Advice for FEC Owners and Operators During COVID-19
The realities of how COVID-19 will impact the global attractions industry continues to be top of mind. With arcades, bowling centers, virtual reality experiences, ax throwing games, laser tag arenas, and go-kart tracks, many family entertainment centers (FECs) have joined other attractions and shuttered their operations out of an abundance of caution.
“Our word that we’re using is ‘pause,’” says Beth Standlee, the CEO of TrainerTainment, a business coaching company catering to FECs. “It doesn’t mean we’re not providing a lot of support—we’re talking daily to our customers to get through these times.”
Standlee appeared as a guest during a live chat streamed on IAAPA’s Facebook page. She joined Michael Browning Jr., CEO of Urban Air and John Hallenbeck, vice president and executive director of IAAPA North America, to share how FEC owners and operators can position their business for success once COVID-19 passes.
First Standlee says, don’t allow fear to seep into your consciousness.
“Fear constricts,” she believes. “I think when people can get past the ‘Oh my gosh!’—the fear phase—they get room to be really creative.”
Standlee says now is the time for FEC owners who have facilities that are closed to get busy making changes, researching additions, and planning for future growth.
“There is so much room for creativity right now—if you can get past that fear,” she says.
One way to fight fear is with information. IAAPA has created a dedicated resource page on IAAPA.org that provides critical information from leading health authorities and advocating efforts in every region.
“We’re taking the association on the road, in particular to Capitol Hill to get members some relief and aid,” says Hallenbeck. “We’re trying to stay positive, get our piece of the pie, and with everybody’s support, we can make a difference.”
Plan Your Comeback
From staffing to marketing, Browning says now is the time for FECs to begin preparing their reentry into the market. He says FEC owners should start developing their external messaging and advertising strategy to target moms who plan her family’s discretionary dollar.
“Where there is turmoil, there is tremendous opportunity,” he says. “I think coming out of this coronavirus season, less people will be marketing, so cost per click will be lower (when advertising on the internet). Companies that are financially sound, will be able to market in a big way—and Urban Air is going to do that.”
With 130 locations and 12,500 employees, Browning says his locations are staying busy internally.
“We’re focusing on, ‘Okay! When we open back up, what are staffing strategies going to look like?’ Our parks need to be immaculate, so we’re painting every wall, making the bathrooms shine, we’re making sure to clean the floors. We’re going to be ready for the pent-up demand that is going to come from the marketplace when mom, dad, and the kids want to get out of the house they’ve been stuck in for three or four weeks, and want to do something fun—and we’re going to be able to welcome them with open arms.”
Post-COVID-19 Pricing Structure
Optimism is everything. Yet, keeping a realistic perspective is important too.
“We are certain people will not have the money to pay us,” Standlee says about some of her clients. “We’re willing to work with our customers—and I think business owners are going to have to do the same.”
She recommends FEC owners introduce a lower cost entry point.
“Families may not have the same amount of money that they had pre-COVID-19. If you’re average birthday party was $350, it may be $275 afterwards,” Standlee says.
Browning describes himself as an optimist. He’s developed a forecast using three groups of guests to predict what visitation will look like after COVID-19.
“I believe that 20% of our guests are going to have that pent-up demand; they’re going to be ready to rock—they are the ‘early adopters.’ Another 60% of people are in ‘the herd.’ And then you have another 20% of people that ‘lag behind,’” he says.
Browning says smart operators will take the 20% of their “early adopter” guests and turn them into brand ambassadors. These are the visitors who will generate positive word-of-mouth and create posts on social media—that will in turn, drive “the herd” to visit as well.
Finding the Silver Lining
One commodity Standlee says all FEC owners have far too little of is time. She says the silver lining of closing an FEC’s doors is using this time to complete items on a to-do list.
“We’re in the frenzy of busy all the time. We have (time for) some interesting opportunities I think,” Standlee says.
Meantime, Hallenbeck says no IAAPA member is alone at this unprecedented time.
“We’re open more than we ever have been, trying to do what we can to help all IAAPA members,” says Hallenbeck. “We are stronger together than we are apart.”