In October of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, a new type of drive-in movie theater appeared in Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C. From a distance, DC Party Box looks like a glossy update to a classic form of entertainment. But when you pull up closer, you realize that this is an entirely new breed of business: born of its time and accelerating trends like mobile payments and a fully contactless customer experience.
“When Corona hit, and we were forced into the pandemic, the event business was shut down. No gatherings, no events. Just like millions of others throughout the country, we’re completely shut down,” says Dan Cohen, who has owned an event production company for the last fifteen years. “We had been looking for pivots in every direction, trying to find alternative ways to support our big family. I realized there was a calling for drive-in movie theaters, so we created the DC Party Box.”
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Cohen knew that the experience needed to be entirely contact-free, and finding the right point of sale tools required a bit of research. A few days before DC Party Box opened for business, Cohen called ShopKeep. The timing, it turned out, was fortuitous. A new feature called Pay by Link had just been added to ShopKeep’s suite of commerce solutions, and it was the feature Cohen needed.
“Dan wanted his customers to be able to easily order food and concessions online, without even having to leave their car,” explains Travis Lamb, the ShopKeep Account Executive who helped Dan set up his point of sale. “Our online ordering system, paired with Pay by Link, provided the perfect solution that he needed to keep his business as safe as possible when it comes to person-to-person transactions.”
Pay by Link works as an extension of the ShopKeep Register. Cohen is able to send text messages to his customers’ phones that contain a link. When customers click the link, they can pay for their tickets from their cars. Because ShopKeep’s eCommerce and online ordering solution is connected to the rest of the ShopKeep system, his customers order concessions online and then pay by link, resulting in a safe and seamless experience for customers and employees. The feature also works with QR codes.
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In a futuristic twist on old traditions, DC Party Box launched with a contactless Halloween extravaganza. Cohen says, “We created a great promo piece called Spooktober, with the goal of saving Halloween. The original piece was scary movies in October, culminating in a completely contactless trick or treat experience.” Trick or treating, after all, was essentially cancelled, and families still needed a way to celebrate the holiday. “Being parents in the community, we set out to answer that.” Cohen knows a thing or two about family entertainment. He and his wife preside over a blended family of six children, and the DC Party Box is a family affair, with his wife handling marketing and a childhood friend serving as a business partner.
A veteran business owner, Cohen also knows that contactless solutions aren’t a fad. “Ultimately, it’s our belief that we as a community and we as businesses are creating the new normal, and while we understand that the vaccine is on the horizon and life should go back to normal, we’re creating a new and different experience for date night, girls’ night, family night. It’s a contactless, sustainable experience that checks all the boxes. We think that even when the vaccine is around, and everybody has had it, there will still be a market for the drive-in theater, in that this is a wholesome, fun activity.” A portion of the proceeds of DC Party Box benefit the National Initiative for Cockayne Syndrome, and the theater’s popcorn vendor also supports a charity. “We’re giving back. We’re doing a lot of good, and creating a lot of good.”
The right point of sale tools give business owners the freedom and flexibility to pivot when they need to, and open up new revenue opportunities in creative ways, all so they can do what independent businesses do best: build and connect with their communities — even at a distance.