Merchandising Ideas in the Pandemic
With COVID-19 affecting operations of attractions across the globe at the start of 2021, products protecting guests from the coronavirus offer merchandising (and promotional) opportunities.
“With the numerous retail locations within theme parks, there is certainly an opportunity to sell branded COVID-19 PPE (personal protective equipment) products,” says Rochelle Jones, studio director of interior design with FORREC, a Toronto-based designer of amusement park and attraction facilities.
Jones’ assessment is echoed by John Gerner, managing director of Leisure Business Advisors. “Merchandising to guests visiting attractions during this time does need to be thoroughly rethought with the goal of minimizing physical contact,” he says.
Branded Masks Are a Natural
The fact that masks are mandatory in most public spaces makes them logical items for amusement parks and attractions to sell on-site.
“If someone arrives without a mask, the park should have the product available to sell to them,” says Jones. “And even if the guest has a mask, they may want to buy one that is themed to the park—similar to someone buying a themed T-shirt.”
When it comes to pandemic merchandising opportunities, this mix of necessity and brand loyalty explains why “face masks are an easy one,” Jones says. Not only can face masks be branded with the logo of the attraction, roller coaster, or even the facial features of a zoo animal, but she says, “they could offer fun value by using unique designs specific to the park.”
Like T-shirts, the blank spaces of face masks are natural “billboards” for theme parks. Moreover, “theme park logos can be a reminder of good times in the past and a hopeful sign of good times to come,” says Gerner. As well, because these mask-based logos will be seen constantly by guests as they walk throughout the park, the level of brand reinforcement and morale boosting offered by themed masks may prove significant.
Selling branded masks is also a good way to encourage guests to actively comply with COVID-19 protocols. After all, seeing a mass of brand-masked faces within a park is like seeing people wearing home team apparel at a sporting event: Wearing one means the wearer belongs.
In this way, the duty of mask-wearing can be transformed into the joy of brand-mask wearing. “After all, theme parks are all about having a good time, so why not find a way to brand the products in a fun way to encourage guests to wear masks?” Jones says. “Doing so can create the positive outcome of protecting all the guests and staff.”
Masks at Parks Today
The park operators who told Funworld about their success in implementing social distancing standards have made mask wearing a large part of their response. Each operator Funworld spoke with about face masks were more concerned with public safety than merchandising.
At Southport Pleasureland in the United Kingdom, “We offer branded masks for sale at various outlets throughout the park,” says CEO Norman Wallis. Not only are these masks clearly branded with Southport Pleasureland’s logo and colors, but “we have specifically designed our masks so that they are extremely comfortable to wear for longer periods of time,” he says. “The thought of turning up with a group of excited children to find one of you has forgotten their mask needs to be something that, should it happen, can be immediately remedied—hence our decision to offer masks for sale in the park.”
Southport Pleasureland sells its branded masks as a public service first. This is also why Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens provides free face masks “on rides where needed, in order to make sure that safety is always top priority,” says Mikkel Trudslev Jensen, architect at Tivoli Gardens. “I do see an opportunity to make custom face masks and sell them to guests, but these masks should first and foremost be effective and fulfil the purpose of keeping contagion down.”
The same safety-first approach is followed by Ocean Park Hong Kong. “Masks are available for purchase at designated locations across the park,” says Johnny So, park operations director at Ocean Park Hong Kong. “All proceeds after costs go to the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong.”
Other Merchandise Opportunities
While face masks are the most visible forms of COVID-19 personal protection in use today, they are not the only product to offer merchandising possibilities at attractions. For instance, branded bottles of hand sanitizer could include art from rides or photos of animals, not limited to exclusive scents, says Jones of FORREC. “Theme parks that have connections with local retailers outside the parks could also sell these branded products there.”
Branded face shields, single-use disinfectant wipes, and packs of single-use nitrile gloves may offer additional merchandising possibilities.
“Although there are potential benefits to branding certain items in this situation, it’s understandable that attractions may be reluctant,” says Gerner of Leisure Business Advisors. “There’s always the potential for an unforeseen backlash to good intentions. That risk may outweigh the potential benefits.”
Even if the profits from branded face masks and other PPE products are donated to charity to avoid any ethical concerns, the fact is these items are a necessity for guests. This includes parents who may be grateful for theme park character-emblazoned masks that their kids would be happy to wear.