60 seconds with…Brian Hood, Studio Movie Grill - Senior Vice President of Operations

How was the re-opening of your business and how was it carried out in line with safety procedures put in place to allow social distancing?

We have been able to open our dine-in movie theatres in a couple of different stages. June 19th was the first stage, followed by June 26th, August 14th, 21st and 28th. The response from our guests and communities has been very supportive. By month’s end we will have 21 of our theaters open. 

The safety of our guests and team members is of upmost importance to SMG. In regard to safety, Studio Movie Grill’s Safety and Sanitation protocols exceed the CDC, OSHA and National Association of Theater Owners guidelines.

Some of our safety protocols include sanitation stations in hallways and lobby areas, social distancing messaging, directional signage, seating separation technology, touchless and cashless transaction ability through our kiosks and SMG App., and digital menus for guests. Our team members are screened daily and based on local mandates, guests are required to wear masks until they are seated. We use only approved CDC sanitation products and have also began using disposable cups for the safety of guests and team members.

Which theatres and states are hardest to reopen?

California for sure.  Our Rocklin, CA theatre is open right now and we are hoping for more. A lot depends on the cases reported and meeting the re-opening requirements. 

There is also a dependency on the content. The theaters need and rely on content to open and the studios need theaters open to release content… It just seems like there is not a lot of communication between the two. There seems to be a great opportunity for the major players in film exhibition to work together. The Government hasn’t given any financial relief to theatre owners which is creating some real hardship in the industry. It is a dire situation.

As for our other openings, we have a very detailed re-opening process to ensure that all team members are trained on safety and sanitation and that the facilities are at their best for our guests.

As you are a dine-in movie theatres, have you found it difficult? 

Dining execution has been seamless. We took advantage of the shutdown to redesign the menu. This has improved not only our costs but also our operational efficiencies. We also have new ways to experience SMG. The traditional in-theater dining, our kiosks or the SMG App. All technologies allow our guests to order, receive and close their transaction without any contact. 

We have also partnered with Grubhub which has been a huge success as our local customers love our food and love supporting us! 10% of all our TOGO sales go towards our “One Story Fund” created to help team members in need. https://www.studiomoviegrill.com/one-story

How is the general feeling and feedback from your team members and your customers now the lockdown is over/slowly getting there?

From the first opening in June till now, we are seeing both team members and guests being more accepting. What makes it difficult is that not everyone knows we are back open, which is why local marketing is so important. A recent survey showed that 50% of customers are open to coming back to cinemas, but 30% did not know theatres were open. 

What market trends are you seeing since re-opening?

Customizing the guest experience is the trend our industry is leaning heavily into.

Guests want options in how to experience theatre and feel confident in the safety and sanitation standards. A lot of habits have changed throughout COVID. We are leveraging our loyalty programs to learn more about our guest’s new habits and how we can meet those new demands.

What techniques have you used to build sales and re-engage customers? 

Local theatre marketing has of course been a huge asset. We also offer private theatres and we were one of the first to do so. People come for that experience, and these private theatres offer a safe, comfortable, and luxury experience for all of our guests. 

Private events have always been a healthy part of our business model. Just as the food service business realized increases in curbside and take out, we have seen increases in private events. The built up demand created by COVID does show one commonality…guests have grown tired of seclusion and separation. Offering guests the opportunity to customize their experience is also part of our spirit in delivering hospitality. Private events have included screenings of home movies, family reunions, sporting events, birthdays, and local film maker’s projects just to name a few. Private events company- wide have doubled in volume and we do expect private events to have an elevated contribution to business post-COVID as well.

What positive lessons do we need to learn from what the industry has been through?

The whole COVID crisis can lead everyone to think “why us”? We asked ourselves “What can we learn from this? The crisis has given organizations the opportunity to innovate. We went on a  listening journey and surveyed our guests 2 weeks into the crisis and asked them what would make them feel comfortable coming back to the movies and what specifically we needed to do to meet and exceed their expectations. Instead of telling them that this is going to be their experience, we created different ways for the guests to choose how they experienced SMG. They choose how they spend their money, so we want to give them the option. Our biggest lesson was innovation and using technology as a strategic advantage.

How did you stay connected with your team? 

Like many in our industry there has been very personal and difficult decisions. While there were layoffs, we preserved as many jobs as possible and kept our core team throughout the entire shutdown. It was a large financial commitment, but they have been committed to us and we know their ability to perform is outstanding. We are one big family. We stayed connected with them through the whole process and we were upfront and transparent with our strategy to re-emerge. We kept them updated by routinely calling them and messaging them. We still let them access our L&D platforms so they can keep up to date with training and procedures and continue to develop and learn. Our team members have a love for our brand, community and film – so we are very happy we could give it back to them. 

Date Published: 23rd September 2020