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June 13, 2022

IRL: Indianapolis Zoo & BMorrow Productions

IRL: Indianapolis Zoo & BMorrow Productions

In our first "IRL" episode, Scott takes us on-location to the Indianapolis Zoo for a construction update. Then, Philip speaks with Brian Morrow at BMorrow Productions HQ about the recession, staffing, upcoming projects, and working with IP.


In our first "IRL" episode, Scott takes us on-location to the Indianapolis Zoo for a construction update. Then, Philip speaks with Brian Morrow at BMorrow Productions HQ about the recession, staffing, upcoming projects, and working with IP.

Transcript

Philip: From our studios all over various points in the United States, this is Green Tagged IRL.

Scott: IRL! In real life! Yeah! So, what the heck does that mean? OK well, let me explain, it's real simple. Originally, when Philip and I decided to do this show, we thought very hard about how we wanted to structure it and we wanted to make certain that we stayed on our own personal, brand and accomplish what we set out to do. And that was to basically do a weekly show, that was a short chunk of your time, where we would talk about trends, make everybody aware of what's going on in the industry and we would chat about it, sometimes agree, sometimes not agree. Our goal was to start conversation. Because of that format, we have never really felt that we should go out and do on-location stories, because it didn't really fall within our overarching brand, and so far, we've held very, very true to that.

However, from the get-go, we did talk about the possibility of doing specials like this show, which is IRL, in real life. So, what you're going to see are a series of, to be honest, recorded segments that we've done in different places with different people on different topics. So, this is something a little bit different for us, but something that you will see again in the not-too-distant future.

Philip: OK, we have two IRL experiences for you today. First, Scott will give you a tour of the Indianapolis Zoo, and then you'll meet me in Orlando at BMorrow Productions.

Scott: Hi everybody, it's Scott from Green Tagged Theme Park in 30 and I'm here at the Indianapolis Zoo, in real life, because I thought it might be a great opportunity to show you some of the many things we've been talking about on the show over the last few weeks being put into practice right here at a real zoo.

As we've mentioned quite a bit over the last few weeks, attendance continues to rise for attractions all around the world and Indy Zoo is no exception. To help accommodate this in the future, they're actually constructing a brand-new guest entrance experience, which is slated to open next year. This new experience is designed to make it a more seamless transition from the outside world to the inside world of the zoo and is supposed to include some unique animal encounters as well as perhaps a new habitat. The challenge right now is it's taking up a large section of their parking lot, so they're having a little bit of a challenge with the current guest load. The nice thing is, once guests get inside the zoo, the way the zoo is designed, it encourages them to sort of divide and conquer.

The zoo is broken up into main areas based on different places that animals can live. For example, the plains or there's also an entire area for desert animals called deserts, as the name would suggest, there's a forest section which has the animals that live in the forests, and of course there is the oceans building. Now, each one of these areas have animals that are highlighted or sort of key animals which draw people in different directions.

Another really important facility at the Indianapolis Zoo is their Orangutan Center. This is a gigantic building with both indoor and outdoor habitats. The indoor habitat is designed so that it can be viewed both from ground level as well as from the second story. When guests are viewing from the giant windows on the ground level, they can see the interaction with these animals from, well, from the ground, and they can also look up and see them climb. When they go up to the second level, they may be able to have a face-to-face encounter with one of these incredible primates, and this is where the primates are kind of hanging out in the upper areas of the habitat. I'm not really sure who's watching who though.

Another thing that they do in this particular facility is they have touch screens for interactive experiences with the guests, as well as an opportunity for guests using just a swipe of their credit card, it gives them the opportunity to actually contribute to the well-being of these animals.

Speaking of animals throughout the zoo, the Indy Zoo has one of the largest macaw fly-over experiences I've ever seen. In fact, they have three full flocks of macaws that fly throughout the zoo in the spring and summer months. Incredibly popular, very interactive, and a unique element.

