A couple of years ago, Damon Rubio found himself at a career crossroads.
The executive vice president at UltraStar Cinemas had been with the company for more than 15 years, and in the movie-theater business since 1991. However, the owners of the company were getting older and had started selling off locations—so Rubio knew his time with UltraStar would be coming to a close.
“I had to decide: Did I want to work for someone else, or take the plunge and do something for myself?” he said.
He didn’t want to move his family out of Southern California, and he’d maxed out his career opportunities in the area, more or less—so he decided to take that plunge.
UltraStar had been managing the Mary Pickford Theatre and the nearby Desert Cinemas, the former IMAX theater, in Cathedral City. However, the lease came to an end last year, so Rubio went straight to the landlord and cut a deal.
D’Place Entertainment was born.
Having been in a similar situation myself, I have an affinity for people who take that plunge and venture out on their own. While I have been petrified with fear at times as a small-business owner, Rubio said he’s had a calmer experience.
“I learned it’s maybe not as scary as I expected it to be,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s easy. But a lot of people dream of owning their own business, and the first step, diving in, is the hardest part.”
Of course, every small business faces challenges. Rubio is looking to expand D’Place beyond Cathedral City, and he said his company’s relative newness has led to some difficulties.
“We’re a young company, and I’m having to make a name for myself,” Rubio said. “My experience is obviously a huge part of what I go in and sell, but when I talk about all my experience with the previous company, (potential partners) sometimes will say, ‘That’s great! By the way, can you give us the phone number for that company?’”
The movie-theater business itself is facing some trying times, given the increasing number of ways that people can enjoy movies. However, Rubio said he’s confident movie theaters will be around for many years to come.
“People have been pronouncing theaters dead for years,” he said. “But none of those predictions came true. People have kitchens at home, yet restaurants continue to survive.”
Rubio said the key to theaters’ survival is making going to the movies a true experience, with better seating, higher-quality refreshments and enhancements to the movie-watching experience itself. He points to recent improvements at the Mary Pickford as examples: Recliners can be found throughout the cineplex, and D-Box motion-effects seating is offered with some films. One theater also offers the Barco Escape format, with the movie shown on a panoramic three screens.
However, all of these enhancements also have an up-charge—leading to another worry.
“My biggest concern is that theaters offering all of these high-end experiences will result in high-end prices,” Rubio said. “We don’t want that. We want to keep family-friendly prices.”
What’s the next big thing for the movies?
“It’ll be interesting to see how virtual reality plays a role, be it in the way movies are promoted, or in the actual exhibition of movies,” Rubio said. “The great thing about theaters is we’re able to provide a mass experience, and that gives us an opportunity to be a place where new technology can come.”
After a little more than a year of ownership, Rubio said things are going well for D’Place Entertainment. Owning his own company is just a continuation of Rubio’s love affair of movies, which began when he stood in line to see the original Star Wars as a kid at the Polar Theatre in Anchorage, Alaska. He said he still gets tingles when he thinks of the first moments of Star Wars, with the crawl and the star destroyer flying into the screen.
“There’s always been something in me that wanted to recapture that moment,” Rubio said. “I realize that I am not just selling movies; I am selling that experience I had as a child.”
For more information, visit dplaceentertainment.com.