 130 North in East

Windsor, which just opened this month, is one of those curious

hybrids.

Located just past the busy intersection of Routes 130 and 571, at

385 Route 130, across from a bedraggled shopping center missing both

its anchor stores, a glimpse of the Wonder Museum leads one to wonder.

What is a self-proclaimed interactive children’s museum doing amid

the diners and car dealers? Is it just another indoor amusement park

or is it really a museum?

It was hard to know what to make of it until seeing the meteorite.

It was sitting naked, unencumbered by Plexiglas, bolted to a metal

stand. A magnet dangled from a chain next to it and a picture of the

crater in the southwest where the fist sized chunk was found was

mounted

above. I couldn’t resist the urge to touch it and didn’t have to.

The meteorite was mute testimony to both the capitalist ambition that

built the Wonder Museum and the educational mission behind it.

"We went out of our way to find a real meteorite. You might go

to another museum and see it in a case. Here we went through the

trouble

of finding something kids could actually touch and feel," says

Tim Luing, one of the facility’s five principals. Despite its unusual

packaging as a for-profit enterprise, maybe The Wonder Museum was

a museum.

For its current incarnation, the Wonder Museum building (formerly

a women’s clothing store and later, a catalog outlet) has had its

interior gutted and painted sky blue. The high arched ceilings with

exposed trusses give the place the feeling of an airplane hangar.

Just beyond the front desk are most of its sure-to-wow exhibits. A

retired 1965 pumper fire truck from Englishtown sits off to the right.

Behind it is an ambulance, open for climbing, which did duty in

Pennington

Borough. A castle fortress sits against the exterior wall. Next to

the castle, is a 1948 Gunther Biplane ready for take off. On the left

side, is a 1926 black Ford Model T roadster. It is parked just in

front of a log cabin complete with pot belly stove and front porch.

A half size model of Columbus’ ship, the Pinta, occupies center stage.

Behind that is a teepee whose poles just skim the 22 foot ceiling.

In back, are a music room, dance studio complete with ballet barre,

and a television station, among other offerings. In the music room

is an upright piano with the back panel removed and replaced with

Lucite to permit view of the action behind the key board. The walls

are adorned with posters reproducing the work of Renoir and Roy

Liechtenstein.

There is a bank of five computers, just equal to the number of party

rooms, running software related to the exhibits.

The Wonder Museum’s concept is not unique. Places such as Discovery

House in East Brunswick offer a similar menu of educational exhibits

mixed with a generous dollop of froth. But at 16,000 square feet,

The Wonder Museum is bigger, certainly newer, and maybe, on the edge

of a trend.

Dan Seymour, public relations and marketing coordinator

at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, believes the number of

children’s museums is on the rise throughout the country:

"Children’s

museums are really becoming an intricate part of children’s education.

Really good children’s museums are ones that teachers can use as part

of their curriculum." The museum in Philadelphia was established

in 1976 to enrich the lives of children ages one to seven, and, like

most museums, it is a non-profit institution.

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Luing Brothers

Luing admits that he and his partners are going against this

tradition.

"But I really feel we run it better than a nonprofit does. We

run it as a business. Since we’re closely or family owned, we can

make decisions and move on a dime. There’s not a lot of red tape to

go through."

Luing’s family has had experience with combining education with bottom

line results beginning when his dad bought into Berkeley College 32

years ago. Luing and his three brothers, Brian, Kevin and Randy, who

are also principals in the Wonder Museum, are all connected with

Berkeley

College, an accredited institution of higher learning run for profit.

Berkeley has five campuses, three in New Jersey and two in New York,

and 4,000 students.

Berkeley’s status as a college operated for profit is an unusual

arrangement.

"There’s not a whole lot of them," says Luing. The college’s

emphasis is business careers. It grants an associate’s in New Jersey

and both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in New York.

The four Luing siblings each hold positions at Berkeley College. Tim,

who earned an MBA from Tulane University in 1995 and a bachelor’s

degree in economics from Gettysburg College in 1990, is the vice

president

of development. He is married with an infant daughter. His oldest

brother, Kevin, is president of the New Jersey campuses. Randy, the

second oldest, is senior vice president of all five campuses. Brian,

the youngest of the four, is an assistant dean on New Jersey campuses.

The brothers will handle most of their marketing and planning

responsibilities

from their Berkeley College offices.

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Janet DeLorenzo

Janet DeLorenzo, a friend of the Luing family for 20 years, is the

fifth principal of The Wonder Museum. She has responsibility for day

to day operations and has done much of the ground work preceding its

opening, including procuring such exhibits as a fire truck and an

ambulance, and dealing with the artisans who built the customized

exhibits.

DeLorenzo has a degree in business administration from Lynchburg

College in Virginia. She declines to give the year of her graduation.

She is unmarried and admits the project has consumed her life.

