Crayola is ready to share its proven success through licensing, creative collaboration, and partnerships.
By Judith Rubin and Wendy Grant
Today’s consumers constantly seek new engaging experiences for themselves and their families. They desire attractions that will touch their hearts and create lasting memories. Crayola recognized the opportunity to bring their special brand of creativity to the world of Location Based Entertainment (LBE) in 2012. Their solution? Crayola Experience!
Since 2013, Crayola has opened five Crayola Experience locations across the United States, constantly refining the product offering and business approach. Today, Crayola Experience boasts a sustainable set of guest experiences that are immersive, educational, and fun for the entire family.
Crayola is now seeking partners around the world to license and develop new iterations of this scalable, customizable type of branded, family entertainment center (FEC) that is uniquely and recognizably Crayola.
Suitable for multiple types of venues and installations, Crayola Experience is primarily targeted to families with children age 12 and younger. Visitors spend an average of three hours engaged in specialized, creative activities. Each Crayola Experience integrates retail and other opportunities for ancillary revenue and generates a high rate of repeat visitation.
Armed with nearly a decade of learnings, Crayola is ready to share its proven success through licensing, creative collaboration, and partnerships. To that end, the company is making the most of the largest, leading global forum for the attractions industry, the annual IAAPA Expo in Orlando, taking place Nov. 15-19, 2021. IAAPA has returned to a real-world trade show and conference format, and Crayola is mounting a substantial presence in Orlando as a first-time Platinum sponsor of the Expo (see sidebar).
At the foundation of Crayola’s LBE ventures are a brand known and trusted around the world, and the universal value placed on child development and creativity. Within each Crayola Experience attraction, those essentials play out in a series of unique, engaging activities that incorporate proprietary Crayola products and can be developed for spaces from 20,000 to 50,000 square feet. A retail store, food and beverage venues, and the potential for pay-to-play games are revenue-generating possibilities beyond the gate. Because the experience is highly repeatable, annual pass sales are another strong revenue generator, equaling roughly one-third of the usual annual attendance. Once established, the attraction also is a wonderful venue for private events, from kids’ group sleepovers to corporate teambuilding.
Key members of Crayola’s internal team focused on LBE expansion are Victoria Lozano (Executive Vice President Digital Strategy, GM Attractions & Retail for Crayola), Dan Aylward (Director of Operations for Crayola), and Warren Schorr (Vice President of Business Development & Global Licensing for Crayola), as well as consultant George Wade of Bay Laurel Advisors, who has served as Project Director for the five current locations.
Making a vivid entrance at IAAPA
You won’t have to look hard to find Crayola if you’re attending the 2021 IAAPA Expo (November 15-19, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL). “As Expo attendees come down the South Concourse escalators, they’ll be treated to a very large, very colorful display,” said Warren Schorr. “And we’re taking over the two entry atriums.” Crayola costumed characters will make special appearances through the Expo. Crayola will also host a suite for meetings with potential licensees.
Additionally, Crayola is hosting a spotlight session on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 9:00 a.m. Attendees can explore the portfolio of attractions, learn about Crayola’s perspective on creative experiences, and gain insight into how they can partner with Crayola in a licensing relationship.
Attendees also will have a chance to see and experience the Orlando Crayola Experience for themselves. The Experience will be open each day during IAAPA and free admission is available to all IAAPA attendees (must show a 2021 IAAPA Expo badge at the admissions counter).
Crayola’s goal for IAAPA is to share its special ability to create magical experiences in LBE while opening the door for conversations about opportunities with potential partners. Vicky Lozano, Dan Aylward, Schorr, and George Wade will attend the show with that in mind. “We’re looking forward to starting dialogues with a variety of potential partners and exploring where those lead us,” said Aylward.
To set up a meeting or for more information, email [email protected]
This is a seasoned and dedicated team. Lozano’s rich background in marketing and general management with Fortune 500 CPG companies and 12 years with Crayola complement Aylward’s decades of experience in theme parks including stints with Kings Island, Six Flags, Magic Springs, Kentucky Kingdom and a variety of international projects – as well as four years’ service on the IAAPA Board of Directors. Schorr’s experience in licensing includes work with Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and MGM, which is where he first met Wade, a specialist in the development of strategic and creative LBE strategies for brands, with over 30 years in attraction development.
FECs are a growing market sector around the world and are increasingly popular in cultures that emphasize family interaction across generations. That multi-generational appeal is what Crayola Experience is designed to accommodate and encourage, and what makes it compatible with other family leisure locations – including shopping malls, tourism districts, and theme parks. “What differentiates Crayola Experience is its focus on creative play and creative engagement, based on Crayola’s mission,” said Schorr.
Waxing creative to the core
Crayola rolled out the first Crayola Experience at its headquarters in Easton, PA. The new attraction reflected a new direction for the company: Crayola, re-envisioned as a creativity brand and IP (no longer just a crayon manufacturer) and bringing immersive attractions to families through LBE development and other opportunities. Following Easton, Crayola Experiences opened in Orlando (2015), at the Mall of America in Minneapolis (2016), in Plano, TX (2018), and in Chandler, AZ (2019).
