Top Actions FECs Should Take Before Reopening
As businesses look to safely reopen following the global coronavirus pandemic, experts say there are several things FECs can be doing to get ready.
Sheryl Bindelglass, chief fun officer at Sheryl Golf, a family entertainment center (FEC) business enhancement firm, says now is the time owners and operators should be reviewing their pre-pandemic standard operating procedures (SOP), and creating new SOP guidelines for a return to operation in the era of COVID-19. “What will it look like? Will our staff have masks? Will they have gloves?” Bindelglass says of the questions FEC operators need to answer. “What are we going to have to change, not only for the staff, but the guests?”
Jerry Merola, chief financial officer with Alpha-Omega Amusements & Sales, Inc., a product distribution and consulting firm, says FECs have an opportunity to play a greater role in family recreation upon reopening. “One thing I think we’ve learned during the COVID-19 event, is that families have become very important,” says Merola. “As a business model, our guests need to become part of our family. They need to know we’re caring about them enough to make them job No. 1.”
Both Merola and Bindelglass share ideas below on creating consumer confidence, recouping lost birthday party sales, and communicating with valuable front-line employees before their return to work.
Plan to Shine with Health and Safety Measures
At the forefront of a reopening plan, FECs should examine their new health and safety best practices. While it could sound daunting, Merola says the global attractions industry is already a leader. “Good news as an industry, we’ve always been focused on health and safety. This is our opportunity to shine out there, because this is what we’ve done best,” Merola says.
He believes guests will return when they feel comfortable, and thus, facility owners have to take the lead. “The more comfortable we are in reengaging and retriggering, the more comfortable the consumer is going to be coming into our facilities,” he says.
Bindelglass likes the idea of creating a card that would be handed to each guest upon entering an FEC. She recommends FEC operators list on the card the changes they have made. Examples can include how staff pause every 30 minutes to wash their hands, describing how restrooms are cleaned every 30 minutes, and how kitchen staff are wearing gloves. To create consumer confidence with guests before their visit, Bindelglass recommends making a video showing the procedures in action that can be shared on social media.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Merola stresses open and honest dialogue between colleagues and hourly employees is crucial upon reopening. “Communication is the key part of it—getting everyone to work together to communicate and get ourselves to back to a point of normalcy,” says Merola.
Taking time to answer questions, explain decisions, and listen are hallmarks FECs should address according to Bindelglass. “I would tell them to be holding town halls,” she says. Bindelglass recommends owners and operators bring hourly employees together for a preopening meeting (held as an in-person gathering or online), where owners share what changes to expect. Besides sharing information, Bindelglass believes the meeting should be used as an opportunity to show furloughed workers an FEC cares for its employees.
“Ask, ‘What can I do for you?’” Bindelglass suggests. When one of her clients posed the question to his team, the owner discovered some of his employees were struggling to buy food during the shutdown. “He is now giving them money for groceries out of his own pocket,” she says of the owner who took time to listen.
Recoup Lost Birthday Parties
Hosting a child’s birthday party can generate valuable revenue for an FEC. Yet, birthdays passed while FECs were closed. Bindelglass says operators are leaving money on the table if they don’t attempt to connect with the birthday child. One way is to send the child what she calls a “birthday gram,” a customized candy bar sporting a special wrapper, accompanied by a gift card. She recommends owners and operators then connect with parents to plan their child’s half birthday be held at their FEC with a party to replace the sale that was lost during the shutdown.
Other ideas Bindelglass recommends is “birthday in a box,” where an FEC puts together all the elements for an in-person party—pizza, cake, decorations, plates, cutlery, games, and prizes—and packages the product for pick up. Marketing the product to mothers in need of something easy is a wise idea according to Bindelglass. “Helping is the new selling,” she says.
In addition, for a child whose birthday celebration was overshadowed by COVID-19, she also recommends an FEC’s mascot make a video greeting or do an at home drive-by. “If your city permits it … have your mascot get into his costume, drive over, wave, and drop balloons off on their mailbox,” she says of an in-person visit at the bottom of a child’s driveway from a safe distance.
In the middle of a pandemic, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the crisis. Merola says FEC owners need quiet moments to refocus and take a deep breath. “This is a scenario where everyone is together—not just the entertainment industry, in particular. But frankly, every industry facing the same challenge together,” Merola says. “As a society, we’re going to be able to emerge from it.”