"I’ve

been in this building every day since February 13 except for the

fourth

of July and the day before," she says. With experience managing

a deli and an ice cream shop and in real estate sales, DeLorenzo

brings

a retail perspective to the project.

The idea for the Wonder Museum resonated for Luing because of his

own experiences as a child. "Back when I was a kid we used to

go out to Minnesota to see relatives. There was a firehouse right

across the street from my grandmother’s house. When the fire bell

rang we all ran out to see and watch the firemen," he says, "I

can remember the day that they actually took us inside the fire house.

We sat in fire trucks and tried on the big boots that went up to my

waist. It really left an impression."

The Luings and DeLorenzo had been looking for a new business venture

for a few years. "I knew I wanted to start something. We all five

got together and brainstormed. We looked into probably two or three

dozen ideas," says Luing. Something to do with education was a

natural choice. "There’s not a lot to do for kids as far as

education

and playing . . . What can we then do for kids?" says Luing,

describing

the process that led to the Wonder Museum.

The group spent about two years researching children’s museums and

culling articles and data from the internet. They kept track of which

exhibits were common to most museums and which were most popular among

reviewers. They used the information to choose 35 exhibits for the

Wonder Museum. "We tried to take the most popular ones and the

most educational," says Luing. He admits the educational value

of some displays like the grocery store might be questioned. But Luing

stresses that good parent child interaction can transform even

selecting

plastic fruit into a learning experience when explanations about the

value of money are offered as part of the experience.

The Wonder Museum displays few of the fusty characteristics that have

dogged some nonprofit enterprises. Marketing efforts have been

sophisticated

if not downright slick. The Luings have carefully utilized their

unusual

academic resources. Print advertisements and a coloring book have

been done by graphic artists on staff at Berkeley College. The smiling

green dinosaur logo was chosen after Susan Baechtel, vice president

for marketing at Berkeley College, questioned 687 kids about half

a dozen potential mascots. The character’s smile was made toothless

to make it more friendly and its color was changed from brown to green

as a result of this child-centered market research. "The most

successful new ventures are those where the child directs the

character

development," says Baechtel.

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Business Model

Set up costs, which included building an addition to

house the five party rooms and the snack bar, approximated $1 million

dollars. "We wanted to make sure to do things right," says

Luing. The venture was completely privately financed. The Wonder

Museum

is organized as a limited liability company. Luing expects revenues

to exceed $800,000 for the first year. Currently there are 10

employees

with plans to add an additional five.

The Wonder Museum, though up and running, remains a work in progress.

Minor jobs — like installing the hydrant DeLorenzo tracked down

to sit next to the fire truck — still need to be done. Major

glitches

exist too like the need for a permanent solution to the problem which

delayed the opening for five days — a reliable water supply for

the sprinkler system.

"We left open space for future exhibits," says DeLorenzo.

During the first six months, she plans to observe usage patterns and

make adjustments. "We also have to get a feel for the layout and

how hard people are on certain things and make changes

accordingly."

Yet DeLorenzo already sees some evidence of The Wonder Museum’s

success.

"None of the kids want to leave. I like that. I like seeing the

kids get upset when they have to leave."

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Fun House Closes

Take birthday party kids to a skating rink or a bowling

alley, says Rich Ganeles, and instead of doing the sport, they will

cluster ’round the video games. Ganeles knows the party scene. At

55 he left his job as vice president of a major company in the garment

industry to wholesale arcade games. Then he and his daughter Randi

targeted an unusual niche: a party spot with unlimited games that

guaranteed privacy.

"Parents don’t like mixing their party with someone else’s

party,"

he says. At the Fun House, located at Forsgate Corporate Center, no

strange big kid could mow down your little kid. Everyone there would

be your guest. "We are the only place we know of who does

exclusively

private parties," he says. "Kids can get to the games they

want to play. Mothers love it. They say, `I know exactly where my

children are.’"

For a couple of years the concept worked. Though advertising was

minimal,

it had good word-of-mouth. But just as the Wonder Museum is opening,

the Fun House is closing. It lost its lease and will reopen in 1999.

Keep the Fun House in mind for next year, not only for children’s

parties but for adult and corporate gatherings. Ganeles and his

daughter

Randi own more than 60 games, ranging from the laser video games to

the old fashioned pinball machine to Pitch ‘Em. For a fixed price,

everybody plays as much as they want. No tokens. For kids’ parties

he provides everything but the cake for about $15 per child. For

adults,

it is $259 for two hours for 20 adults, extra for each additional

person.

Meanwhile, look in the attic for your old Pac Man. It’s one of his

most popular, says Ganeles. Pac Man catches the eye not only of adults

but also of young children. "They get a tremendous kick out of

the simplicity."

The Fun House, 1075 Cranbury South River Road,

Suite 9, Jamesburg 08831. Rich Ganeles, owner. 888-266-4386; fax,

609-443-5855. Home page: www.thefunhouse.net.

Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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