Another unique element is the opportunity for guests to actually feed flamingos. For a small price you can purchase a cup of water which has krill in it, which is of course what flamingos eat, and you can have a one-on-one experience with these unique birds.

We've talked a lot about what is the future of mask-wearing and attractions, and the Indy Zoo has decided that they will recommend masks indoors. However, masks are not required in any location in the zoo, they're primarily outdoors.

We've also talked about putting your heart out front. The Indianapolis Prize is a huge conservation prize that the Indianapolis Zoo sponsors, and they have signage for that throughout the zoo.

Another element that is being added this year is Kangaroo Crossing, which is sponsored by the Citizens Energy Group. Now, this just shows that they are planning for the future, they're planning for future growth. They're adding not only a brand-new animal habitat, but we've also talked an awful lot about the importance of sponsorship and using that as an opportunity to expand your product for whatever guests are coming in the near future.

Then of course, at the Ascension Saint Vincent Dolphin Pavilion, they have just added a brand-new Dolphin presentation. Now I will be honest, I'm a little biased because I wrote and directed this particular presentation.

So, that's my day here at the Indy Zoo. Hope you got some good examples of how some of the trends that have going on are being implemented right here in Indianapolis. This is Scott from Green Tagged Theme park in 30. See you next week.

Philip: OK, and now to Orlando to meet Brian Morrow of BMorrow Productions.

Brian Morrow: All right, so I'm Brian Morrow. I'm the owner and founder of BMorrow Productions. We're right here in Orlando, FL and we service the theme park, attraction, museum, and zoological categories, attraction development, and large-scale seasonal event development as well.

Philip: Talk to me about what trends you're seeing in your clients?

Brian Morrow: Yeah, we're seeing a very quick and rapid amount of acceleration and traction of growth of projects, not in quantity but also in scale of the projects, related to pop-up experiences, temporary experience, smaller experiences, and definitely seasonal experiences. We're seeing that growth in both IP related attractions and then original thinking and original story creation attractions as well.

Philip: Let's talk about the IP side first. Why do you think that you're seeing that expansion on that side?

Brian Morrow: Well, consumers and guests are really wanting to see their experiences now in more than just theme parks. They're wanting to see their brands and their IPS that they love sort of materialize in unusual places. These can be abandoned buildings, these can be malls, these can be in hotels, all kinds of unusual places that we're seeing them materialize. It's rapidly increasing, the size of the projects are getting more complicated, and they're really turning into robust hour-plus-long experiences for guests to experience.

Philip: What do you think the benefit is to the brand to do this type of extension?

Brian Morrow: The barrier to entry for these IPs and brands to move into the temporary space is much smaller than moving into a permanent installation. It's smaller investment, it's smaller timeframes, it's more rapid, and it's temporary. So, it has what I would call the limited intent to visit, like there's a short period of time that guests can go, so they all have to go because it's going to disappear, vaporize and move, I call it the circus, the circus will just move elsewhere. So, there's this really easy way to get more exposure, quicker, faster, and in a brand-new way that you can't experience the brand maybe on TV, film, or in merchandise.

Philip: What are you seeing in the non-IP? Are you seeing parks developing their own and more willingness from smaller attractions to do that?

Brian Morrow: So, we're seeing it, for non-purchased or created IP temporary experiences, we're seeing them materialize as special events in, like the zoo and aquarium category, or even in the resort category. So, a great example, we just installed 5 for all the Gaylord hotels in America. We call it Summer, but they call it Pirates, and it's a pirate IP, they created all the characters themselves, they did all the back story writing for us, and then we just helped materialize it and it formulates in a bunch of different ways in all five different resorts, and they're putting their marketing behind it. So, you're really seeing the drive, you know, leisure travelers in hotel markets that typically would be considered convention hotels taking advantage of these seasonal events inside the properties that aren't related to like a holiday like Halloween or Christmas other times of years it's materializing.

