It has been a labor of love since 2001 when Dean Melvin left his successful job as a car salesman to manage the Omni Cinemas 8 movie theater. He took on the task of turning the bankrupt business around, never planning on one day buying the theater. Since he worked at the theater earlier in the 1990s, he knew it had potential. No stranger to the industry Melvin started working in theaters when he was a teenager. His first theater job was at Eutaw Theater. He later managed a Raleigh drive-in when he was 18. Now, Melvin owns the entire Omni Family Entertainment Center off Sycamore Dairy Road that includes the movie theater, the family video arcade and both the indoor and outdoor mini-golf courses.
Melvin does not credit his ability to turn around a failing business with any special entrepreneurial talents or insight. He says he simply did what he could, believing in himself and his employees to make the Omni a place where Fayetteville families can come for affordable quality entertainment.
The theater he came back to manage was a mess, Melvin said. The building itself was in need of major repairs and updating, and the place was dirty. But the previous management team left the movie projectors, which were state-of-the-art machines at the time. He knew as long as he had those projectors, he could show Fayetteville audiences quality movies. It was a start; the rest would follow with hard work and dedication.
“It is a constant process of upgrading and improving,” Melvin said. “You just can’t keep doing what you’re doing to keep up.”
He has since upgraded the Omni’s projectors to digital ones. Melvin invested in the Omni’s first digital projector to show Avatar. It cost $75,000. Ongoing systematic upgrades and improvements are his method for ensuring that the Omni keeps on pace with other area entertainment venues.
“As a small business we save a lot of money by doing a lot ourselves – painting, pressure washing, we do things in stages,” he said. “We’re a discount theater but we are just as good as they are for picture and sound,” he said. Melvin is very proud that the Omni can rival any movie complex in town for sound and picture quality. He realizes it is more than an investment, it is a necessity. Providing the most enjoyable entertainment experience for his patrons is his highest priority. “You’re gonna have competition,” he said. “Competition keeps you on your feet.” However, he doesn’t allow competition to dictate his business model or intimidate him into making risky financial decisions. “The bottom line is: you gotta pay attention to what other guys are doing,” Melvin said, “But stay on course with what you’re doing. You get better or get beat.”
After his success in turning the theater around, Melvin purchased it in 2003. He then took over the entire Plaza in 2004, with tenants in some of the business space.
“I figured I was already paying so much for the theater,” he said of the initial $6.2 million purchase. For three years, he was solely responsible for the hefty $56,000 mortgage payment due each month until he could get bank financing. With a proven track record and good credit, this financing allowed Melvin to continue expanding. “It only took one guy to believe in us.” Melvin acquired Mountasia Mini-Golf Course in 2007, then the arcade in 2011. He renovated, modernized and up-fitted both, making incremental improvements as he could afford them. He bought new games and designed and constructed a new concessions area. He added a party room and began offering party packages. He also added a clean and comfortable parent waiting area. All of Melvin’s ideas and innovations are specifically intended and designed to provide area families a fun, safe and affordable entertainment experience. Adding and improving on site amenities increases business, which increases revenue, allowing even more improvements and innovations. Last year, Melvin invested $300,000 to upgrade seating in every one of his theater auditoriums. Decades-old worn cloth seats were replaced with large roomy high-quality leather rocking chairs. In addition, by removing several rows of seating, he widened the aisles substantially, allowing for more legroom and comfort. No doubt, it has been a proven model that has paid off for Melvin’s small business. “We’re doing better every year,” he said. “We’re trying to bring the masses in,” he added. And that means providing a clean and comfortable environment for customers to enjoy the movie experience at a low-affordable discounted price without sacrificing quality. “We charge less, but we still want you to have the same experience as a first-run theater.”
Melvin’s obvious success doesn’t mean he’s through. Far from it. He is a visionary and sees many other potential entrepreneurial opportunities for the Omni Plaza and the 25-year-old movie theater.
“You better be prepared to do a lot of stuff yourself when you’re in business for yourself,” he said. “It’s still a challenge to make a profit and pay your bills.” He mentions the $7,000 monthly electric bill he pays during summer months when the theater is busiest as one of the expenses he learned to plan for as he grew his business. He had to learn about such bills and a variety of taxes throughout the years.
“When you’re in business you have to be very aware of potential problems and how to figure things out,” he said. “With little or no education, I’ve done well with the business part. I’ve made mistakes, but I think we’ve done well.”
Dean Melvin is a true entrepreneur. He has no business degree or formal education. He did not even finish high school. He attended the school of hard knocks when he went off to manage his first theatre in Raleigh. “That was my college, taking over that drive-in,” Melvin said. “I learned about business.”
He applied much of that learning when he returned to the Omni.
“It’s been a long journey since coming back in 2001,” Melvin said of his now-successful and profitable business. His management team consists of mostly younger adults while his operation and maintenance teams are mostly older and more experienced personnel. It has proven to be a good balance, providing the younger employees with mentorship and plenty of opportunities to prove themselves capable and responsible. Melvin admits he has no grand strategy for hiring. However, he expects excellence and loyalty and he gets it.
Jessica Diaz, 25, is the Omni Plaza Manager. She has worked for Melvin at the Omni for more than ten years and is responsible for managing employees throughout the Plaza. She is empowered to solve problems identified by customers and make operational decisions. Dean Melvin appreciates hard work and honesty. He knows that people will work harder when their efforts are noticed and rewarded.
“We’re not perfect, we do make mistakes, but it’s all about serving our customers. I know how to handle different situations with customers or employees,” said Diaz. She credits Melvin’s management style for teaching her how to multi-task and preparing her to take on a management position. Another Omni Plaza manager, Jonathon Barcinas, 22, started out as an usher cleaning the theaters five years ago. He moved up to game technician at the arcade after Melvin found out he enjoyed working on cars in his spare time. Taking initiative and doing quality work got him promoted to managing the arcade. “I was offered manager pretty early,” Barcinas said. It is an experience he credits with providing him the life skills that are helping him in his college studies. “Dean delegates and rewards initiative. Working next to Dean, I’ve learned how to keep up with things … how to find a solution and fix a problem. I used to be in a little egg shell before I started working here. Now, I have people skills and customer service skills. I have learned to talk to people,” Barcinas added.
Investing in people is as important to Melvin as investing in his business. Providing outstanding quality customer service is the key to making the Omni Family Amusement Center a place where people want to go with their families. Undoubtedly, Melvin is a hands-on manager and he expects only the best from his employees.