By: Erica M. Ponder
When referring to true innovators and the most creative, business-savvy people of the 20th and 21st century, Dr. Gene Landrum is among the best of the best. Dr. Landrum, the inventive force behind the concept of Chuck E. Cheese, has been breaking barriers among family entertainment and other prosperous ventures for quite some time. As a result of such success, Dr. Landrum has been invited to speak at the corporate breakfast for the Texas Black Expo, an event that gives aspiring and current business owners insight on how to start and keep a thriving business while building a strong network. Among many other topics, Dr. Landrum says he plans to discuss things such as what it takes to become great and how to become “rich and famous.”
The idea of Chuck E. Cheese stemmed from Dr. Landrum realizing that families with children needed a happy medium for dinner plans while balancing sociability. “I want a kid to walk through the front door, look and see kids running and playing, and say this is ‘my joint, my place.’ Credited for being the first person to create the “ball pit (an invention he says McDonald’s took from him),” Dr. Landrum’s manager at the time discouraged the creation that has been cherished by past and present Chuck E. Cheese’s fans.
His passion for the business industry comes from things that he learned from scratch and out of being easily bored. “What I learned about myself is that I always wanted to do something new, and I had a very, very short attention span. Really creative people, they do stuff for a while, and then they get bored,” he said. He also learned to master every area that dealt with creating his business, including designing the layout for his buildings. “A lot of people said, ‘you can’t do that.’ Well, I did… I made a few mistakes, but consequently why is it different? Because I didn’t follow any rules. I went and did things that hadn’t been done,” he further stated. Chuck E. Cheese is just one of five important ideas he’s had. Other impactful ventures that he’s been a part of is creating walk lights and creating the hand-held calculator.
Dr. Landrum was doubted often, even by his mother who asked him “when are you going to get a real job?” after he invited her to visit a Chuck E. Cheese store. “People are trained that you do things in a traditional way, and you can’t and shouldn’t be doing things in a totally different way… I had a hard time in the early days of renting places to open the stores, because people didn’t know what it was and we weren’t traditional. They thought we were nuts.” In Plano, Texas, community members refused to open a Chuck E. Cheese because people actually thought that the concept of Chuck E. Cheese would bring out people that were associated with drugs and violence due to the emphasis on games. “The people of the community got the politicians and said ‘we don’t want these idiot games.’ I walked into the meeting of the politicians and I had said ‘look, I’m here, I’m the president and I designed this.’ I had a kid get into a costume and I had some balloons.” The kid walked through the door and handed the council members a balloon. That creative move won the community and city council members over.
Advice that Dr. Landrum gives aspiring business owners is “do not ever listen to a hired hand, because they tend to be programmed and they’re just told what to do and not to do.” Something else that he said is that “the first of anything costs a lot of money.” He encouraged others to “never base decisions on original costs, because if you’re going to do multiple things, then the cost will go down.” He says, “you have to be willing to go where others don’t go.”
For more information on Dr. Landrum’s books and upcoming projects, visit www.genelandrum.net.