That creative identity and mission permeate Crayola’s internal culture. “Across the entire company, we have a clear understanding and alignment of Crayola’s purpose,” said Lozano, who left Cadbury to join Crayola in 2009 as VP of Marketing. “Everything we do is grounded in our mission to help parents and educators raise creatively alive kids. No matter what their role is in the company, everyone knows that they support that purpose.”
That creativity also shapes every part of the Crayola Experience facilities. Designed to exude Crayola, even the familiar smell of their crayons drifts in the air. And everything guests see is wrapped in the brand’s iconography. Oversized Crayola products form much of the décor – giant markers are peppered across the floor, columns are converted to crayons and the tables appear to be made of melted wax. The theming continues in the design of the interactives, like “Wrap It Up!” which is housed inside large stacks of sculpted crayon label reels, similar to those seen in the real factory. All the while, a soundtrack composed specifically for the space plays in the background. With all the senses engaged, the result is a truly immersive brand experience.
The impressive dwell time and return visitation are a function of the nature of the experience. The dozens of hands-on activities are designed to engage the entire family every time they visit. While exploring this colorful world, kids and adults alike tap into their imaginations and – through tactile, digital, and physical interactive play – can express their individual creativity. “These experiences are fundamentally unique and personal for each guest, every time they visit,” Lozano said.
Mixing and matching
Schorr believes Crayola is uniquely positioned to work with a variety of potential partners. “There’s nothing else like Crayola Experience,” he said, “and we want great, collaborative partners who want to be part of that. We have a brand that adults trust and kids love. We bring a proven business model and a tested concept. Our world-class, experienced team is here to support partners from planning to launch – and every day after that.”
Lozano agrees. “Just as operators today may add a waterpark, aquarium, FEC or retail zone to the mix, they could add a Crayola Experience as the second or third gate of an integrated resort.”
Every Crayola Experience will reflect the popular Crayola brand and uphold its design standards, while being customized for the specific space and location. Licensees will work with Crayola to select the best components for their space, armed with input on what has already proven successful at the current five locations. The number of activities can vary based on the facility’s square footage. For example, the Orlando Crayola Experience offers 26 activities, while the smaller Chandler location offers 17. Many of the activities are scalable. For instance, some of the current Crayola Experience locations have 12 “Drip Art” interactive stations, where visitors create spin art using melted Crayola wax, while other locations have six such stations. While technology is inherent in many of the activities, creativity is the key. The visitors immerse themselves in play, expression, and design.
Schorr also noted that Crayola Experience stands out because all the attractions are unique to Crayola, incorporating patented designs, engineering, and scripting. All aspects of the visitor experience have been carefully designed, developed, tested, and – when needed – refreshed.
According to Aylward, two iconic interactives popular with visitors across multiple locations are “Wrap It Up!” where visitors personalize their own unique, authentic Crayola crayons, and “Melt & Mold,” where visitors make a ring, character, or animal from melted crayon wax. A more recent offering that kids love turned Crayola’s award-winning Scribble Scrubbies toy, released in 2019, into a life-sized attraction. Here, visitors can draw on and color a Scribble Scrubbie, wash it clean, and then start again to design a new creation. Aylward pointed out, “That’s a great example of the advantage of partnering with Crayola. We have a vast product line that we’re able to creatively incorporate into Crayola Experience to provide a new offering that’s instantly recognizable and appealing to visitors, and that enables operators to have something new to bring customers back.”
Crayola is also interested in working with partners to create localized features that will help differentiate their venues. Schorr pointed out that the Easton Crayola Experience is the only location to offer “Water Works,” an 85-foot water table with working locks and dams. “Water Works” is reflective of Easton’s history and its location at the confluence of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers. “That’s the type of offering that provides something unique and meaningful to the local audience and can give the venue standing as a destination attraction,” said Schorr.
The art of creative engagement
Crayola’s own internal team of education specialists helped to incorporate key aspects of child development into the Crayola Experience activities. “All of the activities in Crayola Experience are very hands-on and tactile,” explained Lozano. “We are purposeful in how we incorporate a variety of experiences to appeal to all guests—from art-making to climbing and physical movement, to digital and technical interactions.” This diversity strengthens the attraction’s multi-generational appeal.
Crayola Experience isn’t designed for kids alone; guests of every age receive a ticket, attraction bag and tools to express their creativity. Crayola supplies that are distributed in the attractions, such as the popular Scribble Scrubbies, are given equally to kids and adults.
Noting the positive emotions associated with childhood that Crayola evokes, Aylward said that parents tend to start off with a little detachment, enjoying their children’s activities, but end up being drawn into the activities themselves. “Quite often Dad is still there, finishing his picture, while his child has moved on to another activity nearby.” School groups are a key market subset for Crayola Experience. Most of the attractions naturally incorporate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) in an educational and entertaining way. Current Crayola Experience locations offer free memberships for educators, lesson plans, and an on-site class, such as an opportunity to learn the science behind how a perfect Crayola crayon is made, to enhance field trips.
Lozano said, “It all stems from Crayola’s mission and core belief that creativity matters.”
