Karaoke gets an Asian-style twist

New spot of­fers high-end elec­tron­ics, pri­vate singing suites

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - JOHN MAGSAM

FAYET­TEVILLE — A new ven­ture on Block Av­enue is in­tro­duc­ing Asianstyle karaoke to North­west Arkansas.

Un­like typ­i­cal karaoke set­ups in the U.S. — with singers tak­ing turns ser­e­nad­ing a bunch of strangers — Big Box Karaoke of­fers seven pri­vate rooms of var­i­ous sizes, con­fig­ured for a state-ofthe-art singing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Rooms fea­ture big screen TVs, a top-end light­ing and sound sys­tem with wire­less mics, and seat­ing for two to 25 peo­ple. Singers can se­lect from up to 60,000 songs avail­able through a smart­phone app — with a 100,000 song se­lec­tion soon to come. The app also al­lows users to cre­ate a playlist be­fore they visit Big Box so no time is wasted search­ing through songs to se­lect.

Big Box Karaoke opened in Jan­uary, the brain­child of Mailena and Justin Urso, a pair well-known in North­west Arkansas’ en­tre­pre­neur­ial scene. The cou­ple lived for a while in Ja­pan where they fell in love with Asian karaoke, where the singing takes place in pri­vate suites.

“You don’t have to wait. You’re with the peo­ple you want to sing with,” Mailena Urso ex­plained. “In Asia, that’s just how they karaoke.”

When they re­turned to the U.S., the cou­ple ex­per­i­mented with a few nightspot busi­ness ideas but when they saw that the build­ing at 115 N. Block Ave. was avail­able, they knew it was the right lo­ca­tion for Big Box Karaoke. It had the space, could be ren­o­vated to meet their needs and was part of a grow­ing num­ber of busi­nesses on the street.

Brett Amer­ine, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Startup Junkie, a busi­ness con­sult­ing group based in Fayet­teville, said the pri­vate suite con­cept that Big Box Karaoke cap­i­tal­izes in is pop­u­lar and is a good fit for Block Av­enue.

“It adds to the mix of bou­tique re­tail and lo­cal food busi­nesses like Lit­tle Bread Com­pany, Hugo’s, and Fox­trot for ex­am­ple,” Amer­ine wrote in re­sponse to emailed ques­tions. “It’s a con­cept that’s proven in other MSA’s (metropoli­tan sta­tis­ti­cal ar­eas), and its great way to fur­ther ac­ti­vate Block street in the evenings.”

Big Box rents rooms by the hour at a stan­dard rate of $10 a per­son, with some time pe­ri­ods re­duced to $5 per per­son. It also of­fers group rates. Food and drink can be or­dered for the room and con­sumed there. There’s also a large, open lounge area where peo­ple can have meals, snacks or or­der drinks. The clien­tele in­cludes cou­ples, groups of friends and rel­a­tives, and par­tic­i­pants in birth­day and bach­e­lorette par­ties and team-build­ing events.

The lo­ca­tion boasts its own bar and kitchen. It fea­tures a menu that’s de­scribed as Asian-in­spired street food. Young peo­ple are al­lowed in Big Box un­til 9 p.m., af­ter that its strictly for peo­ple 21 years and older.

“It’s been awe­some so far,” Mailena Urso said.

In 2017 karaoke bars in the U.S. saw rev­enue of $434.8 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from re­search com­pany IBIS World. Sixty-nine per­cent of that in­come came from al­co­hol sales, with a lit­tle more than 17 per­cent from cover

fees, song charges and room rentals, and nearly 14 per­cent from food and non­al­co­holic bev­er­ages. The re­port in­di­cates that be­tween 2012 and 2017, the in­dus­try saw an av­er­age an­nual rev­enue de­cline of 1.2 per­cent, but it pre­dicts an an­nual de­cline of 0.1 per­cent from 2017-22.

The re­port notes that the suc­cess of the in­dus­try is linked to house­hold dis­pos­able in­come and that it faces a va­ri­ety of com­pe­ti­tion from other forms of en­ter­tain­ment, some of which don’t re­quire peo­ple to leave the com­fort of their homes.

High-end karaoke bars in ur­ban lo­ca­tions that of­fer pri­vate rooms have kept con­sumers in­ter­ested in the cat­e­gory, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, which says suc­cess is linked to use of new tech­nol­ogy — in­clud­ing wire­less mi­cro­phones and dig­i­tal song ac­cess. In the fu­ture, karaoke bar own­ers are

ex­pected to fo­cus more on their tar­get mar­ket — peo­ple 35 years old or younger.

Big Box Karaoke’s con­cept us­ing pri­vate suites al­lows it to serve a wide va­ri­ety of cus­tomers — from teens at birth­day par­ties, to ex­ec­u­tives in a team-build­ing ex­er­cises, to groups of friends look­ing for some spon­ta­neous fun on a Satur­day night, Mailena Urso said. She said if the con­cept is suc­cess­ful, the cou­ple will con­sider ex­pand­ing to other cities in North­west Arkansas.

“This is the per­fect way to start,” she said.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/CHAR­LIE KAIJO

Cher Evans of Ben­tonville per­forms last month at Big Box Karaoke in Fayet­teville.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/CHAR­LIE KAIJO

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