Survey Results – How FEC Operators Are Adapting to Changing Times

Over the last few months during the COVID-19 pandemic, family entertainment centers (FEC) have been among the hardest hit businesses. By nature, FECs are person-oriented, hands-on facilities that usually hold large numbers of people. As a result, they were forced to close their doors and stay closed for months.

Recently, many have started to reopen their doors and prepare for the new normal of guest interaction and operations. We were curious about the reopening process and the changes that facilities are making to keep everyone healthy and safe.

To dive into this important topic, we conducted a survey. We included questions that were applicable to the current state of the industry and then sent the survey to operators to get meaningful data. In this blog, we will break down the background of the survey, and then discuss some key findings and takeaways.

Background of the Survey

Every survey begins with an objective. We knew we wanted to explore the FEC world coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, the objective became to figure out how FEC operational practices have changed post-pandemic, and to share these findings with both operators and FEC guests.

Here are some quick facts about the survey and how it was conducted:

  • 54 respondents to the survey. These responses were from 54 existing locations across the United States
  • 19 questions asked
  • Responses were recorded between June 4 and July 4, 2020

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Key Takeaways

There were a number of key takeaways from the survey that were both surprising and encouraging to the FEC industry. Operators have been working hard to improve the cleanliness and safety of their facilities, with the goal of increasing customers’ confidence about stepping foot in their building.

Reopening process has been slow

Among the 54 FECs surveyed from June 4-July 4, over half (51.9%) of facilities surveyed had NOT reopened yet. We included a follow up question to this, asking operators about specific dates.

If they said they were already open, we asked when they opened, and if they weren’t open yet, we asked for the date that they plan to open. Among our responses, there was a wide range of reopening dates. The earliest a facility opened in our survey was May 5, while the latest someone plans to open is November 1.

At this point, many operators are undoubtedly frustrated with the prolonged closures, but our data shows that they’re certainly not alone, and reopening quickly is not an option for many.

Some factors are in the operators’ control, and some are not. One thing you can control is making sure you’re prepared once you get the green light to open. Having a plan in place allows you to evaluate how confident you are with your operations and safety procedures.

We’ve already seen multiple examples of facilities having to close again after reopening too early. The bad publicity and frustration from customers is not worth being able to open a few weeks early. For an educational guide about things to consider before reopening, check out our blog about this, which addresses a real life example.

Capacity will be limited

This topic is not as surprising, as capacity will definitely be limited in almost all facilities once they reopen. In our survey, 59.3% of facilities will open at half capacity or less, and only 1.9% will open at full capacity. Additionally, 81.5% of facilities will limit the hours they are open.

Reopening will be a slow process, and nothing should be rushed. Operators are eager to eliminate capacity restrictions and try to get back to normal operations; however, doing so could make your facility unsafe, leading to positive COVID tests or general sicknesses, which would set a facility back in a detrimental way. To get an understanding of the risks and liabilities facilities face when reopening, we put together this blog, written by an FEC attorney.

For now, operators must be focused on maximizing profitability with limited capacity. There is not one formula or plan that accomplishes this. Instead, operators need to focus on limiting costs and finding creative ways to generate revenue while continuing to be safe. The unfortunate truth is that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, so operators must have a plan of action to remain profitable as best they can in the coming months.

operations plan
Cleaning and sanitizing is a top priority for FECs

As a hands-on industry, cleaning and sanitizing is an absolute requirement for facilities as they open. In our survey, 98.1% of facilities will be wiping down frequently touched hard surfaces several times a day, and two-thirds will be wiping down every single hour.

Bathrooms are undoubtedly one of the main areas of concern for guests in FECs or any other public space. It’s encouraging that our survey found that 96.3% of facilities said they will clean and sanitize their bathrooms several times a day, and 59.3% of facilities will be doing this every hour.

As the data shows, operators are being responsible and keeping strict cleaning and sanitizing routines. More importantly, operators understand that it’s all about guest perception. Guests will not feel safe unless they SEE employees cleaning and sanitizing the facility during their visit. You can say and advertise that your business has strict cleaning and sanitizing procedures, but guests understandably won’t feel comfortable unless they see you actively cleaning the place while they’re inside your facility.

Another trend for entertainment operators has been to make a “show” out of cleaning. This accomplishes 3 things: cleans your facility, entertains your guests, and gives them peace of mind during their visit.

