Pandemic creates opportunity for 2 local events businesses
When the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in Michigan in March 2020, concerts, sports events, and other live events quickly ground to a halt as nonessential businesses and gatherings were shuttered.
That posed a problem – and an opportunity – for Band-Ayd Events Group in Madison Heights, which handles lighting and effects for sports events and concerts.
“Being an event company, we were hurt really hard with the pandemic. Nothing was coming in, but bills were still due – our rent was still due, everything is still due,” said Band-Ayd owner Mika Vanderheyden.
Wixom-based Bluewater Technologies, which focuses on corporate events such as auto shows, faced a similar challenge, said owners Scott and Chanel Schoeneberger.
But both companies decided to try something new.
“When all events were canceled, we kind of thought ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do? How can we pivot and make something, really, out of nothing right now,' ” Chanel Schoeneberger said.
For Band-Ayd, that came in the form of a selfie shop, where people can take photos in various themed booths.
Meanwhile, Bluewater decided to set up its equipment in the woods to create Glenlore Trails, an illuminated walking trail, in Commerce Township.
“I think the nature of these experiences, they’re very visual, they’re very colorful, they’re very fun. We have a lot of different content on site. And they’re very immersive,” said Scott Schoeneberger. “I don’t think anybody knew what they were expecting to see when they got there. You walk in and it’s just this whole feeling, and it kind of just encompasses you. You’re just in the zone, in the moment.”
Schoeneberger said the trails are like a movie theater: the location may remain the same for several months, but the content is frequently changed with new experiences opening. About 150,000 people visited Glenlore Trails in 2020.
Having additional revenue allowed both Bluewater and Band-Ayd to rehire some of their furloughed employees.
“My husband and I were the only ones still coming here. All of our guys were on unemployment. So that was another big thing is if we start building this, maybe we can bring back one or two and start bringing back some of our employees to not only help build it but also to run it with us,” said Vanderheyden. “Al, who wires pyro and does all this lighting, is over there helping teenagers with selfies. It was definitely a huge pivot. We’re not photographers, we’re not videographers, but we saw the opportunity and we ran with it.”
Scott Schoeneberger said the pandemic’s impact on their business was less than other companies in the industry thanks to the trail idea.
“The dollars we brought in largely kept our technical staff employed through the pandemic. Probably quite a few more of them would’ve been on pay reductions or furloughed. It was a widespread thing in the industry, and still is as things are picking up,” he said.
But now, with some live events planning to resume as vaccination rates increase, a new challenge has arisen: balancing the newfound business divisions with the returning traditional ones.
“Events have come back and they’re in full swing and they’re insane,” said Vanderheyden. “This was just going to be a pop-up for however long to get us through the pandemic, but we’ve had such a great experience that it’s like, why wouldn’t we keep it around?”
Band-Ayd is currently in the process of moving the selfie shop out of their warehouse and into a new, permanent location where they will have more space for additional rooms.
Bluewater is currently operating Glenlore Trails: Expedition in Commerce Township through Sept. 12. Seasonal trails, the Haunted Forest and Aurora, will return with new content, Schoeneberger said. IllumiZoo also returned to John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids with a new trail, named Wild Hues, from now through Nov. 14.
Frequent updates gives the trails a fresh appeal for repeat visitors.
“We found that about a six-week run was the minimum that we could do for a new content deployment, and we did three new runs. I think the team kind of asked a few times, why don’t we just keep the same content? But it felt like a miss to not change over for holidays, and it felt like a miss to not be changing it for people that wanted to return,” Scott Schoeneberger said.
Going forward, the Schoenebergershope to take their trails to the next level by focusing more on the storytelling aspects.
“The team that we have dedicated to this now is spending a pretty good amount of time just ideating new storylines. Our intent is to incorporate more media and more literal story. At some point, I hope by next year, these actually feel a lot more like you’re walking through a movie than just a light show,” Scott Schoeneberger said.
Glenlore Trails: Expedition
3860 Newton Road, Commerce Township
Open through Sept. 12
Tickets: $15-$25, visit glengoretrails.com
Will open their new location in the coming weeks and will begin taking reservations at www.band-ayd-com. Guests will be able to book 30 minutes in the shop for $25 or an hour for $40.