Montana Movie Theatre Chain Reinvents Itself with Destination Creation Course

Mar 18, 2021 | Becoming a Destination Business, Blog

Becky Dupuis, owner of nine Polson Theatres in Montana, started Jon Schallert’s online Destination Creation Course because she thought it might help with marketing and special events. She finished the class with a whole new vision for her business.

“What it was really about was looking at your own company and finding out what you really are, what you stand for, what you provide your customers, what you don’t provide your customer, why are you in business?” she said. “Instead of looking out of your company and trying to find things to try to promote your company, the class makes you look at your company and really think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. That was just a real different way of doing things compared to other classes I had taken.”

The course, facilitated by Nathan Reiff of the Great Falls Development Authority, led Dupuis to see her theaters like others see them.

“Sometimes we forget that the things we do every day that are not special or interesting or exciting to us are especially interesting, and exciting to our customers, and we can’t lose sight of that,” she says. “What’s your story? Not your neighbor’s story, not every other company’s story.”

Concessions are part of the Polson story.

“We purchased a caramel popcorn maker,” Dupuis said. “I think we’ve got our caramel popcorn recipe perfected.” She is developing another value-added approach to popcorn – rather than bars where customers pile seasoning on top of their kernels, the concession counter mixes the ingredients so the flavors reach the bottom of the bag.

Each of the nine locations in the Polson chain has its own unique history – from those that date to 1914 and 1918 to the recently renovated Polson flagship theater that was expanded from two to six screens. One will be reserved for independent films, documentaries, and other special screenings to enrich moviegoers’ choices.

The Polson location offers opportunities to test ideas and identify best practices. It has been open in a limited way since August; the pandemic has left seven of the sites closed.

“The good side of our being closed is during this class we’ve been able to concentrate on Polson, which is brand new and is a blank slate and we can make it anything we want,” Dupuin says. “Things that work we can transfer to the other theaters. Hopefully, we can get develop some unique components for each theater because they serve unique communities.

Schallert’s approach, which includes increased online and social media presence, greater media coverage, and other marketing skills, trains owners to develop a Unique Positioning Statement that sets them apart from competitors and makes them irresistible to shoppers even far from their locations.

Dupuis said the pace of the Destination Creation course – one evening class a week for six weeks – provided time to reflect and apply what she learned. “It gives you time to kind of think things through and think of questions, how might this apply to my business, over a period of time instead of learning all the good stuff in a short period of time and coming back and trying to implement it,” she said. “It’s certainly got me to thinking about a lot of things in ways that I would never have thought about.”

She believes Schallert’s approach can elevate her entire Mission Valley, Montana collection of small towns to create a regional destination for city folks looking for top-tier recreation, historic sites, amid the natural beauty of a vast range of mountains. 

“We don’t have a real center of population,” she says. “I think that makes this a little different dynamic and makes it a true destination. We need to learn to take advantage of that.”