Philip: And how do you think a property should decide between partnering with an IP, especially maybe an IP that's just starting to do physical experiences like Elf on the Shelf, Mattel, and Hasbro, versus trying to create something that is owned and there at their property.

Brian Morrow: So, some of our clients, ask us this exact question like, "what do we do?" We studied multiple versions of it. So, we worked with enough IPs at this point that we have a general understanding of what they allow and what they want to portray themselves as, and we can design sort of high a very high level like here's what that might look like and here's what that might cost. Then, you have to work a deal with the IP holder as well.

Or here is something that's original that they either have already created themselves or they asked us to create and then they compare that, it's a return of investment question, right? Which is going to drive the gate, or the attendance, or the revenues higher to make sense financially to do one or the other? There's no correct math other than doing the work to figure out what the right answer is, because every client, every location, every destination is very different on who they're getting in the doors.

Philip: Let's switch gears a tiny bit and we'll talk a little bit about the raising interest rates. Of course, interest rates just rose, and I think that's making a lot of people think that we're going to be going into a recession. Definitely money is more expensive now than it was previously, and so I think it might impact some investment for some of these projects that you're talking about, but what do you see from your end?

Brian Morrow: So, I will use history as the predictor of the future. I always think history predicts the future, it's always a relatively accurate way to kind of use your crystal ball. The recession before COVID, so it was 2008, 2010 the housing crisis, that moment, people still vacationed, they just vacationed closer. They still had money to spend but they chose where they spent it, and they tend to not give up on the vacation.  Holiday experience might be shorter, might not be along as a flight or drive, but they'll figure out how to get it done. It just means that the distribution of people stays a little bit more localized, but these people are still the same. The quantity of guests are still the same that tend to be able to travel some.

During the pandemic, right? There's a Great Recession in theory or a great challenge, people still were eager to get out of the house. As soon as they were legally allowed to, or physically allowed to, or Healthwise allowed to, they came. We were in resorts working Christmas in 2020, and zoos too, and they were dumping money into their holiday events because they knew there was pent-up demand. On the attraction side people may slow down major huge giant attraction development, but they won't slow down investments on events and temporary attractions, because the CAPEX is much smaller and the return is much faster from a business model. So, I think it's just going to reshape things, it's not going to disappear.

Philip: And where do you think the opportunity is? I think you might have mentioned it right there in the smaller... is that where you think the opportunity is for attractions? Say, hey, now is your opportunity to experiment with a non-IP or an IP seasonal activation.

Brian Morrow: Yeah, the large attraction development that we see at larger facilities, theme parks, and places like that, they tend not to react too quickly to a recession situation, they have a path, a plan that's five years out, they may slow things down, but they're not going to get rid of things. On the other side, they will accelerate the money and investment in the short burn, smaller CAPEX, faster return experiences, which are the seasonal temporary pop-up experiences.

Follow the lead of like innovators like Airbnb, their new interface is brilliant. It's made for remote working people and nomadic lifestyle experiences, not like fully nomadic, but like you know, more nomadic than we used to be, we were more centralized. All of that is translating into the same sort of stew, if you will, of these modular, modal, smaller experiences that come and go. You got to think, this isn't a brand-new idea, it's just the content has gotten a lot better. So, museums have been doing traveling exhibits since the day they opened, and they have facilities built for it, and those things are great, they're really popular, but there was only so much content. Now the content volume is much larger because we're seeing it jump out of all of the other movie studios and toy brands etc., and moving into new spaces that might not only live in a museum, but they can live in all these other new places that exist, right? Either existing, abandoned, new, innovative, or unusual.

Philip: With the unbundling right of traditional media we have had an explosion in new content and creation, and we've had an explosion of the potential for IPs, and that just makes the opportunity of doing a bringing a physical component to something that's been created newly like Stranger Things. There's a lot more opportunity in there as well.

