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Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival: Growing business through exceptional visitor experience

Arts organizations are in the business of creating meaningful experiences for audiences. That starts with the performances on our stages but extends out into the whole patron experience. This is particularly true for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, which runs a summer season of five productions in repertory on the grounds of the Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison, NY. Named by the New York Times as one of its 50 Essential Summer Festivals, HVSF prides itself on the experience it creates for artists and audiences alike.  

“There are rituals to the tent” says Emma Corey, Director of Marketing for HVSF referring to the tent that is constructed on the grounds, which serves as the stage for the performances. “We want people to arrive 2 hours early, lay out a picnic and see the beautiful view of the Hudson River. We want people to have their own experience before the shared experience of seeing the performance.” To facilitate this, HVSF offers pre-show picnics, snacks and drinks available for purchase in advance and in person, as well as a pre-show discussion called the Friday Night Prologues. Their challenge? Ensuring patrons knew about these great offerings and that the HVSF team had a streamlined process for managing them.

Online Experience – creating a great visitor experience, even before the visit

HVSF needed to create an online purchase path that showed its patrons the information they needed to make their festival experience as great as possible. After making the move to Spektrix in Spring 2017, HVSF was able to do just that. Once a patron selects a performance and seats, they are prompted with a variety of options for “event add-ons”. These options can be as simple as buying a bottle of wine or as complex as choosing from uniquely curated picnic menus that cater to specific food preferences or allergies.

In addition to food and drinks, HVSF hosts additional events to enhance their patrons’ onsite experience including tours of the Boscobel House, a Friday night pre-show talk called Friday Night Prologues, and post-show talkback sessions. “We had a lot of trouble getting people into these events before” says Corey, “despite lots of onsite marketing efforts people weren’t picking up on them.” To solve this problem, HVSF used the same functionality that they use for food and drink add-ons to encourage customers to attend these experiences in the same purchase path with their tickets. The increased awareness of what goes on at HVSF has had a major impact with attendance at the Friday Night Prologues. On average, Friday Night Prologues has seen a typical historical attendance rate of 5 attendees increase to almost 80 people a night, and advanced concession revenue increasing by 38%.

There are also early signs that these activities, which help increase customer engagement, have also had a year over year effect on audience retention. Since going live with Spektrix last season HVSF’s 1-year audience retention rate for mainstage shows at their season midpoint has increased from 26% to an industry leading 36%.

Streamlining processes on the backend

While it might seem like the administration of all this increased activity would be an additional burden for HVSF’s 10 year-round staff members, quite the opposite is true. In their previous system, there was no way to link a performance to the corresponding food and drink order. With Spektrix, the connection is easily and automatically made in the order removing the administrative work to match a picnic order with a specific customer and performance. In addition, HVSF staff now receive an automated report telling them exactly what concessions have been purchased making it easy to fulfill the order the night of the performance. “We are providing the same service but saving hours and hours of work each week” says Corey.

This time savings will play an important role in realizing HVSF’s recently released 5-year strategic plan. This plan, among other things, will see HVSF increase their footprint in the Hudson Valley by complimenting the construction of an additional physical performance space with expansion of artistic as well as community engagement programs. Needless to say, the hours gained through system efficiency will be appreciated by HVSF’s staff as it frees up their time to focus on brainstorming new strategies for growth and expanding existing initiatives while the system does the heavy lifting in execution.