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Move over service economy, people wanna pay for memorable experiences instead

Andsoforth founders Stuart Wee and Emily Png.

With the triple rise of smartphones, e-commerce and streaming services, fewer people want to leave their homes for shopping and entertainment – unless what's out there promises a truly engaging and immersive experience that can compete with online diversions. Moreover, the experience must look great in photos because #millennial #genz #instagood #photooftheday #FOMO #YOLO. 

For these reasons, some enterprises are choosing to prioritise experience over purchases. The “perfect experience” is one that is so absorbing, it makes you put away your phone for at least 10 minutes, before you take it out for that all-important shareable photo as #proofiwasthere – followed by your wallet. 

The experience economy is distinct from the service economy in that the service economy focuses on providing services in a smooth and pleasant way; while the experience economy offers an exciting and memorable experience packaged with a product purchase.

We explore the strategies of four companies riding the wave of the experience economy, from the small independent dinner-theatre outfit (Andsoforth) to the world's largest manufacturer of cycling components (Shimano). 

Scenes from Andsoforth's previous dinner-theatre productions. 

1) Andsoforth - Independent dinner-theatre company

During a trip to London in 2013, couple Stuart Wee and Emily Png attended a supper club event by an immersive dining company. Struck by how entertaining it was, and how Singapore lacked something similar, they returned to Singapore with heady plans to quit their jobs and start their own dinner-theatre company.

Today their company Andsoforth has become a leading dinner-theatre company. It has staged 40 experiential events in six years, ranging from public plays to corporate parties.  Among them are Alice In Wonderland-themed dinners, an immersive adaptation of the classic ballet The Nutcracker, and a multi-sensory imagining of Goh Poh Seng's classic 1972 novel If We Dream Too Long.   

Each event combines a multi-course dinner, a theatre production, strikingly-costumed actors ready to interact with you, and a colourful Instagrammable setting in a mystery location. Their newest production is titled Valhalla And The Chambers Of Asgard and centres on Norse mythology. Actors play Viking characters such as Odin, Freyja, Loki and Thor in the depiction of the great war known as Ragnarok. 

The five-course meal will be prepared once again by Chef Jason Ang, formerly from Pollen Singapore. And tickets priced between S$108 and S$128, depending on whether it's a weekday or weekend, include an alcoholic drink each.

Mr Wee says: "I’ve always wanted to do a Viking-themed production. So when the spirits company Edrington approached us to collaborate on the launch of their latest Highland Park whisky Valfather, I jumped at the chance to create Asgard, which is the home of the Norse Gods, and have actors dress in Viking costumes.” 

Mr Wee says that typical productions cost between S$300,000 and S$500,000 to mount: "We run a tight operation: Three months to set up the space, two to three months of running the production, one month to tear down the set, and then repeat the process all over again... We want to keep innovating and evolving, so our guests don't get bored."

Each production attracts between 2,000 and 3,000 guests, a portion of which are corporate bookings. A large part of the appeal is the way each is designed to get as many diners to participate in the unfolding of the story as possible.  

The other selling point, insists Mr Wee, is the food: "We are Singaporeans. We love food. No matter what kind of immersive experience we are offering, our food has to be well thought out, with flavours interesting enough to excite our palate and portions big enough so our guests don’t leave hungry. Once the food is settled, guests will automatically start to pay attention to the performances, set design, lighting, soundscape, music, and whatever we have to offer. 

"Food comes first, everything else is secondary."

Valhalla And The Chambers Of Asgard runs from Nov 21 to Dec 28. Tickets from andsoforth.com.sg 

 

Artbox Singapore 2018 attracted over 750,000 people. 

2) Artbox Singapore - Outdoor market

The mega outdoor market Artbox Singapore has been wildly successful from the get-go. Its first edition in 2017 attracted a stunning 600,000 people in six days and became the No 1 online trending Singapore event of 2017, according to Google Trends. 

For its 2018 edition, the organisers tripled its size from 50,000 to 150,000 square feet, and drew a crowd of 750,000 in the same time frame. For its upcoming 2019 edition, it is expanding once again, this time across 200,000 square feet at the Singapore Turf Club with 300 local and regional vendors. 

No doubt part of its wild success comes from that fact that Artbox Singapore is an offshoot of Artbox in Bangkok, which is popular among Thai teenagers and Singapore socialites alike for offering a wide range of goods from unique handmade jewellery to homemade snacks. 

Kent Teo, founder of Invade Industry, which organises ArtBox Singapore. 

Organised by Invade Industry, founder and CEO Kent Teo however says that the company isn’t resting on its laurels. He touts the upcoming market as its most “thematic and interactive” edition yet, as it aims to attract an even larger crowd through the market’s many Instagrammable charms, from quirky street eats to large art murals .  

“We want to raise the idea of Artbox from container night market to go beyond shopping and F&B. We want to bring the ‘Art’ out of Artbox and design a creative retail or experiential retail format that captures the attention of consumers today,” he says.

To this end, the 2019 edition boasts a 12,000-square-foot experiential art playground where visitors are invited to get a jagua dye tattoo, participate in perfumery workshops and create 3D-printed accessories. The biggest draw is expected to be an immersive multi-sensory attraction called the Heart of Eden, a 40-foot shipping container has been completely bedecked with flowers, trees and mirrors, and scented by Scent By SIX. This, no doubt, will be the most Instagrammedspot of the entire market.