Brian Morrow: Yeah, and we were part of the first Stranger Things activations that happened here at Universal like four years ago at Cabana Bay Hotel. It was super small, was meant to be like a cute little photo-op moment, and it turns into like this gigantic line, high demand thing because people were desperate to sit on that couch. It made a lot of sense, right? We saw it there and we've seen it continue to grow. You like to talk about Halloween, I know, but that season like, we'll be back this year doing something this year at that resort. Can't say anything about what we're doing, but we've been working on it for like 4 months already, and it's just these really unusual activations in unusual spaces. We think of them as they're like these opportunity spaces, they're just blank and empty and not being used, and how do you reconfigure that for a season and turn it into a business model that either is making revenue or driving foot traffic, or it's satiating a room sale or something like that, they are all money generating experience, so they just keep coming because they've proven themselves to make good return for the owners and the IP holders.

Philip: Changing topics again slightly. Everyone has been impacted, of course, by supply chain issues, and that's a part of what's driving the cost, and some of the delays in these larger capital projects of course. The other end of that is shortages in labor, and there's a theory out there right now, of course, that's saying that the shortages in the labor for entertainment is, of course, causing prices to rise, which is going to lead to an inflation of ticket prices, which might then cause a reduction in demand and kind of cool down the market.

Brian Morrow: I think it's very unique. let me unpack it in two pieces here. So, first, supply chain. My business we have five-year-long projects, and we have four-month-long projects, so we get affected by the supply chain a bunch of different ways. It's mostly affecting pricing and our ability to accurately estimate correctly for our clients. That's the most tricky part. On our production side of our business where we're procuring buying sourcing things and putting them together as a production package or an experience package, things will simply just not show up because they're on some boats and whatever.

So, what we're doing as a business is that we're moving into self-supply, that's what I call it, for two reasons. One is, unhinge ourselves from a volatile market. Number two, make it in America and make it ourselves. So, we're building the resources right now and facilities to do that, to build and make our own things, whatever those things may be, so that we don't have to import etc. Then third of that is that then we know where they're coming from, and we know what working conditions that came out of. We're doing a big supply chain diversity and inclusion check amongst our suppliers, where their stuff is coming from, and how any workers might be treated, which is a very difficult conversation to have with a lot of suppliers overseas. So, we're saying we're not getting the information, so we'll just make it ourselves. So, we're doing that on the supply chain side. Which, that process only exists because the supply chain is a disaster, so great, let's fix it by doing it ourselves. So, that's what we're doing there.

Number two, on the staffing side, I think the staffing on all levels of the attraction, design, development, operations, and frontline team is very much stressed everywhere in the attraction business. You smell it, you feel it, you know it's everywhere. It's not like it used to be, right? So, it's all true. Where all the people went, no one has the answer for that. But what we're seeing the challenges being is attracting the talent from the event operation side, or even the design side. We don't have a hard time attracting talent at this studio for the design and production, because we're unique and a little bit wonky, and we kind of fill an unusual niche in the marketplace. So, those types of talents find us on their own. But we see it on our client-side, staffing problems, are still there and they don't seem to be going away, so we're designing around them now as the biggest piece for about a year now.

We've never really designed around COVID, we knew that was going to be a temporary situation. Some people claim COVID was going to be the new impact to our design standards like the ADA Act, was. Like no, it's gone, it's fine, we know what to do if it comes back. Instead, we're finding the biggest permanent changes in staffing design, making sure things are highly efficient, they don't require a lot of people, and what happens if that person doesn't show up to work? What will the thing do without a human there? That's important in like science museums, aquariums, and docent-based experiences at zoos, all things that are now being designed to operate without a person if it has to.

Philip: Can you give me a specific example of that?

Brian Morrow: So, we're working on an experience for Fall up at the Franklin Institute in Philly. We did their seasonal events last year, and we're doing again this year. They're super interesting because they're an original take on both fall and winter experiences.

Philip: That's Franklin Frost and Frights?