A true-blue partnership
In the U.S., the Crayola Experience team has sought to establish itself in markets with a large presence of children and young families. A strong tourist market is a plus, but more importantly, the experience is tailored to the location. In Easton, Crayola Experience is a tourist draw in itself. In Orlando, a city full of tourist attractions, Crayola Experience has been successful primarily as a regional, resident-oriented attraction and secondarily as a tourist destination.
In malls, a Crayola Experience functions as an anchor, bringing in the desired demographic and with the potential to significantly expand the property’s appeal and serve as a major family draw (pun intended). Said Aylward, “A typical mall expects to draw its visitors from a range of 10 to 15 miles, but Crayola Experience attracts visitors from as far away as 100 miles.”
Part of the appeal to multi-generational family groups is that it offers a safe space for everyone to gather and play creatively, as well as a break from everyday routine. Lozano pointed out, “There’s no buying supplies, no setting up a space, and no clean-up. Crayola Experience provides a getaway for the whole family that’s fun and easy and creates lasting memories.”
No matter where the next Crayola Experience opens, the team is ready to support it from concept to completion and beyond, including marketing and ongoing operations. Aylward said, “Because we have owned and operated Crayola Experience for years, we have so much to offer our partners, from design elements to construction support to standard operating procedures to graphics packages. We’re able to adapt to the unique needs of a partner, location, culture, and market.”
Crayola intends to continue to develop new attractions and plans to offer a new activity to Crayola Experience partners every 12 to 18 months. “We’ll always have core experiences, and what our visitors create from those experiences is never the same from one time to the next. But we also want to continually introduce new experiences, to ensure that things feel fresh and families have a reason to return again and again,” said Lozano.
Crayola also recently began partnering with brands and IP owners to introduce new experiences and events to Crayola Experience audiences. The recently launched collaboration tour with OceanX, a global ocean exploration nonprofit, asks visitors to complete activities such as sculpting their own ocean creatures and learning about the layers of the ocean, before finally coming face-to-face with a “Giant Squid.” The “OceanX Adventure” traveled to Crayola Experience locations in Orlando and Easton in 2021, and will continue on to the Chandler and Plano venues before culminating at Mall of America in summer 2022. “The collaboration with OceanX exceeded our expectations. We look forward to expanding our relationship with OceanX and announcing additional new brand collaborations for future tours,” said Schorr.
A multi-colored future
With innovation in its past, present, and future, Crayola is sketching new ideas and plans all the time. The company itself is creatively alive. Beyond the Crayola Experiences, Crayola has branched out into other areas of LBE. For instance, Crayola collaborated with Mad Science Inc. to create the Crayola Imagine Arts Academy in 2017. The program aims to inspire children through art by developing their creativity and critical thinking through after-school programs, camps, birthday parties, and community-based workshops.
Crayola also recently debuted IDEAworks at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute (above). While Crayola Experience focuses on creative play, the IDEAworks traveling exhibition encourages families to explore innovation, invention and design thinking. “Ultimately each guest learns about their individual creative style,” said Schorr. Crayola IDEAworks is currently wrapping up its premier run and will shortly be announcing new tour dates and locations.
Schorr indicated that Crayola is going to debut two more experiences soon, which will be new takes on the Crayola brand based on color, creative discovery and art. “What makes Crayola so unique is how diverse and broad the attributes are for the brand. Our strong brand equity allows Crayola and our partners to create whole new experiences, not just different iterations of Crayola Experience,” he said. “Consumers have told us that Crayola as a brand is broadly appealing and encompassing, which gives us a lot of opportunities to expand our offerings, while touching the hearts of consumers of all ages.”
Just as creativity can be expressed in different ways, Crayola as a brand can play in multiple ways and through many different concepts and developments for a variety of audiences and venues. “We’re excited about the unique executions Crayola can develop for each of the Location Based Entertainment industry sectors, and we’re ready to discuss creative ideas with potential partners,” Schorr added.
After all, it’s Crayola. Creativity is in the company DNA.
A CREATIVE JOURNEY FROM OWNER/OPERATOR TO LICENSOR
The Crayola Experience path from owner/operator to licensor began in 2012 with the renovation of its Crayola attraction in Easton, PA, which reopened as Crayola Experience in May 2013. Crayola recognized the opportunity in LBE, and the desire by consumers for family-driven experiences that are fun, educational, and repeatable. “By starting as owner/operators, it gave Crayola the opportunity to refine both the guest experience as well as the business model,” said Warren Schorr.
Dan Aylward noted that with each subsequent location, they learned and made changes. “You pull out what doesn’t work, simplify where needed, and add new attractions for new types of experiences,” he said. “Sometimes what you think will work just doesn’t, and that’s okay. It’s part of the process.”
It was a careful, purposeful evolution, from opening the Easton location eight years ago to expanding to four more locations, to offering licensing today for both domestic and International locations. During that time, the Crayola Experience team learned, benchmarked, and assessed, fine tuning the program each step of the way.
Take a look back at Crayola Experience’s colorful history with this article about its expansion into its third, Orlando location: https://www.inparkmagazine.com/because-its-crayola/.