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Pardon Our Dust - November 2016

FECs offer tips on how to stay open during a complete renovation

by Mike Bederka

Laura Zorn says she can finally catch up on her sleep. After many long days and restless nights, the co-owner of Rebounderz has finished the complete front-to-back renovation of her family entertainment center (FEC) in Jacksonville, Florida.

Among other things, the project that wrapped in April entailed a remodel of the lobby, relocation of the restaurant seating area and trampolines, upgrade of the party rooms, and the addition of a laser-tag arena, ninja course, and rock walls.

“It was a long five months,” she says with a laugh.

While Zorn could have likely shortened that timeframe by closing during the renovation, she opted to stay open to guests for that whole period. A complete shutdown wasn’t feasible financially, she acknowledges.

Operating a business during a major renovation can be challenging (and insomnia-inducing), yet as Zorn will attest, it can be done—with minimal operational disruption no less.

Plan, and Then Plan Some More

Zorn theorized new lobby layouts a year before the “official planning,” which was a year itself, had even begun. All facets of the project should be considered during these vital prep stages, from the large (location of the front desk) to the small (ideal spots for the outlets), she says. Making any significant changes in the midst of construction can be difficult, costly, and likely delay completion.

A Favorable Schedule

Zorn benefited from having operating hours that jibed with her contractors’ schedules. Rebounderz doesn’t open until 3 p.m. during the week, so the workers—who focused on one area at a time—generally did the bulk of the job from 7 a.m. until then. On the weekends, they only worked in spots guests didn’t have access to.

She recommends always being on site with the contractors and doing daily walkthroughs to discuss the expectations for the day. One time, Zorn wasn’t there, and because of a miscommunication, a wall ended up in the wrong spot.

Despite this glitch, Zorn says she’s glad she ran point the whole time and did not turn things over to a project manager.

“We were in control,” says Zorn, who owns the facility along with her husband, David. “We know the building better than anyone and how everything should function in the possible best way.”

The Quick Cleanup

In that narrow window between the contractors heading out and guests filing in, a Rebounderz maintenance worker would whip into action, taking a floor-cleaning machine around the affected areas. When particular sections were being demolished, he would hang a tarp from the rafters to the floor to keep the dust contained.

“We never had junk piling up or debris laying around,” Zorn says. “People were amazed that we were under construction.”

Constant Communication (Part 1)

That’s not to say guests weren’t aware of the major work unfolding before them. Rebounderz sent an e-mail to all its customers explaining the scope of the project and asking them to bear with the facility as it transitioned through the construction phase.

Zorn also spent a significant amount of money on artistic renderings on what the new-and-improved FEC would look like. They hung on easels in the lobby, along with friendly banners that read, “Please excuse the mess. We’re getting 10 times better.”

“It provoked a lot interest and questions from customers,” she says. “They wanted to know what’s going on and asked for information on what’s coming. We definitely received more positive feedback with the construction than negative.”

Party People

Rebounderz especially kept the lines of communication open with customers looking to book birthday parties or group events during the construction period. As soon as they expressed interest, staff gave an approximation of which games, attractions, or rooms would be unavailable at that time.

“This being a year in the making, we knew way out of any conflicts, and we ran pretty close to that schedule,” Zorn says, noting the facility held a successful 600-person event for the local fire and police departments while under construction.

Constant Communication (Part 2)

To further ensure the FEC didn’t experience any hiccups while the jackhammers rumbled on, Zorn sent a weekly e-mail to all staff members to share status updates, which, in turn, could be passed along. This way, a guest knew right away if a particular attraction would be out of commission for a short stretch and would not end up disappointed after seeing it dark.

Don’t Fear Plan B

Despite the best intentions and years of planning, the unexpected will happen, Zorn advises. For example, the team did not anticipate the days electricity would be unavailable to the entire arcade.

“We have about 45 games, so there is plenty for guests to play,” she says. “We just rearranged them and made sure the most popular games always had juice. You have to roll with it.” 

Construction Projects Require Thinking Ahead and On the Fly

Not a floor, wall, or surface went untouched with the massive renovation at the 36,000-square-foot GameTime in Miami, Florida. All told, the project came to about $1.2 million, not including the game room upgrades.

“We’re not just talking about a couple coats of paint and redoing a party room,” says CEO Mike Abecassis. “It’s overwhelming to think about what we did.”

Like Laura Zorn at Rebounderz, Abecassis made the conscious decision to stay open during the renovation, which went from January to July 2015. A detailed game plan played a crucial role here as well.

“We strategically knew the areas we were going to be working on and when,” he says, stressing the importance of walking through the entire project to hit the target date. “We did everything on paper and then, for example, we stood in the bathroom to discuss them. We spoke about moving the hand dryers to be certain the electrician knew the power was four feet over. Physically standing there, as opposed to being at a distance, gave us the ability to catch things in advance.”

To stay on track, as well as minimize guest disruptions, the contractors “cascaded” through the two-story building. They began the project in the front of the second level and worked toward the back, tackling the bathrooms, bar, and a party room along the way. Once they got to the back of the second level, they went downstairs to the main level and moved forward to the front of the FEC.

If they had to shut down areas to move in carpet or install flooring, they did it when kids had school, making it basically a non-issue, Abecassis says. All the demo and other noisy work took place at night when the facility was closed.

For another trick, instead of letting the game area seem like a construction zone, the facility just moved the machines to create an artificial wall with them, he says. The game room became temporarily smaller, but guests didn’t mind the new dimensions.

Toward the end of the project, Abecassis did have to think on the fly when he hit a snag:

A huge pay-per-view fight was on the schedule, but the furniture for the now-rehabbed bar/restaurant area was unexpectedly delayed. Rather than cancel the event and lose all the business, he moved a bunch of the older furniture and made a “fake restaurant” for the occasion and shortly thereafter.

“I thought it was horrible and people wouldn’t sit there,” he admits. “Amazingly, we did not get any pushback or upset guests. Nobody cared about the furniture, and our food revenue was up year over year during that period. Quite frankly, we got away with it.”