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What This Movie Theater Owner Did to Inspire Students

Laie Palm Cinema Logo

Every Wednesday, the Entrepreneurship Small Business Creation and Enactus students have the option of going on a business field trip. This last week, students jumped in a BYU-Hawaii van and road tripped to the Laie Shopping Center.

Even though this field trip was only a 0.6 mile expedition, the students learned many things about the uncommon ins and outs of running a small, family owned business.

This family owned business is the only movie theater on North Shore Oahu: Laie Palms Cinemas.

Guess who the owner is? The owner of Laie Palms Cinemas LLC is a BYU-Hawaii’s very own business professor, Don Nielsen.

Answers From the Inside Source

This group of students excitedly asked once in a lifetime questions to this local business owner. These questions ranged from wondering how the price of concessions were made, what kind of business it is, advice for opening up their own movie theater, and about the pains and joys of owning a business.

Why You Should Keep Buying Movie Theater Popcorn

A picture of popcorn.

Concession pricing is often times considered expensive. Don explained to the students that he rents the movies he plays from a larger company (Sony, Disney, etc.) and his rental payment often times is 50% or more of his ticket sales.

He shared that that percentage has even hit 75% of ticket sales, which is a big blow to a small business.

In order to stay afloat he needs to make up that money somehow! And he does that through concessions.

Although concession pricing is a little on the pricey end, Don prides his movie theater in having the best popcorn.

His secret? Real butter.

Locals and tourists alike even have driven from Honolulu just for his is famous popcorn.

So, next time concession pricing seems expensive, more often than not it is a main (and vital) source of revenue for the business.

Making Your Own Movie Theater

picture of student and the owner inside the Laie Palm Cinema

One of the students who attended the field trip actually has a dream of opening a movie theater. When asking for advice on what to do, Don Nielsen said that he recommends starting it as an LLC (Limited Liability Company).

Oh, and he recommended to always make popcorn with real butter like they do at Laie Palms. He attributes their 5-star reviewed popcorn to their real butter (emphasis on real).

The Pain and Joys of Owning a Business

The students’ favorite answer was in response to the pains and joys of owning a movie theater. Don Nielsen recounted on the grand opening night of Laie Palms Cinemas (which included his greatest pain and greatest joy). There were people lined up from his front door all the way to the other end of the shopping center by Taco Bell and L&L. Families, community members, and students lined up anxiously waiting to watch Harry Potter or Ice Age.

The ones who were most excited were the little kids.

They had their faces pressed up against the glass windows chanting, “Open up! Open up! Open up!”

But 5 minutes before the front doors opened, Don still hadn’t received his Health Department permit to sell concessions.

Once the health inspector cleared Don for his permit (the great pain), he has since been able to successfully entertain and students, community members, and tourists in his cozy family centered theater.

Movie Theater Teaches Entrepreneurial Lessons

This special group of students learned the behind the scenes work of building a movie theater and being an entrepreneur.

Here are some of their insights.

a BYUH student named Joan
“One thing that was interesting was to see the projectors and behind the cinema. I learned from Bro. Nielsen that you have to know what the need is, regardless if you’re passionate. You need to see the potential of it.”
a BYUH student name Amrah
“One lesson learned: You can work with third party to work with you.”

a BYUH student name Addison
"One of the business creation skills we learned was about the partnerships they have as a movie theater. . . . My favorite thing was hearing the stories about the little kids who were so excited for the movie theater to open up they were pounding on the door."

a BYUH student named Roche
“I was able to see behind the cinema and how it feels to be inside the projector room. An entrepreneurial skill I learned from Bro. Nielsen is even though you have a lot of competition you can skill promote your company above the others.”

a BYUH student named Joseph
“As a simple guy from Fiji, one thing I like about the cinema is his ability to outsource almost all of his main things. He is a guy that looks after his technology, his advertisements, and gets paid for it.”

From this entrepreneurial field trip, BYU-Hawaii students were inspired from the behind the scenes work from our local movie theater owner’s life: Don Nielsen. These experiences, pains, joys, and pieces of advice helped shaped how our students not only see movie theaters, but how they see their future as entrepreneurs.