Blooloop spoke with some of the foremost FEC chains to hear about the impact of the coronavirus crisis. They talked about their strategies for continuing to engage with customers and the changes that will need to be made on reopening.
Scene75 is one of the largest FEC chains in the US. Jonah Sandler, founder and CEO of the company, told Blooloop:
“The governor of Ohio was very proactive and was among the first to shut down businesses. But Scene75 Entertainment, in spirit with one of its core values of Putting People First, closed its locations about a week before the mandate was announced. And in many cases, several weeks before others followed a similar path.
The financial impact was immediate:
“Revenue essentially went from record levels to zero overnight. We do see this as a temporary challenge. But it is a very difficult one nonetheless. There is much uncertainty remaining about an opening timeline.”
Keeping in touch with staff and customers
Downsizing staff has been essential, says Sandler.
“We have gone from a staff of hundreds to 36. However, we have kept in touch with the entire Scene75 team every week. Nearly all are eager to return to work when permitted to do so.
“We continue to communicate regularly to ensure they are in touch with what we are doing during this time. And to show our desire to bring them back as soon as able. The 36 who remain with us at this very moment are working tirelessly. We all want to ensure we come out of this bigger, better and stronger.”
The team is working on new initiatives and further standardisation as well as improvements to its operating procedures. Scene 75 is also staying in touch with customers:
“We are hosting daily activities for our guests via social media through a branded QuaranSCENE effort. Thousands are participating each day to win Scene75 game cards for when we do reopen.”
Part of a wider community
A letter Sandler shared with the FEC industry regarding coronavirus has had significant traction on LinkedIn. In it, he reaches out to business owners, operators and guests. He offers hope, friendship, and a belief that the sector will emerge stronger than ever.
“I should also add that we remain active in our communities during this time,” he says. “While hosted virtually, we are still participating in annual programming with local universities. For example, the Wright Venture Challenge at Wright State University in Dayton. This is a contest for their business students ala Shark Tank. We serve on the panel of judges and have done so for several years.”
Limits on social interaction
Commenting on the impact of the closures, Philip Kaplan, Chairman & CEO of GameWorks says:
“There’s little good about being closed from a business perspective. So, we are just making the best of it. We are positioning ourselves to emerge as strong as we can when we are allowed to re-open in each market.
“Our core business involves in-person, social interaction around esports and other video gameplay. The shutdown of our venues has prevented us from meeting our guests in person. It stops us from serving them great entertainment and dining experiences. It also forced us to have the vast majority of our team on furlough, for now. This enables us to preserve our team and assets for the eventual return.”
Nevertheless, the company is engaging successfully with its consumer base:
“We have been running completely filled online esports tournaments. We have also launched a new GameWorks Racing Series since the closure. The nature of us as an esports leader allows us to have that kind of continuous player and guest engagement. It doesn’t substitute for opening the venues, but it’s a nice bridge and complement to the venues.
“We’ve also been keeping up a consistent level of communication via many channels. This ensures that our guests know the latest status of the business and online events, as well as where to buy gift cards and/or game cards.”
“Esports touches our seven-figure guest visitation. We can’t wait to see everybody again. We expect that there will be a big pent-up demand for going out for local entertainment when the crisis is getting behind us.”
In terms of the measures that FECs will have to put in place due to coronavirus once they reopen, he says:
“We expect that, from a government perspective, there will be continued guidance. Particularly around factors like capacity and social distancing. New social norms may be a greater issue for us to navigate. So we will make every effort to communicate to guests that our venues are clean, spacious, and safe.”
Coronavirus presents economic challenges for FECs
Xavier López Ancona is the CEO of the innovative KidZania chain of mini-cities. Here, children can experience an interactive microcosm of adult life. In the face of the closures necessitated by the crisis, he says:
“Our objectives are being re-evaluated. We are aware of the economic challenges this situation represents. So, we are taking measures to reduce costs and revise overall expenditures. Safety and security in KidZania is the top priority. Our administrative staff around the world are currently working remotely from home.
“We’ve also used this time to do deep cleaning and maintenance services in all our facilities. This means we can be ready for reopening.”
Staying in touch
Staying in touch with customers is a priority says Ancona:
“We’re keeping our customers close by delivering daily content through our databases and social media. This is through a campaign named #KidZaniaAtHome. Our consumers aren’t able to visit KidZania locations right now. But we have been staying close to them through our website, social media and loyalty program (B-KidZanian) platforms.”
View this post on Instagram
Consumers are updated on the company’s operations. Daily activities are posted to keep children – and parents – engaged.
“There are also tips for parents on how to handle and explain this situation to children,” he adds. “For example, bedtime stories, and images using our characters on how to take care during this pandemic.”
Extra COVID-19 safety measures for FECs
“We are preparing and planning for the months ahead. We will continue monitoring the scenario. This will allow us to make sure we make the best decisions for our visitors and teams. We will reinforce sanitizing in key spots throughout our KidZania facilities. And we are prepared to put in place body temperature screening for both our visitors and staff.”
He is also planning to take key protective measures. For example, masks for staff, disinfectant wipes, frequent surface sanitising and handwashing, as well as hygiene graphic boards and support from the company’s medical staff.
“KidZania operates in so many markets in different stages. So we expect to have partial openings. KidZania facilities will align with local health authorities’ recommendations and standards on disease prevention and control. This means we can reopen safely. In the end, the safety and security of our teams, our visitors and our suppliers are our utmost priority.”
FECs, coronavirus and online outreach
The FEC sector is responding in a variety of ways to the coronavirus shutdown. Strategies ranging from live-streams and educational resources to storytelling. Attractions are working to keep visitors engaged, and to plan for an altered future.
Experiential micro-amusement park Two Bit Circus decided to close in mid-March. It also posted suggestions on how to recreate the Two Bit Circus experience at home. Tongue-in-cheek ideas ranged from a phone duct-taped to the brim of your hat to drinking Quarantinis and playing games.
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Their accompanying statement read:
“We’re still a community. Playing from home is how we can take care of each other right now. Our team will keep working on fun ways to entertain you during this time at home and for when we come out the other side.”
The groundbreaking company is now live-streaming hands-on activities. It is also hosting a daily creative play on Twitch, the world’s leading live streaming platform for gamers.
Two Bit Circus isn’t the only operator to take this approach. For example, Main Event Entertainment is hosting daily Instagram Live sessions to celebrate people’s birthdays. It is also delivering food from its Plano, Texas location. The FEC operator has 43 locations spread over 18 US states.
— Main Event (@MyMainEvent) March 23, 2020
Supporting the wider FEC community
As well as engaging with customers, some companies are also trying to connect the FEC industry as a whole during the coronavirus crisis.
Fun Spot is a leader in the design and manufacturing of trampoline and adventure parks. It is currently hosting a weekly Townhall Tuesday to check in with its operators, partners and suppliers. This is an open discussion that gives industry partners a supportive platform to air ideas and concerns as well as advice.
For instance, a representative from the International Association of Trampoline Parks (IATP) spoke at one of the Townhall meetings. She highlighted resources for members on the IATP website. These cover financial and insurance advice, tips regarding staff, and measures to protect customers on the reopening of facilities.
Several other companies, including Creative Works, Hologate, Embed and Redemption Plus have come together to create Amusement Recovery. This is a new website with quick links, useful articles and more, all designed to help operators manage through the crisis and plan for recovery.
Inevitably, some of the behaviours that have been adopted to guard against infection will be here to stay in the FEC sector.
As coronavirus is pushed back and isolation is relaxed, however, it seems likely people will return en masse to attractions such as FECs. Because they are places that remind them that life is for living and that there are memories to be made.