Guest Blog: Reopening a Live Event Space in the Age of Social Distancing

  • By Jeff Lind, CEO, Color Factory | Tuesday, October 13th, 2020
Reopening A Live Event Space in the Age of Social Distancing

The last few months have been the closest the live events industry has gotten to full annihilation. When the government ordered Color Factory and the rest of our industry to close our doors in New York City and Houston in March, we, like most of you, didn’t know when or if we’d be able to reopen or ever effectively engage in public assembly activity again. The industry seemed full of misinformation, fear, and senseless destruction of value. As we moved through the pandemic, we had to make painful yet necessary cuts to staff and operations. We were doing all we could to survive… and we did.

When Color Factory ultimately found that reopening was possible, our team worked tirelessly to write the industry playbook on safely reopening during and after a pandemic — something that hadn’t been done in decades. We’ve now accomplished it, and thanks to the hard work of the women and men across our organization, our Houston and New York exhibits are now fully functioning. And (as far as we know) we became the first exhibit of our size and scope to execute a reopening strategy successfully. 

With that background, here are five secrets we considered when opening Color Factory’s doors safely following the pandemic, while heading into recovery.

1. It’s not about social distancing. It’s about safety. 

If you expect your customers to feel safe at your event, you have to be safe throughout your entire venue. It sounds almost too simple, but we are currently seeing venues opening across the country (including major museums) who say they’re safe, but aren’t operating in a manner that translates to customers feeling that way. Authenticity is at the core of live events, and that applies to the health, cleanliness, and safety of the customers paying to be inside your venue. That means not focusing on just a single safety measure as a kind of panacea of safety, but taking a 360-degree approach and implementing a variety of measures that collectively create an environment that is truly safe. At Color Factory, our team is reviewing all applicable global, federal, and local agencies’ COVID-19 safety recommendations on a daily basis. We have implemented every viable safety measure directed, and consistently asked ourselves “what else can we do so we feel safe inside Color Factory?” From foggers, to UV lights, to capacity-capped timed entry, to temperature checks, we’ve done everything in our power to maintain a clean, safe environment for our guests.  

2. Show your work. 

People are looking for safety cues inside your venue that make them feel secure. If you’ve done the work to make sure your venue is safe, show your customers that safety checklist. Some safety protocols can easily be seen (foggers, physical cleaning, and masks), and if there’s a way to visually inform people of what we’re doing to keep Color Factory safe inside our walls, we show them with clearly posted signs and simple verbiage. For safety measures that can’t be seen (UV lights in the ductwork and the thorough nightly cleaning of our ball pits), we advertise heavily and explicitly on social media so our followers know what we’re doing. In a pre-pandemic world, we didn’t always want customers to see the magic our facilities team put on inside the Color Factory; we just wanted them to feel it in a seamless experience with the art. But, when it comes to COVID-19 and cleanliness, we definitely want them to see safety, feel safety, and participate in safety. 

3. Make your employees’ safety a non-negotiable priority. 

The customer’s safety journey is important, but safety isn’t just for those visiting your venue. One of the strongest measures of how successful your reopening will be is in how safe your employees feel about coming back to work. How they feel about your venue’s safety measures and cleanliness standards will pay exponential dividends on how your guests feel about it. At Color Factory, employees were our first priority. We couldn’t reopen without them, so we looked closely at how we could help each feel confident that we were putting forth our best efforts for them. We installed plexiglass both in customer-facing areas, and inside break rooms for employees. Because we’re customer-facing and can’t always ensure six feet of separation, our employees and guests strictly wear masks. We empower each of our employees to remind guests of our safety protocols and standards, and we provide a mechanism to guide management on what safety means to our employees. We’ve found that as we make sure our employees are secure in their personal safety, they in turn become our greatest brand and safety advocate for guests.

4. Create your operating procedures playbook, be true to your experience, and meticulously follow your established rules. 

As part of our phase one opening, we made the decision to be a “no mask, no entry” venue. As a brand that relies on photos of their guests for advertising, it felt like a hard decision at first. But in order to keep certain parts of the exhibit open, we felt the only safe option was being fully masked. We decided that everyone, from the CEO to our Experience Specialists, would wear a mask, and each of our guests would too. We may not get as many viral pictures as we did prior to COVID-19, and we may lose some guests who didn’t politically agree with masking up, but the trade-off was the understanding and visual cue that everyone inside Color Factory was doing their part to keep the others safe. We also took a deeper look at ShowClix’s timed admissions capabilities. We’ve always used it to control the number of people in our venue at set time slots, so to ensure social distancing measures, we’ve further limited the hours and amount of people who can purchase a ticket for each time slot. And to maintain a steady flow in and out of the venue, we’ve separated entrances and exits to limit potential guest interactions. As a result, nearly 100% of surveyed Color Factory guests report that they felt safe inside our venue, and would recommend a friend or family member visit in the next three months.  

5. Be willing to constantly adapt.

If you follow the steps above closely, you’re probably ready to open with confidence. But the final thing I’d suggest is to adapt as you go. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the last five months, it’s that when it comes to a pandemic, the rules of engagement are fluid and constantly changing. If you can’t afford to implement safety protocols, you can’t afford to open. We continue to work with local government agencies and follow national guidance. We speak early and often to other industries and live event spaces and learn safety best practices. When in doubt, we take the safest approach, and if we learn new safety standards, we implement them. 

This has been an incredibly challenging time for all of us, but as we continue to show customers what we’re doing to keep them safe, maintain a healthy and happy work environment, and meticulously follow the rules we make, we’ll each find opportunities that didn’t exist before the pandemic and become stronger for what we’ve learned.