Brian Morrow: Yeah, so last year was the first year we developed the ideas with them, and we're expanding it this year. The expansion includes more interactive kid science spaces themed in this great environment related to Fright or Frost. So, if those required docents or team members to function and work, because it's a lot of putting things together, taking science-based experiences. So, we design it so that if there is not a person there, there's still an experience for a kid to have, without going into detail, I don't want to give away what they're doing. It's really fun, but it just has to be thought through. There's an A show and a B show, same as a technical piece of show equipment going down, what does the B show look like? Now, it's like, well, the person doesn't show up to work, what's the B show? Because there's no one to fill their space, there are no extra people laying around. So, it's affecting design. But what it's doing is it's creating better design, smarter design, and less expensive design to operate. Which is best for everyone's bottom line?

Philip: Hopping back to the supply chain answer you gave. What would you tell someone? I'm not sure that everybody is in the same boat where they can reconfigure what they're doing. I mean, it's certainly something we're trying to do. We're looking at the supply chain from A-Z and we are saying, let's take each piece and just ask the question, would it be possible? Who could do it? Get quotes and get timelines, and that's what we've been doing. What do you suggest?

Brian Morrow: So, we did it the same way. There's things that we buy in giant volumes that require special machinery.

Philip:  Like we buy cables and we're like, could we do those here?

Brian Morrow: Can you make a cable? I don't know. Can I make a PVC garland cheaper than buying it from a manufacturer? No, I cannot. It has a huge supply chain behind it. So, we tend to ignore the things that have supply chains in them to get the thing that we need in our supply needs. But we focus on the single supply element. So, we are moving into the manufacturing and making of props, unique special decor items that might be on a Christmas tree or something. Pumpkins we're doing ourselves, artificial pumpkins we're doing ourselves. We just finished our pumpkin vine size just last week, so that's all been signed off and done. So, we figured out how to do it ourselves, and we figured out what the costs are. So, what it's doing is it's removing the risk, but most importantly, it's creating jobs here. So, we're staffing up, because now we're not going to pay someone for that job, we're going to hire the people ourselves. So, it's creating jobs, and interesting jobs that are semi-industry adjacent which is a great way to kind of get your foot in the door, think of it that way, like apprenticeships, internships, things like that.

Then most importantly it's creating better designs, because we're no longer limited to the round thing that we can buy from vendor A, we can now make a triangle thing that's completely custom that only we make it, only they have it. We've told this to our clients for the 2023 season already, and they're just kind of thrilled with it because it's all going to be custom, one-of-a-kind art, and not purchased, modified product, and it's not costing a lot more money to do that. So, it takes the risk out, keeps people employed year-round, and it makes something more special and unique, and let's our designers be a little bit more free with what we're creating, because we create it all from scratch.

Philip: When you say it takes the risk out though, doesn't it kind of transfer some of that risk to you?

Brian Morrow: But I can control that risk. See I control the design and the build. A great example, if we're doing a bat-themed pumpkin or something, or you saw the spiderbots downstairs? I bought spiderbots. Those were made here in America, they weren't bought, we created them, we had them made, we had the pieces printed, there it went, we controlled everything. We were able to then figure out one cost and then figure how many we could afford on the project, and we got more than we thought if we bought it from somebody, and it's completely original, no one else has those things.

Philip: And what about the concept of specialty, right? I think there are two things happening here. One is a little bit like the pendulum where previously, it was like this, there were large firms that had their own teams. Then we kind of saw the development of specialties where you had firms that specialized in just making spider pumpkins, for example, right, and then just design firms. But now it seems like you're swinging me back to the idea of you having your in-house team. But doesn't that diminish the idea of specialty? Because essentially then, you're making your own pumpkins, but what about the company who is the world's best pumpkin maker?

