SBC: Combining leisure, hospitality and entertainment, do bingo venues face the toughest return from national lockdown?
Stevie Shaves (CCO @Buzz Bingo): Unfortunately, yes. As a retail and leisure industry, the pandemic has undoubtedly been difficult for bingo clubs.
However, we hope to see a great return to bingo from our customers and have high hopes for the future. There is a lot of appetite from our customers to get out of their homes and resume life as much as possible. We want to ensure we offer a safe space for those who do wish to return to their local clubs – and those who perhaps wish to visit for the first time.
SBC: What special measures and considerations have Buzz Bingo management and operational teams undertaken to ensure its players the safest return to venues?
SS: We have taken this time to increase our already robust health and safety measures to ensure all of our customers and colleagues will be protected when we reopen. Young or old, all Buzz Bingo customers will feel confident in the health and safety procedures.
These measures include a new maximum capacity in clubs to allow for social distancing, markers that have been placed on the floor (both inside and outside clubs) where customers may need to queue. We’ve also implemented separate entrances and exits, and one-way direction of travel in club to allow for safer flow of traffic and installation of Perspex screens at reception, bar and bingo sales to protect colleagues and customers.
Not only that, dividers have been put in place between machines and fixed gaming terminals. A number of machines have been switched off to ensure players are socially distanced and some seats are marked as out of use. Also, sanitising stations are available throughout clubs and we have implemented of a more frequent cleaning rota.
We’ve increased contactless card payments to £45 and changes to the food menu and way that it is served to allow for social distancing in the kitchen. Finally, we’ve designated areas for members of same household to sit together.
SBC: Catering to an older audience, do bingo venue operators have to regain the trust of their customer base? (marketing, customer services, payment provisions, etc…)
SS: Whilst bingo clubs have been closed for the best part of a year, we know how important clubs are to communities so have we’ve strived to stay engaged with the clubs’ local communities. For example, we adopted a new scheme called Buzz Buddies. A number of General Managers were trained to check in with their elderly customers to ensure they had adequate access to food and healthcare, as well as someone to talk to, to help combat loneliness.
Buzz Bingo provides a community hub across the country and our colleagues have strong relationships with the customers. A number of staff used their spare time to volunteer in their communities or throw milestone birthday street parties for their customers, continuing to be a vital support for those that need them.
SBC: Does Buzz Bingo support further government-funded schemes such as summer ‘eat-out to help-out’ helping hospitality venues return to business.
SS: We took part in the ‘Eat-Out to Help-Out’ scheme during summer 2020, and offer discounted food in select Buzz Bingo clubs. Depending on the scheme and if applicable to our clubs, we would consider utilising further government-funded schemes to help hospitality venues.
SBC: Mirroring wider industry trends, has Buzz Bingo recorded a shift to their digital platforms. If so, how do you plan to re-balance customer engagements between land-based and digital gaming?
SS: While our clubs have been closed, we have naturally seen the popularity of our online website rise, which is great. Even prior to the pandemic, we were actively working on engaging with our customers in an omni-channel way. With this in mind, we won’t be actively trying to move players back.
We’re just glad that our customers choose to play with us and I’m sure the thrill of being amongst friends again will be enough for our players to want to come out after the 17th May.
SBC: Buzz Bingo will host ‘National Bingo Day’ with market rival Mecca on 27 June. Is there a newfound unity between bingo operators following a horrendous 2020?
SS: Absolutely. After such a challenging year for the bingo industry and our customers, we thought it was high time to join forces with UK bingo operators and the Bingo Association, to commemorate bingo with a UK National Bingo Day. Earlier this year, we officially registered 27th June as National Bingo Day – which is very exciting.
We’ll be running some great activities on the day for our customers, so keep your eyes peeled.
SBC: What factors do you perceive to be as unknowns, as bingo and wider land-based venues return from lockdown?
SS: I’m sure there are many, but we’re hopeful and confident that we have covered all bases. That said, I think the biggest unknown is how the break from socialising with others has an effect on people.
Prior to the pandemic, there were obvious seasonal peaks and troughs of trading – I think that could all be reset now! We look forward to learning that soon.
Stevie Shaves – Chief Commercial Officer – Buzz Bingo