Small Business Spotlight: Danbarry Cinemas
Being a small business owner is a tough job! That’s why we feature a different small business in our Small Business Spotlight every month. Today we visit Danbarry Cinemas in Chillicothe.
The movies are back in Chillicothe! This is thanks to new owners at Danbarry Cinemas and investments they have made to give movie goers the best possible experience.
Like many Ohio businesses, the Danbarry closed abruptly at the start of the Pandemic in 2020 and remained closed while the owners sought out the right candidate to buy the business. They were seeking a local purchaser when they found Jackson residents Josh and Cora Willett.
Cora entered the movie theater industry in 2017 when they began operating Tri-City Theater in Jackson. That hometown theater with four screens and a tremendous local following provided an ideal training ground for the theater business. They credit their friend Matt Fields, who turned over operations of Tri-City to Cora, providing her guidance and support in this new venture.
Late in 2019, another close-to home theater was looking for a new owner/operator and Cora added Silver Screen VII in Gallipolis.
Then the pandemic hit.
At the time, Cora was running the theaters while Josh continued in his career as high school band director in Wellston. “Cora was suddenly navigating a pandemic while learning a new business and simply making things work,” Josh explained.
Meanwhile, Josh was struggling with the world of education during the pandemic and the personal struggles that went along with it. He chose to leave but said “I was blessed to have this opportunity to help with a family business.”
His focus quickly shifted from trying to decide what he wants to be when he grows up to understanding what it would take to bring people back into movie theaters.
The Willetts made important connections at CinemaCon, an annual gathering for movie theater owners across the globe. Here, they began learning the tools of the trade and making important connections that would eventually serve them well in growing their business. “The movie theater business is a surprisingly small community. When you buy a movie theater, your phone starts to ring with offers to buy more theaters,” he said.
The Danbarry had been closed for so long that time and a failed HVAC system were taking a toll on the building. So the first order of business was the matter of addressing the physical needs of the building, making needed repairs and thoroughly cleaning every square inch. The next order of business was improving the matters unique to the movie business.
Negative pre-pandemic feedback helped them understand what was necessary to improve the theater. “We heard complaints about the picture quality and the sound, so we paid special attention to these areas. We focused on making sure the building was in good condition and well maintained and then moved on to projection and sound.”
This meant state-of-the-art sound and projection equipment for all ten screens. In fact, they upgraded to the newest laser projection technology and all new audio processors and speakers.
They have also worked on building relationships with local businesses and others who have been helpful. Matt Fields, SERVPRO and Stockmeister Enterprises were all influential in helping open the Danbarry’s doors. Josh credits the City of Chillicothe and the Ross Chillicothe Chamber of Commerce for their support as well.
Josh also specifically mentioned the G&J Pepsi Date Night Experience. G&J Pepsi organized this program to cross promote small businesses that use G&J products. QR codes in partner businesses help drive traffic to other participating businesses. “Local supporting local means everything to us,” he said.
Josh has a clear vision of what he wants for movie goers. “When you come to the theater, you don’t just watch a movie. You have an experience that is both uniquely your own and shared with others. When you approach the theater and smell that buttery movie popcorn, you know you’re someplace special. The experience you have when other people are laughing and reacting to the same things you are -it’s something special. It’s memorable and it’s more than a movie. It’s an experience,” he explained.
“I watched a guy stand up at the end of Top Gun and clap. That just doesn’t happen at home,” he exclaimed.
Speaking of Top Gun, Josh said that this blockbuster was responsible for bringing many fans back into theaters after a long interval away. “Now we have to figure out how to keep them coming back.”
The Danbarry offers lowered ticket prices to make the experience more affordable. Free summer movies offer local families a special opportunity close to home. “I love watching these little kids see a movie on the big screen for the very first time. You can see that it changes their world,” he said.
Josh believes that the key to a happy customer begins with his employees. “I try to make sure that my employees are happy because when employees are happy, customers are happy. We have a lot of young adults who work here and I love it because they want to be here. They love the movies, they love taking care of the customers and you know because they smile,” he said. “I like it when our employees are smiling.”
While Josh aims for smiling employees and happy customers, he is well aware that problems develop and that there is plenty of work to be done as they work toward constant improvement. “Anything negative, I want to know. Part of my job is solving problems and making improvements. One question I ask all the time is how we can keep up with the times and make updates that customers will appreciate.”
In addition to staying busy with this business venture, Josh and Cora have 16-year-old twin daughters and are active in the community. Together they operate Danbarry Cinema in Chillicothe, Tri City Theater in Jackson and Silver Screen VII Gallipolis.
Visit each theater online for movie times, locations and to purchase your tickets for your next night at the movies!