During the recent virtual Amusement 360 Event, Urban Air CEO Michael Browning discussed how he has made the cleaning process entertaining for guests at his facility. Every hour or so, the employees drop what they’re doing for a few minutes and engage in a singing and dancing cleaning routine. The feedback from the guests has been very positive.

Face masks and social/physical distancing decals

To further protect everyone, most facilities are utilizing social distancing decals and face masks. One of the most surprising, but incredibly encouraging, numbers from the survey was in response to social distancing decals in facilities. Among facilities surveyed, 83.3% said that they will use the decals when they reopen.

Decals are beneficial for several reasons, and they help keep guests accountable when it comes to physical distancing. Purposely placing the decals in certain spots helps eliminate the challenges of physical distancing and prevent people from clustering up in “hot spots” throughout the facility, such as the front counter or bathrooms.

social distancing decal

Most importantly, the fact that over 80% of facilities will use the decals shows us that FECs are willing to put in the investment to keep everyone safe. The decals are by no means required, yet most businesses have prioritized this investment to help keep people safe and responsible.

When it comes to fask masks, the numbers are encouraging again. While public use of face masks has been difficult to attain, you will likely find the FEC employees wearing face coverings at all times. 74.1% will require all employees to wear face masks at all times. To emphasize, this is ALL employees at ALL times. Only 9.3% of facilities will not require face masks for employees.

face masks

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FECs are clearly making the effort to keep everyone as safe as possible at all times. Additionally, 64.8% will do temperature checks for employees at the beginning of every shift. You can also expect to have access to hand sanitizer, as 92.6% of facilities will have readily available hand sanitizer locations.

Getting guests to understand your face mask requirements can sometimes be difficult. Check out our guide here, which includes role-play videos of how to address this with guests.

Closed attractions

Not surprisingly, there will be some attractions that will remain closed for an extended time, even after a facility reopens its doors. However, the data is encouraging when it comes to facilities that plan to open with all of their attractions. Almost 75% of facilities plan on having their full attraction mix operational the day they open.

Birthday parties

In the survey, we asked about a topic that many FEC guests are probably wondering about right now: birthday parties. Birthday parties are a staple of FEC revenue, with a lot of facilities generating half of total sales from birthday parties.

For many months, families have been cooped up inside, looking for things to do. For those that feel comfortable with the idea, now more than ever, birthday parties are the perfect escape for kids and families looking forward to something fun. And you can bet that the millions of kids who experienced birthdays during the quarantine will still get a party eventually.

85.2% of facilities plan on hosting birthday parties within 1-3 months of opening back up. 55.6% plan on hosting them immediately.

If you have a safe plan for physically distanced birthday parties, and you’ve created an environment where customers feel safe and comfortable, now could be a great time to really be pushing your birthday party packages. One operator did specifically mention that they will have specials for people who missed their birthday during the lockdown.

Deals and discounts

Speaking of specials, we made sure to ask operators about deals they’re running. We asked if centers are offering any special deals or discounts upon the reopening of their FEC to get customers back in the door.

Several respondents mentioned that they are going to pivot to more events and parties to get more people in the door. Other responses included half priced tickets, Facebook specials and coupons, summer memberships, and a customer appreciation week. Operators also mentioned discounting a percentage off everything to increase traffic, and switching from all-day passes to smaller attraction packages to increase throughput during occupancy restrictions.

Among those that answered this question, about half mentioned some type of discount or deal that they will be running.

sale sign

Given the difficult times, a lot of the data in the survey is encouraging. Operators understand not only the importance of strict cleaning and sanitizing practices, but also how these acts must be visible to gain guests’ trust. As the world continues to transition to a sense of normalcy, the focus must continue to be, more than ever, on the guest experience.

A Place To Find Cleaning Supplies

On our Creative Prop Shop website, we’ve worked to establish distribution agreements with several cleaning companies, allowing you faster and easier access to products that will help you during these times. On our cleaning and sanitizing page, you can find supplies that will help you clean in an easier and more efficient way.

All Survey Results

The data and answers above are only a preview of all of the data and questions asked. We’ve put together two resources with all of the data to help you.

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If you are interested in seeing the data for every question on our survey, please click the link above to see all of the questions we asked, and graphical representations of the data.

To see the responses operators provided about short answer questions, including advice and best practices, please click below.

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