Brian Morrow: You got to think, there's more being done now than there was two years ago. So, there's a bigger supply-demand, and there's only so much supply that certain folks can push out their door, so we're supplementing that with our own work, which helps us. We still buy from a lot of different people, but building it ourselves allows us the freedom to design exactly what we want, and it gives us the freedom, and we can control. There's pieces that go into that, but those pieces are already here in America to make these things, we don't have to import that stuff which is great.

Then the other piece, I think, that's really important is on the design, talking about small firms, we're still we're very much considered a small business. We're 17 full-time employees, and then when we when ramp up we'll have about another 15 hourly, contract, part-time, or full-time hourly employees helping us in our busy season. The uniqueness of it is that we're still considered a small boutique on the design side and on the production side, which allows us to be very customizable to our clients, because we're not very large. But there still are the big design firms, they still exist, they're getting bigger, which is really interesting as they buy and consolidate, which I think is really fascinating. I watched all that happen, even live, at the TEA summit, I watched an announcement.

Philip: It's been like the year of consolidations, basically. Eventually it is going to unbundle again, like there's my cough-cough Oak Island, I don't know.

Brian Morrow: It might, yeah, and it's a normal thing.

Philip: That's the cycle of business though.

Brian Morrow: It's just interesting, I just classify all of it as really interesting to watch and see how it all works out for everybody. I think it all makes some sense for the folks that are doing it. It's not for everybody, but I think it's just a normal cycle of business as well.

Philip: So, coming up here at the end, but tell me what are you excited about to be working on as we head into the fall season?

Brian Morrow: So, when I started this company four years ago, I never imagined we would have, I'm looking look over at my chart, about 16 projects that are opening in the next six months. It's an enormous amount of work happening in the industry, we have certainly found our niche on the theme park design side, on the attraction design side, and on the production side. Very underserved market in certain categories that we are serving very well, which is reaping a fair amount of volume that we're having to sort of say, "we can't handle anymore."

What I'm most excited about is the work at Franklin this year. Really, they're the most interesting and challenging client, in the good, challenging way. Like, no, we don't want to look like anybody else. We want to make an original idea. So, they're very, very excited about the originality that's coming out for their expansions for this year's event.

Our Gaylord client is huge and very important to us, and we are elevating an enormous amount of their work over the next few years as well. Which we love and adore them as they transition themselves into like even more of a Christmas destination. But more importantly at Gaylord, they own Christmas for sure, but now they're starting to own summer and fall, so watch out for them in the fall season. We're working on their fall stuff right now. It's really cute and it's adorable, everything they're doing is so family. We're very family fall, they don't really scary at all. No one asked us to, and we wouldn't be very good at it,  don't think I do blood very well. But we do have all the cute fall stuff.

Then we have some IPs we're starting to work with for fall, which I'm very excited about.

Can't talk about any of those, they're in development, someone else's IP, not my own.

Trying to think what's really.... the stuff at Univeral this year is different in the past, so it's very exciting, so keep an eye out on that space.

In the Christmas season, we are just like... Christmas right now is for us is booking out into 2023 is more than 60-70% booked out, so we're talking about '24 with clients right now. That gives you an idea how far planning should be taking place.

Indy Zoo is another big fall and Christmas location. They're investing heavily this year and we're the design team and the production team for that. So, there's a big expansion happening, really, really adorable stuff happening in fall in the zoo. So, keep an eye out, we'll post some stuff on social, it's adorable.

Scott: So, that is our first Green Tagged IRL. Hopefully, you got a chance to see some stuff you haven't seen before, or learn some stuff you haven't learned before. Hopefully, you enjoyed it. Now, like I said, we're not going to change our whole structure of the show, so don't panic. We'll be back to our regular format next week. But if you enjoyed it, please let us know, and if you've got other stories that you would like us to cover in real life also please contact us, let us know.

So, until next week this is Scott Swenson and Philip Hernandez from Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, see you next week.

Scott Swenson Profile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.

Brian Morrow

Owner of BMorrow Productions

Brian is the Owner and Creative Principal of BMorrow Productions