The Potential Dangers of Reopening too Early
Finally, there seems to be some good news and a positive outlook! After weeks (months for some) of tough health, social and economic news, there seems to be sunlight on the horizon. Plans are being made to start reopening certain businesses and parts of the economy. While we’re not in the clear yet, the darkest days of COVID-19 seem to be behind us.
The next few weeks will be extremely important in determining how the economy will operate for the rest of the year. For family entertainment center (FEC) operators, it’s time to start planning an approach to reopening.
The challenge for operators is determining the risk/reward of reopening their center. You want to open as early as possible to start generating revenue again, but you don’t want to open too soon and face backlash, lose customers, or potentially provide an unsafe environment for guests. In this blog, we’ll explore the dangers of opening too soon, analyze a real life recent example, and provide insight into how to approach a reopening.
An Educational Example
For years, Airway Fun Center in Portage, MI has been an extremely popular place for families and groups to have a fun and enjoyable time. The facility includes laser tag, escape rooms, ropes courses, go-karts, mini golf, an arcade, and much more.
Like most facilities, Airway had been closed for weeks due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. Knowing that they had a popular facility with a loyal customer base that was itching for something to do, Airway decided to pursue a path to reopening.
After weeks of deep cleaning and preparations for reopening, Airway contacted the local police department and got verbal permission from the authorities to reopen. In accordance with local rules that allowed golf courses to open back up, Airway had only planned on opening their outdoor attractions: mini golf, go-karts and high ropes courses. Shortly after, Airway made an announcement on their Facebook page that they would be opening back up the next day.
The response from customers and locals was mixed, with the majority of people opposing the reopening. Since their facility was the first to do this, Airway tracked the customer feedback closely. Ultimately, Airway decided to remain closed for the foreseeable future, in order to protect the health and safety of every employee and guest.
Lessons From This Example
So, what can we learn from this? The Airway Fun Center situation is a great example of the uncertainty surrounding the situation we’re in. Since this is an unknown situation without a playbook, we don’t know how consumers will react. Every action needs to be thought out carefully. Let’s break down some factors.
Reactions of the Community
If you’re the first facility considering opening in your area, you don’t know how the public is going to react. In the case of Airway, they saw an opportunity to be one of the leaders in reopening the local businesses. They had been cleaning and preparing for weeks, had contacted local authorities for permission and were only planning to open a few outdoor attractions. Still, many people were outraged over the decision and Airway potentially lost some customers down the road. Every person has a different opinion, so you have to be careful and ready for all different types of reactions.
Another danger of opening early is the inability to cover your costs. No one knows what the consumer demand for FECs will look like in the early phases of reopening. You shouldn’t expect to open your doors and immediately have a normal customer flow like you had before the pandemic. Consumer hesitation means you might not be able to cover the overhead of staff, utilities and operations, and other costs. In that case, you may end up losing more money than if your facility had stayed closed.
A Second Wave
After reopening, there may be a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and therefore may cause governments to put another shutdown in place. Unfortunately, this factor is mainly out of your control. This would be especially painful if you had to hire and/or retrain staff before reopening, just to then lose them all due to the next shutdown.
You might reopen, make strong revenue, provide healthy and safe experiences to customers and still have to shut down again. Not a pleasant thought, but it’s something you have to keep in mind.
Make Sure You’re Allowed to Open
This sounds obvious, but you have to pay close attention to the details of your local guidelines. For example, Georgia recently announced that bowling centers could re-open. However, bowling was the only attraction that these centers could offer.
Arcades, playgrounds, or other attractions may not be able to open. Make sure you understand what you are and aren’t able to do. This might be difficult, as there is a lot of gray area in the governmental guidelines and regulations.
In Airway’s situation, they had gotten verbal permission from local authorities, but not written permission. Therefore, there was confusion as to whether they were actually allowed to open. Make sure you discuss with local authorities and get written permission. This is especially important if your business type is not specifically mentioned in government reopenings.
Worth the Wait
We all want things to go back to normal. In our industry, normal is providing incredible experiences and lifelong memories for your guests.
However, due to the dangers we’ve explored in this blog, it might make sense to wait a couple weeks to see the reaction of other businesses in the market. You don’t HAVE to be the reopening guinea pig. The dangers of opening early might far outweigh the benefits.
By understanding these risks, taking necessary precautions, and formulating a plan, your facility will be positioned for the best possible outcomes.