Jurassic Quest has been touring for years to the delight of dinosaur fans around the U.S., but the current pandemic necessitated change for the normally indoor exhibit. CEO Adam Friedman recently took the time to chat with Attractions Magazine about the changes that were made for the drive-thru exhibit, what the future may look like for Jurassic Quest, and so much more.
Can you give an overview of the event for someone who may never have heard of Jurassic Quest?
Jurassic Quest is the largest animatronic touring exhibition in North America. Historically, the show was held indoors at convention centers and large arenas where you would tour through 100+ animatronic dinosaurs. The kids would play in fossil digs and there were educational elements to it as well as entertainment. They could also ride some of the dinosaurs; these dinosaurs are full-scale and true-to-life. Some of them are as large as 20 feet high and 70 feet long. It’s really an incredible experience.
In 2019, pre-COVID, we had two shows touring across North America where we hosted over a million guests. When COVID-19 hit, we quickly pivoted. We were actually the first touring show to pivot to an outdoor drive-thru model. Effectively, we took our same indoor exhibition and the same lifelike dinosaurs, and we started to put them into outdoor spaces where folks would drive their cars through the exhibit to a guided audio tour with our talent and dinosaur trainers leading the way. It’s a great way for folks during COVID to have a truly safe and secure entertainment experience in the safety of their own cars.
We started off in June of 2020 and since that time, we’ve been through 16 major markets and we’ve sold over 350 thousand cars, or about two million people, so, this has really served our audiences well during a very tough time. We’ve been hosted at some of the most iconic facilities worldwide, including Gillette Stadium,—which is the home of the New England Patriots—Wells Fargo Center with the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers, Met Life Stadium with the New York Jets and Giants, and right now, in the middle of January, we’re doing three weeks at the Rose Bowl. We’ve been blessed. At a time where the industry as a whole has been pretty much shut down, we’ve found something that works that’s very COVID-friendly, and obviously, fans and folks who love dinosaurs are responding.
How long has Jurassic Quest existed and where did it all begin?
The company was family-founded in 2013 and they built it into a touring machine that, ultimately, was selling a million tickets a year to two indoor shows.
The company was acquired about a year and a half ago by a private equity firm that focuses on small to mid-size portfolio assets out of the Philadelphia area. They were building out models to add a third show for 2020, and then COVID hit. When COVID hit, they regrouped to come up with this drive-thru idea, but during that process, they also determined that they wanted to bring in some more people to grow the brand.
With that, I was asked to join as CEO in June of 2020. I had come off of what’s almost 30 years in the live entertainment space. I’ve been a producer, promoter and venue operator; I’ve toured everything from Barney to Black Sabbath. So, plenty of different experiences, but all in the live entertainment sector.
We’ve put in a new executive team and added folks from Cirque du Soleil, Feld Entertainment, Titanic & King Tut exhibitions and more. With this new team, we’re not only going to continue the success that we’re having with the outdoor show, but we’re also now positioned for this major growth strategy. Jurassic Quest will continue on and grow with dinosaurs, but also offer up and add on more edutainment and entertainment opportunities for families.
I would assume you had to cancel some engagements when COVID-19 hit. When you rescheduled it as a drive-thru, were you able to reschedule close to the venues that you had to cancel or was that even something you considered?
Occasionally, we lucked out and were able to schedule at the same locations. However, the requirements from a production standpoint are very different. Our large indoor show typically takes up 100,000 to 150,000 square feet of flat floor in these large convention center exhibition halls. The outdoor show takes upward of 450,000 to 500,000 square feet, which means we’re outdoors in these facilities’ parking lots.
The thing is that not every arena or convention center has its own parking lot, or oftentimes, it’s vertical. And then even, if they have flat parking lots, they may have planters, curbs or other encumbrances that make it impossible for us to put 250 cars an hour through our track around this exhibition.
So, yes in some cases, it was a blessing where we were able to just fit at the venue we had already booked for the indoor show. But for the majority of the shows, they were all new bookings. They were coming fast and furious.
At the beginning we were only a few weeks out, typically. We would book a venue and immediately put tickets on sale; literally, sometimes the same night that we booked it, and now we’re several months ahead. We became an expert in this along the way. We’ve hired experts in respect to the virus, so we have lawyers and health care professionals who are on our team who help guide us through the various rules and regulations to ensure that we are complying with the most restrictive codes and rules in respect to health and sanitation.
How much down time was there? It sounds like you pivoted pretty quickly. Were you looking at weeks or months of downtime?
Like everybody else, we went into March and then it hit big in the middle of the month. Things started to shut down through April. Those were the two down months and then the pivot was in May.
Basically, we said, “Hey, we can do this. Let’s get it together for an outdoor show.” And we were on the road for June 15, 2020 in San Antonio. So, we had a couple of months of pure down time. The ownership group being exceptionally supportive said, “Let’s get the crews back on the road.” By May, the teams were getting paid and ready to roll.