Mr Teo adds: “It’s really important to understand what the customer wants from their shopping experience. The problem with a lot of shopping malls today is that they’re too sanitised look too alike. They cut-and-paste concepts from other malls and offer nothing out of the ordinary. They might also have a confusing mixture of tenants, giving the customer a very fragmented and unsatisfying experience.” 

“For Artbox Singapore 2019, we want to make sure that the experience is all but fragmented. Under our theme of Eden, we’re turning the entire fairground into a kind of paradise with lots of garden-like features. Our merchants have been carefully curated such that many of them have creative and new products, giving the fair a fresh and energetic feel. They’re also getting onboard with the Eden theme by having small touches of greenery in their respective retail booths.”

Artbox Singapore runs on Nov 15 to 17, and 22 to 24, at the Singapore Turf Club.

 

Shimano Cycling World is a pure experiential centre focused on fostering a cycling culture. 

3) Shimano Cycling World - Bicycle experiential centre

When Shimano – the world’s largest supplier of bicycle components – wanted to create a bicycle experiential centre, it was clear about one thing: It was not going to sell any bicycles there. The aim of the centre was not commercial or transactional, but purely experiential and educational. 

It wanted to enrich and develop local cycling culture, promote a cycling lifestyle, and increase awareness of the benefits of cycling. In short, it wanted people to learn to love bicycles. If, through the experience, people associated the name Shimano with the pleasure of riding bicycles, well that’s just icing on the cake. 

To achieve its goals, the Japanese company opened Shimano Cycling World, the world’s first experiential and interactive cycling gallery, next to the Singapore Sports Museum at the Singapore Sports Hub in 2014. The 650 sq m centre looks at the century-long history of the bicycle, from the first 1817 German model called draisine, to the most technologically-advanced bicycles of today. 

There is a long  interactive video wall on which one can trace the history of bicycles and Shimano alongside major world events. There is a 15m-long art installation made up of hundreds of interconnected sprockets, wheels and chains in motion. Below it is a row of interactive screens where visitors can watch videos of cycling activities and terrains around the world. 

Eugene Koh, director of Shimano Singapore, says: “Cycling has been a growing trend in this region. And with this thinking in mind, we were trying to create a culture that would sustain the growth of cycling.” The challenge then was “to take this outdoor activity and create an indoor immersive experience that really inspires people,” explains Richa Menke of Eight Inc, the design firm working with Shimano.

There’s a wall of shelves with hundreds of books on cycling published in various languages, including English, French, Chinese and Japanese. There are over a dozen genuine historical models of bicycles that visitors can look at and touch, many of which are on loan from Bicycle Museum in Sakai City, Japan, where the company was first established. 

The visitor gets what the centre promises – a multisensory experience into the world of cycling over 100 years – and not a sales person in sight.   

Shimano Cycling World is located at 6 Stadium Walk. Opens from Monday to Friday from 10am to 8pm and on weekends from 10am to 9pm.

 

Zedtown puts participants right in the centre of a live-action game. 

4) Zedtown - Live-action gaming experience

The online world offers an endless wealth of information and entertainment, making the real world for some people seem dull by comparison. But one company has successfully shattered the boundaries between the online and offline by transforming a popular video gaming experience into a real-life experience.

Zedtown is the world’s first live-action zombie versus human gaming experience that puts you right in the middle of an apocalyptic battle. When Zedtown’s managing director Andrew Garrick started the game in Sydney with his friends in 2012, they had no idea how it would be received. But the 80 people who showed up played continuously for eight hours, and went on to rave about the experience on social media.

Andrew Garrick, managing director of Zedtown. 

Subsequent editions of Zedtown drew as many as 3,000 people a day, and the game started travelling to other parts of the world such as Los Angeles and Texas. This is the first time Zedtown has been played in Asia – and in the massive expanse of Singapore’s National Stadium, no less. 

Mr Garrick says: “My friends and I love video games and spend a long time talking to each other over headsets and things. But there’s nothing physically active for us to take part in on the weekends…. So Zedtown was a solution we came up with that allows video gamers to turn that online experience into a real-life one.” 

Mr Garrick, who has years of experience as a TV producer, applied his expert knowledge of storytelling to the game. He says: “We know that everyone wants the experience of trying to be the hero of their own stories, so we applied this basic principle into the story structure.” 

At the start of it, the human participants are tasked to get to a safe location within a three-hour time period. But most won’t get past the throngs of zombies lurking in every corner of the stadium. 

Once someone is tagged by a zombie, she or he must proceed to a make-up room

to be transformed into a zombie as well, thus increasing the pool of zombies. By the end of most games, only three or four human participants make it to the safe location.

Mr Garrick says: “The digital age has made it easier for people to do a lot of things without leaving their homes. But I do think that people inherently like company and want to do things with other people. And that is why we’re seeing a tremendous rise in experiential activities across the world, from the many escape rooms you find in Singapore to the massive warehouse-scale game arcades you find in Sydney and London. 

“It used to be that people want to share what they’re doing on their own on social media. But these days, the dynamics have changed a little in that people want to show off on social media what they’re doing with their friends, to show that they have a community and a sense of companionship.”  

Looking ahead, Mr Garrick and his friend are looking to develop a new live-action game centred on Cold War spies. There’s little doubt that it too will be a hit.

Written by Helmi Yusof for The Business Times.

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