With the drive-thru, is it something where you’ve learned it works pretty darn well and maybe even after COVID-19, this is something you might continue?
We’re asking ourselves those questions right now. What will the term of this product be? How will it transcend not only COVID-19 but 2021, and is it something that can survive into 2022? Some of that will depend upon consumer sentiment.
Even if there’s a full distribution of the vaccine and we end up in a herd immunity state, we believe that it’s going to take longer for consumer sentiment to get to the same place. People are generally going to be a little bit hesitant, we believe, to go back indoors or certainly the way that it was in the past. That’s why you’re hearing and reading, as indoor buildings get online again, what’s going to happen is there will be reduced capacities and things like that to deal with.
So, from that standpoint we believe that 2021 will continue to be a very robust marketplace for the outdoor show. Going into 2022 remains to be seen. In light of its unbelievable success, we have discussed whether or not there will continue to be at least one of our shows in an outdoor capacity or whether or not we even consider mounting it in a single location and creating a destination location out of the show choosing some of the markets that truly were sensational. Would there be enough demand in the local and regional marketplace to actually lure people in from out-of-state to come see the show? Those conversations are ongoing.
The one thing that we have learned for sure is that dinosaurs just are unstoppable. Clearly, dinosaurs transcend age and culture. We’re looking to expand into international markets. The research that we’ve done says that every kid on the planet learns about dinosaurs. The only difference is a different language, potentially. Culturally and from a topic matter standpoint, very little education or market penetration has to be accomplished. They’ve already penetrated the markets. Now it’s just bringing a product that they like.
So yes, the outdoor model probably transcends 2022. When the world really normalizes where indoor events become populated again, then it would be a question of, would we be entirely outdoors or indoors? It’ll probably be some type of hybrid. More of it will go back to indoors, simply because of what you’re able to produce indoors versus outdoors from a technology standpoint. It’s a dark room, and with a dark room, obviously things like AR [augmented reality] and VR [virtual reality] and lights shows can be implemented. From a production standpoint, it’s a little bit more challenging outdoors.
We’re ready to pivot back indoors when the timing is right, but there may be a period where it’s both.
What’s one thing about the drive-thru that you think is a benefit over what you typically did?
Some of the takeaways from the current show have been really interesting. We’ve done a lot of improvements with our merchandise offerings. We pumped up the quality of the offerings, and that we’re going to take back indoors with us. What we’ve realized, based upon consumer demand and surveys, is that people are willing to spend more for a higher-quality product. We’ve also really made the most from a production standpoint, being outdoors to create an experience that’s immersive and has dimensionality to it. Our dinosaurs aren’t just sitting on the ground. Some of them are on containers and it creates a different type of approach to the production. We will take those learnings and bring them back indoors when we convert over.
What is the ideal age for guests visiting Jurassic Quest? What age does it most appeal to?
People always want to segment customer base, which is smart for purposes of marketing and promoting the brand and product. From a pure marketing standpoint, this is the “10 and under” crowd with families in tow. That’s the technical definition, but what I’m seeing is parents just as excited. With the comments that we’re seeing on social media, the parents are just as excited as the kids.
This is something you don’t outgrow. This is giving parents and families the opportunity to relive their childhoods. In terms of what we’re seeing and who this experience is designed for, it’s the entire family.
As I did the drive-thru, I noticed that a lot of your dinos had fur and feathers. That’s a more recent thought of what they actually looked like. How up-to-date are the looks of your dinosaurs? Is it based on the latest research that’s out there?
Yeah, pretty close. We have paleontology experts on staff. I’m really glad you noticed that, because a lot of times when you go to these shows, everything is a rubberized surface. What they did learn, even over the last ten years, is some of these guys had feathers and some of them had rubbery, snake-like surfaces.
We get as close as we possibly can. With the existing assets that we have, we’ll oftentimes take off the outer sheet and put on a new sheet. Or when we do repairs, we’ll bring it up-to-date with the right colors and surfaces. When we go out to order a brand-new set of assets, we’re actually in there with the manufacturer saying, “Here’s the state-of-the-art as far as what we know these creatures looked like.” So, we do try to keep it as current as possible, which is why we fall into the ‘edutainment’ side.
Of the dinosaurs you have at your exhibit, which is your favorite?
For me, personally, the bigger the better. So, I’m an Apatosaurus guy. Twenty feet high, 70 feet long. When that tail moves, you think it’s going to knock your car right off the track. I think it really puts these things in perspective from a scale standpoint. When these creatures roamed the Earth, imagine the impact they made with regards to other animals. These guys were massive.
Jurassic Quest is currently touring all around the U.S. Find out where and get tickets at JurassicQuest.com.